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GM Advice: Starting A Campaign

Starting a new campaign is an exciting time! Sadly, few people give much thought about how to go about choosing what to do next and simply dive straight in. There are two basic ways to start a new campaign, but few people use both.


(Art: William McAusland [Outland Arts])

The selection of a campaign is the foundation upon which all subsequent adventures are built. A GM should give some serious thought about the new campaign before getting engrossed in module preparation, campaign primer creation and so on.

There are a couple of basic ways of starting a new campaign. Both have their pros and cons and they require the GM to approach the situation in different fashions.

GM Friendly

The GM chooses a module or campaign to run and then informs the players of this choice.

  • The Good: The GM can start preparing the new campaign as the last one reaches its climax. This means by the time character generation begins the campaign primer is ready, the first module is prepared and so on. The GM is also ready to answer questions about the campaign theme, setting and so on.

  • The Bad: This method renders some character concepts a poor choice if a player wants to meaningfully contribute to the campaign. For example, a half-orc barbarian is probably not the best choice for an urban, role-play intensive campaign while a wizard faces significant challenges if the campaign starts with the PCs incarcerated without equipment.

Player Friendly

The players generate characters and the GM then chooses a module or campaign.

  • The Good: Towards the end of a campaign, players often start to ponder concepts for their next characters. Many players put a lot of effort into this and spend hours reading books, plotting their character build, concept and so on. A new campaign is a fantastic opportunity to put the new concept to the test. Because some adventures and campaigns favour certain races and classes, this method enables a GM to reward the players’ initial choices.

  • The Bad: The GM has very little preparation time between character generation and the first session of the new campaign. Depending on a GM's personal circumstances, it can be a real challenge to prepare the module, create a campaign primer and so on in the time between sessions.

  • Suggestion: Have the character generation session about a month before the end of the current campaign. This gives the GM time to prepare relevant handouts and suchlike.

Have you got any tips for starting a new campaign? Share them in the comments below.

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Wouldn't prepping for the new campaign steal momentum from the closing campaign?

I'm wildly anal about preparing for sessions and adventures so I often I have the final adventure all set up weeks or months before the end of the campaign. Sure - obviously - I refresh my knowledge of the module as the sessions progress, but if I know the End if Nigh I use some prep time to at least start the design/plotting process.

Yeah, I think it can a bit. We tend to have a few chats about it but don't start the prep until the current campaign has finished.

Seems a bit binary, no?

I've found this middle ground approach to be very successful

1: The GM has a germ of a campaign idea

2: Session -1: The GM sits down with the prospective players, pitches his idea and discusses the type of game and campaign they'd like to run. Together, players and GM agree some principles as a basis for character generation.

3: GM fleshes out ideas into high level campaign storyline based on player input

4: Session 0: Players generate characters with GM oversight, adhering to principles discussed.

5: GM tailors campaign to generated characters; generates/adapts NPCs etc, focussing esp on the first portion of the campaign, and particularly on the character intros/session 1

PRO-TIP: Adapting a pre-existing short adventure as the campaign intro is a good way to build momentum, and buy time for the GM to work on the meat and bones of the campaign; also in mystery-based campaigns, it helps to keep the players guessing about the "real" storylines.

6: Session 1: Campaign start.

I very much like your pro-tip. Using a published module as a "warm up" adventure is a great idea as long as you can tie it to the main storyline.

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