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

Musing Mage

Pondering D&D stuff
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!

Perhaps I wasn't clear - It's a TRAINING mission - no one is actually dead. The 'deaths' were a simulation, a lesson in not playing stupidly and/or assuming character invincibility, which players tend to do. This is especially effective for players who are used to permissive DMs who routinely fudge numbers to let them live, or newer players who aren't quite used to how mechanics of D&D combat work.

In context they are shaken 'back to life' by their instructors with a 'And what have we learned?' moment.

So yes, it works for me. And has so for years. Without fail, the players involved approach potential fights after this with more hesitation and appreciate the cautionary example.

Of course, that said, most of my players now have been with me for years and know the score, so such an opener hasn't been necessary for a while.
 
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Plaguescarred

D&D Playtester for WoTC since 2012
I often like sudden mysterious start as PC awake in a morgue, a cell, a back alley or whatever else with little to no recent clue what happened, after which they slowly recover memories but somewhat vague and fragmented. Who or what caused whatever happened to them is then investigated with skill checks, environment exploration, NPC interactions etc to find the origin of their memory loss (drug, magic etc..) and the person or phenomenon behind it. It could be as simple as a broken potion nearby with greenish substance that they will try to trace the origin and composition, or could be an evil spellcaster that put them out becoming too close to something etc....
 

payn

Legend
I often like sudden mysterious start as PC awake in a morgue, a cell, a back alley or whatever else with little to no recent clue what happened, after which they slowly recover memories but somewhat vague and fragmented. Who or what caused whatever happened to them is then investigated with skill checks, environment exploration, NPC interactions etc to find the origin of their memory loss (drug, magic etc..) and the person or phenomenon behind it. It could be as simple as a broken potion nearby with greenish substance that they will try to trace the origin and composition, or could be an evil spellcaster that put them out becoming too close to something etc....
Oh that makes me want to run a sort of 'Dark Matter" campaign. The PCs all have amnesia and regain their memories slowly. Along the way they have to solve problems and make morally challenging decisions. Is who the character now, like the character then? That would so fun!
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
I like to have the group pick a theme/concept for themselves.

For ex. have done:

Employees of Morgrave University;
Knights of the Silver Flame;
New owners of the Green Dragon Inn.

Tends to provide an easy starting point and focus the campaign from the start.
 

cbwjm

Legend
I'll often just start them off at the beginning of the dungeon or adventure site. We don't worry about why the party is working together, it's just a given that they are, and then the adventure begins. There might be a little bit about why they're at the start of the dungeon (local mayor hired you, you've heard a rumour of treasure, etc), but otherwise we get right into it.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
Oh that makes me want to run a sort of 'Dark Matter" campaign. The PCs all have amnesia and regain their memories slowly. Along the way they have to solve problems and make morally challenging decisions. Is who the character now, like the character then? That would so fun!
Tabula Rasa games can be fun.

One of the Pathfinder Adventure paths starts out with the players in a haunted asylum trying to find out who they are. I've done things -like- that.

One of my favorites involved everyone waking up together near a black burn-mark on the ground. The party had previously been heroes and villains fighting over a powerful artifact. The villains wanted to use it for evil, the heroes wanted to (and succeeded) in destroying it. And the shockwave wiped their memories.

Shortly after they wake up, people rush in and immediately attack two of the party members and the rest came to their rescue. They picked up a couple names in the fighting and fled. After that it was recovering some of their old lives while making new ones. The odd tattoo or signet ring became super important to them...

It was fun when the baddies learned they had been evil but were now -not- that, remotely. Like the weirdest redemption arc they didn't know they were making.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I have started all kinds of ways, but no matter what I try to come up with a premise that players are already aware of when they make characters and choose backgrounds.

In my two current Saltmarsh-derived games, the characters are all exiles from the "The Known World" (not that Known World - though it could be) that has room for any kind of background you want, with the understanding that that life is done, we're never going back there. I like to describe as kind of like Westeros or whatever - a place of convoluted history and back-stabbing and no such thing as a clean victory and nations are in constant war absorbing and splitting off from each other ad nauseum (also all orcs and goblinkind are wiped out, most non-human peoples are dwindling if present at all, and most monsters are extinct). Instead, thy come to some far corner of the world they have heard mention of, but that the "known world" thinks of as 1. to far away to practically conquer and 2. beneath its notice anyway). Here in this smaller micro-setting the PCs can do as they like, getting involved in politics or not, dungeon-delving, being general do-gooders, whatever but on a manageable scale. I had them meet on the long sea journey to where the campaign begins and thus we back-formulated what they know each other sing flashbacks to that journey and its talks.

The last campaign I ran "Second Son of a Second Son" had all the PCs be low-birth rank nobles of lower birth rank nobles (or bastards) who sign on to an adventuring charter to bring glory to their houses and hopefully raise their standing. Some were related to each other, some were from rival families, and some knew each other since childhood.

The campaign before that "Out of the Frying Pan" started with the premise that all the PCs were looking for a way to avoid conscription in the current war - thus insuring the main hook was taken (though being prepared for that not to happen). I have a complete story hour of this campaign that is readable in the original thread, but there are also compiled and cleaned up PDF downloads available in the first post.
 

Rabbitbait

Adventurer
Changes every time, and especially depends on if:

  • It's a sandbox campaign
  • It's a published campaign
  • It's a mix 'n' match
  • One or more of the characters has provided a good hook in their background
If I really have the planning time, I like the first adventure to be action oriented, but to lead to 3 possible paths. The one that they choose defines the campaign.
 

I should note that while I haven't used it myself as a dm, my favorite starts as a player have been when the party has reasons to all know each other established in the backstory, and the whole party is built as a group rather than a bunch of characters built in isolation coming together randomly (or in a forced manner). I find non-dnd gms tend to use this a lot, while dnd dm's rarely do.

I mostly don't do this since I tend to run short games (1-3 sessions mini-dungeons, stuff like that.)

The second-best way to make something like that happen is to be really up front about what the first quest is going to be (and/or where the sandbox will be entered) so players can tailor their pc to fit the game.

The inverse of this - having a twist right in the beginning about what kind of game it will be - can be really frustrating because you can have good (well-made, interesting) pcs in a good game, but the two don't mesh so nothing gets to shine.
 

Inchoroi

Adventurer
I don't actually have a favorite, but the only thing I don't like about starting out any campaign, regardless of how it starts, is what I call the "first session blues" where everyone is a little uncomfortable and not sure how to start off and get into the game.

So, to conquer this, I try to start every campaign in a way that prevents this. Campaign before last, I had everyone start standing outside the house they had each inherited a piece of from a mysterious friend and/or relative. Inside were clues to be discovered about this man's terrible death. All the characaters started working together because all of them cared about this NPC that I had killed before the game even started, in one form or another, and they wanted to find out how and why he died. It took over a session to find all the clues in the house.
 

jgsugden

Legend
My standard design for a campaign:

0.) I come up with a basic setting plan. This takens place 6 months to 10 years before the game hits the table.

1.) Interest Discussions - I find out what intrigues the players and start working it into my plans. These begin 6 to 12 months before we start playing.

2.) Session 0. This is 2 weeks before session 1. It starts with a discussion, then character creation, then a brief introduction that pulls them towards....

3.) ... a stereotypical cliche hook that gets them started on an adventure at level 1 on day 1. Levels 1 and 2 are all about oritentation - learning what your PC can do, what your allies can do, and layering exposition and action to set the stage for the future, but ...

4.) ... levels 1 to 4 are on the railroad - there is a clear destination for them to reach around level 4. The group can deviate from it, but I do not expect them to do so. They'll usually get to this point after 8 to 12 (4 hour) sessions. If they do deviate, I plot to get them to a place that allows the ...

5.) ... Sandbox openning. There is an event that opens up the sandbox aspect of the game. They might be forced to a new location, acquire a Spelljammer Helm, get a vague mission that sends them into a megadungeon area, etc... They'll have multiple hooks introduced to them each session and will have a chance to pick up the ones they want, but there is nothing required for them to do. They'll often be able to choose whether they want to get involved in politics, in dungeon delving, in exploration, or in one of many short adventures. This will run for 30 to 50 sessions. There is far too little time to resolve all of the hooks - and the ones they do not address impact the world as much as the ones they do.

6.) They'll acquire information as they adventure and level up. While a lot of that information points at other hooks, they'll also be acquiring information that will point them towards ...

7.) ...the big finish railroad that comes up around the time they hit level 17. They'll start moving towards a path that will end with the culmination of the campaign. While there will be room to close up some other loose ends still, there will be a pressure on them to solve the big problem of the setting before all is lost. This will take about 6 to 8 sessions and will end somewhere between levels 18 and 20. It is designed to end 'the story', and to force the PCs to account for the decisions they made in their careers.

8.) The Coda(s). I try to run one or more 'Coda' adventures when I can get that group back together. These take place at least 6 months after the end of the campaign and are a chance to revisit the PCs that have retired. These may focus on hooks that were left unfinished in the main campaign, a standalone adventure, or something that sets up action in other campaigns of mine in which the players may be active. These are often extremely difficult adventures with a moderate chance of a TPK.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I'd love to know how that first story arc resolved!

Evil Adventurers Guild is a favorite story beat of mine!
Long story short, the "Company" were trying to strip all the low-level adventurers out of the realm such that a few years later when their Evil Plans (overthrow of the kingdom) came to fruition those low-levels wouldn't have turned into mid- or high-level adventurers.

Of the seven parties they sent out, only two - including the PC's one - returned. The Company sent them out again, after which the PCs caught on. Their next move, which caught me-as-DM somewhat off-guard, was to more or less leave the area entirely for a year or two and find adventure elsewhere; and when they returned they were just what the Company feared: mid-level adventurers with an axe to grind. And there were more of them; through turnover and recruitment they'd expanded their numbers and had two or three full parties' worth of adventurers by the time they got back. :)

They still failed to stop the overthrow, however, due to a Company-set diversion that led them en masse to the wrong town at the wrong time.

Then, in an unrelated later adventure, a party including some of the same PCs found a time-travel device and - again to my surprise - decided to use it to in effect give themselves a do-over at stopping the overthrow. This time it worked, and the kingdom was saved. (some of the scenes were eerily similar to the latter bits of Harry Potter III, where some of the PCs were in hiding watching themselves do what they'd done a year earlier)
 


overgeeked

B/X Known World
I kinda detest soft starts...but I still use them in certain circumstances. Like West Marches games I run usually start with the PCs literally stepping off the boat / out of the wagon at the starting town. What they do, where they go, and what trouble they attract from there are entirely up to them.

But most of the time I prefer strong starts. Escape from a cell, start with a quick description and then initiative, or just put a mess in the PCs' lap and see how they deal with it.
 

No real favourite way to start. I’ve got nothing against starting in a tavern, to be honest its been a while since that’s happened. I just try to do something different each time.

My last few starts as DM…

Night watch: the city occasionally hires adventurers to do watch shifts, the players only need to come up with a reason why they’ve joined as a back story. Start with the characters turning up to the watch tower at sunset.

On the road: travelling between towns/cities, (as set up for future plot) easy to jump right in with combat as bandits/monsters/whatever attack either during travel or camped

Reborn: (this was for a reboot after TPK) wake on a ship surrounded by clerics having just been resurrected/ reincarnated. Each character now has a tattoo of a Phoenix and is in debt to a ‘born again’ religion. The boat is attacked and wrecked just off the coast by a dragon turtle forcing the characters to swim to shore in order to escape.
 

Enrico Poli1

Adventurer
Fun fact: My brother as a DM always started with amnesia for the party. I never pull that one.
I usually start with the Classic tavern or with combat (Action).
 

Because we discuss character creation before the campaign begins (we don't have an official session 0 but lots of conversation via Discord), I usually just like having the party already know each other. Already having adventured together is my personal preference, since it skips past the whole "who are you and what can you do" step of the game that we've already covered OOC.
 




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