Starting a new campaign can be a daunting and exciting task. There is a whole new story to create! Where do you start? What about character creation? Should you have a session zero?
One of the things I strive for in my games is getting the players invested. One of the best ways to do that is to make the game about them. If their characters are personally involved in the story-line, that means they are too. You may have a great epic written in your head, but if the characters are just bystanders in it, why would they care?
Likely, one of the reasons you’ve chosen to DM is because you want to express your creativity in world building and plot making. That is totally legit. Thankfully, making the game about the players doesn’t mean those things have to take a back seat. There is a great technique I love to use before session zero of a new campaign to get the ball rolling for everyone.
The first thing I do in any campaign is to send the players campaign information. This can be involved as you want it to be. Just remember, however, that it takes a special player to read through 20 pages of your notes. It wouldn’t hurt to have a synopsis. It’s also totally okay to just write a paragraph as well.
“The town of Darkmire has seen strange times as of late. A plague washes through the streets and strange women in dark hoods have been seen around the edges of town. A make shift camp of lashed together poles has sprung up in the swamp surrounding the village, spurring rumors of evil magics. A bounty has been offered to anyone that can find a cure to the vile disease.”
Four sentences, but it contains enough to start a campaign. This gives players an idea of what the game will be about and will start their gears turning around character ideas. It seems a bit dark and grim so likely their characters will take on those attributes as well. Let’s try something that is a little more open, however.
“The Dreaming Kingdom was built on the edges of the nightmare lands to guard sleeping minds against the darkness. It’s people vary from cloud knights charged with protecting lost dreamers to the gnomes of the dream forge, endlessly toiling to perfect the dream machine. Merchants trade in strange baubles and visions while thieves bring old dreams to the black market. The Dawn Spire is in the middle of it all, housing the Wizards of Reverie. Those mages can shape the dream stuff itself.”
There is a lot going on in that last paragraph. One thing that isn’t present is a clear plot, which can be great. There is plenty for the players to absorb and make characters with, but nothing that tells them what they’ll be getting into. Ir would be easy to write up more information on each of those factions and add some more geography, depending on how far down the rabbit hole you wanted to go.
So after the players have had a week or so to digest that, everyone can get together and have a session zero. For anyone that doesn’t know, session zero is where you get together and build characters and talk about the game. You generally don’t expect to play that day. It’s more about having a relaxed atmosphere where everyone can build a character in the presence of the group. It is especially helpful for new players and GMs as you’ll all be in one place to ask each other questions.
This is the perfect time to get the players thinking about character history. Likely, they’ll take one of your hooks you’ve written in your campaign intro and run with it. This lets you know what the players are interested in exploring and gives you more ideas for future sessions. If it isn’t coming naturally to the player, ask some probing questions: Where did you grow up? Why did you become an adventurer? Where is your family? If they need time, have them message you that information during the week, when they’ve had time to think about it.
So at the end of session zero, you’ll likely have a few tools:
- A campaign back story, even if its just a paragraph.
- Characters with ties to the campaign
- Story hooks the players have written while creating their characters.
Next week, we’ll talk about how to use all those to construct a great campaign!