GameJoy: GM Advice: ‘Friends of a Dragon’ Campaign Starter

Recently my assorted work schedules ramped up a lot, which has left me without the dedicated free time to run weekly games any more. My family and loved ones felt bad and offered to play in a text-based game with me, which we could pick up and play in the small moments of free time each of us have throughout the week.

So we all got to rolling up new characters, and I started planning out a campaign.

When you’re making a new fifth edition character, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything is a fantastic resource. Specifically, it has a chapter on random backstory generation. This chapter’s worth of random tables can really help flesh out a PC’s origins and give the dungeon master a lot of extra details to work into the campaign world.

If luck (or fate) is on your side, you could end up like we did with a very unique way of starting a campaign.

See, under ‘Life Events’, there’s a 6% chance your character has experienced ‘Weird Stuff’. These are over the top and ridiculous moments in their life straight out of a fairy tale. It’s the kind of moment that could be an entire adventure unto itself: turned into a toad, petrified for a period of your life, taken captive by drow, meeting an arch-devil, etc.

One of the events is as follows:

“A dragon held you as a prisoner for 1d4 months until adventurers killed it”

I’d rolled this event for one of my characters in an old campaign, and it’s a blast to add detail to and flesh out.

And our cleric just rolled it for his random life event!

We laughed and poked fun at him, alluding to the idea of it being a Beauty and the Beast situation…and then our druid got the same roll.

And then our rogue did too!

It was incredible odds, but half the party had at one point in their life been kept captive by a dragon! Obviously, we all decided that it was the same dragon for all of them, and they’d just been kept captive for different lengths of time.

Then we started to brainstorm about what such an event might imply. We joked “What if that’s how we all meet? We’ve just all been captured by the same dragon?”

And I, as the dungeon master, started coming up with more details and ideas.

Xanathar’s Guide’s backstory tables include results for meeting friendly or hostile NPC’s that can become recurring characters in a campaign. All of us had rolled one or more of these over the course of generating our backstories…but none of us were really thrilled about the results. They weren’t bad, they were just kind of boring.

Our bard suggested “Why don’t we just call a mulligan on those and take more weird stuff rolls”. The party agreed.

What followed were three d12 rolls of 4 in a row.

All of us had been captives of the dragon!

Each of us started to make reaction rolls about how we felt about this dragon, what our relationship to them was like, and steadily I came to understand that this dragon wasn’t an enemy. There’s no way this dragon was dying at the end of these backstories.

I’d planned on using the group patron rules from the new Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything rulebook: they’re a great way to provide adventure hooks and quests in the form of a unified NPC or group. There also happens to be an ‘Elder Being’ patron, which can be ancient dragon!

And so Cuprachaud the Gleaming, an ancient copper dragon in the Trielta Hills, was born. She watches over the Sunset Vale for dangerous artifacts and does her best to protect the pastoral halflings and gnomes of the vale from greater evils. But after the cult of the dragon’s failed attempt to raise Tiamat from the Nine Hells, Cuprachaud was wounded and weakened. So, she now collects adventurous and savvy people who can be her eyes and ears in the vale, taking on tasks to protect it from unseen magical threats.

Just like that, I had the basis for a new campaign!

This ‘Friends of a Dragon’ campaign starter isn’t new by any means, but I feel like it is seldom used. If you’re looking to start a new campaign and don’t know how to get it going, this campaign starter is way more dynamic than the usual “we all met on the road or in a tavern” way of starting a new campaign.

An ancient metallic dragon has grown weaker in its twilight years, and needs mortal agents to enact their will for the good of a region. It immediately provides a party with a source of magic items as a reward, a font of ancient knowledge when they’re confronted with a mystery, and a built in hideout in the form of a dragon’s lair! It’s a fantastic set up for a D&D game.

Give it a try!