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D&D General Your favorite way to start a D&D campaign?

BookTenTiger

He / Him
What's your favorite way to start a D&D campaign?

After Session 0, once all the characters are created and the group has sat down, the pizza is ordered and the Witcher Soundtrack is playing...

Classic: we meet in a tavern, and someone asks for help.

Action: roll initiative! Combat starts right away.

Mysterious: you find yourselves walking along a fog-bound road, no memory of how you got here...

What are your favorite ways to start Adventure 1?

What are some of the great, or not so great, ways you have started campaigns?
 

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After walking through the mists, you wake up, confused, in a holding cell with none of your weapons, armor, or equipment. The sounds of merriment, music, and clinking steins surround you. The holding cell is... in the middle of a tavern! A cloaked stranger in the corner of the holding cell draws your attention: "have I got a job for the lot of you..."
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
After walking through the mists, you wake up, confused, in a holding cell with none of your weapons, armor, or equipment. The sounds of merriment, music, and clinking steins surround you. The holding cell is... in the middle of a tavern! A cloaked stranger in the corner of the holding cell draws your attention: "have I got a job for the lot of you..."
This is like my idea of an entire campaign that's just set inside a tavern.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Put all the PCs in the same place and time. Throw s[tuff] at a nearby fan. Helps if there are non-combatants to consider. Then it turns out there's something behind that, which the PCs can find; and something behind that; and something behind that. Weave in things from the PCs' backstories. When they get to the end of the initial chain, they have options for what to do next.
 

aco175

Legend
The last few campaigns from 5e days all start with a fight. Like LMoP, have the group quickly introduce themselves and then roll dice. The last campaign started in Phandalin with nobody knowing themselves but all milling around the common when some old urns fell off a wagon and several mephits jumped out attacking everyone. The players now had to decide to help and who and then found who was who when they started rolling dice and I wanted them to describe themselves in the first bit of action with the some introduction.
 

I tend to prefer starting with a fight. It gives a sort of soft intro to the characters (by seeing what they can do) before trying to do any deep roleplay.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
I generally set up all the PCs in private discussions in the days or weeks leading up to the first session to establish their character's recent history, goals, some rumors about their particular characters, and things of that nature. When I do that, there's generally a reason they're all going to be working together. Sometimes there's a central agency directing them (Local Lord, School, Etc) but usually each character has their own directive to join.

In a recent campaign, two players were guards for a mining consortium who sent workers cross-nation to work in a dangerous place. One was an agent of the king, himself, a secret bastard relative given a mission that would take him far from court, and a druid in a campaign setting where druids are basically terrorists came to learn what happened when a Circle near the city, who had been keeping the locals from expanding their town out into the surrounding swampland, had gone silent...
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
I generally set up all the PCs in private discussions in the days or weeks leading up to the first session to establish their character's recent history, goals, some rumors about their particular characters, and things of that nature. When I do that, there's generally a reason they're all going to be working together. Sometimes there's a central agency directing them (Local Lord, School, Etc) but usually each character has their own directive to join.

In a recent campaign, two players were guards for a mining consortium who sent workers cross-nation to work in a dangerous place. One was an agent of the king, himself, a secret bastard relative given a mission that would take him far from court, and a druid in a campaign setting where druids are basically terrorists came to learn what happened when a Circle near the city, who had been keeping the locals from expanding their town out into the surrounding swampland, had gone silent...
This is such a great way to start.

I feel like all my recent campaigns have started with brand new characters or uncertain attendance, so I just plop them in a small dungeon and let the players start figuring out how to play. Kind of like a starting level in a Mario or Zelda game.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
This is such a great way to start.

I feel like all my recent campaigns have started with brand new characters or uncertain attendance, so I just plop them in a small dungeon and let the players start figuring out how to play. Kind of like a starting level in a Mario or Zelda game.
Also a big fan of Rumors.

3 Good
3 Bad
2 Lies that are either good or bad

Each player gets to know 1 rumor about each other player in the game, not always the same rumors. And then NPCs will reveal other ones based on their biases, goals, and history.

"You murdered the Contessa de la Roche!"
"That's a slanderous lie!"
"We'll let the -law- sort that matter out! GUARDS! GUAAAAAARDS!"
party flees
"Did you really kill the Contessa?"
"NO! How could you ask me that? I was... we were... in love. Assassins came and I couldn't... I couldn't save her... It's why I took up the sword!"

CHARACTER DEVELOPMEEEEEEENT
 

Esbee

Dungeon Master at large.
Starting with a (sort of) fight is how I like to do it.

If players are new to my style of DMing, or new to D&D in general, I like to start them out with a scenario in which they are a posse on the trail of a band of goblins that have kidnapped a local. There's a little bit of tracking and decision making, a bunch of options and then into the encounter.

Most groups that I've done this with have gotten TPK'd or close to it, (only one in 20 years since I started doing this actually beat the encounter without heavy losses or complete TPK), even though it's generally scaled to them.

After the shock of being killed in the first five minutes of the game wears off, I reveal that the whole thing was a training exercise and the 'goblins' are merely militia. It's not a cheat where as DM I have 'saved' the team, as this is always the intent even if they win, but it does outline how fragile characters can be, even strong ones. I have found that players are often appreciative of how fickle the dice are and tend to approach combat with a little more caution after that.

edit What I assumed was self-evident, but appears unclear is that the characters are not actually killed in the training scenario, the 'deaths' are part of the simulation. Players don't know this at first, but it becomes evident in short order.

Obviously, once I've done this trick it doesn't work again with players who know.

After that training scenario, as well as for new campaigns where players are used to my style and familiar, I will generally either start them already on the path of a quick adventure to get them going, and from there let them take full agency... or have a ton of scenarios ready to roll and give out rumours to each player separately then let them debate the merits and potential rewards of each.
 
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payn

Legend
I like the adventure path model. You have some task before you that fits the story and campaign. For example Paizo Mummy's Mask starts with your party getting a lottery ticket to plunder a catacomb in the city of the dead. In Carrion Crown, you start with the funeral of the groups mentor who died under suspicious circumstances. In Serpent's Skull, you begin marooned on a deserted island that's not so deserted...

I guess I'm saying I dont like the generic tavern beginning. I like interesting beginnings that launch you right into the theme of the campaign.
 

payn

Legend
Starting with a (sort of) fight is how I like to do it.

If players are new to my style of DMing, or new to D&D in general, I like to start them out with a scenario in which they are a posse on the trail of a band of goblins that have kidnapped a local. There's a little bit of tracking and decision making, a bunch of options and then into the encounter.

Most groups that I've done this with have gotten TPK'd or close to it, (only one in 20 years since I started doing this actually beat the encounter without heavy losses or complete TPK), even though it's generally scaled to them.

After the shock of being killed in the first five minutes of the game wears off, I reveal that the whole thing was a training exercise and the 'goblins' are merely militia. It's not a cheat where as DM I have 'saved' the team, as this is always the intent even if they win, but it does outline how fragile characters can be, even strong ones. I have found that players are often appreciative of how fickle the dice are and tend to approach combat with a little more caution after that.

Obviously, once I've done this trick it doesn't work again with players who know.

After that training scenario, as well as for new campaigns where players are used to my style and familiar, I will generally either start them already on the path of a quick adventure to get them going, and from there let them take full agency... or have a ton of scenarios ready to roll and give out rumours to each player separately then let them debate the merits and potential rewards of each.
I've had GMs pull this on me, and I dont appreciate it at all.
 

Jmarso

Adventurer
Depends on the campaign, players, and circumstances.

I've done the 'meet in the tavern' thing.

I've started a campaign with the characters serving as caravan guards, and/or travelling with the caravan. It gets ambushed, and a fight ensues. That first fight is the 'meetup' for those characters whose backstories don't already dictate that they knew each other.

When I started a group of mostly brand new players with the Sunless Citadel, their characters were diverse enough that I had them hauled before the local lord, having just been released from jail, but still owing fines due to various mishaps around town they'd been involved in, accidental or not. Taking on the quest was their alternative to being shipped off from Five Oaks in the Gnarley Forest to Greyhawk in chains.

In Saltmarsh, I had the starting players staying in various places around town- the mage character was billeted with Keledek, doing research and scribe work in return for a place to stay. It didn't hurt that she was a half-elf with high charisma, and Keledek was attracted to her- she didn't know about his evil alignment. Her brother (another player) was an aspiring knight (Fighter, planned cavalier-type) who was billeted with the guard in exchange for work as a town militiaman. A dwarf fighter with the masonry background was working for the mines, the party rogue was a privateer, first mate on a ship recently arrived in Saltmarsh- sent by the Keoland navy, they were hunting smugglers, but nobody in town knows this. An elven ranger and elven druid from Silglen in the Dreadwood were the two 'out of towners', with vague backstories to start but they somehow ended up in Saltmarsh. The party all basically met each other role-playing about town, and then banded together to go hit the haunted house. This was a bit convoluted of a start- had any one of those characters not survived the first session or two all that groundwork would have been something of a waste. Don't know if I'll do this sort of thing again- it seemed like a good idea, but the whole first session was a big muddle-around with a split party, and not very engaging in hindsight.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I like to start with the party somehow meeting, forming, and getting to know each other.

The last two starts:

--- a famous adventuring company advertises for new recruits. Dozens of neophyte adventurers turn out to the hiring hall (including all the PCs, of course); the Company sizes them all up, assigns them into groups (i.e. proto-parties, with all the PCs in the same group), gives them training missions, and sends them out into the field. Of course the whole thing's a sham and the "missions" are thinly-disguised suicide runs, but the PCs don't find this out until much later after having met a much tougher challenge than advertised by their "employers". It worked out quite well, and set the stage for a lengthy story arc.
--- a PC Bard has heard there's good adventuring to be had in the mountains to the north, so he goes from village to village singing his own praises (falsely!) and recruiting people to go adventuring with him (truly). At each village one or two suckers people join up, and by the time he gets to the mountains - where there just happens to be a Keep on the Borderlands - he's built a party around himself. This one worked really well for getting the party together; I was running KotB as a standalone without any real ties to later storylines, which got going in their next adventures.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
I like to start with the party somehow meeting, forming, and getting to know each other.

The last two starts:

--- a famous adventuring company advertises for new recruits. Dozens of neophyte adventurers turn out to the hiring hall (including all the PCs, of course); the Company sizes them all up, assigns them into groups (i.e. proto-parties, with all the PCs in the same group), gives them training missions, and sends them out into the field. Of course the whole thing's a sham and the "missions" are thinly-disguised suicide runs, but the PCs don't find this out until much later after having met a much tougher challenge than advertised by their "employers". It worked out quite well, and set the stage for a lengthy story arc.
--- a PC Bard has heard there's good adventuring to be had in the mountains to the north, so he goes from village to village singing his own praises (falsely!) and recruiting people to go adventuring with him (truly). At each village one or two suckers people join up, and by the time he gets to the mountains - where there just happens to be a Keep on the Borderlands - he's built a party around himself. This one worked really well for getting the party together; I was running KotB as a standalone without any real ties to later storylines, which got going in their next adventures.
I'd love to know how that first story arc resolved!

Evil Adventurers Guild is a favorite story beat of mine!
 

Jack Daniel

Legend
The campaign I'm running now uses "The Morrowind opening." The PCs are exiles chained up in a prison ship, having been sentenced to transportation; the campaign begins when the Royal Navy dumps them on the shore of the theoretically inescapable pœnal-colony island. From there, the PCs have to leverage scant supplies and tenuous alliances with other exiles to get a handle on survival and then exploration of the island's wilds and dungeons (and discover what's actually going on there). Simple, intriguing, and highly effective.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
The campaign I'm running now uses "The Morrowind opening." The PCs are exiles chained up in a prison ship, having been sentenced to transportation; the campaign begins when the Royal Navy dumps them on the shore of the theoretically inescapable pœnal-colony island. From there, the PCs have to leverage scant supplies and tenuous alliances with other exiles to get a handle on survival and then exploration of the island's wilds and dungeons (and discover what's actually going on there).
I love that start!
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
It just depends on the group and what we're thinking. My current campaign was all new players (we moved) so they were all conscripted as part of standard service and put together in a unit. The area they're in is quite dangerous, so able bodied people are asked to either pay for mercenaries or serve in defense of the area.

This gave me an excuse to bring together a variety of people, while also giving some introduction to the scenario and local politics along with options for future sessions.

In other cases I like to discuss with the group ahead of time and we work out the start of the campaign together. In one case the group started out as kids (level 0) where the biggest threat was a junkyard dog and the enemy was a rival group of bullies.

Next campaign? Just depends. I'll pitch a half-dozen ideas at the group and we'll vote. Maybe finally get a dwarven campaign to reclaim the lost kingdom? Barbarians (not the class) to the far north? Privateers? Who knows, that's all part of the fun!
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
. . . I like to start them out with a scenario in which they are a posse on the trail of a band of goblins that have kidnapped a local. There's a little bit of tracking and decision making, a bunch of options and then into the encounter.

Most groups that I've done this with have gotten TPK'd or close to it, (only one in 20 years since I started doing this actually beat the encounter without heavy losses or complete TPK), even though it's generally scaled to them.

After the shock of being killed in the first five minutes of the game wears off, I reveal that the whole thing was a training exercise and the 'goblins' are merely militia.
So...players stick around after finding out not only that they're dead right away, but that the guys who killed them were merely trainers?

I hope that works for you!

I find that sending an unruly band of dwarves into the PCs' homes for a dinner party gets them riled up. Sometimes they have to cross the sea to earn a fortune in order to marry the farmer's daughter. Avenge the tribe after its massacre is always popular...

Really though, if no PCs have a hook that I can tailor to at least one of them...searching for an artifact isn't a bad choice. That promises some Indiana Jones-style adventure, and money-focused PCs can think about selling it, while utilitarian PCs can think about using it.
 

delericho

Legend
I like the adventure path model. You have some task before you that fits the story and campaign. For example Paizo Mummy's Mask starts with your party getting a lottery ticket to plunder a catacomb in the city of the dead. In Carrion Crown, you start with the funeral of the groups mentor who died under suspicious circumstances. In Serpent's Skull, you begin marooned on a deserted island that's not so deserted...

This.

Though I don't always do that, of course. However, these days I do always start with the PCs knowing each other and trusting each other... at least a bit.
 

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