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Start A Campaign – Part 1: The first game

Written by Expy - Published on July 15, 2007

This article is part 1 of the “Start A Campaign… Now! series.

  1. Start A Campaign – Part 1: The first game
  2. Start A Campaign – Part 2: Before the second game
  3. Start A Campaign – Part 3: The second game
  4. Start A Campaign – Part 4: How to prepare a great game in 30 minutes or less

One of my favorite aspects of D&D is world and campaign creation. The possibilities are endless. The players are excited about the upcoming first game. The inspiration flows.

However, I usually quickly find myself confronted by the implications of my visions of grandeur. Who has the time to really create a world, plan a campaign perfectly and logically. It’s almost impossible. But it is possible to create and plan enough for you and your players to have fun.

What does doing just enough mean? Here’s my failsafe approach to a first game:

  1. Let the players know the first game will be almost exclusively character creation.
  2. Tell the players they are responsible for determining how their characters know, or met each other, and why they will stick together.
  3. Make sure the characters all have hero potential.
  4. Invent 3 unique, odd, fascinating facts about their world, environment or situation.
  5. Get them into a fight as soon as everyone is done with their characters!

The first game is all about the characters

My players’ characters will be the center of attention for dozens of games and years to come. They need to be fun to play and fun to watch. That’s why I will allow the players to play any character concept they can think of. I’ll even give them extra skill points to make the concept work. The only limit to what their characters can be is how they all fit together, as a group. The classes don’t matter at all, but the social interactions, the reason why they are – or will be – an adventuring group is crucial to the survival of the campaign. That’s why they have to create their characters together and decide how they know each other together.

I like to supervise the character creation process for each player. I spend 30 minutes to an hour with each player, filling the character sheet. Usually, I end up allowing and suggesting much more than I restrict what the character can be. I like to do that to know the characters better and to reinforce the idea that the character can or will be exceptional.

The characters will become heroes

To become a fully qualified hero, a character needs one strength one flaw. Big ones. It makes the game much more fun. The concept of the hero with one major weakness has been used for decades and it works. I feel this is very important in a game.

Limited world creation

Since this D&D stuff is all about the players, you will design a campaign – and possibly a whole world – that allows them to use their skills and achieve greatness. If you design too much too early you might find that it clashes with an interesting character or group concept. I like to come up with 2 or 3 random facts about the world they’ll be adventuring in. I will mention these facts during the opening scene to grab the players attention, give them something to look forward to. But ultimately, the first game is all about…

The first fight

Hey, encounters are a big part of Dungeons & Dragons. Everyone enjoys them. And the players are eager to test their characters abilities.

It’s that easy

There you go. A successful, 3 or 4 hours long first game. If the game is not long enough, get the characters into another fight. Don’t make a habit of it, but it’s acceptable in a first game.

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Written by Expy

Meet Expy The Red Dragon

Expy is the mascot for DungeonMastering.com and the real mastermind behind Expy Games. He likes to hoard treasure, terrorize neighbors, burn down villages, and tell white dragon jokes..

No matter how fearful the legends claim dragons are, they always end up being defeated in 5 rounds by adventuring parties they encounter. That’s what dragons are – experience points for the heroes in your Dungeons & Dragon party. And this mascot is no different, hence the name Expy.

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15 Responses to “Start A Campaign – Part 1: The first game”
  1. Stûnibu says:

    yeah sure that a good way 2 start, not my style though, ive created a massive world with new races and monsters. heaps of crazy place, ppl and items. its got new gods and a cool history. i like it that way because it dont matter how many books they read or any thing! they cant find out about my world untill they play! and it so big that they could do heaps of campains in it!!

  2. Griim says:

    My campaign is gonna be huge, but I also want the characters to be familiar with most of the landscape and monsters… If they’ve come across this monster before, then they know what it does, how hard it is… If they know what that monster is irl, then they know it in the game, they just know from school or whatnot, past experiences, I try to make my PC’s as close to my players as possible so that they feel like they’re in the world, I find it to be more fun that way.

  3. Yax says:

    Griim said:

    “If they know what that monster is irl, then they know it in the game, they just know from school or whatnot, past experiences, I try to make my PC’s as close to my players as possible so that they feel like they’re in the world”

    Words of wisdom. I hate meta-gaming crappy tactics because ‘the characters don’t know’. It’s no fun.

  4. I Heart Dragons says:

    I’m not a newbie but if I were this would be a fantastic read to build your confidence and get ready for your first step into the depths of D&D. I’ll make sure to recommend this post.

  5. JohnL says:

    Yax, Love your style man. Get the people tied to their characters get the characters tied to each other, throw them into a fight and let them build the world for you. The less they have to start with the more questions they ask. That gives you whole roads to go down with them as they build/ discover your world. I have had more success with player inspired improv than with worlds I had spent months agonizing over. Great advice. Thanks for the pdf downloads. great reminders of what it’s all about. Playing a game together. Thanks JohnL

  6. "James Carter" says:

    I’d tend to disagree… I prefer to get the character making process done in advance, do one on one games, and get them to (about) the same location in the story, and have a “key event” get them to working together. In fact I’ve done it this way several times as a DM for various games


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