A campaign is the whole story, from level 1 to level 20.
In our last article, we mentioned the difference between an adventure, and a campaign in the context of Harry Potter, where Prisoner of Azkaban is an adventure, and the whole Harry Potter series is a campaign.
Now, planning a campaign is ridiculous. It’s impossible to know how a single adventure will end, so to plan on the endings of various adventures to build a whole campaign is a fools errand. If you feel the need to plan an entire campaign, what you really want to do is write a book.
So what, then, am I writing an article for? This is really about how to choose what the next adventure you should run is, based on the previous adventures, as well as the Players and their characters’ goals. The Big Bad Evil Guy (BBEG) is dead, what do you do next?
When you built your adventure, hopefully you took some time and were able to build out aspects of the prominent Non-Player Characters (NPCs), as well as the local and surrounding areas. In doing so, you probably mentioned things over the course of the adventure that never really went anywhere. Whether that’s a reference to another city, that constantly puts the one you’re in in danger, or perhaps a series of pirate raids down south that are slowly creeping up the coastline. Maybe there were rumors of a monster hunter that could have helped the party, but they never took the time to find him. Now, what you can do with that information, is ask yourself “What happened, if no one intervened?” So now, whatever threat wasn’t addressed is now more powerful, or whatever person that could have helped them, now needs help himself.
If you aren’t really sure what loose ends you left, or if the players are interested in any of them, you can always ask “was there anything interesting that happened, that you didn’t get to explore?” This puts the story into your players’ hands, which is the best thing you can do, because this is their game, and you are simply facilitating it. If you do this enough times, eventually you’ve created an entire campaign, based purely on what your players were interested in.
Maybe there weren’t any loose ends that the party seems interested in, so it’s time to leave, because no one seems to care about sticking around this place. Whoever was your “quest giver” that told you about the problem in the first place, might also know about other issues in nearby or distant places, that could also use the help of a capable band of adventurers. In fact, with a Letter of Recommendation from the Mayor you just helped, your party might be able to charge a higher fee for the helping of another town.
To create an entire campaign this way, you would probably have the first adventure in a small farming town that’s being besieged by a small group of bandits. As you work your way up to a town with goblins, a city with a lich, a kingdom with giants, and finally a continent with the gods themselves, you’ve created an entire campaign of monster hunting, just by recommendation.
Let’s say your party is getting to the point where they don’t want to just move onto the next town, and kill another monster of the week, but instead want to be major players in the world around them. Instead, it’s time to look at large-scale changes that need to happen. Maybe you just helped a town with pirates, and you find out that the pirates are pirates because a local Naval Commander is under threat of having his forces minimized and defunded by the local government, so he is actually paying the pirates to do dastardly deeds, so that he can convince his King that his job is necessary for the people. That’s a much more political story, as there are inevitably various factions that have their own agendas, and you can’t just kill your way through the problem.
So this is a classic “follow the money” type situation, where if you find out why bad situations are happening, and what you could do to solve them, you end up helping a lot more people than you ever could only focusing on the problem right in front of you.
There are so many movies that end with the BBEG being killed, and that’s credits. If you think about it though, the whole local ecosystem is based on that BBEG, especially if it’s been a continuous problem for years, and the city has adapted around it. Well, now there are all of those underlings that don’t have jobs, and all of those corrupt guards and authorities that just received a major drop in their income. Surely someone is going to take that place of power. Will it be the local King, like it should be? Not necessarily, not unless there are people on the ground (like your party) who are willing to help enforce the new ways, and not allow someone else to become the new BBEG, just for everything to return to the way it was.
The Bosses Boss
Probably the most common storyline to follow, you’ve killed the BBEG, only to find out that he had his own BBEG. Think about Lord of the Rings. It could be a whole adventure to take out Wormtongue from corrupting the mind of King Theoden of Rohan, and next would be to realize that his boss was Saruman. Well, once you’ve defeated Saruman, you realize this whole time he’s been working for Sauron. What a lot of people don’t realize, is that even though the Fellowship defeated Sauron, he was actually working this whole time for Morgoth.
That right there could be turned into adventures of levels 1-5 (Wormtongue), 6-10 (Saruman), 11-15 (Sauron), and 16-20 (Morgoth). Stories like this are able to feel much more consistent, and make you seem as though you planned out this whole sprawling story, even though when you started, all you knew about was Wormtongue, and maybe Saruman.
There are so many ways you could string together a series of adventures into an overarching campaign, that I could never write all of them. Hopefully this has given you some ideas as to what your party could do after they kill your first BBEG.