Running your first campaign..

D&D Starter Set

Hello everyone, I have been running games for a long time and I have been asked in the past how do I like to start a new game and if there any way I can help a new DM get to grips with setting something up.

The answer of course is yes, yes I can.

So lets start with a few steps that if like to look at when I’m starting a campaign. I am going to assume a couple of things:

  1. You have a group and you have agreed on who is going to be the DM.
  2. You have decided on the game system you are going to play
  3. You have all the basic equipment (Rule books, Dice, Pencils etc.) That you need to play your chosen system
  4. You have chosen if you’ll be creating your own story or running with a pre-written adventure/campaign.

The last point is only important as far as the background of the game and how the characters interact with it, as some of them have new backgrounds or skills available. It’s not always important but it can help to tie the characters in to the story and make it all seem a little more real.

Next whoever is going to be the DM, (and I am assuming its the person reading this article, so ill refer to them as you from now on,) needs to know the character creation rules.

This may sound like a stupid thing to say but if you don’t know them, then there is going to be a lot of confusion and the first session is going to take a long time.

I have purposely missed out how to create your own campaign, from a story-plot-design point of view, as thats a whole other kettle of fish. This article is written on the assumption that you have an adventure ready to run, and your ready to start.

Note: I will write a series of articles at some point detailing how to do this, so that if you want some help planning your own home written campaign it will be there at some point!

Lets move on to the first game session.

Game Session 1

It’s important to let everyone know that the first game session is almost all about the Characters.

This session should be about building the characters, establishing what they know, who the know, how they know each other, what their general place in the world is and any specific things they might need to know due to the campaign setting or adventure.

Ill explain more about these things in a bit but its important to note I said almost all about the characters… almost. The first session should also include an encounter of some kind at the end.

So lets look at the structure of the first session of the

  1. Players Create Characters
    1. Players Discuss Character Relationships and how they are connected, establishing who knows who, who needs to follow orders, give orders, or whatever the game system calls for.
  2. Based on the Characters the DM should fill the players in on how their Characters fit in to the world, based on Class race, or whatever the game system calls for.
  3. The DM should give an overview of the campaign, and where the Party of Characters fit in to the whole thing.
  4. Run one encounter to let everyone test their characters and start to be involved in the campaign.

You should be able to fit all of this in to a 4-hour session without to much trouble.

Lets look at each stage in a bit more detail

Players Create Characters

Ok this may sound easy but it’s not quite as straight forward as it sounds, and is very dependent on the game system. Players should be allowed to play whatever character they want to, but there are some things that make the game easier.

For example having one of each of the 4 core classes in D&D helps for a smooth running of the game. (Fighter, Cleric, Wizard and Rogue for those of you who don’t know what the core classes are.)

A good party construction is the key to a successful game, but not necessarily successful role-playing. Sometimes the game is at its best when the characters face adversity.

As always as a DM your first thought should be about providing an entertaining game and avoiding saying no to characters, but allowing them to play the character they want to play.

Note: For those of you shocked by the never saying No to a player statement ill write another article about how that works, and link it Here, when I do.

Once the characters have been created step 2 can begin.

Players Discuss Character Relationships.

This step is actually part of step one, and its quite important. It allows a sense of belonging and cohesion within the group of players and sets a boundary for the behaviour of the characters.

For example if you’re playing a game where everyone is a member of a secret strike team, someone will be in charge, either a Sargent or a Captain perhaps. This means within the group there is a chain of command and that needs to be played out in the game.

  • Are any of the characters related?
  • Are any of the characters lovers, or even ex-lovers?
  • How well do they know each other have they worked together before?
  • Have they been hired to work together, what’s the story of the group?

Sometimes this will influence what characters the players have, sometimes it won’t, its important that the players establish these points before the game starts.

They don’t have to have all the fine details down but they do need to know how they are connected to each other if at all, so they know how to interact with each other as the game starts.

The DM’s Overview

Other than the actual creation of the characters this is the most important part of the first session. It’s where the DM gets to paint the picture and set the scene.

There are multiple ways this can be done, hand outs, artwork, and the like but the most important thing is to make sure that the players feel involved.

Now you don need to write out a huge soliloquy for each character starting at their birth and then detailing all the things that lead them up to where they are (unless that’s of huge importance to the story, or you have nothing better to do!) But it should be enough for the players to understand why they are where they are and what they are doing.

This sort of thing is known as a Hook, named because it does what it says on the tin and hooks the player and character in to the story line. Sometimes this can easily come out of the step above when the players discuss how they know each other, sometimes its a very specific thing the DM has in mind for the story, sometimes its a mixture of both.

However it comes about, its a critical part of the game, and immersing your players in the game, and making them feel connected to their characters and the world they live in.

Run the First Encounter

I always find this bit fun. It allows you as a DM to teach the rules of the game, and reinforce some of the world and character building you and your group have been doing for the past 2-3 hours, and lets face it, players want this, this is why most players come to a table.

They have built a cool character, they want to roll dice and see them in action. It also allows players to get a feel for their character and see if the choices they made in character creation really mean what they think they mean.

A bit of role-play, get them in character and then hit them with a combat encounter, nothing to complicated, bandits on the road, Kobolds attacking, Skeletons in a graveyard, Giant Rats in the rotten food stuff, whatever is appropriate to the start of the campaign.

Let them make skill rolls, let them make attack rolls and damage rolls, let them use any class features they have. It’s the Prologue, entice them, and make the players want to come back for more!

After the first session, I always check that everyone is happy with his or her character, and that there is nothing they want to change based on the encounter(s) we have just run. If there is anything they want to change I let them, and give them until the next session to do so, and make myself available for questions as well, should they need any help.

Let me know what your thoughts on starting a campaign are, and if you have any advice of your own!

Andy @ DMB




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