How do you guys do it?

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How do you come up with long lasting campagins?  I never understood how it works.  And before you say it, I don't like reading long novels, so suggesting to read something, although I've heard it a thousand times, won't work.  Movies on the other hand do, as I'm more of a visual person to begin with.  Hell, I just watched "The Grey" last weekend and threw in a combat with a bunch of wolves....My party slaughtered them all in three rounds, but it felt good using a cool idea I saw work on the silver screen.

Anyway, asside from the basic, "go read a book" or "go watch a movie", I know that already.  What I'm also trying to ask is how do you plan for your adventure and encounters?  I have a hard time planning anything and just pull things out of the book when it seems appropriate.  This doesn't work all the time however.  As stated above, wolves are common in forests, but a party or level 6s can kill 5 wolves, a Dire wolf and a Worg in 4 to 5 founds easy.  It's not very fun or challenging. 

I don't plan.  I hate it.  I feel like I should plan something, but they way I run is by letting the party figure out what they want to do.  Usually this just includes looking blankly at a job board.  Blankly because I never have any encounters ready, bacause I pull them out of the monster manual when I think it's a good time to throw a Behir at them, and then I end up killing a PC because he direcly challenges the monster and intimidates it without thinking of what may happen to his overall health.

I need a story.  A grand Epic, that does NOT include finding some sort of long lost relic. (I swear, every game I've ran was about finding pieces to a relic and fixing it.  Rod of seven Parts, Jewel of Seven Stars, Deck of Many Things, Book of Vile Darkness, Ull-Athra's Crown)  The party so far has, some what, gotten on the good side of the local King.  This king goes by the name of "The Immortal God-King Gilgamesh".  If anyone has watched the anime, "The Tower of Druaga", or knows even a little bit about our own ancient history of the Tower of Bable or the times of the Babylonian age, then you may know what I'm trying to referance.

Anyway, the party is backed by Gilgamesh to be his champions, and I hate the whole political intreage thing.  I just can't do it, I know nothing of politics or intreage, and I probably didn't even spell those words correctly.  But in any case, I have someone who can order the party around to do things, but the world we play in (one of my own creation, because Iv'e ran in the Nentire Vale and Darksun already and I hate the Forgotten Realms and Ebberon) is largley empty as i'm using the party to help fill it in.  I figgure if I had a decent story to give them, world building will, go much more smoothly. (currently working in the "Inside-out" approach, of building where the party is and working outward from there.)

Anyway, I'm basically fishing for ideas here.  Plot hooks, story devices.  I know I can't tell you much about my own created world to help out and I'm sorry if I'm comming across as a complete loser right now, but I need some Chris Perkins level of help here. 
Well, short answer to your question is you can't do it with zero planning. But if you're looking for minimal planning...pick some goal, that doesn't involve a relic, that the party can't meet right away. Maybe they have to travel a long distance to get to it, maybe they need to gather information about where to go, maybe they need to raise a certain amount of cash first. Then try to tie shorter-term encounters or events to that larger goal, and be willing to change the goal based on how the players are reacting to things.
Let me first say, WOAH! Your post is all over the place mate lol.  No worries! I will still try my best to answer your questions.

"How do you come up with long lasting campagins?"

A very easy way to create a large "epic" adventure, is to string multiple adventures together and relate them with a similar object or theme.

For example, the H1 - H3 adventures published by Wizards which include "The Keep on the Shadowfell," "Thunderspire Labyrinth," and "The Pyramid of Shadows," can be played together to form a story from levels 1 - 10 forming a small epic story.  They are in no way dependent on each other.  The only linking characteristic of the adventures is the presence of an "Adventure Hook," leading the PCs to the next area and a reoccuring villain or theme, "Orcus."

Being able to find some sort of linking characteristic between your character's adventures, maybe a reoccuring theme or villain will help tie the adventures together.

How do you plan for your adventure and encounters?

As a DM, I tend to reside on the extreme side of preparation.

This side represents mapping out multiple challenges tailored to the player's level, and trying to predict possible outcomes the PCs might take to overcome said challenges.  I also prepare multiple contingencies for what the players may do.  This can also go so far as creating multiple handouts for the players using photoshop (like maps or letters) and writing out in advance what Perception and Knowledge checks might reveal with respect to certain DCs.

This method of preparation has been argued for and against all throughout the forums which is not the point of this forum post.  This method takes up a great deal of time, of which I currently have plenty of.  I'm trying to transition to much less preparation and am going to try to lean towards more improvisation.  I have a very good understanding of the rules presented withing the DMG and can write adventures using improvisation, the more I prepare, the more I feel simple prepared lol.

There is a bare minimum I prepare if time is a little short.  If in a dangerous area like a dungeon or forest, a few encounters and traps can go a long way.  If near a city, a few notable NPCs and their personality and motives.

Planning

Again, many DMs differ on this stage, but based on the difficulties you may be having, maybe a little bit of planning might help.  Something that 4th edition D&D brings, is it removes the "stereotypes" around the difficulty of certain monsters.  The Monster Manual may present a particular Kobold as a level 1 monster, but there is no reason why you can't "edit" them to act as a level 4 creature.  The same goes with your wolves.  If you know your characters are going to be rummaging around a forest (at least I assume they are there since you incorporated wolves) make a few encounters they may haphazardly trigger at appropriate levels (Range: Level-1 - Level +3).  For example, if in the forest at night, a pack of wolves led by a dire wolf, displacer beasts, or another predator.  If they wander into guarded territory, being threatened and possible engaged by intelligent creatures or humanoids.  If you're still at a loss for ideas, well that is where we come in, or even google might help. "Encounter ideas in a forest."

Story

Sadly, I didn't get any of your references besides knowing what the Tower of Babel is.  Even though you don't have all the necessary information about nearby locales, it doesn't mean you can't spontaneous make one up.  Every world is going to have an ocean, cities need neaby forests for lumber, if not, then a trade route to someone who does.  Old, and maybe forgotten, watchtowers which stand guard over said trade routes or important roads.  A trade route which goes over or under a mountain.  Where there are old buildings, forests, and mountains, there are going to be monsters and other story interesting ideas :D

Without worrying about politics, try out this idea.

Scene 1

"After earning the trust of King Gilgamesh, he confides with you about a dire threat to the kingdom."

A normally harmless band of Orcs/Goblins/Kobolds (or something else) has began amassing near the borders of the kingdom.  He needs the players to scout out this army and ascertain if they are a threat to the city.  If they can do something to hinder or sabotage the army then go for it, but their main mission is to scout and report back.

Encounter Ideas: 1. Brigands on the road as they leave the castle.  2. Run into an advance scouting group of the invading army. 3. Dangerous predator.

Skill Challegen Idea: 1.  Navigating the wilderness.  2. Tracking down the invading army.  3. Gathering intelligence on the army.  4. (My personal favorite, if the players screw it up somehow) Evading pursuit of a patrol from the army.

Scene 2

When the characters return, and report to Gilgamesh, the king charges them to help rally the forces and prepare defenses.  Depending on how well they do (another skill challenge possibility), it makes the resulting encounters more difficult or easier.

Encounter: 1. Invading Army - Split into 2 - 3 waves (The total encounter can be a Level + 5 encounter where no wave is greater then (Level + 2).  The players will be feeling the burn by the last encounter.  Consider using skill checks to allow them to gain help or bonuses.  Talking skills to recruit soldiers to help them in the fight.  Allow use of some of the weaponry they helped to prepare like catapults or ballistas.  Make the last wave feature the general (Elite monster), while the other two waves are led by his lieutanants.

Scene 3
After the invasion is over, Gilgamesh lets the players know that he has learned the location of the main base of the army, and that his city will not be safe until they are dealt with.  So he charges the players to go in and beat them up.

The hook/catch to a real epic can be the following.  After the players infiltrate the base, they start noticing signs of a much fowler presence of monsters.  Try devil, demon, or abyssal influences.  In the last fight in the area, maybe the players catch glimps or overhear the orc/kobold/goblin leader taking orders from a demon called "blah blah blah" and how this demon wants to destroy the cities in the area.  The demon escapes but the player wipe out the base.  The demon serves as the hook into the next adventure since I'm sure Gilgamesh will want the characters to pursue it.

These three scenes can be as short as one session each, or as long as 3 sessions each.  I can easily see Scene 1 taking 2 sessions, Scene 2 1 or 2 session and Scene 3 4+ sessions if the base is very large.

Well I hoped this helped! ^_^
1. Pick an Epic villain, from your own imagination or from an official D&D source (the latter is easier for step 2, since their motivations are well described). The usual suspects are evil gods. 

2. Think about what this villain wants, and how (s)he might try to obtain it. This can be vague, for example "by killing a rival and usurping their position", or "open a gate from the real world to their home dimension so they can invade". 

3. Then start breaking this goal down to smaller, more manageable steps that the villain could take before the goal can be achieved. This is always something that disturbs the peace somehow, thus that attracts the attention of heroes. 

4. Hire the heroes to check out some suspicious activity (like weird lights coming from an abandoned tower in the swamps) that hints at something larger. Then build upon the heroes' desires to check out what else is going on, and crystallize the details of the villain's plan from there. 

Pretty manageable way to start up an epic campaign. This can go on for as long as you like, until you feel the heroes are strong enough or have done enough to face the main villain directly. 
For what it's worth, I've always just run short campaigns and single-shot adventures, and my group had always seemed alright with that. 

So, if your group is happy with the shorter campaign length and you don't mind running short games, then you aren't doing it wrong.

Really, I guess it can be argued that the "long" campaigns are really a collection of short ones connected (usually) by the same characters and style and a few plot devices, anyway.
[spoiler New DM Tips]
  • Trying to solve out-of-game problems (like cheating, bad attitudes, or poor sportsmanship) with in-game solutions will almost always result in failure, and will probably make matters worse.
  • Gun Safety Rule #5: Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to destroy. (Never introduce a character, PC, NPC, Villain, or fate of the world into even the possibility of a deadly combat or other dangerous situation, unless you are prepared to destroy it instantly and completely forever.)
  • Know your group's character sheets, and check them over carefully. You don't want surprises, but, more importantly, they are a gold mine of ideas!
  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's a problem if the players aren't having fun and it interferes with a DM's ability to run the game effectively; if it's not a problem, 'fixing' at best does little to help, and at worst causes problems that didn't exist before.
  • "Hulk Smash" characters are a bad match for open-ended exploration in crowds of civilians; get them out of civilization where they can break things and kill monsters in peace.
  • Success is not necessarily the same thing as killing an opponent. Failure is not necessarily the same thing as dying.
  • Failure is always an option. And it's a fine option, too, as long as failure is interesting, entertaining, and fun!
[/spoiler] The New DM's Group Horror in RPGs "This is exactly what the Leprechauns want you to believe!" - Merb101 "Broken or not, unbalanced or not, if something seems to be preventing the game from being enjoyable, something has to give: either that thing, or other aspects of the game, or your idea of what's enjoyable." - Centauri
How do you come up with long lasting campagins?  I never understood how it works.  And before you say it, I don't like reading long novels, so suggesting to read something, although I've heard it a thousand times, won't work.  Movies on the other hand do, as I'm more of a visual person to begin with.  Hell, I just watched "The Grey" last weekend and threw in a combat with a bunch of wolves....My party slaughtered them all in three rounds, but it felt good using a cool idea I saw work on the silver screen. 



Use and reuse is key here. Borrowing elements is the most basic aspect of that, but there's no reason you need borrow from other people. Take some of your own ideas, switch around aspect, and run them anew. A rebranded idea might be a cheap fix, but it sure beats nothing at all when it comes game time.

Anyway, asside from the basic, "go read a book" or "go watch a movie", I know that already.  What I'm also trying to ask is how do you plan for your adventure and encounters?  I have a hard time planning anything and just pull things out of the book when it seems appropriate.  This doesn't work all the time however.  As stated above, wolves are common in forests, but a party or level 6s can kill 5 wolves, a Dire wolf and a Worg in 4 to 5 founds easy.  It's not very fun or challenging. 



I use what I have come to dub "The Story Bowl" to help me work up plots for stories and the occasional random encounter. Take index cards, write down a few ideas on them (ranging from creatures, settings, focuses, threats, etc.), cut them up into pieces, and put them in a bowl. Stir or shake contents as needed to mix up the slips, and then pull two or three out, using what was written on them to generate quick story content. For example, if you pull "Duergars", "Sewer" and "Disease" you have an enemy, a setting and a focus to generate a plot behind, which could be as short as a delve, or as long as a full 10 encounters worth of story depending on what you need. You can even let each of the players pick out aspects (not looking at them of course) and use them. You don't even need to decide on all the aspects of a story right away. Just pull one out when you need something answered about the story. I do advise not reusing aspects too close to one another. If you run an adventurer with Duergar's as a common enemy, don't throw their slip back in the bowl for at least another four stories.

I don't plan.  I hate it.  I feel like I should plan something, but they way I run is by letting the party figure out what they want to do.  Usually this just includes looking blankly at a job board.  Blankly because I never have any encounters ready, bacause I pull them out of the monster manual when I think it's a good time to throw a Behir at them, and then I end up killing a PC because he direcly challenges the monster and intimidates it without thinking of what may happen to his overall health. 



This step is unavoidable sadly, though not always as big an issue as one might think. For simple encounter building, print out a handful of monsters that might be good for whatever story you're working with (such as Wolves for forests to use an example already given by yourself), and sort them by level. +3/-3 is a good rule of thumb for level range, which is to say to use monsters that are at most 3 levels bellow the PCs, and 3 levels above the PCs in addition to  monsters of the PCs own level. If you want an easy encounter, give them one monster of their own level, and a few of a smaller level. A harder encounter might only have one monster of their level to aid the higher level ones, or none at all depending on the difficulty of the challenge. It might make XP random if you're working with the standard XP system for encounter building, but you get what you need. 4 to 6 monsters in a single encounter should work fine if your smart about matching levels towards difficulty. Minions should come in a group of at least 4 per.

The beauty of this step is that mixing and matching is easy, and it can be fun to include beasts otherwise unfitting to spice it up. Why bother trying to explain why Illithids are riding Beholders into battle when you can just throw it at the players and watch wonder and horror flush across their face in confusion XD

I need a story.  A grand Epic, that does NOT include finding some sort of long lost relic. (I swear, every game I've ran was about finding pieces to a relic and fixing it.  Rod of seven Parts, Jewel of Seven Stars, Deck of Many Things, Book of Vile Darkness, Ull-Athra's Crown)  The party so far has, some what, gotten on the good side of the local King.  This king goes by the name of "The Immortal God-King Gilgamesh".  If anyone has watched the anime, "The Tower of Druaga", or knows even a little bit about our own ancient history of the Tower of Bable or the times of the Babylonian age, then you may know what I'm trying to referance.

Anyway, the party is backed by Gilgamesh to be his champions, and I hate the whole political intreage thing.  I just can't do it, I know nothing of politics or intreage, and I probably didn't even spell those words correctly.  But in any case, I have someone who can order the party around to do things, but the world we play in (one of my own creation, because Iv'e ran in the Nentire Vale and Darksun already and I hate the Forgotten Realms and Ebberon) is largley empty as i'm using the party to help fill it in.  I figgure if I had a decent story to give them, world building will, go much more smoothly. (currently working in the "Inside-out" approach, of building where the party is and working outward from there.) 



The Story Bowl comes back into play here. You can use it not just for quick ideas to go from story to story, but also to build a much grander scale story as well. That being said, I still think sitting down for a session 0 holds par for the course on building the grand stories. The best stories for D&D are the ones everyone enjoys, and what better way to do this than to have a pow wow with everyone about what kind of goal they want their characters to have, and what sort of challenges they want to overcome?

Hope this helps. Happy Gaming :-)
Really, I guess it can be argued that the "long" campaigns are really a collection of short ones connected (usually) by the same characters and style and a few plot devices, anyway.

THis accurately describes my approach.

My "long campaigns" all have an overarching plot thesis. But the adventures within that plot are usually published adventures that I have tailored (sometimes heavily, sometimes with nothing more than name tweaks) to fit the theme. For example, consider my last two campaigns:

PortalQuest
The party was working for a now-quite-aged portalsmith who, over the past three centuries of his life, had created portals for merchants, nobles, priests, and plutocrats. But each of these portals had been single-point-to-point creations. His last wish is for the party to link all of these portals together using as key he had devised. Then he would bestow upon the world his gift: a network of portals allowing for rapid transit from place to place throughout the known world.

He would present the party with the location of a portal. They would have to travel via mundane, or magically-assisted-versions of mundane means, to the location of the portal, pass through it with the key (thereby linking it to the key), return through it (linking the key in the other direction as well), and then return to him for the next location.

Sometimes the portal was in the same condition and environment as when it was made. I would have this apply to three out of four portal locations. Nothing special. Just some face-time with the current owner, a bit of social interaction, perhaps placating the current owner, and a relatively uneventful return. Sometimes the location was keyed into an existing adventure, and all I had to do was find a place for the portal, letting the rest of the adventure run "as is". And sometimes I had to amend the published adventure quite a bit.

What the party did not know is that this portalsmith was an avatar of Mephistopheles, seeking a means of invading the prime world rapidly, securing his grasp on what would become (by force, of course), a source of worshipers, thereby elevating his status to a level akin to that of Asmodeus. They were feeding him the means of dropping lots of his armies into lots of places on Oerth in a very short time.

Rod of Seven Parts
The current campaign has the party seeking the parts of this Rod for the purpose of preventing the permanence of WorldFall (a 24-hours-every-century merging of the Shadow, Fey, and Material worlds). I just drop a piece of the rod in each of seven adventures, and we're off.

This campaign changes a bit at the Paragon and Epic levels, but as my party are still in it, I will preclude posting.
Here are the PHB essentia, in my opinion:
  • Three Basic Rules (p 11)
  • Power Types and Usage (p 54)
  • Skills (p178-179)
  • Feats (p 192)
  • Rest and Recovery (p 263)
  • All of Chapter 9 [Combat] (p 264-295)
A player needs to read the sections for building his or her character -- race, class, powers, feats, equipment, etc. But those are PC-specific. The above list is for everyone, regardless of the race or class or build or concept they are playing.
I take the view that the story is whatever the PCs do and not what I come up with on my own. Thus, the story is written as we play. To prepare for that level of flexibility, I use location-in-motion design. It offers the DM the chance to prep very lightly but coherently and allows for inspiration during emergent play rather than a rigid plotline. One of the great parts is that for a very small amount of prep up front, you tend to get a lot of sessions worth of excellent play.

Here are some links to recent discussions about LIM design that may be of use:

community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/758...

community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/758...


community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/758...

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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(levels given are based on 3.5)


Pick a villain. He is highest level you want the game to go, and really powerful. He is also fairly behind the scenes. Demon princes are a good fit, but you can make one up too. Lets go with a mindflayer lich. 


Give that villain a goal. "He wants to invade the earth" "He wants to blow up the sun". That sort of thing. Our mindflayer is blowing up the sun. 


Now give him factions he works with. He has a local goblin tribe, a corrupt diviner at [hogwarts] , a [godzilla], and his own army.


Now string those factions and mini quests together but drop hints that connect them. This was stream of thought and generally all I'd prep except maybe picking some monster stats. Not exact encounters though. 


The goblins capture princesses as their normal day to day operations. They ransom them back to people, but the dude who hired the PCs wants them to sneak in and steal her back because he is cheap. This is your level 1-6 quest. As the PCs slay the goblin chief, and end his threat forever, they find a [thing] that links him to the next quest. Lets say they have been stealing poor girls too, and selling them to a wizard somewhere. No one can pay to return them, so they don't bother with the ransom bit. This wizard is paying decent. Drop some notes with references to "It getting dark soon" in the text. 


The PCs track down the wizard, and you can do an investigation at [hogwarts] to find out which professor it is. Is it that hideous woman Professor Snake? Nope, make it the meek and unassuming Professor ****man. This investigation and traps and such take your PCs from level 6 to 12. He is the professor of conjuration and it looks like he has been buying these women and giving them to a third party, a dwarven merchant in the city of [Moria]. ****man can say something about how "they would never comprehend his true plan" when caught, but then babbles nonsense. 


The PCs get to [moria] and people warn them not to confront the merchant. He runs the thieves guild. During their investigation of his gang, which turn out to be oh say were[moles], it is revealed he feeds those who cross him to [godzilla] which he keeps trapped somewhere. The PCs are careful not to fall into his traps, and he says some sort of monolouge consisting of "F it, my masters plan is almost complete anyway [godzilla] smash the whole town." Then he frees it and takes a secret passage to the underdark and runs away. This quest goes from 12-17. 


The PCs beat [godzilla] and chase him into the underdark where they quickly find him killed with his brain taken. They follow some tracks and find a Drow military outpost. While not outright hostile its clear they aren't welcome. Upon investigation, the drow outpost is scaling up for something. Also they are led by our mind flayer lich. It becomes clear that through some ritual needing [a million virgin girls] he is going to destroy the sun for some crazy mindflayer lich cult reason. The drow think thats a swell idea, and are helping. 


[things] fill in with your own knock off version of what I wrote. 

"In a way, you are worse than Krusk"                               " As usual, Krusk comments with assuredness, but lacks the clarity and awareness of what he's talking about"

"Can't say enough how much I agree with Krusk"        "Wow, thank you very much"

"Your advice is the worst"

How do you come up with long lasting campagins?

I use published stuff. Living Forgotten Realms has literally hundreds of excellent, free adventures, many of which are tied together to make for a long campaign.

Get out your handy-dandy notebook, and start thinking about all the places, NPC's, and whatever else you can remember that you've already done in the current game. Write it all down. Add to it stuff that has crossed your mind but you just haven't used it yet. Keep track of this kind of stuff as you play, and before you realize it, you have a full-blown campaign. You can flesh out the NPC's as you go, maybe give that grumpy bartender a wife and kids, or the guard at the gate the party always sees has a kid brother, or whatever.
I don't know the anime' he's referring to, but Gilgamesh is the hero from The Epic of Gilgamesh, possibly the first printed/published story ever. He killed a dragon-like creature, and other cool stuff. Unfortunately, he failed to rid the world of politicians.
A lot of this can depend on your players and how much they want to control the story so Id suggest just talking to them and figuring out their attitudes on a long, epic campaign. Some players, like mine, like to be lead around more like characters in a book while others really want the story to be totally in control, theres no wrong way to do it but the latter type of player makes it a little more difficult to plan really far ahead. 

A small piece of advice that I find works for me is to not try to make a campaign epic all at once, get the bones down like a central villian or goal and some other branches but keep it rudimentary for awhile. Then as your characters explore and interact with this basic world you start to get ideas and inspiration just by being in that world. For me it helped to have my players move from place to place so I could experiment with different storytelling techniques without the change feeling jarring or abrupt. Soon before you realize it, youve got a good feeling for the world theyre in and what its like so its much easier to flesh things out, add side characters with their own agenda, deepen the motivations of the big bad, change the big bad whatever. When you have a world you understand you understand how to make it work for you if that makes any sense.

And here is my last piece of advice: borrow everything you can. There are only so many stories out there so trying to make one perfectly unique is an exercise in futility. Rather just use bits and pieces from media you like (you already mentioned The Grey and thats perfect) and itll be your own in no time. 

Hope this helps in some small way and you can kick start your grand campaign =)