The West Marches: A Style of D&D Campaign for large groups

Hello, my Fellows.

Recently, I discovered a style of campaign that has been specifically designed for large amounts of players, called the “West Marches” style. It is very much a player driven style of campaign. It is the players’ job to collect the party, schedule the time, and figure out where they would like to go for each session. Not every player plays in every session, which is what allows large amounts of players to all be in the same campaign. This style of campaign would be great as a group activity, due to how it is formatted. Below I have quoted a large section of a post I was reading about this style of campaign that goes into greater detail than I have here:

“West Marches was a game I ran for a little over two years. It was designed to be pretty much the diametric opposite of the normal weekly game:

1) There was no regular time: every session was scheduled by the players on the fly.

2) There was no regular party: each game had different players drawn from a pool of around 10-14 people.

3) There was no regular plot: The players decided where to go and what to do. It was a sandbox game in the sense that’s now used to describe video games like Grand Theft Auto, minus the missions. There was no mysterious old man sending them on quests. No overarching plot, just an overarching environment.

My motivation in setting things up this way was to overcome player apathy and mindless “plot following” by putting the players in charge of both scheduling and what they did in-game.

A secondary goal was to make the schedule adapt to the complex lives of adults. Ad hoc scheduling and a flexible roster meant (ideally) people got to play when they could but didn’t hold up the game for everyone else if they couldn’t. If you can play once a week, that’s fine. If you can only play once a month, that’s fine too.

The West Marches charter is that games only happen when the players decide to do something — the players initiate all adventures and it’s their job to schedule games and organize an adventuring party once they decide where to go.

Players send emails to the list saying when they want to play and what they want to do. A normal scheduling email would be something like “I’d like to play Tuesday. I want to go back and look for that ruined monastery we heard out about past the Golden Hills. I know Mike wants to play, but we could use one or two more. Who’s interested?” Interested players chime in and negotiation ensues. Players may suggest alternate dates, different places to explore (“I’ve been to the monastery and it’s too dangerous. Let’s track down the witch in Pike Hollow instead!”), whatever — it’s a chaotic process, and the details sort themselves out accordingly. In theory this mirrors what’s going on in the tavern in the game world: adventurers are talking about their plans, finding comrades to join them, sharing info, etc.

The only hard scheduling rules are:

1) The GM has to be available that day (obviously) so this system only works if the GM is pretty flexible.

2) The players have to tell the GM where they plan on going well in advance, so he (meaning me) has at least a chance to prepare anything that’s missing. As the campaign goes on this becomes less and less of a problem, because so many areas are so fleshed out the PCs can go just about anywhere on the map and hit adventure. The GM can also veto a plan that sounds completely boring and not worth a game session.

All other decisions are up to the players — they fight it out among themselves, sometimes literally.”

The full post can be found at , however I would ask you not to read the other posts regarding this campaign style; it’ll kill some of the magic.

Would you be interested in playing a campaign like this? Please either leave a comment or contact me through some other means if you are interested. Assuming there are enough people interested, I will create a map and DM a campaign in this style for any members of the Knights Semantic who want to play.

If you are interested, we also need to decide on a roleplaying system that we will use for this game. I am going to propose two options: Pathfinder and Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition. Pathfinder is very similar to D&D 3.5, but has been balanced and polished, and has expanded the customization options that are available to you as a player. However, it is still rather complex and is not extremely newbie friendly. Fifth edition, on the other hand, is very easy to play. The customization is not as detailed as Pathfinder, but it streamlines the experience while still being very fun to play (I really love the abilities in this version).


There is a link to a straw poll below. If you choose neither, please leave a comment with a suggestion on what we should play. If you aren’t planning on playing, please be a good chap and don’t vote.


Something to note is that this game can be very exclusive if the players act immaturely. Please be a good friend and mature person, and try to invite people who might not have the strongest character or might not be your best friend. Variety is the spice of life, so sometimes playing with people you aren’t close to can be interesting too.

Hope you’re all interested,

Grand Commandant Draco Blackstone

17 thoughts on “The West Marches: A Style of D&D Campaign for large groups

  1. I’d say that it definitely sounds intriguing, but how new player friendly would the setup be (not talking about the role-play version.) If the players are supposed to decide where to go, and D&D has a canon world are we creating our own world or working with a specific world that not everyone is familiar with?


    • It should be perfectly fine. I can help a little for newer players, and you also have several experienced players playing who will likely dictate those things until you are more familiar with this style of campaign.

      EDIT: I also didn’t answer the other part of your question: This will be using a new setting. I will give a map of the starting area, but after that the players will have to create their own of the areas beyond.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I would be interested in helping you DM something like this. I have experience DMing a West Marches campaign in the past, I am more interested in running the game than I am on all the details of the world history etc. So for creativity you could still have that in your control. But I could always still pitch in if you wanted!


  3. Hi Draco,

    I’m part of gaming start up named Adventure Roll that has created a sandbox platform that lets DMs create custom worlds for players to explore, interact, and go on adventures in. We are currently testing it with other West Marches groups and have about 400 people signed up so far. If you and your group are interested in checking it out, drop me an email and I’ll send you some info so you can check it out for yourself. Thanks! I hope to hear from you.


    Liked by 1 person

  4. I see that the poll has over 200 votes. Did this idea ever get implemented? It reminds me of something done at the 2019 1d4con. There was an entire ballroom of D&D 5e players, all in the same adventure, divided up into 4 tiers and with several tables in a tier.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It did! It is actually still an on running game, though it often goes through lulls of inactivity. It has been quite convenient. Sometimes, the individually motivated player style works out exactly as I hoped it would, while other times I run smaller more traditional adventures in the setting instead, but they all still effect each other in one way or another. Really, the only thing I can see myself changing about this world is the system, as 5e ends up getting a bit in the way of what I want to do with the setting.

      If you’d like to talk more in depth about the campaign, let me know, I have plenty to speak about.


  5. Are you running it with just local people you know, or did you expand it to online, especially this year? I discovered this blog because it was referenced by someone who wants to run a similar thing online now that the pandemic has curtailed in-person campaigns for most of the year.
    See the Silver Spring One Shots channel on discord.


    • I actually have always run it both locally and online! This blog is a refugee from an older group based around online gaming, and many of my friends have moved away, so we regularly play DND to keep up to date. However, I also have a local gaming group I attend and people from there also play in the same universe. We’re looking into doing mixed in person and online groups once lock down is over.

      I’ll check out that discord. Always good to have peers to bounce ideas off of.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This sounds like about as close as you can get to the more open-ended play-by-post RPGs I’ve played without being a member of a forum that hosts that sort of game (like Bay12 and… probably one or two others). Granted, it lacks the anonymity and completely free timing that you can get on a forum, but those have their drawbacks.

    Shame there isn’t a very big TRPG community in my hometown. It’s an idea for if I move to a bigger city I guess.


    • Indeed. It may be that the forum style was an influence, as many of my players and myself actually met on the old Lego Universe rolepalying forum. If you’d be interested in discussing this further let me know and perhaps we can talk over some form of chat.


  7. My son and I would like to play 3.5e D&D. Are you available Friday evening at 5 pm mountain time ? I wonder how are online gaming program works ?
    I have played a few hundred games of that edition. My son is a novice level player. I am not having much luck finding a game master who can make an online gaming website work and has the time Friday evening.


  8. Ok well I am a total newbie at this and have no idea of how to play let alone create a character? I would love to join to learn how to play and from the sound of it I believe the 5e would be best for me.
    Thank you


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