The ingredients of a successful campaign are myriad, and an attempt to list them all is doomed to failure. Even the most experienced DM, however, can benefit from the experiences of other Dungeon Masters and other campaigns. This section presents some ideas for creating and running a successful campaign - ideas that have worked for many a referee.
The most important ingredient in any campaign is a skilled DM who has the time and energy to carefully define and create his world, and the talent to communicate his settings effectively. The next most important ingredients are willing players who share common goals with the DM. Players interested in hack-and-slash adventures should not be matched a DM who is interested in careful plot structuring and detailed mystery solving.
Most players fit into one of three general types: Adventurers, Problem Solvers, or Role-Players. Each type of party enjoys the game, but looks for certain characteristics that do not necessarily appeal to other types of gamers.
Adventurers: These are the bright-eyed, enthusiastic players that most of us were when we first played the game. Many players retain an interest in this type of game throughout their gaming careers.
For Adventurers, the high points of a gaming session come from physical challenges that their character abilities allow them to overcome. These players enjoy combat above all other types of gaming activities, and thus prefer adventures where the obstacles are physical and dangerous, and must be overcome by force.
Such players judge their characters more on how many magical bonuses their characters can bring to bear in combat than on any deep moral or philosophical concerns. Characters who are slain can be replaced quickly, although players are undoubtedly disappointed about losing all the fine magical items their slain characters had accumulated.
This class of gamer is undoubtedly the easiest to DM for, because their needs are so easily met. A few monsters of increasing toughness, as long as most of them have hoarded enough treasure to make the adventure worthwhile, are all it takes to entertain this group for weeks on end. Their characters are usually motivated to enter a dungeon simply by the prospect of treasure to plunder, so the DM does not need to devise complicated motivations and plot devices to compel them to go where he wants.
Even experienced gamers who generally play adventures in the other categories occasionally enjoy a return to the Adventurer style of play. This type of play remains interesting and fresh if the DM uses a little inventiveness. Use clever tactics for monsters, and play them intelligently. Try new variations on existing monsters, such as adding poison or magic use to creatures that the PCs usually overcome easily. Monsters that have been wronged should seek retribution.
Try to vary your approaches to hiding treasures, and limit the number of magical items you allow in the campaign. Potent magical items should have odd twists and restrictions, such as a limited number of charges, or the ability to work only in a particular environment (in bright sunlight or in total darkness, for example). Ensure that PCs do not succeed at major encounters unless they use careful planning, and make recovering slain characters difficult. By the same token, avoid instant death situations. Drama and tension are increased if a character has several chances to avoid a terrible fate.
Problem-Solvers: These players enjoy the game on a different level than Adventurers. Problem-Solvers see the campaign as a great puzzle, and their purpose is to put all of the pieces together.
For these characters, the story itself becomes very important. The more twisted and convoluted the plot, the better. Battles are interesting only from the standpoint of the tactical problems they present. Problem-Solvers often go to great lengths to concoct imaginative and occasionally workable plans to deal with every eventuality.
Problem-Solvers also tend to be very creative with the rules of the game, so a successful game requires a DM who is creative and consistent. These players often try to devise new equipment and magical items. They are extremely enthusiastic about gaming sessions that offer something unique and challenging, and quickly tire of campaigns that become routine.
Problem-Solvers are tough to referee because they get bored with anything that does not seem new. Since the party requires mental challenge to remain interested in the game, the DM must come up with appropriate adventures: hard enough to be challenging, but easy enough to be solved with sufficient effort.
Don't hesitate to borrow tricks, traps, and encounter ideas from books and other sources. Provide your PCs with motivating backgrounds, and let the players come up with their own objectives. Use incidents such as random encounters to present mysteries and clues to the players. Define your NPCs with care, and provide them with motivations.
Problem-Solvers often relish nothing so much as a story line that presents a mystery to be solved. They eagerly seek clues and assemble plot elements as if they are truly putting together a puzzle. Players may spend much time debating various courses of action, and often these debates are great fun for all concerned.
Role-Players: Many of us have fit into this category at some point in our gaming careers. Role-Players really enjoy creating every detail of their character's lives, down to ancestry and minor possessions. Role-Players are not satisfied with being told that their party has acquired the necessary equipment for an expedition at the general store. Instead, these players want to role play the whole shopping experience, and enjoy haggling over copper pieces with the poor shopkeeper (and his DM stand-in).
Role-Players view adventures as opportunities for their player characters to grow. These characters may be developed to a level of almost painful detail. Role-Players almost always include one or more faults among their PCs' characteristics, since this adds to the characters' believability.
Each PC's personality is important. Players are interested in their character's motivations, and try to react to circumstances as their characters would. Role-Players enjoy interaction, both with NPCs and with other PCs. They often try to talk their way out of problems that other players might solve with brute force.
Since Role-Players view their player characters as the sole reason for playing, the motivation for the adventure must be something that is important to these characters. This is generally not hard for the DM to devise. A character with very important familyties, for example, can easily be encouraged to participate in an adventure if the family name can be hoisted to greater glory by his exploits-or, conversely, saved from a terrible dragging through the mud.
Anything that affects things the characters value is enough to send them into the dungeon. Characters who have been held prisoner, scarred, or otherwise harmed, can easily be motivated to participate in an adventure where vengeance is a motivation. The old plot device of rescuing a kidnapped prince, princess, etc., always draws these characters into an adventure if the victim is someone close to them.
It should not be difficult for a DM to determine where his players fit among these three categories. While most players represent a blend of the three types, with emphasis in one area, the categories are useful for determining the general thrust of your game. A successful campaign must provide challenges for all three types of players.
Once you have determined what types of players you have, it becomes your task to see that each type of player in your campaign has fun. If all of the players are Adventurers, create a series of challenging and exciting action encounters with appropriate levels of reward. If all of the players are Role-Players, populate your dungeons with interesting NPCs and provide opportunities for interaction.
If your players include more than one of these basic types, however, you need to do some juggling to make sure that each player is entertained. The key to successful juggling is feedback.
Feedback is information you gain about your players by watching and listening to them. It is not hard to notice when a player is bored or overly frustrated, simply by observing facial expressions. These observations can be made while you are running the adventure-and are an important part of a DM's job.
If you notice that Adventurers are getting restless while the Role-Players are thoroughly enjoying a chance meeting with a group of pilgrims, perhaps it is time for a random encounter. You could also challenge the Problem-Solvers in the party with the same encounter-perhaps a group of bandits attack, and as the last one expires he murmurs an obscure clue to a mystery that the party has been working on. Alternatively, Problem-Solvers might observe something unusual during the encounter, or discover something significant through a search.
When running a game, try to make it a point to talk to each player every few minutes. Listen carefully to their responses, reading between the lines if necessary. Any time a player sounds listless or bored, it is time to juggle something challenging into their path.
Through successful juggling, a campaign including players of all three types can be run smoothly. The key is to reward players for each style of play during an encounter. All the players will find things to interest them in the campaign, and the variety of player types and DM challenges should keep the game fresh and inspired.
Determining the type of game that is best for your group is only one of the challenges facing the DM. The other crucial ingredients the DM must provide are the settings and story line for the campaign.
Settings include all locations that the PCs are allowed to adventure in. It also includes the NPCs and creatures that may be encountered there, as well as information about the relationships among the denizens of the dungeon. Not all of these items must be presented in great detail at the beginning-it may be enough to say "ores live here" and work out the hows and whys at a later date, presumably before the PCs decimate the ores.
A story line should be roughly worked out ahead of time. A good story can draw all types of players into a game.
In any case, the DM does not have to prepare either the story or the setting entirely in advance. The following sections detail techniques that can give players the semblance of a thoroughly designed and well-thought-out world as they begin their campaign experiences, but still allow the DM to create new and entertaining features as the campaign develops and the PCs' motivations and intentions become clear.
As in any role-playing campaign, the underground game benefits from careful preparation by the DM. While it is not necessary to outline the entire campaign in advance, the more time that the DM spends in preparation, the better the result is likely to be. If conflicts and locales are anticipated ahead of time, fewer on-the-spot decisions need to be made. Thus, the players' impression of a consistent and reasonably believable fantasy world is maintained.