A campaign is typically what one would refer to as a general ‘game’ of DBU. It is the overarching story that you, the ARC, create together with your players. A campaign can be all kinds of things; a tournament, a hunt for the Dragon Balls, a battle against an unstoppable enemy to protect the universe or perhaps just the story of a few friends trying to build up a Base. Perhaps, if you’re intending to make a long term campaign, it could cover all of these as individual Sagas (detailed below).
Whatever the case, the most important thing about beginning a campaign is to ensure both you and your players are aware of the expectations. After all, if a player makes a silly Majin character who wants to make the best burger in the world, they may not fit into a dark and somber story detailing a world under constant terror from an Android threat.
When making a campaign, beyond planning out the threats the players will encounter and building the general world they will play in, the first few things you should consider are: what do my players need to know to make their characters? Of course, by this point, you’ve already discussed what kind of tone your campaign is and your players are interested in your world. So, how do we get this show on the road? Character Creation, of course.
Character Creation. The first and most important thing to do is layout what is required for Character Creation in your campaign, more specifically, what Power Level the characters will be starting at. From there, your players can mostly figure things out by themselves, but you should always be available for support and guidance. One of the biggest things is to discourage players from Min-Maxing (focusing all of their abilities into a single focus), as that will sway how you create antagonists to deal with their newfound highest ability. If one person Min-Maxes, then everyone may feel the need to do the same to keep up, and that will create less varied, interesting characters. As an ARC, you can always create a threat for players no matter how powerful they build their characters, so generally it’s best to not encourage people to build their characters as if this was a simple game of numbers but to remember that this is a role playing game and that, as such, their characters should be built with the character itself in mind. It’s okay to have a disparity in power among players, as long as everyone is able to participate, as you can easily change this disparity through progression.
If your campaign has a higher Power Level start, or you are just interested in a game that surpasses the strength of a typical DBU campaign, you can give out Transformations to start with. Now, an important thing to know is that Transformations are not all created equal. For example, Manifested Powers may give a permanent bonus but usually it’ll be less impactful than an Enhancement Power, which typically has Attribute Modifier Bonuses that scale with Tier of Power and powerful Traits and even less so than an Alternate Form (especially at lower Tiers of Power) as they will grant an immense boost in Ki Points – which can be converted to damage through Ki Wagers.
For this reason, it’s important to carefully consider if you want Transformations at Character Creation and if you do? Remember that DBU is a game with a lot of moving parts, as it were, meaning that any Transformation can be viable and powerful in the right build but for newer players it can be hard to judge which Transformations better suit what they want to go for. As such, we recommend playing the system first before you consider starting a campaign with any Transformations, but if you do intend to – make sure you properly investigate which Transformations your players are interested in and compare them to one another. It’s okay to tell a player ‘no’, as long as you make sure to explain to them that you’re telling them ‘no’ not to deny them fun but to ensure that everyone starts with a similar playing field. They can always get that Transformation later, when everyone has begun to grow stronger.
Restrictions. Depending on your campaign, some character options may not fit in. A world without Dragon Balls couldn’t have Shadow Dragons now, could it? So, don’t be scared about denying access to certain Races, Transformations, Magical Abilities or Basic/Special Items. As long as you inform your players immediately of your decision and ensure they know that they can’t get certain things before they have already started playing in your campaign, everything should be fine, as they have chosen to play regardless of the restrictions you’ve created for the sake of your campaign.
Of course, you don’t have to restrict things simply because you think they won’t fit in your world. If you find certain aspects of the system to be unbalanced for the type of game you wish to run, or if you want to remove the ability to use Magic Materialization so that every character has to work, build and purchase whatever goods they need for the sake of the game’s tone, these are all valid reasons to restrict what parts of the system people have access to.
At the end of the day, it’s about having fun and telling a story with your players. Whatever adds to that, even if it takes away from the system itself, is important. Just make sure you don’t become a tyrant denying anything that could be fun, let your players give their own opinions too! If a cool idea that wouldn’t normally fit into your setting is made, try and help them to fit the pieces into your setting without losing the core of the idea that they found fun in the first place.
The hardest part of being an ARC is the constant running of a campaign. You need to not only have the world built up but be ready to play any part of it that your players interact with. Take a deep breath, don’t let the size of it scare you. It’s really a lot easier than it sounds!
Planning. To make a campaign work, having a solid plan is not a bad idea. Think ahead for what threats will encounter the players and why. At first, it may just be coincidence, players in the wrong place at the wrong time but overtime, you should hone your campaign to be more and more based on what the players have done and the knock-on effects of its impact. If they topple a galactic empire, what do the remaining dregs of it do? If they win a tournament, when do the rivals they overcome return for a rematch? If they come into a great deal of money or a unique item, did it actually belong to someone else, who has now sworn revenge?
Whenever you introduce a plot, make sure you have some ideas of how it will go, but never fully plan out the exact path of it. Players are unpredictable, it’s always best to build characters and their intents more so than the plot of a novel. It’s more fun, too. After all, it lets you roleplay in response to the actions of the player, even if behind the scenes. Don’t think ‘when they win’, always think ‘if they win’. While, as the ARC, you generally want your players to eventually come out on top, it’s good to let things happen naturally and allow for contingencies if they do not. For example, Kid Buu was about to destroy the Earth and Goku had failed his Clairvoyance Skill Check due to botching to use Instant Transmission. Uh-oh. The players are dead! Except, they already befriended Kibito Kai who uses his Kai Kai to immediately save Goku, Vegeta, Dende and Hercule. Giving players an out is always a good way to continue a campaign, it’s good to make sure that players know they can attempt to flee and don’t have to win every single fight. Though, if this is a fight with no route for escape and one that they do have to win to survive, then make that very clear for them.
A small piece of advice is to, after each session, ask what your players liked about a session and what they felt they could use more of. Feedback helps anyone improve, so don’t be scared of it. It may help you catch a player not having a good time, even if they’re not vocal about it and help reignite their passion for your campaign by fixing whatever concerns they have. Another thing is to generally, before any saga, speak to players individually and try to find out what their characters would want most from that saga. Some players may want their characters to expand their empire, others may be like Goku and simply be looking for a good fight and others still may be out looking for revenge or a way to just live a happy life. Whatever they say, keep it in mind. You can use those nuggets of information to plan what kind of encounters you make and how you can tailor them to your player’s characters.
Keeping the Pace. The most important skill for an ARC is the ability to improvise. While you can plan everything down to the last detail, all it takes is for Goku and Vegeta over there to start fighting one another in the middle of a town to ruin days of hard work! If that happens, what do you do? It’s simple, you move with the punches. Whatever planning you have made, adjust it. This is why it’s better to make characters with intentions rather than strict plots. These characters can organically react to Goku and Vegeta’s brawl and their departure from the group to settle things, rather than the plot requiring everyone to be present having to be put on hold.
Though, don’t be terrified at this premise either. Improvising may sound difficult but you don’t have to be a god of improvisation who can do it instantly to be good at this skill. Communication, as always, is a great help. You can tell your players that you’re a little stumped and may need a quick 30 minute break to reconstruct some plans, maybe make a new Adversary sheet and rethink a few things. While you’re busy with that, you can give them some incentive to role play among themselves: mention there’s a bar nearby, a place to have a feast or otherwise just bring up a nugget of information that they are aware of and say that they’ve found a quiet place to discuss it. Sometimes, it’s also just worth it to let your player have a moment to cool off too. We’re all flesh and blood at the end of the day, a break for what the body needs to do never hurt anybody!
Sagas. A Saga is an enclosed story. Think, for instance, like the Namek Saga! This allows you to change the tone of your campaign for a short period by focusing on an element. Usually, a Saga will encompass an entire Tier of Power – leading players through five Power Levels worth of danger and encounters, though not always. You can have short Sagas or particularly long Sagas, but by enclosing a story with a start and finish within the overarching narrative of a campaign, you allow players to look back fondly on a story line and more easily remember characters from it.
Types of Campaigns
There are a million and one different stories to tell in DBU, especially with a creative ARC thinking up new ways to interpret their own setting. So, the sheer number of campaign types is endless, but this section is here to break down a few interesting types that we’ve heard of or played ourselves (we are always looking to expand on this list, too):
Episodic Campaigns. You could consider this the default TTRPG method of play. Each time at the table is broken up into ‘session’, a time where the players and ARC gather up on a weekly/bi-weekly/monthly schedule to roll some dice and role play as a character from the Dragon Ball Universe. The ARC controls the world, while the players engage with it.
Play-by-Post Campaigns. Similar to that above, except instead of a particular meeting date, players may use a platform such as Discord to play whenever they have time to make written-out posts of role play and roll dice. Usually, this means activity will spike and drop between periods of availability but won’t follow the same episodic structure of a typical game.
Tournament Campaigns. A type of campaign that allows there to be no prominent ARC. This could be your typical martial arts tournament or something as in depth as the Tournament of Power, but either way, the players are split into brackets and face off against one another after agreeing upon a Power Level, any Restrictions and any Transformations that they may be allowed to make. Whoever comes out on top is the winner, ya-hoo!
Though, that’s a very basic version of this type of campaign. There are a few interesting things you can do to make this type of campaign be more than just a brawl:
Generally, a Tournament Campaign is a great way to get used to the system and should be done with a lighthearted spirit. Don’t get angry if you lose and don’t try so hard to make your character unbeatable; everyone’s here for fun, and fights that show some variety and have a bit of back and forth are far more enjoyable than one-way battles.