Seven Great Starting Points for a Campaign

So I have been pretty active in the Reddit communities as of late, and I have seen a lot of questions across the major D&D subreddits around starting a campaign. This has got me thinking about what my favorite ways are, so I figured I would list it here for people to reference later. Just to be clear, these are just generic starting themes, I am not going to tell you how to run your campaign. My intent is to provide you with ideas on how to start your campaign off, or even get the creative juices flowing if you don’t yet have a campaign in mind. Now, with expectations properly set, here are my favorite campaign introductions I have run, watched, and experienced.

Prisoner Escape

In this campaign intro, the players’ characters begin as prisoners. They could have known each other before becoming prisoners, they could be complete strangers, or a little from column A and a little from column B. In the past I have created hooks for the players to choose ahead of time, without them knowing they start as prisoners. These hooks determine each players' positioning in the dungeon and the situation they are in when the first session starts. Here is an example of one of these hooks and the starting situation it ends up in:

Hook: You are married and are on your honeymoon

Starting Situation: (Starts in Cell A) Read: Your husband/wife was captured with you. As you wake up you hear screams. Looking to the cell to your right, you see him/her being dragged away by their heels by two Hobgoblins. They claw the floor, screaming out your name, you two lock eyes and in that moment his/her eyes show fear so devastating it infects even your heart. You know beyond a doubt you need to find her/him…(Character suffers the effect of fear when approached by a more than one goblin until a group has been overcome by the party)

I absolutely love the prison escape introduction as I think it provides great potential for story hooks, it is very good for setting a strong theme right off the bat and is very modular. As you can imagine, it is great at fitting into most campaign settings really well, especially an evil campaign.

Prisoner Escort

The prisoner escort is sort of the opposite of the Prisoner Escape from above. In this introduction, your players are hired to escort a very important prisoner to a high-security prison or to a key city to be executed (or something to that effect). The Prisoner can easily be the big bad evil guy or an important link to said big bad evil guy. Either way, this introduction is doomed, and the players are destined to fail. The players are knocked unconscious somehow and they come to discovering the prisoner is gone. It is from here that you as a DM will need to tie in your story. Maybe the players will now be considered part of the heist and will need to work to clear their name, or maybe they are fired and their names are mud until the players can prove their competency. Either way, you quickly establish a vendetta with the prisoner and your player characters. 

A Call to Arms

The Call to Arms is a very simple campaign starter, but it can be hard from some to do right. In this intro your players are summoned to fight for some cause, a lot of times these get into full army battles. I would highly suggest if you start with this intro, that you need to not only establish a cause, but to give your players something more to do than just stand with hundreds of units and attack. Split the intro into three different paths that you players can choose from; reconnaissance, offense, and defense would be great examples. These can be fun little mini-games that your players can do that could have massive effects on the overall main battle. Let us say your forces are marching on an evil wizard's keep. Allow the players to choose from stealth, offense, and reconnaissance.

Stealth - The players would be tasked with sneaking in over the enemies walls and sabotaging the enemy defenses.

Offense - This could be part of the main offensive, storming that gates, if you will or it could be something like devising tactics for the offensive strike.

Reconnaissance - Send the players to search around the nearby countryside, maybe there is a secret escape tunnel that the players side can use as another front for their attack.

Remember in these situations variety and the ability to choose their own fate will be key to making this fun for your players.

A Catastrophic Event

A catastrophic event can be an amazing hook, a great way to get your players invested in the story and introduce your main antagonist for your story arc. Consider really getting to know your players' back stories before you attempt to write a catastrophic event. Include a little bit from everyone's back stories if you can, or at the very least come up with a way that this event can affect your player’s lives. This could be something as simple as Asteroids are striking the earth and creating zombies from their alien infection, or this event could be a historical event that was so devastating that becomes legend, the people of the lands forget the tragedy and difficulties and then when things seem right with the world, the catastrophic event happens again and none but a small group of people were ready for it. This intro is great for a second story arc, and if you know you are going to use it early enough, you can start laying hooks in early by having the players only hear whispers of the event to come, setting solid foreshadowing.

A Mission from a Faction

This can be similar to the Call to Arms, but I like to think of this one to be more spy agency like. Many times when I implement this it is well after the party is established, usually to start a new story arc. I personally like to use the S.W.A.T. flavor of this intro and create a situation where a faction’s leader was kidnapped and your players need to break into the house, find the target, and get them out of the house using as much stealth as possible. This can also be something as simple as an errand for the faction and it goes horribly awry. This can be very similar to the Prisoner escort as well, but the key here is to establish a faction that the players want to join and then climb the ranks.

The Colosseum

The Colosseum is a fun way to start out a campaign with new players. It gives ample opportunities to get new players use to basic combat rules and ease them into role-playing. This can help you as a DM to introduce your players to NPC’s that will most likely have a powerful influence in the city they start in. You could do this through dramatic encounters. For instance, maybe the players are not supposed to be champions, and the whole Colosseum organized fighting is rigged. These dramatic encounters and their prowess in the Colosseum can help your players build a rapport with the city and as well as building up lore around the colosseum and its champions. A great source of inspiration is the movie, Gamer.

Meet in a Pub

All the characters meeting in a pub and approached by a shadowy figure to send them on a vague quest. We all know it well, and it can be nice to come back to this once and awhile, but when you do, try to change it up. Maybe the pub is not a pub, but a party of some sort, or even a masquerade. Also, using the shadowy figure, who always turns out to be some nobility, let’s change the to something else, shall we? Why not use some urchin to deliver the message, or maybe a hostage situation where the figure has taken someone close to one of the characters and has promised to let these people go as long as the players complete a mission for the figure. Whatever you do, if you are going to use this intro, I highly advise that you spice it up A LOT.

Well, that was a pretty long post, but I think it may help a lot of you from what I have been seeing in the communities that follow. So 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 and if you enjoy these articles feel free to donate, using the button below, to the website to help keep it up and running!

― The DM