Subscribe to the Roleplaying Tips Weekly Newsletter - game master tips

An Example Campaign Survey

By Colin Walmsley

[Comment from Johnn: the following is a survey my friend Colin whipped up before launching his D&D campaign in 2006. I thought his survey was excellent, and that you might find some ideas in it for your own surveys.]

D&D Pre-Campaign Questionaire

These are some basic ideas. Please respond to each and don't feel that you are constrained to just the options I have listed. If there are some other ideas you have please let me know.


DM Style: (informational)

I like a fair bit of tactical action, but not to the point of wargaming. Although core scenarios will be balanced for the level of the characters, I do toss in encounters that cannot be won (if you encounter an ettin at first level, odds are you should run away rather than piss him off). I like a large, fleshed out background for all the PCs that I can pull some adventures out of. Don't worry about having it all done up front � it will be an evolutionary thing, kinda like the flash-backs in the Lost TV show.

Gameplay will be episodic with an overlaying plot line and recurring NPCs. I don't like wasting time role-playing shop keepers or worrying about every minor expense or mug of ale the characters buy. I do like the PCs to have some personality and there will be a fair bit of social interaction with plot-important personalities. I also like a mix of dark and serious and silly and humorous gameplay.

Flavour of Setting: (what kind of setting do you prefer to game in?)

My preference is for either/or Celtic style (Slaine comic) or Turkish/East-Meets-West. This does not rule out iconic D&D play; it just informs the style of the work around the characters. I am not a big fan of Arthurian knights-in-armour type of thing, nor far eastern. I am open to characters coming from such settings on an individual basis but the campaign will not be Bushido. I would like the setting to feel more historic/grimy than being modern day with magic replacing technology. Please let me know what kind of feel you would like. See the bottom of this survey for some concepts.


Core Setting: (rate each on a scale of 1-10).

Bear in mind I will customize the setting, and this provides a starting point for races, pantheon, nations, etc.

  1. Forgotten Realms (Unapproachable East)
  2. Eberron (somewhere outside the standard geographic setting)
  3. Greyhawk
  4. Other (Black Company, Slaine, Thieves World, etc.)
  5. Colin's Custom Setting

Type of Setting: (rate preference from 1-10)

This defines the characters' home base. Adventures will pull them into other settings as well. There will be lots of dungeon crawls, wilderness encounters, etc. I'm not particularly interested in doing Underdark or Undermountain, so those kind of preferences are absent.

  1. Wilderness (druids, rangers, etc.)
  2. Rural (small village based life)
  3. Urban (major city)

Party Motivation: (rate preference)

I would like a cohesive group that are all working towards the same goal. Character creation should take this into account. I have no qualms about PvP kills if certain characters refuse to work with the group. ;)

  1. Part of organization: mercenary company, druid circle, thieves' guild, religion, etc.
  2. Working for the Man: they are a special group that works for a powerful patron: noble, king, merchant, etc.
  3. Related: the characters are part of the same family or clan.
  4. Thrown together: the group comes together to battle a common foe.
  5. Destiny/Bloodline: characters share a common ancestor or destiny that brings them together from dissimilar backgrounds.

Alignment: (rate)

I would like to give the group a core alignment slant based on preferences. It sucks to have someone roll a paladin and someone else to choose a CN thief, so everyone will know up front what options they should think about.

  • Good
  • Good/Neutral
  • Neutral
  • Evil/Neutral
  • Evil

Character Level: (rate)

My preference would be to start out above first level to provide a bit more meat for character backgrounds, but will go with party consensus. Above first level also allows for options of level adjusted races.

  • First � raw recruits/graduates, with no "real life" experience
  • Third � experienced troops that have several seasons/campaigns behind them
  • Sixth � battle-hardened heroes who are used to being tougher than almost anyone they encounter

Player Options: (pick top 3 preferences in order)

The PCs will have some additional special abilities that set them apart, along the lines of Dragonmarks in Eberron or Bloodlines in Birthright. These abilities will start small and gain in power with the characters. Here are some ideas:

  • Daemonic � bind bodiless daemons into items.
  • Fey � manipulate nature spirits and plants.
  • Elemental � harness the forces of fire, air, water, earth.
  • Necromantic � fashion items of bone and bind the spirits of the dead to power them.
  • Totemic � gain the abilities of totem spirits or the aid of ancestor spirits.
  • Bloodline � have draconic (or other) blood in the family tree.
  • Tattoos � magical or psionic tattoos.
  • Incarnum � characters can manipulate soul energy to create soul melds.
  • Psionic � some minor psionic ability.

Campaign Basics: (informational)

  • Low/middle magic � magic is not an everyday event. Spellcasters are relatively rare, but not unheard of. There is a greater range of non-magic items, including healing herbs and more powerful masterwork weapons and armour. No magic shops or buying of magic items.
  • Low tech � no guns or gunpowder. Some special materials are not readily available: heavy armour, tinder twigs, sunrods, alchemist fire.
  • The characters will be working toward a common goal, not a bunch of adventurers looking for loot.
  • The PCs are heroic, not just commoners with swords. Their abilities are greater than those of others around them. Most NPCs will be NPC classes and have lower attribute scores than the players.
  • I love customization. Feel free to explore altered class features, unusual feats and races (such as running a warforged in the Forgotten Realms). If you have issues with any current rule/feat I am open to making house rules for it.

House Rules: (informational � open for debate on mechanics)

Here are some house rules I like. Let me know if there are any you are not fond of, or others you want to include.

  • Stat point buy with 28 points. Ike had a good idea for starting abilities off at 6 and adding the extra points to the pool...
  • Death and dying: HP no longer exist when they reach 0, rather than dropping to the standard -10. Additional damage reduces the character's Con score on a point for point basis. When Con = 0 the character is dead.
  • Subdual damage - when it exceeds the character's HP total the character is unconscious and further damage goes into actual HP.
  • Rolling HP - if the result is less than 1/2 the die, raise it to 1/2 the die (round down at all levels).
  • Crossbows � are more deadly. Critical threat is 18-20 and multiplier is x4. There are also mighty versions (up to +2 for light and +4 for heavy).
  • Metamagic feats - have 3 uses per day and do not need to be prepared beforehand. The maximum spell level that can be used is equal to the maximum level a character can cast, minus the spell level penalty.
  • Fighters: to offset the lack of heavy armour they gain proficiency with all exotic weapons.
  • Psychic Warriors: Will save is improved to a good progression (as cleric).
  • Trip: add BAB to all trip checks. Overbear can be used to hold someone down with brute strength, as a standard action.
  • Dodge: the AC bonus applies to all attacks. This feat may be taken multiple times and its benefits stack.
  • Toughness: adds 2 + character level to HP. May only be taken once.

Example Settings: (based on options taken from above - just to provide some ideas.

Feel free to rate them if you feel like it or provide any scenarios you would like to play).

  • Scepter: A combination mages' guild and mercenary company. All soldiers have at least one level of wizard so they can use the wands supplied by the more cloistered members. All carry a signature scepter that acts as a light mace. Its enchantments gain in power with the player. Characters are based out of a small city in an ancient desert empire.
  • Black Dogs: Special forces of a remote, brutal lord. The name was bestowed by the peasants that live on his land. The characters spend their time fending off marauding humanoids and oppressing the locals at their lord's command. Each character has been given a soulbound item that can only be used by him and gains in power with him.
  • Blood Guard: Elite troops of a city-state overlord in a middle eastern setting. There are nine city-states, forming the Nine Nations of the Jan. Characters guard the castle and perform special missions in outlying areas. Identified by a red cloaks they wear. Each member is born into the organization and has a birthmark that gives them hereditary skills and extraordinary abilities.
  • Temple of Justice: Known by their white robes and black manacles. The priests act as magistrates (judge and jury), monks/rogues as seekers (spies and assassins), mages as inquisitors, and warriors/paladins as guardians. High priest is the Lord Justice, master thief/monk is the Eye of God, arch mage is the High Inquisitor, and chief paladin is the Commander of the Faithful. They have many chapter houses/temples scattered throughout the kingdom. They guard against a neighbouring kingdom that is ruled by a powerful witch-king. Characters learn to manipulate souls as incarnum.
  • Slayers Brotherhood: Private enforcers. A city-based mercenary group that can be hired as muscle, bodyguards, police, assassins, lookouts, soldiers, etc. Recognized by a black armband. Members are given magical tattoos as they gain in rank.
  • Silver Daggers: A loosely organized mercenary company consisting of seasoned adventurers. Each is identified by a masterwork alchemical silvered dagger they wear. They operate as solitary warriors or in small groups to train and lead men-at-arms. They are secret agents for good and try to subtly guide unruly lords and thwart evil organizations. Members are well-informed and gain the bardic knowledge ability. Characters start as petitioners to gain entry into the group and must prove their worth.
  • Seelie Court: A group of fey provides leadership to humanoid freedom fighters in a land ruled by goblinoids and their spider minions. As characters gain in power they are given secret insights into the ways of the fey and are taught to summon and bind fey spirits. Players attempt to free slaves and thwart the goblins.
  • Emerald Enclave: A group of druids with various wilderness based agents and even monks. The arch druid is a green dragon and many of their spells reflect this (i.e. dragonscale instead of barkskin). They are at war with the blightspawned minions of the Rotting Man (a powerful druid lich). Characters have unique abilities to control specific elements.
  • Warders: A loosely organized group of warriors/berserker and witches/druids/adepts that work for the good of their nation (a wild land with a Celtic flavour, living among the bones of an ancient empire of demon haunted ruins and hidden artifacts). The witches are the true leaders/guides of the nation, with a male political leader (the Iron Lord). Warriors are organized in berserker lodges that provide militia troops to the Iron Lord. Characters are taught to bind daemons (bodiless demons) into items to grant them extraordinary abilities.
  • Shadowguard: The garrison of an underground city/sanctuary populated by former slaves of the mind flayers. Many residents are psionically active. Characters guard the entrances to the city as well as patrol the outlying area for enemies and form strike teams to keep the mind flayers off balance. They are provided with various power crystals.
  • Bloodlines: Disparate characters are descendants of a master necromancer. They have hereditary powers, each a portion of their ancestor. The characters are drawn together in a remote village where they unravel the mystery of their bloodline. They discover a secret lab and the undead form of their forefather who aids them against an ancient enemy who seeks to use their blood for his own ends.
  • Eye of the Hunter: Disparate characters find themselves united against a common foe. Each character has some unique ability and destiny seems determined to use them to fulfill an ancient prophecy to overthrow an undying evil that threatens to engulf the world in darkness.