Heroes’ Journey Template for Dungeons and Dragons Storytelling
I have been working for the past 8 months on a system designed for Dungeons and Dragons storytelling. I plan to use this system for my next campaign, and you can download the PDF to gain an understanding on what I am trying to do. It is my hope that my work on this subject can be used as an aid for those looking to write their own Dungeons and Dragons stories or campaigns.
After a year of obsessing over Dungeons and Dragons, I have read and studied many campaign designs from 1st edition to 5th edition and ones that are home-brewed. They vary from good to great, however what I have also discovered is that what really makes the “best” campaigns are the ones that are not published, but are made personal.
Published campaigns are written very linearly. They are written this way for a good reason, to make the game accessible to anyone, and to help a dungeon master with storytelling when there is a lack of inspiration. The other and more powerful magic with published campaigns is familiarity. Not everyone knows about Tom’s Tuesday night home-brew game and what transpired there, but everyone knows about what the players should expect when entering the Tomb of Horrors. Many people play those adventures and it is fun to talk about them with other players. Conversations about what different groups of players did to overcome a trap or a monster is fun to talk about. It’s a shared experience of the community as a whole. This is what keeps us together as a community.
I believe that this game is open to the imagination, but requires good storytelling to truly be captivating. In my opinion, this is the magic of Matt Mercer and Critical Role. Unique and personal storytelling that is not linear and not a published campaign. The shared experience is being able to watch a good story unfold in front of you. This is what I want to help others do, tell a good story in a personal way, while playing a fun game of Dungeons and Dragons. That was my inspiration and here is where I started.
I don’t know how true this statement is, but I have been told that most modern epic fantasy stories follow the Hero’s Journey template. So I dove in, wanting to learn how and why this was, and could it be applied to Dungeons and Dragons?
The Hero’s Journey, is the template that involves a hero or heroes who goes on an adventure, and in a decisive crisis wins a victory, and then comes home changed or transformed. The study of hero myth narratives were popularized by Joseph Campbell, who was influenced by Carl Jung’s view of myth. In his 1949 work The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell described the basic narrative pattern as follows:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
In 2007, Christopher Vogler took Campbell’s vision for the Hero’s journey one step further and published a popular screenwriting textbook, focusing on the theory that most stories can be boiled down to a series of narrative structures and character archetypes, described through mythological allegory. Vogler based this work upon the writings of mythologist Joseph Campbell, particularly The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and holds that all successful films innately adhere to its principles. The book was very well received upon its release, and is often featured in recommended reading lists for student screenwriters.
Enough with the history lesson, on to my point, what have I been working on, and how does it relate to Dungeons and Dragons? I have been working on a Heroes’ Journey Template for Dungeons and Dragons storytelling. I followed my understanding of what Vogler and Campbell’s vision was for making epic heroes and the path to their adventure and made this system to help create a personal, captivating, and dynamic story for the players.
It was very important to me to make sure that the template took into account that we are playing a tabletop game and not reading a novel, so it needs to have opportunities to role-play, solve puzzles, interact with the world and combat encounters. That makes this system work for our game setting and not just general storytelling. However, when reviewing the PDF look at it as a suggestion and not a be all and end all campaign that cannot be changed. I have put in where and when I think encounters should occur, but by no means do I think you cannot personalize your game to your taste. Adding encounters will not break the system. It is to help you create a skeleton, not take away your choice.
The story arc is my primary focus. I added the encounters to show how the “Heroes’ Journey Template for Dungeons and Dragons Storytelling” could be used to craft your own story while incorporating fun and personal gameplay.