(Re)Genesis of a D&D Campaign, Part 2

A few weeks before the 2014 end of year holidays, I made my usual group a double proposal: Give D&D 5e a honest try and invite my 12 y.o son Nico to play with us. (Remember Nico?)

I had no adventure ready, my plan was to slum it one-shot style with pre-generated characters, like I did a few years back teaching D&D at the New York Comic Con. When I presented the PCs, my players decided to make their own instead.

Yan made a dwarven monk that used to be a pirate. He called her Redbeard. Frankie made a forest gnome ranger and pathfinder named Mush. Nico settled on “Jack” a half-elven warlock who faked being a noble before fleeing. Seeing that everyone had spent the time making these cool characters, I decided to produce a gaming experience that went a little further than a context-free random dungeon.

I took out twelve index cards and asked everyone to come up with places, NPCs and themes for the upcoming game. I instructed them to come up with evocative sounding names whenever possible. I also contributed three cards to the mix, as I was as much an active participant of this game as they were.

Here’s what we came up with (there’s more than 12 as some extra cards were created as off shoots of others)

  • Tropical archipelago
  • Active volcano island
  • Storm tides, created by the world’s three moons
  • Hostile, underwater humanoid civilization
  • Hidden jungle village (gnomes)
  • Old Gnome sage
  • Savage Fauna
  • Rampaging displacer beasts
  • The Fetid Lagoon
  • Ereborn, Port of Storms
  • Ereborn’s most notorious fence
  • Lovecraftian Ruins
  • Alien Constructs
  • The arcane mentor from Afar

We came up with those in about 30 minutes. All in all, we made characters and created a setting in less than two hours.

I quickly realized that we created much more than the elements for a D&D adventure, we created a whole campaign setting.

A few weeks later, while having lunch with people from Wizards of the Coast, I told this story… and they all looked at each other and said.

“You just recreated the Isle of Dread



  1. Dixon Trimline says:

    *hysterical laughter*

    I absolutely love the idea of the index cards. Man, that’s brilliant. It completely addresses the issue of the hyper-personality Type A vs. the hypo-personality Type B (or me). I wouldn’t feel intimidated and reluctant to speak up, and it sounds like the index cards maintain a certain level of anonymity, allowing me to jangle up all sorts of stupid ideas without being judged and/or hated.

  2. Yes, but you created YOUR Isle of Dread. Also, I wouldn’t worry about copying something else in the way you did. You and your players will make it your own. It may look like the Isle of Dread NOW, but I’d be surprised if it continued to do so through play.

  3. For the record, the guys at WotC weren’t so much concerned as amused that we ended up wiith uncle Gary’s original concept. 🙂

    @Dixon: I never thought of letting players write thier own card, everyone called out 3 setting elements each as inspiration struck them, that’s why you see that the overall theme fits because later choices were influenced by earlier ones. But I’d LOVE to try a blind “bid” for cards (I call them tags), creating a more kitchen sink setting, but likely to foster more agile creatvity from everyone to make stuff fit.