View RSS Feed

The art of gamemastering.

The art of gamemastering: chapter 2 - Running the first session

Rate this Entry
Chapter 1: Running the first adventure (of a new campaign).

Last week I spoke on how to start building your own campaign. The logical next step is the first adventure
The things you need to do is:

- Take a deep breath and relax, this is supposed to be fun, not work
- Prepare the session
- Introduce the characters
- Set the main storyline in motion
- Introduce 1 (or more) important npc's
- End the adventure

Our first order of business is to really not get worked up over gm'ing that first adventure. If you're a veteran gm this won't be a problem but I've seen and heard many a newby that get all nervous and sweaty when they're faced with finally running their own game. You're here to have fun. If it's not fun then don't do it. This being said, you'll find that if you view gm'ing as a chore or don't like it you'll never be able to run a satisfactory game so don't force yourself.

Now you can prepare the session. Normally, a single adventure takes place over more than one session. As people have time constraints of all kinds that get in the way. So it may be that your first adventure takes two or even three sessions to complete. You need to view adventures in the whole of the campaign as episodes from a tv show. They're all separate but often linked together by an overarching storyline. The first adventure is the pilot of the series. Now how much work you're willing to put in the preparation of the first session is up to you as it depends on personal preference. I can only advise you to not overdo it. Why not? Because you're spending too much time and effort on things that 'could' happen. If you meticulously prepare all encounters of an adventure and the chars take a left turn off your path then you end up with either a lot of work for nothing (even though you can recycle it later) or having to railroad the chars back to the pre-set adventure. The last option is a sin punishable by death as far as I'm concerned. You're playing a tabletop rpg with other people. If they wanted to be railroaded they would be playing a computer game. So in preparing keep it short like so:
(Tavern: Wicked wench, Shrew behind the counter, drunk barbarian trader on table singing lewd song, three rogues outside ready to jump the chars when they exit)
And that's all you have to know. Everything else, the wart of the shrew, the dripping candles in the tavern, the roast lam on the spit. All of this you improvise as you describe the tavern when the players first enter it. Of course you may dislike improvisation and then you need more preparation but if you're asking me, you're playing the wrong game for you in that case.

The next part is something I absolutely loathe as a gm. Introducing the chars. Now, many gm's spend sessions on end getting the party together via circumstances or chance meetings, others tkae the opposite and well known route of "you're all sitting in a tavern doing nothing". The first is time and effort consuming and will waste precious play time, though if done right you can start the campaign off with the individual chars and then have them get together because of that. There is a problem with that approach and that is that you a playing the parts with single players while the rest sit around and wait. Not what they signed up for.
The second approach is a little overused but the basic premise is good. You state that the chars have known each other for a limited amount of time and they are in the same location doing the same thing. This could be walking home from the football game, waiting in the barracks of your merc company for your next assignment, or you could all be sitting in a tavern. Now even then the players and their chars still have free will so nothing much is going to bind them together and that's where the next part come in.

When you set the main story line in motion it's like in the pilot of a television show. Most often it introduces the main npc or bad guy and binds the chars together. Whether they're all accused of the same crime or they all bear witness to the same heinous act or it is revealed they are all sons/daughters of the same deity spawned for some specific purpose, they find out they all have something in common and are motivated or forced to work together to resolve the problem. When this is through you'll have a party of allies that know each other and trust each other.

The first session is also the time you introduce a major npc. This could be an ally or mentor, a neutral troublemaker or the big bad guy your party of chars will be fighting throughout the campaign. For the best results they need to meet this person face to face. You can describe him perfectly and give him the presence he deserves. You could even make him/her appear as something else than he truly is; weak and in need instead of powerful and pulling the strings. Just make sure you introduce him/her. This will make sure you have introduced for yourself a way to guide the chars and give them direction; by giving them a common enemy or having the npc act as a mentor.
Now one is the minimum. If you can try to introduce two main npc's for your campaign and one or two minor npc's. This will make your world come to life faster and give the chars more of a hold on the setting.

When you come to the end of the adventure you need a satisfactory end to it. This may seem obvious but be careful not to overdo it. When you make it so the chars kill all the evil npc's you just introduced you've got little to hang your next adventure onto. Leave some things unresolved so the chars can chase those plot lines in coming adventures. And don't worry about it, these kind of things happen by themselves, it is the very nature of the game. The weeping kid the bard consoled outside the tavern after the fight with the rogues? He's actually a young prospect of the thieves guild and can call upon you for help next time. See? A chance improvised unnamed npc suddenly becomes a plot hook. Your games will be filled with these and you'll get more opportunity for them if you don't painstakingly write out ever area, encounter or description you'll have to give.

Now go have fun.

See you around for chapter three.