What Should You Do With First Sessions?

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0743

First sessions carry a lot of encumbrance. New setting, new players, maybe even new dice. At the least, for established groups, you face new characters and story arcs.

I had a First Session this year. My co-workers who had never played D&D wanted me to GM them. I outline the steps I took below. The steps seemed to have worked because the group is still together and we’re still playing the same campaign! (Knock on wood 2017.)

RPT GM Einar Stefánsson asks:

Okay, so. First-time DM’er about to host his first campaign, and I’ve been keeping some track of your tips and such! And it got me wondering as I write up some loopy planning… What should I do with the first session? What are first sessions for, mainly? To sell them the story I’ve planned or to let them sell their character to me? Or is the first session for something else?

You speak of sales, Einar, so let’s go down that metaphorical rabbit hole.

In ads, the headline has one goal — to motivate you to read the first line. The first line in the ad has one goal — to get you to read the second line. And so on.

I believe first sessions should aim to accomplish a bunch of things, chief of which is to motivate everyone to play again.

If we are to follow the ad progression formula, then we might follow this:

  • Introduce the setting =>
  • Introduce the campaign =>
  • Introduce the current situation =>
  • Create characters =>

Play the first encounter.

Each step gets everyone on the same page. The first three help players understand what characters might work best for what you have planned. (By the way, if you are stuck for campaign ideas, you will not go wrong with my Campaign Seeds book bundle.) [https://roleplayingtips.com/gm-books/campaign-seeds-book/]

The fourth step, creating characters, is a chance for collaboration. As you say, it’s to sell the characters to you. But also to sell the characters to the players.

When rolling PCs, all the little house rules pop up. Thematic and style questions get raised. “Do you see lots of wilderness / combat / NPC / undead play happening in this campaign?”

And then you hopefully have time to play the first encounter so you can begin next session running full pace.

In between these steps something invisible and barely noticed happens. The group begins to gel. People get to know each other a bit better. Game and personality meld.

It’s critical you are an impeccable Master of Ceremonies. Smooth over rough edges. Remove pebbles before they end up in shoes. Emotionally support everyone so defences slowly come down, friendliness becomes the norm, and a table of respect emerges. A lot of encumbrance indeed.