The Hunger Games
Creating the Hunger Games campaign was fun. In my past, being DM meant building a campaign setting and then letting my players react to it but part of the fun of role-playing is collaborative storytelling, and this time I wanted to embrace it right from the beginning.
But because the Hunger Games players were new and not familiar with fantasy tropes—especially those from Dungeons & Dragons—I had to find a way everyone could contribute to the story in a meaningful way without prior experience. After some deliberation, I produced the exercise below. In a nutshell, by converting intellectual property they were already familiar with into D&D campaign settings, I could ease their transition into D&D in a way that involved them, caught their interest, and played with expectations as the story unfolded.
Here were the rules:
Equip everyone with a pencil and paper and have them complete the following.
- List two cartoons you liked as a kid.
- List two television shows you liked, or that you like now.
- List two movies you liked, or that you like now.
- List two other books, videogames, plays, or other miscellaneous settings with characters in them.
As DM, share examples of your list and describe how it could be converted to a D&D setting. This reveals the purpose of the exercise, gets the juices flowing, and sets some easy-going targets. For some simple examples, see My Examples below.
Next, go around the table and ask for items from players’ lists. Assign each item a number and share ideas about how it could also be adapted. Jot down a note or two for each one so you remember the important bits, and repeat this step until you feel like you have several campaign ideas.
Now read off each number and idea, and recap the setting it spawned. Have players write down the number of any campaign they think they would enjoy like playing in. Gather the numbers and find consensus. If there is none then have more discussion as needed.
Some players may be disappointed that an idea they liked was overlooked but this is good thing. Encourage them to employ these ideas can be used when creating a character background.
That’s it. If your experience is similar to mine, even shy players will feel like they were part of building a setting that is familiar but collaborative, and guaranteed to have exciting twists. It adds a bit more investment to character creation, and is fun to do.
Following are sample ideas of campaigns derived from other properties. Remember the point is to go fast, be casual, and keep sifting until you find the one idea everyone keeps talking about.
- Inspector Gadget—you begin your adventure in teh service of a bumbling wizard who solves crime in your city. You do the work, he gets the glory.
- Scooby Doo—you are specialists known for investigating undead presences. Mysteries are not always what they seem.
- The Fugitive—after being wrongfully imprisoned, your adventure begins with a jailbreak. You have to find out who framed you, and why.
- Dawn of the Dead—a plague spreads through town, turning everyone into mindless undead. A small group of survivors struggles to find a source of refuge.
- Lost—an airship has crashed on a strange island. A group of survivors struggle to survive and explore it.
- Dexter—a sect of vampires, working for the city, feed their compulsion for blood while obeying an oath to feed only on evil creatures, while staying one step ahead of their discovery.
- Super Mario Bros.—the ruler of a faraway Dragonborn nation kidnaps a beloved princess. A small group of heroes travels from nation to nation through desolate sans and icy peaks to find her.
- Final Fantasy—great titans roam the earth, airships soar the skies, and chocobos scurry across the land. An epic tale about a rising villain that is harnessing the planet’s magic for some nefarious purpose.
- James Bond—the secret service of her majesty takes on deadly missions of state-sponsored subterfuge, full of high society and nifty gadgets.
- Deadliest Catch—what job is more dangerous or profitable than recovering magic artifacts from forsaken dungeons?
- Avatar (Airbender)—prophecy foretells the coming of five warriors who master the arts of five nations and bring the world together.
- Call of Cthulu—a moody, psychological horror about the ancient forces that shaped the earth long ago, calling to you from the shadows of civilization.
- Saving Private Ryan—a small group of reluctant heroes play a pivotal role in a greater war.
- Romeo and Juliet—a party of allies made up of friends from two warring families are caught in a political conflict full of prejudice and difficult dilemmas.
Following is the actual list of ideas that led to the creation of the Hunger Games campaign.
- Amazing Race—compete against another group of adventurers.
- Rama—otherworldly cylinder exploration; start as fantasy.
- The Office—commander asshat in delicate political scenario, hijinks ensue.
- Hunger Games—capitol city over 12 impoverished districts, mutants in world, all districts go up against capitol, drawing to fight for district.
- Knight Rider—government agents with a freaked out warforged companion.
- Road Rovers—5 dogs, good Shepherd brings them in, evil Parvo cat man w/ assistant, Groomer.
- Rainbow Bright—fey vs. shadowfell; party is representatives of fey, with close ties
- Dune—highly valuable travel / psychic resource, start as nobles, get caught in native conflict
- Double Endemnity—heist campaign
- Kill Bill—multiple distinct enemies, marked for revenge—wire-fu style
- Arachnophobia—therapy for the girls in our group, who are terrified of them
Our group found consensus on Hunger Games and Road Rovers, and near consensus on Kill Bill. The Hunger Games campaign was the result, and the experiment was a huge success.