The Narrative Forge: Campaigns, Part 1 – Planning and Running a Campaign

The Warhammer 40,000 universe is a massive place, and the “Narrative Forge” hobby articles encourage thinking outside the box (literally) when putting models together and stretching yourself out in the hobby. They aim to make hobbyists and players comfortable growing beyond imitating the models they see in their Codexes and playing the rulebook missions, and serve as a source of inspiration for anyone wanting to forge new experiences in the hobby. This week, Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones is starting a multi-part series on creating and running campaigns. In some ways, this will be a modern update of his article series from a year ago, but there’s plenty of new content here if you’ve already read that.

At some point, I think just about every 40k player thinks about running or playing in a campaign. After all, what’s cooler than the idea of having a series of linked battles each outcome affecting the next, where your army competes with others for the fate of the galaxy? It’s a popular enough concept that campaign rules can be found in every Games Workshop core rulebook and there are entire supplements dedicated to running campaigns of various scales. But despite the fact that 40k is more than 30 years old and has multiple supplements and rulesets for running campaigns, I think most players would agree that what’s out there is frustratingly shallow, not fleshed-out enough, or just leaves a lot to be desired. Since I last spoke on this topic, a number of new tools have become available for running campaigns, not just in 40k but also Kill Team and Age of Sigmar.

With all of these new resources, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the topic and update my thoughts on planning and running a campaign. In part one of this multi-part series, I’m going to talk about the basics of planning a campaign, starting with choosing a campaign structure and the resources available to players. In later parts, I’ll talk about campaign special rules, running campaigns of various types, and creating custom content and rules for your campaign to shore up deficiencies in the existing rules. Then I’ll finish up by talking about how you can add little touches and details to your campaign that will delight players and turn a by-the-numbers affair into something special. It’s going to be a long ride, so get comfortable!


Let’s Plan a Campaign

Let’s start with an introduction: Hello, I’m Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones, and I’ve run nearly every type of 40k campaign there is. Currently I’m running an ongoing 40k campaign with my group that started early this year and involves more than 25 players across 5 states. It’s one of the most complicated things I’ve tried to do with regard to 40k and for the most part, it has been a success. I’ll come back to that “for the most part” later. For now, what I want to focus on is helping you build your own campaign. And let me tell you, a good campaign starts with planning.

So let’s start with some notes on planning, then we’ll come back to picking the type of campaign you’re going to run.


So You’ve Decided to Become a GM

Let’s address this one first. If you’re running a campaign, you need to know what you’re in for. As the Game Master (GM) of the campaign, it’s going to be your job to:

  • Choose the campaign type
  • Determine the rules the campaign will use
  • Set the stage for the campaign, creating the framework for the story that players are going to tell
  • Decide how games will advance the narrative
  • Create player pairings each round
  • Solve disputes in the campaign
  • Determine what to do if a player can’t make their scheduled game
  • Determine the length of the campaign and when to end it

If that looks like a lot of work well, it is. Some campaigns are more work than others but generally, if you’re planning to run a campaign, you should be prepared to take on this list of tasks.


Step 1: What’s Your Goal?

Now let’s talk about why you want to run a campaign. I mean obviously the short answer is “because campaigns are rad as hell,” but let’s talk about what you want to accomplish. Running good campaigns takes a lot of work, but you’ll make your life a lot easier if you go in knowing what you’re trying to accomplish and can stick to that goal. There are, in my mind, several very compelling reasons to run a campaign:

Play More Games

For me, the primary goal of any 40k campaign is to play more games. Campaigns give your group a reason to schedule and play games, and to play games against opponents they might not have otherwise played. We’ll talk about this later, but make sure whatever campaign structure you come up with incentivizes playing games and doesn’t punish people for trying to play more.

Play Different Kinds of Games

Between the core rulebook, two (soon to be three) iterations of Chapter Approved, Urban Conquest, Apocalypse, two Vigilus campaign books, and Kill Team, here’s a ton of Narrative Play content for players interested in playing less standard missions in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Although they vary significantly in quality and balance, these missions can be a real blast to play! If you’re used to playing nothing but ITC missions on standardized NOVA terrain layouts, or if you’ve just been playing the Matched Play missions in the Core Rulebook or Chapter Approveds, these asymmetrical can be a fun change a pace. I know many, many players who have never played any of the narrative missions nor touched a Battlezone, and while they aren’t all winners, some of these can add a lot of fun and challenge to the game.

Make Games Matter

Outside of tournaments, games of 40k often lack real stakes. Sure, there’s a winner and a loser, but the games themselves can feel like they lack meaning. Campaigns are a great way to solve that, giving each game a purpose with consequences and rewards that play out in a larger narrative. A good campaign can create clearly-defined stakes and goals and makes it clear to players how their actions contribute to those goals.

Tell a Cool Story

Some campaigns are all about telling a sweet story, full of exciting moments when players seize victory from the jaws of defeat, alliances are formed and broken, and great heroes rise and fall. The best campaigns allow players to forge a narrative through the games they play, and use the game outcomes to advance the story.

Step 2: Find Some Players

Next let’s get some players. A campaign will only be as good as the players participating in it, and the number of players you have will determine the types of campaigns you can run.

How many players will I have?

The first thing you need to know when you are planning a campaign is how many players you’ll have. Is this going to be a 1-on-1 affair, where you and a friend square off in a series of linked games to decide the fate of a planet? Or are you making the terrible mistake of coordinating dozens of gamers across a tri-state area? Let’s run through a few options:

1-on-1 Campaigns

Don’t knock these! Two player campaigns can be wonderful, exciting affairs, with lots of give-and-take and opportunities to tell a really good story. When it’s just you and one other person, scheduling becomes easy and you can either work off a predefined script where there are only 2-3 outcomes per game, or collaborate on what each next step of the story will be. You can also add a third player or guest players where it makes sense to do so, and knowing intimately what each player has access to opens up some cool possibilities. Narrative Campaigns and Tree Campaigns work best when you’ve got two players or two teams of players.

Team Campaigns

A good compromise between 1-on-1 campaigns and campaigns with more players, team campaigns allow players to operate as a side. If you can get balanced teams, this is a great way to go. It reduces the complexity of organizing by giving you a smaller number of “effective” players, makes it easier to schedule games, and allows you to set things up along faction lines if you have a fairly balanced group (this almost never happens). Team campaigns are great because they allow you to treat teams like big players with regard to agency and story importance. We’ll come back to that later.

Small Groups (up to 8 people)

For the most part, this is my preferred set-up. Small groups give you a wider scope and more players to handle, creating more work, but they also give you more variety, allowing players to mix it up more often so they aren’t just playing against the same types of army over and over. The biggest challenge is that the more people you add, the more work you’re going to create for yourself, and the less important each player will be to the story. Map campaigns tend to work best when you have a small group of players but more than two.

Large groups

Let me start here by telling you that, truly, from the heart, more players is not necessarily better when it comes to a campaign. I love my current campaign group, but working with larger groups has First off, the amount of work you have to do explodes in nonlinear fashion. The amount of work you have to do tracking everyone’s games and scheduling players, dealing with conflicts, and resolving issues skyrockets. And remember that problem I mentioned with more players meaning each one is less important to the story? Well, that becomes exacerbated with large groups, where very quickly a small subset of players can take control of the narrative with a few wins and leave the rest feeling like it’s not their story to tell. There are some ways around this that we’ll discuss, but they take some work to accomplish. Running campaigns with large groups requires building different, more game-like mechanics that will help you run things in a semi-automated fashion. You also need a way to distribute outcomes so that one player’s actions don’t give them too much say in the story.

Ask Yourself: Am I going to play?

Are you just going to run the campaign from the sidelines, or will you be a player? If you’re a player, then you’ll need to take extra care to make sure that every player has a fair chance to influence the narrative, and to make sure players don’t think you’re stacking the deck in your favor. I’m in favor of playing in your own campaigns. But I’m also in favor of having an impartial GM who can come up with cool surprises. Both are cool.


How experienced are my players?

In addition to understanding how many players you’ll have and the logistics around scheduling their games, you need to understand who your players are. Are they new players, starting their first armies? Or are they grizzled veterans hauling around hard cases full of 20 year-old chipped metal miniatures? The type of campaign you’ll want to run with each type of player is very different. Players who are still learning the ropes for 40k will naturally do better with campaigns that don’t add on any extra rules or tracking. When it comes to running a campaign, you’ve gotta crawl before you can walk, and if your players aren’t still experienced with the 40k rules, you shouldn’t be trying to heap another book of custom campaign rules on them. There will be time for that later.


How much control should players have over the narrative?

Before you choose a campaign type, you’ll want to think about how much control players should have over the campaign narrative. Depending on how the campaign is structured this can range from very little — such as in narrative campaigns where winning gives players a small bonus in the next game but the larger flow of missions is fixed — to complete control — such as in map campaigns where players plan turn actions and decide how they will attack each other, with their decisions and the battle outcomes writing the flow of the story.

Be aware that more control isn’t always better — many players may prefer to have a GM helping set the table for more exciting narrative twists, or don’t want to invest the effort into playing a second game outside of their games of 40k. On that note, be sure to ask…

What kind of campaign do my players want to play?

Even if you’ve got the coolest, most rad idea for a campaign ever, it’s not going to matter if your players aren’t into it. Before you go off planning everything, make sure your players are down to participate, and make sure you know what kind of campaign they want to commit to. Not everyone is into sprawling map campaigns that require dedicated strategy every turn.

When I was planning the Paulus campaign I ran (more on that later), BuffaloChicken was the big holdout. He’s pretty resistant to tacking on a bunch of extra rules to games and making them too serious, and at the time he was also one of the key members of our local play group, so I had to make sure he was on board with any campaign I tried to run. So as I was planning, I started running ideas by him and getting his feedback, so he’d be more invested, and help promote the idea to the group.

How much work do I want to put in as GM?

As the Game Master (GM) running the campaign, you’re required to be part game designer, part player, part referee, part judge, and part scheduler. This can be a lot of work! Depending on the type of campaign you run, the amount of work and time you’ll be required to invest as GM will vary from “very little” to “I hope you like tracking multiple spreadsheets and writing detailed turn summaries every week.” Be sure you know what you’re getting into when you plan your campaign, and that you’re up to the task from a time commitment standpoint.


3. Choose a Campaign Type

Alright, you’ve got your plan for a campaign, you have your players, you know what your responsibilities are. Now it’s time to figure out what type of campaign you’re going to run. There are several different common campaign types, and they all have their own ups, downs, and quirks. Some work better for small groups of players, and some work better for large groups. Let’s run through a few different options and talk about the ups, downs, and requirements for each.

Linear Narrative Campaigns

Often seen in Games Workshop Campaign books such as Chapter Approved and the Vigilus series, Narrative campaigns tend to have linear paths, usually linking a number of missions or scenarios together, with the winner of each game receiving a small bonus in the next game. The narrative proceeds along a set path of missions regardless of who wins or loses — with the exception of the ending, the story of the campaign is set, and the only rewards are mechanical. This works especially well when you’re trying to re-enact a historical scenario narratively.

Because they’re mostly linear, narrative campaigns work best when you have a small number of players, and these are the ideal campaign type for when you have just two players or two teams. I’ve run these as both 1v1 affairs and as a 2v2. In the case of the latter, we played the majority of games as full 2v2, but did a couple of rounds as 1v1s where both pairs of players played the same mission (and team VP scored acted as a tiebreaker). Narrative campaigns are relatively quick and easy to set up compared to other campaigns, and you can lay out the entire campaign ahead of time as needed, keeping the amount of GM work you have to do minimal. They also don’t tack on a ton of extra rules by default — you can make a narrative campaign out of a string of regular missions if you want, so you don’t have to worry about bogging things down with a bunch of custom rules.

Eighth edition currently has rules for a number of different Narrative campaigns. There are two in Chapter Approved 2017: One for Planetstrike and one for Stronghold Assault, plus another in Chapter Approved 2018 for Cities of Death, and several more in Vigilus Defiant and Vigilus Ablaze. We’ll revisit these in Part 2 of this article series.

Pros: Works very well for 2 players/teams, easiest campaign type to build, easy to execute, GW materials already available, can be made of variable length, can be made to require less GM work
Cons: Narrative can feel limited, not suitable for larger play groups, players may want more

Our in-depth discussion on Linear Narrative Campaigns

Tree Campaigns

The more complicated cousin of Narrative campaigns, tree campaigns give players a branching path of missions to play, where new missions are determined by who won the prior mission. Tree campaigns give more narrative meaning to game wins than narrative campaigns, as winning will do more than just change up the bonus that a player receives. Like narrative campaigns, tree campaigns should be plotted out before the campaign begins, or at least plotted out a few steps in advance. This also means that they’ll require less in-campaign GM work, since all of the major mission outcomes will have already been decided. The flip side of that is that tree campaigns require significantly more pre-campaign work, as planning a tree campaign requires plotting out every node ahead of time. It’s also for this reason that tree campaigns work best when they’re short — ideally 3 to 4 rounds at the most — because plotting longer tree campaigns means plotting out a pyramid of possible games and outcomes and thinking about how to handle multiple branching paths that will never occur. That said, you don’t need every path to branch, and we’ll explore some less conventional branching in next week’s article.

Tree campaigns work best with 2 players or two teams, and require some additional work to make viable for larger groups. One way to make tree campaigns work for multiple players is to split players into teams and use the winning team each round to determine how the campaign will progress. If you have an odd number of players on each team, you can use win counts for this, or if you have even numbers of players on each team, Victory Point totals. Alternatively, if you’re running a larger campaign, you can have present players with a choice of two outcomes and have them play games and choose which outcome they want to allocate their victory to, essentially rewarding player wins with “votes” on the way the story will branch.

Pros: Works very well for 2 players or teams, gives players some narrative control, easy to execute, great for short campaigns
Cons: Narrative still rigid, not suitable for larger play groups without significant modification, requires a lot of planning beforehand, really complicated to plan for longer campaigns (where you have more than 3 rounds)

Our in-depth discussion on Tree Narrative Campaigns


Escalation Campaigns

Also referred to as Escalation Leagues, escalation campaigns have been around a long time, and are a great way to run a campaign with new players. In escalation campaigns, players start with relatively small armies, usually around 500 points, and add on to those armies over time, keeping the same units week-to-week. Typically, players will build a single army that they play with for this purpose, but if you’ve got more experienced players who already have armies, you can also just let players bring whatever they want within the set points limit. At regular intervals, the number of points players play with increases, representing the increased resources being put into the war effort as armies mount and gather their forces for final showdowns. For players who are building their armies, this is a great way to build an army as the campaign goes on.

Escalation campaigns work great when you have lots of players; just assign match-ups each round as needed and set the narrative stakes beforehand. They’re also pretty straightforward and easy to run, making them another good fit for someone trying to run their first campaign. If there’s a downside to them, it’s that they don’t natively offer a lot of player choice and are restrictive when it comes to players building their armies. Additionally, the escalating structure may create some balance issues, as some armies may not compete well at the 500- and 1,000-point levels, leading to some players having less fun in the early rounds of the campaign.

When you run an escalation campaign, you’ll also need to figure out if you’re locking players into a specific army and units, or if they’ll be free to take whatever they want each week. These also work very well when you want to encourage hobby progress during a campaign.

Pros: Easy to run for large groups, well-suited to many players, great for introducing new players, offers clear campaign end, no set rewards for winning means even players will have an playing field round-to-round
Cons: Not a lot of player choice, possible balance issues, can feel divorced from any narrative. Even with a narrative, it can feel contrived trying to justify why everyone’s army is growing at the same rate


Matrix Campaigns

Matrix campaigns aren’t so much campaigns on their own as they are tools for mission selection that allow players to play thematic battles based on actions they want their armies to take. In Matrix campaigns, players who are paired up each round choose actions for their army and the actions they choose determines the mission. So if you used the table above, if Warlord A chose to Advance and Warlord B chose to Reinforce, the players would play the No Mercy mission when they played. This can be a fun way to do mission selection that reduces the in-campaign workload on the GM (though the GM will still need to create a table prior to the campaign, which can take a lot of time. Matrix campaign mission selection can be overlaid onto other campaigns, such as Escalation or Map campaigns, to create some interesting mechanics and spice up the mission selection process.

The two major downsides to the matrix campaign model are:

  1. You need to put in the work to set up the matrix before the campaign. You can use the standard Games Workshop one from 8th edition (see above) or write your own (I have, more on that in a future article), but something that’s missing from the table above is a reason to choose any given action. Generally speaking, you’ll need to come up with bonuses–either in-game or narrative–for choosing one action over another, so that players are invested in choosing a specific action for mission selection. This can be really difficult, but I’ve got some ideas on a solution that I’ll post in a future article. These problems mostly arise from the fact that…
  2. It’s not really a campaign on its own — you’ll still need to build the narrative around it and, as mentioned above, give players a reason to choose one outcome over another. So while this will help spice up mission selection during a campaign, it’s not going to get you there on its own. One thing to consider though is that the matrix doesn’t have to be publicly-available. Something I’ve been testing in my campaign is presenting matched players with choices that lead to specific matrix setups. So I might ask one player “OK, you’re playing T’au this weekend. Do you attack them head on (Advance) or attempt to outflank them (Flank), knowing that splitting your forces may have consequences?” Then I’d ask the Tau player “You’ve received intel that your enemies are on the move. Do you ride out to meet them (Advance), or Fortify your current position (Hold)?” I reference their actions in my own custom chart, and use that to assign a mission. And this goes over pretty well.

Something to note is that I would not recommend using the Games Workshop chart above. It only uses missions from the core rulebook, and doubles up on some missions that just aren’t that much fun to play over and over. Most notably, Ambush!, which will also come up more than you want it to when players continually pick the “Flank” action because it sounds like a good strategic move.

Pros: Easy to run for large groups, well-suited to many players, lots of opportunity for interesting game types, requires less work during a campaign
Cons: Requires a lot of GM work up-front, Still requires a narrative built around it, Players need a reason to make one choice over another or you may as well be rolling for mission


Mass Campaigns

I don’t have a good name for these types of campaigns, which are typically run by Games Workshop out of necessity based on the sheer number of players. I sometimes call them “Eye of Terror-Style” because they follow the template more or less laid out by the old Eye of Terror campaign back in 2003. Essentially in these campaigns, players are fighting over a campaign map that may contain several planets, systems or locations. As players play games, they allocate their wins or losses to specific planets or regions, and over time those outcomes affect who controls that planet or region. Games Workshop ran something similar immediately after the release of 8th edition with the Konor campaign, which, rather than give players a map to choose allocations on, instead picked a planet in the Konor system every two weeks and had all results count toward control of that planet. Basically, a narrative campaign that used total player win counts to determine the winner each round.

Obviously these types of campaigns scale to be massively played, so number of players won’t be an issue. They also handle uneven numbers of games well, since every outcome will still involve a winner and a loser. And they handle multiple game types as well, so if you have players running games of Killteam or Battlefleet Gothic in your campaign, it’s easy to combine results each round and have players allocate multiple wins toward a goal.

Naturally these campaigns work best when you have two larger sides or teams fighting the campaign, which can be awkward if you have lots of non-chaos, non-imperial factions in your play group (this is, incidentally, the dilemma GW had with the Eye of Terror campaign, where Ork players were somewhat miffed to suddenly find themselves on the “chaos” side of things). They also can require a large amount of GM work tracking results and planet strength between games/rounds. Mass campaigns can be run with or without a map, giving you options.

Pros: Works for a large number of players, ability to do events/battlezone changes by round, players can play any number of games, easy to incorporate multiple game systems, winning doesn’t provide a round-to-round advantage
Cons: Lots of backend win/loss tracking and keeping track of planet health, Players may lack individual control over the narrative, need clearly-defined “sides”, need to avoid making sure one side doesn’t put victory out of reach for the other early on

Our detailed discussion on Mass campaigns


Map Campaigns

When most players think about planning and running a campaign, I think this is what they’re thinking of. Map campaigns are probably the coolest type of campaign visually speaking, giving players clearly-defined territory to control, actions to undertake, and strategic decisions to make in-between games. Map campaigns probably give players the most accurate feeling of undertaking a military campaign as generals, and they definitely look the coolest to outside observers. They can give players tons of control over where and how to attack each other, and the map-based structure can ensure that battlefields are varied, giving advantages for controlling different regions.

Map campaigns also require more work than any other type of campaign, bar none. As a GM, you’ll have to design the map, coordinate player movements, and essentially build an entire game for your players to play between games. You’ll need to plot out how a campaign turn will go, and how players interact each round. You’ll need to answer questions such as: What happens if a player claims an unclaimed territory? What happens if multiple players attack the same player in a given round? What happens if someone can’t play in a given round? On the other hand, players will need to think about the territories they control, track resources, determine actions, and act strategically. If your group isn’t completely invested in a map campaign, you’re going to burn out pretty quick.

While designing and running a map campaign you’ll also find that, generally, Warhammer 40,000 is not a particularly good game for simulating military campaigns — games are more fun when they’re evenly-balanced points-wise, which means that you probably won’t be simulating the effects of attrition and dwindling forces unless you want the campaign to come to a swift, decisive conclusion after a few wins. Likewise, you’ll find that alliances can be pretty difficult to handle, and you’ll need a way whether or not someone can “lose” the campaign and be dropped out early.

The upside is that there are a few resources out now for map campaigns that didn’t exist last time I talked about campaigns with the most notable being the Urban Conquest campaign supplement, that adds rules for map-based Cityfight campaigns in the 40k universe.

Pros: Looks cool as hell, potential for lots of strategy, gives players lots to do between games, works well with many players
Cons: Tons of work for the GM and players, requires heavy time investment, Lots of things to track, may be possible to “lose” the campaign


4. Decide If You Want to Add Extra Rules

Of course, beyond the campaign type, there are tons of additional rules you can tack on to a campaign to increase the depth. Before we dig into these though:

A Note on Simplicity

Look. There’s lots of cool things you could do in your campaign. But something I’d urge you to do is to Keep It Simple. Especially if this is your first campaign, but even if it’s your tenth. Keep the rules for your campaign as simple as you can. The point of your campaign is to play get more out of your games of Warhammer 40,000, not show off your game designer aspirations. Keep your campaign as simple as you can. The last thing you want is players forgetting or ignoring rules because you’ve made things too complicated.


Death World forests. Icy tundras. Smog-choked spires. The battlefields of the 41st millennium are varied, and many of these conditions should affect the armies that fight on them. Battlezones rules can provide some extra character or an interesting twist to a battle. Battlezone rules work particularly well with map campaigns, where you can designate areas of the map to contain specific Battlezones, so when players fight over them for control, they have to apply those rules. I’ll talk more about Battlezones in a future article.

Leveling Up

One of the more common is adding in an experience point system, to allow players to level up units that survive multiple battles, or to improve their warlords. Having units gain new skills and advancements as players advance through the campaign can be a cool way to add extra RPG-style elements and flair to a campaign, letting players build their own unique units and characters over time. It’s also a great way to add a lot of bookkeeping. You need to develop or adopt an experience and leveling system, then keep track of the progressions for every player and every unit. I have some thoughts on leveling systems that I’ll expand on in a future article.

Incorporating Multiple Games

You might decide that 40k isn’t big enough for your grand vision of the campaign. That you might want to incorporate other game systems, like Apocalypse, Kill Team, Adeptus Titanicus, Aeronautica Imperialis, or Battlefleet Gothic, representing different scale battles during the campaign. These additions will add interesting depth to your campaign, but each one will also ramp up the complexity, so be sure to make sure that your players are on board for any additional rules you introduce.

Territory Bonuses

If you’re running a map campaign, you’ll want to think about what players get out of capturing territory and what, if any, bonuses they can get from capturing key locations. You’ll need to create a list of territories and what they offer, and track who controls what and the bonuses they get.

Campaign-Wide Effects

Meteor showers. Warp storms. Volcanic activity. Sometimes you want to have planet-shaking events that affect every player. These are rules that may affect everyone at the same time for a round or two, representing some temporary effect like a snowstorm. While these rules are active, you may choose to apply a custom Battlezone to games that take place, or you may want to put restrictions on player resources or campaign actions.

Custom Characters

Similar to having rules for leveling up, 40k has rules for creating your own custom warlords (albeit for Open play). You can introduce some customization to your campaign by allowing players to use these rules to make custom warlords. Or, if you’re working on a leveling system, use the custom Warlord traits as the leveling bonuses players can choose from.

What to Choose

Again, my personal recommendation is that you start small. If it’s your first campaign, pick something that requires less time investment from you as a GM and has fewer extra rules to layer on. If you’ve only got a few players, break into teams and run a narrative campaign or draw up a simple tree campaign. If you’ve got a lot of players, start with an Escalation campaign or Mass Narrative campaign, where you can quickly jump into playing games with guidelines without having to do a ton of planning or teaching players your new rule set.


Planning Your Campaign

Ok, so you’ve chosen your campaign type, now it’s time to plan. As you start creating your campaign, you’re going to need the following resources, which you’ll want to make available to your players. We use Google docs for this.

  • Narrative Introduction – What’s the story behind the campaign? You don’t need to write the next great American novel here, but you should set the stage with an introductory paragraph or two. What city/continent/world are you fighting over? Why does it matter? Who are the key story players vying for supremacy? Are there teams?
  • Campaign rules – Whatever rules you create for the campaign, drop them into a document and make them available for everyone. Keep track of version history if you make changes, so people can see what those are and when they’re made. If there are hidden factors
  • Results tracking – Who’s in the campaign? Who’s winning and who’s losing? What bonuses, if any, are players currently receiving from their victories/acquisitions?
  • Matching/scheduling information – If your campaign requires matching specific players up each round, you’ll need a place where players can see who they’ve been matched up against.
  • Narrative updates – As the campaign progresses, it’s a good idea to provide players with regular updates detailing the major events of the campaign. A few paragraphs outlining who’s winning, who’s losing, and the key events that defined the prior round.
  • The Narrative / Campaign Tree – if you’re in a narrative or tree campaign, you’re going to need those laid out before you start, especially if you’re planning to play in the campaign.
  • The campaign map – If you’re in a map campaign, you’re going to need that fancy map with all the cool territories and fancy points of interest to take and control.


5. Tips for Running a Campaign

Ok, so you’ve chosen your campaign type, and you’re putting together the resources you need for it. I’m going to go into more detail around designing a campaign in the next article, but before I leave you today, I’ve got some tips and tricks for players trying to run a successful campaign:

  • Keep it as simple as possible.
    Seriously, I can’t stress enough that you should keep your campaign as simple as possible, especially if it’s your first campaign. And I know–you’ve got all these great ideas, or you’re imagining these really sweet setups, but the reality is that most of the time your players aren’t going to be nearly as enchanted with your ideas and may be overwhelmed with all of the excess. If you do want to get more complex with campaign rules, my advice is to start small and introduce new rules or set-ups over time, and always run them by your players first.
  • Keep your bonuses small.
    There’s a delicate balancing act that goes on in many campaigns: You want to reward players meaningfully for their victories with in-game bonuses, but you don’t want those rewards to be so powerful that they completely decide the next game, leading to bad steamrolling effects and “feel-bad” moments for their opponents. This means making sure your bonuses are relatively small, simple things like a slight CP bonus, or a bonus to the first turn roll that give a slight edge, but aren’t impossible to overcome. If you’re playing a multiplayer campaign and matching players up, I recommend matching winners to winners each round where you’re able, to ensure that bonuses (which are hopefully varied) will be somewhat offset.
  • Reward players for winning, don’t penalize them for losing.
    Generally speaking you want to reward players for their success, not punish them for losing. Don’t hand out game loss penalties or campaign rules that punish losing. Those players already lost, and you want them to invest in winning the next round, not feel as though there’s no point continuing. Remember, one of your campaign goals should be to play more games of 40k, and you’re more likely to do that by giving the winning players a set of small bonuses when they win (or play well, but I’ll talk about narrative bonuses in a future article).
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel.
    When you’re writing campaign rules, there’s always a temptation to try weird new things, but in the in a similar vein to the notion of “keep it simple,” you should also avoid creating new rules or scenarios if ones that already serve your purposes exist.
  • Get a feel for everyone’s schedules before you start.
    As you plan your campaign, know what your players can commit to–how often they can play, and how hard it is for them to schedule games. While ideally you’re completing one round of a campaign every week or two, that may not work for the majority of your players. If that’s the case, you might have to stretch it longer, and have rounds that last a month or two. If that happens, you may need to figure out workarounds for players who get their games in immediately.
  • Have backup plans.
    Life happens. People go on vacation, have to work, have kids, they miss games. Even when you take everyone’s schedule into account, you might find that you need to work around a missing player. I can guarantee you that if you have more than 2 players in your campaign, there’s gonna be a round where someone can’t make it. If that happens, focus on positive workarounds rather than penalizing players (after all, 40k is just a game). If you anticipate this happening (and it will), you can plan around it and be prepared to move on without missing a beat.
  • Set expectations for army strength and play styles up front.
    40k can be a rough game when players who don’t play often and haven’t discussed things meet up to play for the first time. If one player builds an army for tournament play and the other brings a casual list, it can result in a bloodbath and hurt feelings. As you plan your campaign, talk with your players and get a feel for how seriously they want to take things. Are they pushing for competitive lists every game, or a more laid back way to play? You’ll find that as you add stakes to the games, it may bring out the worst in some players. Understand who wants what and set expectations before the campaign begins, so everyone is on the same page.
  • Set up an arbitration process.
    Hams are gonna ham. And that means the occasional disagreement or odd rules interaction, especially if you’ve written your own rules for the campaign. As GM, you’re also likely to be de factor rules judge for everyone. Make it clear from the outset that you’re the final word on resolving disputes, and have both a process in place and a plan for addressing questions and concerns publicly and definitively.
  • Have fun.
    Besides playing more games, campaigns are meant to be fun. If you’re not having fun, or the players aren’t having fun, you need to rethink your approach. It’s never too late to change something or even reconfigure everything.


Next Time: Narrative Campaigns

This covers the basics, but there’s still more to cover. Next time I’m going to review the campaign materials available to players, talk about how to design and run campaigns of multiple types, and lay out some frameworks for building narrative campaigns. As always, if you’ve got any feedback or specific questions about running a campaign, feel free to drop it in the comments below or shoot us an email at – we’d love to hear from you!