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The First Session
There are two really important sessions in a campaign: the first one and the last one. While all sessions should be fun and enjoyable for all participants, these two are the most important. For now, I’ll constrain myself to talking about the first session; I’ll deal with the last session in a subsequent article.
The first session of a campaign is important because it sets the tone for the campaign. It gives the players an impression of what to expect for the next few months (or years) beyond what they’ve learnt from the Campaign Primer, other handouts or materials and in conversation with the GM.
Remember, first impressions count.
Ideally, the first session of a new campaign should include several things:
With all new campaigns there are housekeeping tasks that need to be done. The GM, for example, should always have a copy of everyone’s character sheet. This lets him tailor encounters specifically to the PCs in his group and also enables him to check the PCs’ capabilities between sessions without either wasting in-game time checking character sheets or being forced to ask a series of rather unsubtle questions.
The GM should also make sure that all players have got copies of the various handouts he has prepared.
Also, a GM should get the PCs to decide who is going to map and who’s going to be in charge of keeping track of the loot. (If the party has other standard roles, such as a chronicler these should also be share out now.) Similarly, if the GM gets the PCs to set up a standard watch rota for nights when they are camping in dangerous locale this will save a lot of time in the long run.
Is the campaign set in the dour mountain stronghold of a beleaguered dwarven nation or are the PCs devout followers of a crusading god questing to destroy some ancient evil? Every campaign has its own distinct theme. You need to showcase this in the first session. Not only does it enable the players to get a handle on the campaign, but it will affect the way they roleplay their characters in future.
An opportunity for the PCs to introduce themselves to each other. It’s important that the players get a good feel for the other PCs around the table and the GM should allow some time for inter-party roleplaying.
Introduce the player’s home base. In almost every adventure, the PCs will have a home base to operate from, whether it be a keep on the borderlands or a sleepy, rural village. The players should have time to explore this locale – to meet its inhabitants and to get a feel for its characteristics. This is the place they will retreat to in between forays into the adventure proper and they should be allowed to get comfortable with it. It might also be appropriate for the campaign for the PCs to start to develop an emotional attachment to the village, keep or whatever. This makes adventures that threaten the locale so much more powerful and gives the PCs a real impetus to participate in future adventures.
An adventure is nothing without a challenge and a first session without any challenges would likely be long and boring. Challenge can come in many guises, of course, but the best kind for a first session are ones that enable a PC to use his abilities and roll some dice. Several simple, easy fights or skill challenges both get the players warmed up and aid them in getting under the skin of their character. These early challenges shouldn’t be that dangerous – the PCs should easily overcome the obstacles or enemies. Thus, they gain in confidence and are more willing to attempt greater challenges later on. (A handy additional bonus is that they start to learn their PCs’ capabilities without a considerable risk of failure or death.)
Next time, I’ll talk a little bit about designing encounters and adventures specifically for your players.