A One Shot D&D Campaign: The Siege of St Isolde
Believe it or not, the decision to start publishing my own works on the Dungeon Master’s Guild* wasn’t an overnight idea. I’ve been playing tabletop games off and on for a number of years, and I’d run a campaign or two, but I still feel pretty new to the publishing world.
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The seed for my first One Shot D&D campaign,The Siege of St. Isolde, started as a Christmas present session for Courtney’s family. We wanted to give her mom the opportunity to understand what we enjoyed about the game, and Courtney, her father, and I started to brainstorm what kind of story she might respond well to. I had the additional challenge that while my mother-in-law was open to the idea of trying Dungeons and Dragons, I’d have to tone down the overt “satanic themes” present in stereotypical adventures. I was at a loss on what to write when my father-in-law blurted out “Just have her saving orphans from devils!” Since this was a surprise, I pre-made a few theme-appropriate characters (a Cleric, a Paladin and a Monk) and had my family racing against the clock to fight cultists and rescue children from devils in a besieged monastery.
A few months later I began toying with the idea of publishing maps and stories when my wife suggested I revise the Christmas one-shot into one that I could release publicly. With a bit of rewriting, I added a deeper backstory, expanded the character roster, fleshed them out further, and balanced the encounters for a variety of party compositions.
The Siege of St. Isolde begins as a party of adventurers travel up a wooded trail towards the monastery up in the Sword Mountains in Faerun (or some other mountain range in a homebrew setting) when plumes of smoke are spotted above the towering trees and screams are heard coming from the distance. The adventurers rush forward to find a crowd of cultists setting alight a groundskeepers shed near the monastery. If the party is swift in defeating the cultists, they rescue Father Trinidal and the other captives from the burning shed. From these captives, they learn that the cultists were part of a larger group and that more are inside with a few foundling children held hostage. It’s up to the party to rescue the children and discover the dark secret of the monastery.
To make things easier for dungeon masters, I included a number of plot hooks to help manufacture reasons why the party would come to this monastery in the mountains in the first place. On top of that, I even added in a few unique magic items for players to find if they take the opportunity to explore every nook and cranny of the structure.
Designing the map for the monastery was one of the first times I really had to consider scale and other aspects, like living quarters and bathrooms. It’s one thing to make up a dungeon in thirty minutes for a session when you know less than a handful of people will ever see it, but it’s another when ensuring that a hundred player groups find the same dungeon entertaining. I also wanted to ensure that the DM had a clear understanding of all the rooms and secret areas without cluing the players in, so I included three versions of each map (From left to right):
- Gridded, with map keys and secret area markings for the Dungeon Master’s eyes only
- Gridded, without map keys or secret area markings
Another aspect I initially hadn’t considered was play testing the encounter with multiple player groups. I reached out to all my friends and contacts who had any interest in tabletop gaming and asked if they would give the campaign a shot. I was fortunate that I got a pretty good number of sample groups to go through and poke holes in the plot and characters, which really helped highlight weak spots and other areas where players got stuck or were confused. Courtney also began helping out by editing and suggesting content updates. Since she was playing the whole encounter over again with our current D&D group, I decided to play a small prank by revising the dungeon (and traps) beneath the monastery without telling her as a way to keep things fresh for her character (and to make it more intricate for wider release). Some of the original aspects stayed in place, but I received a rather withering look when the party entered an altogether new chamber, complete with new obstacles and monsters.
Overall, from this experience I gained a deeper respect for those in the writing community, and I can’t wait to use this knowledge on my next one shot D&D campaign module.
If you’re interested in checking out The Siege of St. Isolde for yourself, you’ll find it and all my other products at the Dungeon Master’s Guild.