December 31, 2008

10 Things To Do Before Starting A New RPG Campaign

Seeing as my own D&D campaign recently went bust - it just had me thinking about what I could do to get things started on the right foot the next time around.
  1. Get a reliable and committed group of players. Nothing can be more frustrating that planning to start a new campaign and having it fizzle out before it even starts because one or more players decide to bail. As a gamemaster, a key to preventing player false-starts is to shorten the time frame between when you get their commitment to play and when the game actually starts. If several weeks go by before the first session, you should expect some people to bail. As a player, a key to prevent your own false-start is to not agree "on a whim" to start a new campaign. Player cooperation and commitment to the game are essential for any campaign, and if you bail out before it starts you are doing nothing short of holding up the fun for others.
  2. Get a reliable and committed game master. Much like getting reliable players - the same holds true for the GM. This may not happen as often, but in my experience it occurs often enough to mention. Some people love the idea of running a game, but when the $%iT hits the fan they might realize how much work running a good game is and decide to bail. Being a dependable GM trumps being a imaginative, innovative, or cool GM in my book. The former being a requirement for an ongoing campaign; the latter being something that can come from the player group just as much from the GM. Basically - don't make promises you can't keep.
  3. Make known your expectations. Do you want this to be a one-off adventure? or a long-lived campaign? Are you going to play your character seriously or with a sizable degree of "salt"? Let the other players at the table know what you are looking for and what your expectations are. How many hours do you expect each game session to last? How often do you want to gather for gaming? What is your play-style? As long as everyone is open and honest about want they want to get out of the game, then the group as a whole can benefit by trying to meet those needs.
  4. Have everyone agree on a (semi-)regular schedule. Its hard for working-professionals to meet more than once a week, or even twice a month. College age or younger players may be able to game more often, but this also taxes the GM tremendously. Whatever the schedule, everyone should agree on at least a tentative schedule before game play starts. If you want game for more than 3 hours at a stretch, then try to avoid game sessions that start later than 7pm. Gaming late into the night can be fun; but consider that some of the players in your group may have day jobs the next day.
  5. Have the GM provide everyone with character creation and setting guidelines. The GM should email everyone with general guidelines about character creation and the setting. Players can all participate in helping define these guidelines, but ultimately the GM should firmly decide what is and is not permissible for a given campaign. Is the game going to be the default game system setting or a home brewed world? What races and/or classes are allowed or prohibited? Where can the participatory players find more information about the setting?
  6. Have all your characters made before the first session. Having character sheets finalized before the first day of gaming is critical. First of all, it smooths out game play so that the dice can start rolling ASAP and there are no hangups. Secondly, it allows the discussion about the characters to focus on what has been decided a week-beforehand instead what was decided 5-minutes beforehand. Often times a snap decision about character design may leave players regretting their choices in the long run.
  7. Have an elevator pitch for each character. Its important for each player to know something about the other player characters at the start game play. An elevator pitch is a great way to convey this information. This is basically a 20-30 second pitch (the average length of an elevator ride) about who your character is, what they look like, what stands out about them. Try to have this ready when game play starts; if all the other players do the same then you all will be much better off in the long run.
  8. Have the GM think of and flesh out at least one reoccurring villain. Personally, I'm a huge fan of the villain who narrowly escapes only to rear his or her (or its) ugly head another day. At early levels of game play, these types of villains can bring an important level of depth to a campaign. Then, after having faced off with them two or three times before, the characters can finally have a big showdown once they are much higher level. The best setups include having two or three reoccurring villains, with showdowns for each at various, progressively higher levels of play.
  9. Decide on and write down all the house rules. Every gaming eventually has a few house rules. These may be minor rule changes such as "no multi classing" or "dwarfs are the same size as humans". Or more significant rule changes such as "there are no classes, its all free form" or "wizards as player characters don't exist in this campaign". Whatever they are, its important to write them down and make them available to all the players. A simple solution is to use a public wiki service like GoogleWiki or Obsidian Portal to house your house rules. Oh, and if you don't have any? Then make your campaign your own and make some up! The heart of RPGs is the do-it-yourself approach to gaming.
  10. Remember the most important rule is the Rule of Cool. We all want to have fun, right? That's the whole reason we are into this thing called roleplaying games. So, in an effort to keep up the fun... remember the Rule of Cool and your game will be forever better for it. ChattyDM has a great spin on the whole topic (as it relates to RPGs) here.
I hope this list is helpful. Think of it as my 2¢ towards helping players new to RPGs (whatever game that may be) in getting their campaign off to the right start. Have some other suggestions? Please leave a comment and let them know what else might help!

In the meantime, have a great New Year!


  1. The elevator pitch for each character is a great bit of advice. I don't know how often I've started a game and asked everyone to tell a bit about their character, only to see people get that deer-in-headlights look.

  2. Ohh, the elevator pitch idea is a very good one! I am going to let my game group know and encourage them to write one.

  3. Great! I'm glad this post was helpful to some of you! thanks for stopping by!

  4. I prefer group character generation; everyone create their characters together within some parameters; for party-based play, for example, establishing how the characters know each other and why they are together could be part of the character generation.

    This may take the entire first session, especially if starting situation or game setting are also created at the same time or the rules used are particularly cumbersome.

  5. Scheduling gets a little harder every year. That's why my favorite RPG these days is In A Wicked Age, because it makes #1 - #8 non-issues for our busy group.

  6. Nice article Jonathan. This would be useful for mid-stream campaigns too.


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