Ask Angry: Starting a New Campaign

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It’s time for another installment of my now TWICE weekly advice column, Ask Angry. Seriously, got a lot of people e-mailing me questions. If you want your question answered, e-mail me at Don’t forget to put Ask Angry in the subject line and tell me how you want to be acknowledged, credited, and ridiculed. Keep it brief, though. I’ll fill the word count.

Brad W. Asks:

Dear Mr Angry
I love your writing and consider most of your work gospel. The one aspect of a campaign I’ve always felt uncomfortable with is the first session. How do you get your players’ PCs together and hooked into the game? I feel like I’m stuck with the clichés like a tavern scene or common benefactor. Any advice and anger would be appreciated.

Please, stop. Mr. Angry is my father. You can call me Lord Angry, God-King of Gaming. I mean, if you’re going to call my writing “gospel,” why half-a$& the blasphemy?

Now, Brad, you’ve got a special treat. Your question pissed me off so much, I’m writing about it twice. Seriously. If you haven’t already, go read Angry Rants: Tropes and Cliches about why cliches aren’t inherently bad and also why I ALWAYS start my games in taverns. But that’s only half the answer. The other half is how you start a campaign.

Before you can hook the players into the game, you have to figure out for yourself what the hook is. For example, are you running a “dungeon of the week” style traditional loot-and-plunder D&D game? Or is there a big, overarching plot to your campaign? Or are you somewhere in between? What is the actual premise of your campaign. Where does the story start?

Now, once you’ve got that, the easiest way to “bring the PCs together and get them hooked is”… wait for it… are you sitting down… TELL YOUR F$&%ING PLAYERS THE PREMISE BEFORE THEY EVEN START MAKING CHARACTERS. Tell them whatever the game is going to be about.

Here’s the first place where most GMs f$&% up the start of their campaign. They don’t know what they are doing before they start, so they send their players off to just generate characters and then figure they will bring everyone together and have a story happen at them. And, you know what? That’s okay. It isn’t great, it’s okay. But it means your PCs are going to have to meet in some random, communal location, handle introductions, and then a story has to start. Like a tavern. You see how it happens?

If you really want to keep the start of your campaign out of the tavern, you have to start the game before it starts. Tell the players what’s what. Tell them flat-out: the campaign is about this, so make sure your character wants to do this. And it will start with the party being brought together by this. Or at this scene. Or whatever.

Like this:

“Hey, look guys, the campaign is about an undead plague and it’s sort of a save the world campaign. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot. But figure that you’re going to discover the world is in danger, the danger is to do with undead, and someone is going to have to rescue it. Like you. So create a character that will do that. The first scene will be at a funeral for a beloved village elder in this small town. Decide why you are there. I’ll give you some details.”

I mean, you CAN blindside the heroes with the premise, but you run the risk that the premise will fail. You could start your campaign in a busy marketplace when King Duke VonBaroncount is assassinated and the heroes get pulled into the plot, but you sure as hell better hope that they really do get pulled into the plot. Otherwise, the campaign kind of bombs, doesn’t it.

But, hey, starting in taverns is fine too.

@ODog1970 from Twitter Asks:

Have you ever played any of the D&D Adventure system board games? If you have what is your take on them?

Yes, I have. I’ve played Wrath of Ashlardion and Legend of Dr’izzitt’ or however the f$&% you pronounce them. And – prepare to be f$&%ing shocked – I actually like them. They are pretty simple, fun to play, and very replayable. They are very rogue-like dungeon-crawley. I find they work best with three to four people. Five is a drag. Two is a slaughter. And besides, when I get five people together, I’m going to run an actual RPG. Because, no matter what people say, they AREN’T “just like D&D without a GM” unless your D&D games are really s$&%.

But here’s the thing that makes them kind of difficult. They really do need to be replayed. They get better as a “campaign” experience. But, I’ve got a lot of board games like that now. Not only do I have two of the Adventure system ones, I’ve got that Pathfinder Adventure System by Way of Pseudo Deck-Builder. And I’ve got that Shadowrun Crossfire thing. Now, the Adventure System games are a little easier to justify because they don’t have persistent leveling mechanics. You can just play a mission every couple of weeks or whatever. But if you’re not playing it every two weeks or so, I don’t think it’s really worth the price point. And you really don’t need more than one of them.

And no one I know wants to play the same board game week after week. Even the groups that have a dedicated board game night seem to want to play different games every week. I’ve had a bear of a time playing through Pathfinder Hearthstone: Wrath of the Runelords or whatever. And I really, really, really want to do more of the Shadowrun Crossfire. But it just doesn’t happen.

But yeah. They are mostly fun.