The bane of all who gamble Dungeons & Dragons coordinates sessions where everyone is available. In long-running campaigns, every player must be present at nearly every session in order to pursue key storylines. Shared campaigns, such as those run by the League of Adventurers, can get around this problem by having a rotating cast of Dungeon Masters and players for each session.
The rules for shared campaigns can be found in Appendix A of Guide to Xanathar. These rules give DMs guidance on how to conduct these campaigns, including the duration of adventures, rewarding characters, and incorporating other regular campaign activities such as shopping. This style of game design leaves no room for long-drawn-out, story-heavy campaigns, but trades them in for structured, episodic adventures. As always, the rules can be changed to fit the table. For campaigns with smaller groups, and even those with a single DM, here are some tips for setting up a good campaign that allows absent players and/or DMs.
Choose a setting for adventures that matches the country style
As mentioned, Adventures in Shared Campaigns are episodic, meaning the story must come to a conclusion (whether the party “succeeds” or not) during the session. So the frame has to be somewhere that supports this type of structure. One of the best settings for this centers around an Adventurer’s Guild or something else where the party takes on several separate quests. These quests can be linked, but they cannot rely on the same player characters for each of them.
The chronology of the setting must also be understood to be episodic. When certain characters are not in a campaign, do they have other adventures (played in other sessions) or do other activities in the setting so that the timeline is constantly advancing? Understanding these concepts before the campaign begins will help create a stable sense of the world for players.
Create a party-friendly character leveling system
The shared campaign rules contain a special system for leveling characters using advancement checkpoints. Using this system, or a modified version of it, benefits campaigns without consistent sets of players. Many campaigns use experience or stage leveling, advancing characters to the next level after defeating a certain number of enemies or when certain events occur in the narrative. As these levels increase, progress becomes more scattered. For infrequent players, this may mean that they never really level up or that progress feels undeserved since they progress in stages with everyone else.
Checkpoint leveling allows characters to advance quickly after a set number of sessions. Characters receive a certain number of checkpoints per session (one per hour), leveling up after four checkpoints at levels 1-4, and after eight for levels 5 and above. These amounts can be changed depending on the length of the session and how quickly the party wants to level up. In this advancement system, even players who rarely join the party can level up, albeit a bit slower than others.
Manage character rewards creatively
A difficult part of inconsistent games is making sure the rewards are distributed fairly. Unlike other campaign systems, rewards cannot be given to the party in a lump sum and dispersed evenly within the party. Rather, these campaigns are based on individual rewards. Variant reigns in by Xanathar suggest that characters receive a set amount of gold when they reach a new level, representing the treasure and magic items a party might find in standard adventures.
Players also receive treasure points as well as advancement checkpoints for sessions, which can be spent on a pre-approved list of magic items. This variant rule for treasure is useful when there are many players and DMs in a shared campaign. However, modifying this rule for a smaller group of rotating players can also work. Having treasures found in adventures, being able to buy fun things, and trade magic items within the party could also work.
Design characters that match the style of the campaign
The final step after understanding the split campaign system is to create characters that fit well into the system. The character’s goals should be consistent with the setting. For example, if the characters are part of an adventurer’s guild, the players need to know why they are in the guild and what they want to accomplish by adventuring with the guild. A shared campaign style minimizes a lot of some character options, though. Many downtime activities, such as a wizard copying spells and halving that time with spells from their school of magic, become less meaningful or even obsolete. Making characters that have many skills that are best used over long periods of time may not work well in a split campaign.
This style of campaign also allows players to create multiple characters for the setting and explore different playstyles as well as different stories for each character. It also allows DMs to have the chance to play in their worlds and share world-building and session-planning responsibilities. In this way, shared campaigns are great for collaborative storytelling and give groups a useful tool to plan cohesive sessions.