How Character Introductions Can Make Your D&D Game Epic

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As Game Masters it’s our job to facilitate fun! Players have fun when they get to impact the story in a meaningful way. Often, when a player makes a new character, they think about who this character is and how great they are and so on. In  my experience, every player usually has some sort of idea about how they would introduce their character such as particular circumstances or roleplaying. Character introductions really set the tone for each character, especially when it comes to more roleplay-heavy parties, like those I’m used to. An introduction or first impression can really make or break a player’s initial passion for their character.

‘You all start in a tavern…’

How many times have you had a GM introduce the party by starting in a tavern, around a campfire, or some place of leisure? I mean, I get it. Starting somewhere like a tavern is neutral ground. It’s a way to introduce literally any character a player might come up with, because usually, taverns are places where everyone congregates, regardless of profession.

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A tavern like the Yawning Portal in Waterdeep has been the site of countless beginnings to grand D&D adventure. There’s countless reasons for any and all sorts to visit the legendary taproom with the entrance to Undermountain on display. [Image courtesy Wizards of the Coast]
While the tavern/caravan/whatever is a great way to quickly insert the characters into the same circumstance, the generic nature (its greatest strength) is also its greatest detriment. See, when your character starts in a tavern, you can try to make something special of it, but usually players don’t think super deeply about what their character might do for recreation, because that’s not codified on the character sheet. They think about personality traits, which can be conveyed in a tavern, but it’s not likely to really shine, because anyone can showcase personality in that context, to a degree. The very fact it’s so standard often leads such an introduction feeling boring, and because there’s no inherent hook for the story, your players may find it more difficult to motivate their characters to tag along with the party without metagaming a convoluted or half-baked reason.

Tie characters to the railroad

Okay, not literally, but hear me out. Take your characters’ bonds, ideals, and flaws into consideration. By incorporating those into the story immediately, it ties your players to the story in a special way, because it causes their characters to care about what’s going on. It makes the players feel excited for the story, because an aspect of their character literally changed how the story was told.

Players are much more willing to follow linear story progression and hooks when they feel like they have agency to do so. One thing I recommend every GM to do is to approach the players prior to the first session and just ask, “How do you envision your character meeting the party?” Then listen. Not only will your players become excited you asked, but they may give you some excellent fodder for campaign flavor!

Remember that villain they’re supposed to fight in chapter 2? Maybe instead of Lord Donovan Klaudius, it’s now Lady Josephine Carmella. Listen to specific name drops or special relationships mentioned by players. Incorporating these people and reskinning key figures into such characters will immediately grab your players’ attentions and get them excited. Even seeing you incorporate another character’s backstory or hooks into the narrative excites them to see their own, and they’ll become that much more invested into the story at large, allowing you to send the characters along the proverbial railroad without making them feel tied down. Rather than trying to find points to get off, they’re thrilled to be along for the ride!

By working to introduce characters organically, in a way that makes sense with the grand narrative and feels tailored to them, you immerse them. They’ll remember that.

What do you think?

Have you ever experienced a GM really nailing your character’s introduction?

Do you implement any of these ideas at your own table?

Let us know in the comments!

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Follow Steven Partridge:
Steven Partridge is an aspiring author and experienced tabletop gamer. As a child, he dreamed of growing up to be a dinosaur, but as with many children, his childhood dreams were dashed when the rules of reality set in. However, our valiant Steven never allowed this to sway his ambition. He simply... adjusted it to fit more realistic aspirations. Thus, he blossomed into a full-fledged nerd with a passion for the fantasy genre. When he's not writing or working on videos for his YouTube channel, Steven can be found lap swimming or playing D&D with his friends. He works in the mental health field and enjoys sharing conversations about diversity, especially as it relates to his own place within the Queer community.

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