D&D Ideas — Starting a Campaign
Welcome once again to the weekly newsletter. This week’s topic is starting a campaign, which we discussed in our live chat. We hangout every Monday evening at 8 p.m. EST on Nerdarchy Live to talk about D&D, RPGs, gaming, life and whatever nerdy stuff comes up. You can get the Nerdarchy Newsletter delivered to your inbox each week, along with updates and info on how to game with Nerdarchy, by signing up here. Speaking of starting a campaign our Dark Paths starts down a new path for our monthly rewards and presents a new being of malediction each month to exert their malignment on your Fifth Edition worlds. Each of these entry points can kick off a new campaign or creep into your existing adventures. It’s been a blast developing this new content and playing these adventures in our monthly one shots with Patreon supporters who get exclusive sneak peeks and playtest opportunities prior to receiving their rewards and before they’re available to anyone else through Nerdarchy the Store. Become part of the Nerdarchy community and get early access to new products, live chats and gameplays, our exclusive Discord channel, giveaways and more right here.
Slow it down and catch up on the week that was to discover dissatisfied warlocks, how to challenge powerful heroes, our favorite characters and more on a newly revamped website (hype!) plus new live chats with creative folks and industry pros rounding out this week’s Nerdy News. Check it out here. In addition you can catch Nerdarchist Dave rolling some funny shaped dice for a Halloween themed Monster of the Week one shot live play. On Friday, Oct. 16 watch him play Sniffles the Werewolf over at the Master the Game YouTube channel here. And UniversiD&D recently welcomed Nerdarchists Dave and Ted as guests on their YouTube channel to hang out and talk about D&D and the RPG hobby. They had a great time talking with fellow YouTubers and nerds you can check out right here.
Delving Dave’s Dungeon
How you approach starting a campaign might be the most important part of a game of Dungeons & Dragons or any other tabletop roleplaying game. There several considerations or steps I recommend you go through. I feel like if you follow these steps you’ll set your campaign up for success.
- You need to assemble the right group for the right game. Everyone at the table needs to be very clear about what kind of experience they want from the game.
- Players don’t join games you won’t enjoy. You’ll drag down the game for yourself and you’d be better served by finding the game you want to play in.
- Dungeon Masters don’t get bullied or convinced to run a game that isn’t one exciting for them. You’ll find your creativity suffers and the players won’t enjoy this experience.
- Set forth the social expectations of the group. Make sure everyone is okay with what’s going to be in the game. This is another place where players may want to bow out or the group can alter the table expectations to match everyone’s sensibilities.
- Whoever is running the game should layout exactly the kind of game they want to run for the group. I like to give my players 3-4 options for them to vote on in the order of their interest. NEVER give options you aren’t interested in running. Your players may have to reevaluate at this point and determine if it’s still a game they are interested in. This is okay and not personal. I consider this respecting the other players and you.
- Set an end point. We will run this game for 3, 6, 12 sessions or whatever you agree on as a group. You can always revisit this at the predetermined number and add more sessions if everyone is onboarded.
These pillars make up a solid combination to having a decent session zero and social contract for your group. With time, experience and familiarity these become more natural and faster. I’d recommend you especially do this with players you haven’t played with before.
Here’s some things I like to include in session one.
Either have the players’ characters know or be familiar with each other already. If nothing else I want them introduced into the scene as soon as possible. People have different opinions on this, but that is mine.
Start in medias res:
“In medias res, (Latin: “in the midst of things”) the practice of beginning an epic or other narrative by plunging into a crucial situation that is part of a related chain of events; the situation is an extension of previous events and will be developed in later action. The narrative then goes directly forward, and exposition of earlier events is supplied by flashbacks.”
Make something happen and try to grab players’ attention right away. Begin in the middle of a battle, they’re in the tavern but it’s on fire, they are in the middle of a prison break, the ship they are traveling on is going down and so forth. These are just some examples. Don’t ask them about their characters — ask them what they are going to do.
Then from there they might incorporate bits of description about the characters in the actions they are doing. I’m fond of going back to each character and asking them what they were doing before all hell broke loose. This is also a place where they can fill in more details for the rest of the group about their characters and what they look like.
From Ted’s Head
There are always things you should take into account when starting a campaign of fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons be it for your very first time or as a seasoned veteran. A session zero is a must. Players must agree on things such as setting and theme as well as all the pertinent details of things everyone wants included and excluded.
But it goes beyond this as well. Nerdarchy runs a fan game every month and as I am writing this I just completed my session with fans. We had a blast and even though the session was just a one shot I was amazed at the number of questions I had received from the players. I care that players are happy to play the characters they want so I was happy to field their questions.
As always we need to consider that the Game Master is a player at the table as well. And since the GM is the player who is going to do the most work at the table their desires should be taken into account. Now, I am not asking it be a dictatorship and everything the GM wants should happen but they need to be comfortable in handling the tasks and theme of the game.
I have two new campaigns on the horizon and both will be streamed on the Nerdarchy Live YouTube channel. Chaos Crew nears completion of season four and who knows what season five will bring but regardless I am sure the crazy antics of the crew will continue.
Each Tuesday night Nerdarchy Live runs a game. Dave just started an awesome game, which I am sure he will talk about. But it looks like my game will be next once he completes his story and I will be challenging myself with a new style game. While the rules are still going to be 5E D&D the format and setting are unexplored territory for me presented as a streamed game within a limited campaign arc.
Because of this, even though I have time before these games start, I am thinking about them now. I want the players and the viewers to enjoy what I present. So a nice takeaway is that as a GM take the time you need to make the game you want to run. You might not be running a game people watch but those who play are equally important and if your head is not on right it is okay to delay. If you are aware of what you want to run and it will take time to get all your ducks in a row, take the time so you’re not stressed out over it. A happy GM makes for a great story and a fun time for all. It sounds corny but I fully believe that.
From the Nerditor’s desk
Starting a campaign for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons or any other tabletop roleplaying game for that matter remains one of the most exciting parts of the hobby for me. Whether I’m a player or Game Master the explosion of ideas surrounding a new campaign is the juice.
Nerdarchists Dave and Ted approach the topic from the Game Master’s perspective so this is a great opportunity to take a look at starting a campaign from the other side of the GM screen. They bring up lots of excellent points and I think there’s room for players to consider several of those points as well. I am a self professed picky and peculiar RPG player so starting a campaign can be a complicated process for me.
They both make a strong case for the importance of the GM as a fellow player and coordinating a group where everyone is on board. This is something I struggle with because my natural inclination as a nerd who loves RPGs is an enthusiastic yes. But over the years I’ve played in tons of games perhaps I should have been more discerning about. Now when a GM pitches a campaign idea I take time to think about the proposal. Sometimes this means I miss out on opportunities even with close friends.
Ideally of course I’d love to hear a handful of pitches and discover the one everybody feels on board with but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes it comes down to the game system itself and others the style or themes of a campaign — a pitch incorporating elements that cause discomfort can be another concern.
Once a group coalesces and commits to a campaign there’s a responsibility on the part of players to create characters who contribute to the goals. This includes narrative as well as mechanical components. Imagining a character who has compelling reasons to participate in the campaign is as important as character options that make sense. For our Moon Rises campaign at Nerdarchy Live I gave him a hook into the campaign as part of his backstory and also added to my concept with mechanical choices that I felt made sense with Dave’s campaign pitch.
During the liminal space between pitching and starting a campaign players would do well to think about all those numbers and words on your character sheet and backstory and how you’ll approach the game once things get underway. You’ve hopefully already determined you as a player are on board with the themes and concepts of the campaign but just as important is your character’s perspective.
As a final thought this one encompasses the GM too. Try to keep all the preparatory work your group has done in mind when you begin the campaign in earnest. It’s one thing to talk the talk and do a session zero, consider consent and discuss group and individual dynamics and quite another to follow through during play. It can become just as awkward and cumbersome for players when a game deviates from the plan as much or moreso than for a GM.