Session Starters

The table is set, all my players are here, and I’m ready to begin today’s session of Dungeons & Dragons. Before I give my brief recap of last time’s events, I ask everyone a question, “Do you have an irrational fear? If you do, do you show it to others, or try to keep it hidden away?” Everyone starts to think; they’re putting themselves in the mind of their characters. Alovnek is terrified of cultists of Bhaal, god of murder. Ra is terrified of losing his clan, the Tarsa. Grobbolith cannot stand creatures that surpass his own power. And Qoyish is fearful of minotaurs, despite one being a member of their party. We all laugh and prepare to delve into tonight’s story. I begin the session. “Previously in the Karlith Straits…”

For some groups, it’s terribly difficult to start a session. People talk, grab food, and meander around the table, still set in their real-world ways. In my latest campaign, I’ve put into use an idea I found in the wild a while ago I now call session starters. While simple in concept, session starters can become complicated and greatly useful to some groups.

When it’s time to begin our session, I pose everyone with a question that, to begin, they must answer about their character. When was the last time you told someone you loved them? Have you ever taught someone an important skill? What is your most treasured possession? Do you enjoy adventuring, or do you do it out of necessity? Immediately, this posed question transports them into the head of their character and out of the world around our table. It’s a good stepping stone from the real world to the world of your D&D game.

Let’s discuss a few of the ways you can use session starters, and lay out a variety of questions you can pose to your players.

Start With the Basics

In the beginning of my Karlith Straits campaign, I asked my players simple questions about their characters. Yes or no questions that could be elaborated on if they wanted to. The answers could be a word, a sentence, or a rambling paragraph; any answer would do. Over time, they started to enjoy it more and open up. One time, I forgot about the session starter and they had to remind me about it.

I make up most of the questions a few minutes before the session. Sometimes, they’re just general questions. Others, they’re loaded questions, posed for my personal gain as a Dungeon Master. The questions you ask not only cause the players to get in their character’s heads, they give you a glimpse into each character’s background with every question you ask. They’re helping you build your campaign without even knowing it!

Even though I advise you create the questions yourself, here’s a list of example questions. This should keep you set for 20 sessions, plenty of time to think up your own list.
  1. Have you seen a dragon?
  2. Do you like the local leadership?
  3. Are you afraid of what lies below the surface?
  4. Do you have an irrational fear? If yes, what is it?
  5. What is your favorite move in battle?
  6. Where is your family?
  7. What’s the toughest battle you’ve been in?
  8. Are you religious? If yes, which deity are you closest to? If no, why not?
  9. What is your favorite tavern drink?
  10. Have you ever been into the Underdark?
  11. What monster are you not scared of?
  12. Which race is your favorite to be around?
  13. Which race is your least favorite to be around?
  14. What is the last dream you remember?
  15. Have you ever been in love?
  16. Is there something that would make you surrender? If yes, what?
  17. Did you have a non-parental mentor growing up? If yes, who?
  18. What is the closest you’ve come to death?
  19. Where is your favorite place to be?
  20. Do you see yourself passing from old age? If no, how do you think you’ll die?

Advance to Worldbuilding

As I said before, I started with super basic questions in my Karlith Straits campaign. However, I’ve progressed to asking my players questions about the world their characters are in, leading to a short, collaborative worldbuilding exercise at the beginning of every session. Using your session starter, you can begin incorporating the pieces of the world your players build into the sessions ahead! It not only excites the players about what’s to come, it gives you ideas about things the players are interested in.

Try it out! Here’s a list of session starter worldbuilding questions.
  1. What is a unique monster you’ve faced? Give it a name, a unique trait, and a cool ability.
  2. What is a settlement you’ve been to and one of its eccentric quirks?
  3. What is an organization you hate?
  4. What is one piece of history you’ll never forget?
  5. Where is the place you aspire to go someday?
  6. What is a lesser known deity you’ve interacted with in some way? Give it a name, a domain, and a symbol.
  7. What is a magic item you’ve heard legends about? Give it a name, an appearance, and an interesting quality.
  8. What is one of the layers of the Infinite Abyss? Give it a name, a demon lord, and a vile attribute.
  9. What is your favorite constellation? Give it a name and a brief story.
  10. What distant culture have you heard of? Give it a name and a short description.
Don’t worry; you can always return to asking simple questions about the player characters. This worldbuilding exercise simply spices it up!

Build With Your Players

Looking to the future, I hope these exercises will allow me to easily build my world and story with my players. While playing, I should be able to ask them questions about the surrounding area, a particular creature’s unique appearance, or a flaw of the local lord. In seconds, they’ll be able to conjure something up in their heads and add to the story — a piece that’s not their player character. It’s improvisation, not on a character level, but on a worldwide level. This might not be for everyone. For this to work, you need to trust your players or be able to work with what they give you. If someone adds firearms to your gunless world, spar with them a little. Instead of firearms, maybe the renegade your minotaur PC has heard about wields wands instead; she’s a wandslinger!

In Summary

Starting sessions isn’t always easy. Beginning with a session starter could help you and your players transition naturally from the real world to the game world. As an added bonus, it’ll help build your world and campaign, too!
  1. Start with basic questions. What’s your greatest fear? What was your mother like? Have you ever served in a militia or army?
  2. Slowly add more complexity to the questions. Eventually, you’ll start each session with a brief worldbuilding exercise. What is a lesser known demi-plane? Who is a renowned conqueror? Where does an ancient dragon lair?
  3. Integrate the worldbuilding exercises into the actual session. Collaboratively build your world with your players. What’s the name of the best tavern in town? Who’s an interesting person hanging out on the docks this evening? What scar does the white half-dragon blackguard have?
Thanks for reading. Look forward to next week, when I believe we’ll be musing over a monster I love…

Until then, farewell!

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