- “Start in a tavern! Great beginning! I often see players online disparaging...well, every cliche, including that one, but if you're new to this game, there are no cliches.”
Your First Session is the second episode to the Running the Game series. It aired on February 21, 2016.
Matt Colville talks about the various ways to begin the first session of a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, including introducing the setting and early plot hooks, and how to get players to begin roleplaying. Some (Matt included) find the most challenging part of a campaign to be introducing players to a setting they've never experienced before, but this video tries to give aspiring DMs some ideas about how to do this.
The original modules in the Seventies simply began adventures by dropping players in front of a dungeon and describing the entrance. This is because many early adventures were modules intended to be run at conventions, and because players at that time were more concerned with simply playing DnD (killing monsters, getting loot, and leveling up), rather than thinking about narrative and the motivations of their characters. The fantasy literature that influenced DnD also contributed to this effect, as Gygax envisioned players as controlling characters like Conan, who wanted to dungeon delve simply because dungeons contained treasure and no one had ever explored them before. This is likely the simplest way to begin an adventure and is still fun, but modern players now tend to have a more developed idea of their characters' motivations and goals.
Start in a Tavern
- “Always feel free to rip stuff off. This is your campaign; put the stuff you like in it.”
Matt discusses the virtues of starting players in a tavern. Although typically seen as cliche, cliches are not nearly as much a problem to new players, for whom there are no cliches. Also, new players may be reminded of similar scenes in fantasy works they like (such as the Strider scene at the Prancing Pony) and get a chance to experience playing that scene, rather than simply reading or watching it.
This approach has two advantages. First, it allows players to roleplay meeting each others' characters for the first time, establish the group relationships, and describe their characters. This prompts the player to think more about their character and introduce roleplaying for the first time. Second, it allows them to learn why they're on the adventure for the first time by giving them plot hooks and NPCs to roleplay with. You can add menus in order to heighten the players' immersion.
After some period of roleplaying, the local blacksmith comes in and says that goblins have kidnapped his daughter. At this point, the DM should ask the players what they will do. While some characters may immediately volunteer to help, others are motivated more by the promise of reward rather than altruism. In order to get these characters on the adventure, DMs should consider using a handout listing bounty payouts from the local authorities for various monster parts. This both incentivizes selfish characters to participate in the adventure and gives players some immersive understanding of the world beyond the tavern and the political situation of the local area.
Additionally, the blacksmith may ask the character directly to help, or the DM can guilt the players into joining by having unqualified NPCs volunteer to help.
Mapping the World
The players need a way to get to the tomb, but Matt recommends not giving the players a map of the area. Medieval peasants would not have access to maps and would instead describe the route using directions and landmarks, making the situation more immersive and the world feel more dangerous and mysterious.
Players can follow the tracks the goblins left from the blacksmith's house, but they'll have to cross the local forest to do so, and they won't be able to do so in one day. This means that the party has to spend the night in the woods, potentially risking a random encounter. This gives the world a feeling of risk, making it a gamble to rest after fights and preventing players from using rests to bog down the pace of the game. However, consider that a random encounter may prevent the party from finishing the tomb in one night.
Links and Resources
The description section of the video on Youtube contains links to PDFs containing the people of the Green Dragon Inn and a menu, the bounty poster, and a map of the tomb.