Dungeons and Dragons – Starting Your Game

So, now that it’s been a while and you’ve had a chance to create your own town and get your own story squared away in your head, you are going to start your adventure. Here are some tips and tricks for starting your game. These aren’t going to solve everything that is going to come up at the table, but will help with a lot of things.

Image Source: Wizards

Image Source: Wizards

Session 0: You are going to be really tempted to sit people down at your table, roll up your characters and get playing immediately, you might even be tempted to have characters already for your players, but resist the urge (resist it). Before you can really start playing, especially a long campaign, you need to have some sort of session 0. Session 0 is about setting expectations, giving the players a little information about what you are thinking of running, and creating characters.

I would definitely recommend that you create characters with your players, around a table, before you start playing a longer game. Even if the game happens once a month for a year, your players are going to be more apt to keep coming back to the table if they are invested in their characters, and character creation is a great way for that to get started. If there aren’t many/any magic users that don’t use divine magic in your world, this also allows you to limit that. If you just let them build their characters, they might forget and accidentally build a wizard because it looks cool. Another reason for building the characters at the table is that as the DM, you might be the only one with the book, especially if they are new players. Even in Dungeons and Flagons, I’m still the only one with the player handbook, and that’s okay, especially since the players have spell cards.

Image Source: Encounter Roleplay

Image Source: Encounter Roleplay

Second reason to run a session 0 (and this should be done before creating characters) is that you can tell them what type of game you are going to run. It could be something like: “You are going to be starting in a sea town in the Leith Barony and are going to be exploring new areas.” This doesn’t tell them much about the game, it doesn’t tell them that they are going to be tracking down different parts of a beholder or if they are going to be on the trail of an international assassin who killed someone in the barony. It just tells them that they are starting in a sea town and are going to be doing a lot of exploring. This helps them know what type of character to build, and to come up with a reason why they are all there and possibly all together. While as a DM, you are going to be telling the story, the characters and players need to come up with a reason to be together. You can do it as the DM, but if the players don’t buy into it, it’ll be weird. Knowing that it’s an exploring game helps sets the players expectations. If you don’t do that, the players might be all gung-ho for session after session of role playing conversations, and they are out in the wilderness with no one to talk to. Without setting some expectations about what type of game it is, players are more apt to lose interest.

Finally, session 0 also helps you come up with a social contract. The social contract is a loose set of rules that all the players are going to agree upon for at the table. It can be things like no phones or side conversations at the table while you are playing. Or that you are going to have pizza and pop or beer half way through every session. Or it could be a situation where you have some subjects that are taboo. Or, the social contract, could contain things about what language will be appropriate if you have people of a wide range of ages or beliefs. Each table is going to have a slightly different social contract. There might be some tables where horror and grotesque descriptions are out, and you have to adjust your DM’ing style to that or even the adventure that you were going to be running.

There are some basic rules to consider though:

  1. That your players are paying attention most of the time. No one can pay attention all of the time, so they might miss something, but no playing cellphone games at the table, no scrolling through Twitter of Instagram.
  2. Be respectful of the other people at the table. Just because you aren’t bothered by something, doesn’t mean that it might not trigger an emotional response in someone else. So be aware of that, and if it does trigger that response in you, say something about it, and the DM can direct the story somewhere else away from that. There is no scene that is so needed in an RPG that you cause players to stop playing.
  3. If you disagree, know how to end the disagreement. There are often times when players will disagree with each other or the DM or characters could disagree, know how you are going to handle it. If you don’t have a rule in place (which can just be, I’m the DM so we’re sticking with it that way until I can look up the rules), you can derail a gaming session and ruin the fun for everyone. So know how you are going to decide stuff, player vs DM is probably as simple as the DM says something is their final decision and then stick to that. If it is character vs character in a disagreement, let them talk it out for a certain amount of time and then if one person hasn’t changed their view, they just do a straight D20 roll, and whomever rolls higher, the other character has to figure out a way that they’ll agree with them (or leave the party and roll up a new character).

Know that your social contract isn’t probably going to cover everything, and things might change as your table changes, your game changes, and all of you mature as role players. The social contract is a living document and let it change as it goes, but make sure everyone is on board with the changes. Maybe it starts out with – “What the DM says goes.” and one of your players then starts reading a lot of the books, pass off being the rules expert to them, and they can look up things on the fly. Or maybe you decide that people want to talk too much before the game starts, so pizza in the middle doesn’t make as much sense and you move it to the front of your session.

These are just some good general ideas for starting out a game, especially a longer campaign, where you want to keep the player buy-in for a long time. There are more things you can cover in your session 0, maybe even a little role playing between the DM and each player separately so that you can bring them all to the starting point. But don’t be afraid to have a session 0 that just takes the whole night, that’s what we did for Dungeons and Flagons, and it made it easier when actually starting your story.

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