Starting a Story
Once the characters are created, the world’s established, and everyone has their drinks beside them, ‘tis time to begin. The table is strangely silent and everyone looks expectantly to the dungeon master. The onus is on them to kick off the adventure.
With the tremendous amount of new players and dungeon masters entering the hobby, this begs the question: How does the dungeon master begin the premiere session of a new story correctly?
Today, I’ll be discussing how to do exactly this, and how the onus is not entirely on the dungeon master but split between them and the players. Of course, my method of starting a campaign off right might not be the perfect strategy, but it’s worked well for me thus far!
The Opening SceneThe absolute beginning of a new story should start with an enrapturing scene. The goal here is to catch the attention of the group, immerse them into the world, and give them enough to build a personal moment with.
There is a myriad of ways to start a D&D game: In the confines of a well-lit and raucous tavern, aboard an air or sea vessel voyaging toward an explorable destination, chained up against a musty dungeon wall, or rolling down a mountainside in a partially-demolished and completely unlead wagon. All of them are fantastic ways to begin, although some may require more planning to make unique and interesting.
Beginning in a neutral location, somewhere scenic, calm, and rife with possible situations, is ideal, although the chaotic location described above will work. Starting somewhere serene will give the player characters a place to initially flesh out their personalities, appearance, and relationships to one another, while opening up the game during a crazy encounter leads to making an exciting action scene.
In truth, it depends on the dungeon master’s group and what they’re interested in. Do what sounds fun and evocative!
Dramatis PersonaeNow that the stage is set, it’s time to toss the narrative to the players. During this period, the dungeon master should only act as a catalyst to get each player to speak about their character. This is essential. The story will, if woven correctly, be about the player characters. By the end of this section, everyone should have a basic idea of the core cast. Bounce from player to player, asking them to describe their character’s appearance, demeanor, and what they’re doing at this very moment. If possible, the dungeon master should incorporate something about the previous PC while moving to the next.
Player 1: I’m Tinix, an orange-furred and calm tabaxi. Right now, I’m smoking a bone pipe with my clawed feet kicked up on a nearby crate.
Dungeon Master: As Tinix smokes her pipe, its smoke wafts into the nostrils of your character, Player 2.
Player 2: Kybur, a black-brown scaled, fierce dragonborn inhales deeply as the smoke enters his being, and turns to Tinix…”Where’d you get that strand?”
Again, ensure everyone is able to make an impression and introduce their character. Once that’s done, the time has come for conflict.
A Conflict ComesAfter everyone has had the chance to interact, the dungeon master must toss a conflict into the mix. This forces the players to think together strategically for the first time, and allows everyone to play their characters in a hostile (combat or roleplay) encounter. With this encounter, try not to drive a wedge between the PCs. Instead, present a situation where they’d all likely team up for a common goal. This avoids complications in the very first encounter of a campaign.
Sample encounters are goblin attacks, thug muggings, wolf pack assault, bargaining their way into a prestigious tavern, or sneaking through the trap-filled sewers. Keep the first situation simple but interesting.
In SummaryThe beginning of a story is important. It’s how you grab everyone’s attention and when the player characters are introduced. Ensuring both of those tasks are accomplished is vital to a successful start to a campaign or adventure. Remember:
- Begin with an interesting and evocative scene.
- Ensure all the player characters are introduced.
- Throw in a conflict to establish everyone’s role/demeanor in combat or roleplay encounters.
Until next time, farewell!