I’m a campaignaholic. My main home campaign of fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons (on indefinite hiatus), a Curse of Strahd party, a family game following the trail of the Xanathar Thieves Guild, a megadungeon in a very rough stage of development, a just-launched live stream D&D 5E Spelljammer campaign and more all have a home together on D&D Beyond, which I confess does little to curb the compulsion to create campaigns.
D&D Beyond campaign management
It’s so easy to click the button and make a new campaign!
Experimenting with different ways to utilize DDB‘s digital tools for campaign management is a fun and useful activity for Dungeon Masters and players alike. Creating a campaign is super simple and helps keep you focused from the get-go. Adding a description of your new campaign gives you the opportunity to solidify your ideas into a campaign summary. The same word processing tools are fully available here, so you can create your text with headers and highlights, embed links, images and even video elements.
I like to use the description to sort of pitch the campaign for players. For Ingest Quest, the description introduces the setting and some of the new elements and mechanics we’ll be dealing with, the list of players, times and dates for the live stream, character creation guidelines, house rules, and an About the Dungeon Master section since this is the first time playing together for several of us. I wanted to be up front with players about what style of game it will be and my DM style. Under the character creation section, there’s links to different sources of homebrew content and optional rules like the vehicles (space) skill and some homebrew subclasses. The campaign pitch itself is a great time to answer the Five W’s for your game, too. (Unless it’s meant to be a mystery for the players, then you might reserve this for the private DM Notes.)
For streaming or other online games with players gaming together for possibly the first time, an About the Dungeon Master section is a good way to give players a heads up about what a game session might be like and helps manage expectations.
Do you like to call for rolls a lot? Directly engage your players in the creation process and focus on heavy description collaboratively? Tell players straight up what a monsters’ AC or task’s DC is or keep it mysterious? Here’s your chance to let them know right off the bat.
Including house rules in the description is an excellent practice too. For Ingest Quest, characters will start each session with inspiration and they can use inspiration to impose disadvantage on the DM, dragonborn can use breath weapons as a bonus action, and we’re using a set of alternate uses for hit dice developed in the Nerdarchy homebrew lab (coming soon to our store!).
Public and private campaign notes
In the campaign proper you’ve got two areas to work in: DM Notes (Private) and DM Notes (Public). This is the heart of your campaign and holy moley is it useful. It’s been decades since the days of keeping everything in a Trapper Keeper. Years of carrying books to basements and back rooms for gaming sessions.
Trying to remember which notebook or notecard has that encounter, NPC or magic item written on it. Was it in one of the dozen Google docs hiding in a folder somewhere?
Everything I need is right there in the public and private notes. Even better – you can make your own tooltips in the text editor!
Yep, the same as you see in the basic rules, and unlocked compendium and adventures content, those handy floating cards available to you in the campaign tools and homebrew creation tools as well.
The simple bracket system let’s you make tooltips out of monsters, spells, conditions, skills and more. The homebrew tools tutorials have more on how to create tooltips.
For episode 1 of Ingest Quest this was invaluable. I had enough on my mind going into the game. My first time running a game as DM for a live stream, thinking about people viewing in the live chat audience (I didn’t look at the chat at all if you’re wondering), playing with people I’ve never played with before…anything to make the production smoother and easier was a huge value add. Keeping all my notes with immediate access to stat blocks and rules references is an enormous bonus! I already knew DDB was hugely beneficial to use during games like private home campaigns and impromptu sessions like the games we ran at Cleveland ConCoction.
For a live stream D&D game the advantage is even greater. Zero time was spent flipping through books or even switching between different tabs for notes and so forth. If your prep includes reminders for yourself on things like a condition or spell effect, dropping a tooltip in the text means you need only mouse over the word for a quick reference. Even better, if you need more information than the tooltip shows, they also double as hyperlinks so you can open up a new tab for expanded content. Keeping the game flowing is my No. 1 priority especially for a live stream game, and having the content so easily accessible makes such an incredible difference.
For the final scene of episode 1, you can see in the screenshot of the campaign notes how all the text in red are tooltips linked to the various creatures involved in the Gibbering Mouthfuls encounter. Because of the timing, the encounter was accelerated a bit and thankfully for the characters and innocent audience members caught up in the chaos, Smoke Mephits’ BBQ did not also create cause for further alarm.
Further down in the notes are sections for each of the possible choices the party could have made in hunting down ingredients, potential revelations for skill uses, encounter complications and outcomes. With the text editor options for different headers, font sizes and colors, bulleted lists and even spoiler screens and code blocks, you can really customize your notes for an adventure.
For as much value that private DM Notes provide for running a game, public notes for the players add a whole other level of robust use both during and between game sessions.
For Ingest Quest, all the alternate hit dice options are listed in there for the players to reference during play. They could easily copy and paste these into their DDB character sheets in the notes section too. The way DDB develops and grows, I would not be surprised to find the ability to code new mechanical concepts DM’s come up with to interface with the character sheet at some point.
As it stands, official mechanics like Wildshape, Action Surge and the like are baked right into the character sheet so players can check off boxes as they’re used and refresh them with a click of the Long Rest and Short Rest buttons. Wouldn’t it be neat if your own custom mechanics could be integrated the same way? Some day…
The Public Notes for Ingest Quest also contain a new warlock subclass developed specifically for this Spelljammer campaign. The eponymous manta ray-shaped spelljamming vessel becomes a warlock Patron!
Your Patron is the legendary Spelljammer, a living vessel wandering the cosmos seemingly aimlessly. Appearing as a gigantic manta ray with an entire city on its back, the Spelljammer is largely a mystery. Tales of seeing the vessel exist in countless crystal spheres, and even groundlings have myths about the entity.
You have bound yourself to the living vessel, and this connection draws you to travel the stars, to distant spheres and through the phlogiston, linking your fate inexorably to the complex life cycle of the mysterious Spelljammer. Warlocks who make this pact are rare, but have unparalleled skill at a spelljamming helm.
None of the players chose this option, but it was fun to create anyway.
Finally, our Public Notes allow me to do one of my favorite parts of any campaign – a narrative recap of each adventure! As a DM my goal is only to create a setting and skeleton structure of an adventure, and along with the players tell the story they want their characters to experience together. The story takes place during play. Thinking and writing about it from a narrative point of view afterwards gives me a chance to put things in perspective for the players. When the action is fast and roleplaying cruises along in two hour chunks, little details can sometimes go unnoticed. An ongoing, growing narrative lets the players see the progress their characters make in the campaign, and gives them a quick and easy reference for the people, places and things they encounter along the way.
What I’d like to see in D&D Beyond campaign tools
Anyone who’s read previous posts about DDB or follows me on social media knows I am a huge advocate for the digital toolset. It revolutionized the way I play and run D&D games. With the bare minimum of my phone and a set of dice, I can participate in or run a game at the spur of the moment. And following along the wonderful monthly live developer streams with product lead Adam Bradford fills me with confidence that we’ve only just scratched the surface of what DDB will become.
That being said, there’s a lot of things I’d like to see emerge from DDB particularly as regards the campaign management system. Based on my experiences so far, there’s a nonzero chance at least one of these things is already possible and I just haven’t come across how to do it yet. And I’m 100 percent certain there’s development in the works beyond the scope of anything on my wish list. But I’ll touch on a few things from that list here.
- Five W’s
- Some form of campaign description prompts to guide users in creating a solid campaign summary. Perhaps fields to enter the antagonist, their goal, where and when events take place and so forth. After entering it generates an auto-formatted blurb to pitch your campaign concept for players.
- Curated sharing
- As it stands, when you turn on content sharing, any players who join the campaign can access any of the unlocked content from others in the campaign. With a legendary bundle in the mix this is awesome…too awesome. If I’m running Curse of Strahd, I’d prefer the players can’t just pull it up at their leisure and read the adventure material. A selection of checkboxes for specific content to share would be nice. Further, I’d like this to extend to homebrew collections. For example, I’ve created homebrew “spells” to represent all the maneuvers a spelljammer pilot can pull while on the helm. By joining my campaign, players have access to these. But they also have access to homebrew monsters I’ve created, several of which are for this campaign. I’d rather they couldn’t see those stat blocks!
- Homebrew tooltips
- I love DDB tooltips. But at the moment they only work for official content. As long as you spell things inside brackets correctly, you’re golden with your tooltips. But I’d like to be able to use those same brackets for homebrew content. This is a good opportunity for a protip (and potential spoiler for an upcoming Ingest Quest session). You must use the complete, full name of an element for the tooltip to work correctly. For example, [monster]aldani[/monster] will not create a tooltip; instead it must be [monster]aldani (lobsterfolk)[/monster].
- I suppose I could use the spoiler screen to collapse content I’ve used already, but even better would be a system to create chapters for your campaign. This way, after you play through a section of your content you could perhaps click a box to collapse and hide that content for ease of reading your notes. By the time Ingest Quest wraps up, there will be a lot of adventure content in the notes to scroll through.
- Clickable sharing to reveal info to players (one-click make public notes)
- A simple, easy way to transfer blocks of text from Private to Public Notes would be wonderful. Maybe you have a piece of art showing an NPC or location in your Private Notes. If you could click a button and make it pop up in the Public Notes for players to see, that would be terrific. Likewise with text.
- Hyperlinked content
- Along the same lines as “chapters” if you could jump around your notes with linked text, I’d be a happy DM. Ingest Quest episode 1 presented the party with one of four choices, and it would be awesome if I could put those choices near the top, linked to different section of the notes, and click them to jump right to those sections.
- Player note editing
- Giving players the ability to edit the Public Notes, or maybe have individual sections for each player to keep notes, would be really cool. Not only would it keep all the campaign material in the same place (characters, adventure notes, etc.) they would be able to copy and paste other elements from the Public Notes that they might have particular need for. In our campaign, Fitzroy could copy just the alternative hit dice options for rangers into his own notes. I guess they could use the notes section of their character sheets for this, but keeping it tied to the campaign would be a nice feature. Sharing their notes with fellow players would be neat too. But as a DM it would be incredibly useful to see their notes and get a deeper understanding of the things each player felt were noteworthy enough to write down.
Heading into episode 2
Our first session of Ingest Quest was phenomenal. One of my first Nerdarchy articles makes the claim there’s only one rule to follow as Game Master: Look around at players, and if they’re smiling then you’re all good. But that measure, the adventure was a big success. Having a great group of players with interesting characters carries a ton of weight for any campaign, and I am lucky to have such a terrific group for this game. Combined with how smooth and easy DDB’s campaign tools made running the game, my first foray as a DM for a live stream game went very well. Right up until we hit the Start Streaming button, I was freaking out about whether I’d prepared enough content and if I’d keep things moving along at a good pace. I think I did all right.
If you missed episode 1 of Ingest Quest, give it a watch down below and let us know what you think, and catch us live on Fridays 1:30-3:30 p.m. eastern. This traveling food show is only getting started and there’s a lot more gonzo fantasy space to discover and exotic cuisine to sample for these eclectic adventurers. Next week I’ll show how I use DDB tools search tools and filters to build encounters and story beats, so until then, stay nerdy!
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