How I Prep My Basilica Campaign

How do you prep? While chatting with a GM during a coaching call, I realized I don’t prep the same way many GMs do. Let me explain, using my Basilica campaign as an example….

My current campaign is sandbox meets hex/dungeon crawl meets story path. I’m looting Temple of Elemental Evil (and hope the PCs eventually do too) and everything else is homebrew.

In my notes, I record it like this:

Sandbox + Crawl + Path

And, using that like a kind of Mad Lib, I wrote it like this for Basilica:

The Barony of Ravenstaag + Temple of Elemental Evil + Return of the Primordials

In response to yesterday’s poll about what kind of campaign you’re running, I was asked for definitions of campaign types. I’ll share my definitions in the future, but we can start with how I define Sandbox, Crawl, and Path for Basilica.

In brief:


A detailed region in my homebrew world of Duskfall. Players choose what they want to do, I follow. I shared my starting sandbox GM Move (treasure) here.

My sandboxes have no plots. They have Spikes of Danger (foe lairs) and Missions. I’ll have to define Spikes of Danger another time, but it you are a Platinum Wizard of Adventure or purchased Wizard of Story, you can find the detailed tutorial here.


When players explore a large and unknown area in Ravenstaag, I call that crawling. The party might be on a Mission or just curious. The area might be a dungeon, a swath of wilderness, or a city.


The typical adventure plot or plan. Most published adventures focus only on having the players follow a specific path. I find this exhausting and stressful, like studying for an exam meets cat herding. So, I create a simple but cunning Plotline based on villain plans instead.

I then update the Plotline quickly between sessions in response to character actions. This lets me have a plan or clear plot while staying agile. In addition, using my Loopy Planning technique, I run several Paths at once, with one central Path based on my Mastermind Villain.

Putting It All Together

Why do I run my campaign as Sandbox + Crawl + Path?

The main reason is they stack. The Sandbox is my setting. It’s the stage on which we have awesome adventures. And it’s the container for all the Dangers I can call upon to make lives interesting for the PCs.

The crawl presents options for players to explore and discover amazing things. These Discoveries deliver Hooks for Missions and Paths.

And Paths are how I forecast the future to help guide what I need to prep between sessions.

Sandbox and Crawl are prepped before campaign start. I also prep my primary starting Path based on a central villain, whom I call the campaign’s Mastermind. And then I update the plot of any active Paths between sessions based on player and character goals, and player decisions.

Building Legos

Finally, my last step is creating the game pieces or campaign elements. I have a whole system for this that I go over in my Master of the 5 Room Dungeon Workshop. But, in essence, I start by naming stuff, then I build small versions quickly. If a small version of something becomes important, I flesh it out with story details and stats.

I think of these game pieces as blocks or Legos. They are all at my finger tips in Campaign Logger, ready to be stacked, assembled, and dropped into gameplay at a moment’s notice.

Why This Approach?

Sorry for all the jargon today. If you have any questions, just hit reply.

I take this approach, because after decades of experimentation, running published stuff, and homebrewing, I get these benefits from prepping and running my Sandbox + Crawl + Path approach to campaigns:

  • Enhanced Player Agency. Players have interesting choices to make. Sandbox lets players shape the game’s direction, leading to a fantastic gaming experience. They feel in control of their destiny in my world.
  • Rich Exploration Opportunities. Crawl lets players delve into the unknown, which is exciting and dramatic. And if I need to add something new to the campaign, I have plenty of unexplored areas to from which to spawn it.
  • Dynamic Storytelling. Yesterday’s campaign poll revealed that the majority of GMs prefer narrative-style campaigns. Paths give me structured narratives without the straightjacket or railroad. And my plots can easily evolve based on player actions, so I’m not always stressed trying to maintain a pre-baked story or track.
  • Efficient and Flexible Prep. I can focusing on key elements while leaving lots room for improvisation that doesn’t paint me into corners. I avoid GM burnout and keep the campaign player-centric.
  • Spiral World Building. I start with a foundation, but then let the Sandbox, Crawl, and Path direct what needs development next. This approach also lets players co-create the setting while letting me still hold all the secrets behind my screen.
  • Scalable Complexity. If players want to show up to hack and slash, great. If they want to delve into intrigue, great. If they want to plan a Mission, great. I can flex game depth to player preferences in any given session.
  • Reuse & Recycle. The second time I GM something, it’s better than the first. Third time beats the second. And so on. By prepping Lego pieces, I can reskin and use them again and again. And each time I need prep them less, I GM them with more confidence, and the details start taking care of themselves because of intimate familiarity.
  • Consistent Player Engagement. The varied nature of Sandbox, Crawl, and Path keeps players consistently engaged, as each session brings something new and exciting.
  • Adaptable to System and Genre. You can apply this approach to your own campaigns regardless of mechanics, tropes, and setting.
  • Long-term Campaign Viability. I’m launching something in the New Year, and it’s all about helping you run awesome campaigns and keeping them alive without burnout or anyone losing interest. Sandbox + Crawl + Path, which is part of this cool new thing, keeps engagement and excitement high throughout the entire length of a campaign, from Session 0 to Grand Finale.

I received a lot of questions from yesterday’s campaign poll about how to prep and how I prep. I hope this high-level overview helps explain my approach. Thanks to everyone who responded and asked questions!

I’ll be talking a lot more about all this stuff in the New Year. But for today, noodle on why ant past campaigns might’ve fizzled out and where frictions might exist in your current approach to prep. It’s good to be purposeful and methodical in how we do things so we can focus on having more fun at every game instead of being a giant d20 ball of stress before each session.

Have more fun at every game!

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