The Art of the Introduction
The start of an adventure or a campaign can be a little dicey for a Dungeon Masters and players. There are all sorts of factors that both the players and DM’s have to participate in in order to get the adventure started off strong. The factors that I see most are character introductions, introduction to the story, and getting comfortable with everyone’s play style. These can either hurt or help build momentum for a group and momentum is very important for tabletop RPG groups. The end goal is to get your players immersed in the world as quickly as possible. Notice I wrote “players” not “characters”, I do not mean throw the characters directly into the thick of the story.
Before we get into any of the factors, let’s talk about momentum as I think it deserves a quick tangent. Because momentum is so critical to tabletop RPG groups, it is very important to understand clearly. Momentum is what keeps groups together and having fun, it is what can make or break a campaign, and it is easily lost and tough to gain. It is that feeling when you are sitting around the table with your friends and everyone is in the game. There becomes a rhythm to the play and people are invested in the story, in their characters, and in party dynamic (the characters in the game and between the people at the table). This momentum can get your group through canceled sessions, boring sessions, and the coming and goings of players. It makes your group more resilient to these things and when the group has momentum that means that most of the group is having fun.
So momentum is important to have, but how do you get the proverbial ball rolling? The best way to get the momentum going is by starting the campaign strong. As a Dungeon Master, you will want to make sure that the players and the characters are all properly introduced, play styles are acknowledged, and the story has a strong hook.
Players and Characters Introductions
At the start of every campaign, I like to have everyone around the table introduce themselves and talk a little about their character. Players should be encouraged to have a backstory of some kind. Something that can tie the character to the story. Think of this as a loop that the story hook will latch onto, it makes your job easier as a DM to get your player’s characters invested in the story. If some characters know each other before the campaign starts, have those players talk about how and where they know each other from. Also, establish character name pronunciations and establish how you as a DM or as a group would like to handle table descriptions. For example, at my table, I ask that players try as hard as they can to use the character names and not the player’s name when describing something. I really prefer if players don’t say something like “I walk up to Ben’s character.” and instead would like to hear “I walk up to Cchio.” I find that establishing names early makes emersion a lot easier and if the players are immersed in the world, then they are primed for momentum.
Establishing Player and DM Play Styles
It is important that from the beginning, you as a DM have a play style that you enjoy. It is also important to understand that your players will also have a preference on how they role play as well. Simple things like talking about their character in third person or first person is only a preference. What is important is what you and you players expectations of how the game will be played is realized. For me, I like to establish that when you are at the table, you are in the game, minor meta conversation is alright, as long as you are paying attention and not slowing down the game or pulling people out of the emersion of the game. Make your intentions clear and make sure that the players understand that everyone’s play style is different and ask for people to be accepting of that fact. People, including those new to the game, are not always comfortable with the role-play aspect of D&D. Pushing a player out of their comfort zone a little at a time is a great way to get them more into the role-playing. Better role-play means players are thinking as their character and are more immersed in that character, again it primes the pump for momentum.
Making Sure Your Story Hook is on Point
If player immersion is the momentum pump primer, then the story hook is what gets the momentum started. The key to a great story hook is to know your content. It doesn’t matter if your story is open-ended or you are playing a pre-written campaign. Knowing your content means that you know the big events, or at least have a rough idea of them. If you know and understand the world and story your characters about to embark on, then you can start weaving your story into your player character’s backstories. This drives massive events home for characters and can become very powerful if used sparingly. Matt Mercer from Critical Role does an amazing job of this and one can learn much studying how he weaves his story arcs into the character backgrounds and viewers can see the player investment it drives.
Story hooks will also help maintain or refuel your momentum if you feel things are starting to go slow. What I advise is that to get the momentum rolling find common ground between all the players, and put something together that brings them together. That becomes your loop, then come up with some story hook that fits nicely to relate how players meet and why they are now adventuring. Then as time goes on and you get a feel for the characters, start dropping subtle hints to one of the character’s past and watch as the story starts to unravel itself and help propel your gaming group through good and bad times.
That is where I am going to leave it for this week. As always, thank you so much for stopping in and reading. Feel free to comment, I love to read constructive feedback and love discussing topics like these. Check back in next week to see what else I have on my mind or decide to analyze. Remember to follow The DM’s Table on Facebook or on Twitter @dmstable for updates and to let me know what is on your mind, or what you might want to read about. Also, go check out Roll with Advantage! It is a Dungeons and Dragons podcast that releases every Monday at 5 pm Eastern Time. We play, laugh, and have a good time playing a game we all love. Thank you for reading.
― The DM