18 votes

How to start a DnD campaign with your friends?

Times are tough and isolation is getting to everybody, we've been playing some easy jackbox games with my friends on Google Hangouts, when the idea came to me: Why not start a DnD campaign? I've never ever played one, just watched some Youtube (Geek and Sundry, Mathew Colville), and definitely never though about hosting one until now.

After looking around, there are a lot of cool resources for running one, Roll20 seems to be the most popular and praised for ease of use. Rules are very well written into it and all the tools needed to deal with the mechanics are in. So technology-wise I think we're set.

Now I have a lot of questions on how to get an adventure running. Do I just get an official DnD guide book, do I just rip off the White Orchard level from Witcher 3 to start off or do I come up with some generic fantasy land? I'd like to run a small adventure in one night, just to get a taste of it and maybe branch it off later if everyone is up for it.

For characters I think it would be easier for me to come up with 8-10 pre-generated ones for a group of 4-5 people (with specific people in mind) to tailor it a little bit for my group, but still present some variety, while smoothing the learning curve and lowering the barrier to entry. Feels like a decent idea.

I'm still not sure where to start with this expansive world and I'd love to hear for seasoned DMs an players here on Tildes. How did you start your first game, what was the setting? How do I gently introduce players to mechanics? How do I deal with unpredictable situations?

And most importantly, how do I make sure everyone is having fun?

8 comments

  1. [2]
    SunSpotter
    Link
    Ok, so this ended up being way longer than I meant it to be. So TLDR; Use an adventure guide book. Plan for multiple days even if you intend to do a one shot. Try to start with a smaller group and...

    Ok, so this ended up being way longer than I meant it to be. So TLDR;
    Use an adventure guide book. Plan for multiple days even if you intend to do a one shot. Try to start with a smaller group and choose your friends wisely. Teaching rules should come up organically, but don't make concessions to the rules for their sake. Stay quick on your feet and make sure players understand things are on rails. Do the adventure players want, don't get blindsided by the story you want.

    As for an explanation of the above points...

    Do I just rip off the White Orchard level from Witcher 3 to start off or do I come up with some generic fantasy land?

    Honestly, I don't recommend making up something yourself for your first run. There are a lot of reasons, a big one is simply that you don't have a feel for the game or your players likes/dislikes and interests yet. And I don't just mean thematically, it's hard to explain but there's a lot of things that people will only realize after they've started playing. The main reason though, is simply that most people underestimate the process and it ends up being more stress than it's worth, even if you're a creative type. Making a little world and thinking you're done is a classic mistake, because what makes an adventure come alive has more to do with story and character interaction. If you don't have a lot of experience with that, hold off on it for now.

    If you're worried about spending money on an adventure book, I personally started off as a broke college student and played by printing out my own books from...less than official sources. You do what you feel is best, but you should be aware that it's an option. I would argue there's no shame in sailing the seven seas as long as this is either a one time trial run or you buy something once you're sure this is something you want to continue doing.

    I'd like to run a small adventure in one night

    No one has mentioned this yet, so maybe this is just something me and my friends have a problem with, but we always have problems with actually doing a one shot in one night lol. I'd say just tell your friends that you're planning to use some specific content, and that it could take up to 3 sessions to finish, or it could be over in a day. It will depend on how quickly people get a hang of the rules, and how immersed in RP the players get. This gives you some flexibility so no one has to stay up extra late, and you already have a plan for upcoming days to fall back on.

    For characters I think it would be easier for me to come up with 8-10 pre-generated ones for a group of 4-5

    Definitely a good idea. Letting players create their own characters has its benefits but tailoring characters for members of your group is probably a better idea. Make sure you go through the sheet with everyone so that they understand the significance of the stats on the page though.
    As far as the group size goes, try to start small, because I feel like 5 is kind of big for a starting group. I'd recommend you start with just 3 if possible, but if that would mean cutting out someone and that would make things uncomfortable, then just go with 4.

    While we're talking about the group though, you need to be aware that just because someone is a good friend, doesn't mean they'll be a good player. Problem players come in a lot of forms, and I don't want to sound all doom and gloomy, so I'll just cut things short by saying that you should be cautious of adding friends who have a history of being edgy or argumentative, or who may not have a genuine interest in playing. In regards to the last point, make sure everyone there is there for the game and not just to play on their phone between their turns while they hang out with friends.

    How do I gently introduce players to mechanics?

    Ideally, it should just happen organically. The most common rules you will use in the game relate to skill checks and making attacks. That said, while the training wheels are still on, make sure the players are aware of their options. Like "you could persuade the bandit, intimidate him, fight him etc...". And on that note, if a player doesn't know how to persuade the bandit, or how much damage they do based on their weapon and their roll, they only need to ask. I'd recommend you have some links to resources that explain basic rules like that at the ready so that no one has to spend time looking around or second guessing, because there will probably come times that you doubt yourself. For things like rules related to specific spells, make sure you attach spell sheets with explanations to any relevant character sheets (if any).

    On the topic of mechanics, make sure you stick to them yourself. It's a common mistake for new DM's to want to give out shiny weapons like candy, or make concessions to the rules to make things more interesting for the players. Honestly...it's just a bad idea because you can't really judge the repercussions that will have later as a new DM. Even for a simple one shot adventure, the possible repercussions could be unfulfilling fights that don't seem that challenging, or having to buff enemies so they don't die quickly and ending up in a boring slugging match.

    How do I deal with unpredictable situations?

    Honestly? Just try to stay sober and quick on your feet. At least for spontaneous in the moment things the only thing you can do is to fight creative fire with fire. For everything else, make sure you have an understanding with the players to be cooperative and mature before the adventure even starts. It should feel like a Disneyland ride. They can look all around them at the scenery and paths that they could take, but they need to understand that you're guiding them in one direction. It sounds lame, but it's honestly better to be on rails and break the immersion a little bit in this instance than to give players the impression they have complete freedom. If this were a campaign, I'd give you different advice, but for a one shot anything less is just going to be a mess. That said, there's nothing wrong with being a little flexible to meet the needs of your player characters and keep them satisfied as things progress.

    My last piece of advice is to make sure you communicate with the players. Don't do the adventure you want to do because you think it would be fun as a DM. Talk to your players. See if you can get a gist for what themes they're interested in, and whether they want more action or more intrigue or something inbetween. Every group will be a little different.

    4 votes
    1. weystrom
      Link Parent
      Yeah, I will try to push them some options, for example, it doesn't seem obvious to me that you could keep a goblin alive and extract some information off him, but that's a part of the guidebook...

      That said, while the training wheels are still on, make sure the players are aware of their options.

      Yeah, I will try to push them some options, for example, it doesn't seem obvious to me that you could keep a goblin alive and extract some information off him, but that's a part of the guidebook that I'm reading. So I'll try to make sure at least one of them makes it.

      It seems to me that rich interactions are the core of DnD, instead of playing a regular JRPG combat, you get to do complex things and DM has to facilitate that behaviour.

      2 votes
  2. [2]
    moonbathers
    Link
    Have your friends ever played tabletop RPGs? Playing with people who have never played before is one of my favorite things because you never know what they'll do. A good place to start is asking...

    Have your friends ever played tabletop RPGs? Playing with people who have never played before is one of my favorite things because you never know what they'll do. A good place to start is asking your friends what sort of game they'd be looking for in terms of setting, tone, and what they would want to do. Having a session 0 to sort some of these things out is a great idea so everyone knows what they're getting into.

    I'm not very familiar with the existing DnD campaign books, but there are a few you could use and I know there's at least one that's supposed to be good for beginners (Lost Mines of Phandelver). You can absolutely rip off a setting from a book or a game as well. As far as pre-generating characters goes, that would probably help to get your players interested. You could ask them what they want their character to do and go from there which might save you a little time instead of creating a bunch of extra characters. Once you've had a few sessions with those characters and everyone (yourself included) has gotten a feel for things then maybe you can branch out and start something new if everyone wants to try creating their own characters.

    How do I deal with unpredictable situations?

    A huge part of running a game is making stuff up on the spot. Your players won't know the difference. Sometimes it's good to have a vague idea beforehand of "what if the players do this?" as a reference, but you don't need to map out every little detail.

    And most importantly, how do I make sure everyone is having fun?

    Make sure everyone gets some screen time. Some people like it more than others, some just want to share the experience with people, but until you feel that out make sure everyone gets some input into what the group is doing.

    The most important thing I can tell you is that tabletop RPGs don't have to just be combat and tactics. There's also a group storytelling aspect to it, where the characters have thoughts and goals beyond "let's go kill the bad guys!". Your players will have varying amounts of interest in both of these things so keep an eye on who's interested in what.

    4 votes
    1. weystrom
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      Thanks, I also thought about it, my friends are seasoned gamers, pretty sure they're going to optimize the hell out of the system :) I think I'm just going to throw in a "tutorial fight" and push...

      There's also a group storytelling aspect to it, where the characters have thoughts and goals beyond "let's go kill the bad guys!". Your players will have varying amounts of interest in both of these things so keep an eye on who's interested in what.

      Thanks, I also thought about it, my friends are seasoned gamers, pretty sure they're going to optimize the hell out of the system :)

      Having a session 0 to sort some of these things out is a great idea so everyone knows what they're getting into.

      I think I'm just going to throw in a "tutorial fight" and push them to do a bunch of interactions with the world just to get everybody settled in.

      2 votes
  3. Arshan
    Link
    I have played alot of 5th edition D&D and also DM'ed for a few short running campaigns. I started in a homebrewed campaign with some friends in college. We never used pre-generated characters, and...

    I have played alot of 5th edition D&D and also DM'ed for a few short running campaigns.

    How did you start your first game, what was the setting?

    I started in a homebrewed campaign with some friends in college. We never used pre-generated characters, and I personally highly recommend it. Making your own character forces you to learn the basic rules around that class. Also, assuming you are starting at level 1, there aren't to many choices; it is mostly just race, class and background. Writing their own character also makes them much more connected and invested in them, which is the most important in the beginning.

    How do I gently introduce players to mechanics?

    I wasn't gently introduced at all, but as a DM I tried to. My main strategy was to work with the players on their characters to make sure they understood the core functions of their character class. I also cannot recommend a session 0 enough, especially for a new group. Session 0 is a session before the campaign start to make sure everyone is on the same page and to run through the basic rules. I also like to run through a background event for each character during the session. It is a simple thing like they fought off a childhood bully or had to sneak past a prision guard, but they use their class features. It helps them dip their feet in with zero stakes and makes them feel more connected to the character.

    How do I deal with unpredictable situations?

    I can only say that there will be unpredictable situations. Your party will almost certainly kill someone important to the plot or run off to another continent or build an airship. It is helpful to expect it and to have some rough ideas of the world around them to able to make up a response in the moment.

    And most importantly, how do I make sure everyone is having fun?

    Ever player will enjoy different aspects of the game in different amounts, so I like to make sure each session has a little bit of everything. You don't need to have a full-blown combat each session, but maybe give the violent approach as an option with consquences of course. My favorite part of D&D is the complete freedom to do anything I can think of. It will probably fail, but that is half the fun. The big thing is to make sure you are thinking about everyone having a good time.

    4 votes
  4. [3]
    eledrave
    Link
    I'm going to suggest something a little simpler to start. As someone who has just gotten back into D&D after 30 years, the technology is nice, but the game is still fundamentally about your...

    I'm going to suggest something a little simpler to start. As someone who has just gotten back into D&D after 30 years, the technology is nice, but the game is still fundamentally about your imagination. Since you admit to being new to it, I suggest you buy the 5e starter set which comes with The Lost Mines of Phandelver and pre-made character sheets, and just do that with your friends. Ignore Roll 20. Our group just started using it, but it's too much for you when you are just getting started. You'll get bogged down in the maps and the process. You can always pick it up later if you want. Imagination and storytellling are what's important. Just get your friends to pick one of the pre-made characters (https://media.wizards.com/downloads/dnd/StarterSet_Charactersv2.pdf) and read the short players rules (also available online.) You can read everything in the starter set and describe what is happening like we did in the old days.

    Don't get hung up on the fine points of the rules. You'll get there eventually. Remember that you, as the Dungeon Master, get to control the flow and bend the rules as is appropriate for the game. Take notes and look things up between sessions if there is confusion.

    Most importantly, create a fun environment for the group. Enjoy!

    2 votes
    1. [2]
      weystrom
      Link Parent
      Thanks for the adventure suggestion, I've started reading the guidebook and watching a Phandelver campaign on YouTube just get an idea on how GM manages the situations.

      Thanks for the adventure suggestion, I've started reading the guidebook and watching a Phandelver campaign on YouTube just get an idea on how GM manages the situations.

      1 vote
      1. cstby
        Link Parent
        I just started this adventure on roll20 with some co-workers. Super fun, and easy to prepare. I recommend starting with theatre of the mind before using maps for combat.

        I just started this adventure on roll20 with some co-workers. Super fun, and easy to prepare. I recommend starting with theatre of the mind before using maps for combat.