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I was wondering if anyone had any tips on how to start our very first session. Everyone, counting the DM, has yet to play the game and we are not exactly sure were to start. Our PCs are:

  • Drow Warlock (Dark Pact)
  • Githyanki Artificer
  • Goliath Barbarian
  • Warforged Warden

At times we will have a Longtooth Shifter Ranger instead of the Warlock and Artificer or the Warden, for DM sharing.

Can anyone give me tips how to get the the first session started, or how to make our gameplay better? Should we start with pre-made adventures or make our own? Apart from our characters any extra things we'll need to get started?

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Hey @Jermiah! You're additional questions should be separate questions. You'll get better answers if you can split them up and make them as well defined as possible (this might help). Check out the new-gm and new-players tags for some good starter info. –  yhw42 Feb 9 '11 at 4:02
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7 Answers

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The hardest thing about starting for the first time is the big blank sheet of paper. Not just for you but the players as well. For first time the only context you have is the implied fantasy setting that underlies the D&D 4e rules – the only setting that all of you effectively share.

See, in a Fantasy Campaign that relies on the collective imagination of everybody at the table context is key. It allow everybody, both referee and player, to make meaningful decisions. Part of the genius of original D&D is that its initial context was brilliantly simple:

You are standing at the top of a flight of stairs descending into darkness. You know there is a dungeon maze down there with rooms of treasures guarded by traps and monsters.

Just about every player and referee can see a dungeon maze in their head and have a rough idea of what to do.

And as a first timer that's what I would do. Make a dungeon and put your players at the entrance.

More specifically I would (with examples in parentheses):

  1. Make a name of a town (Voidside)
  2. Make up the name of the Inn and its proprietor (The Amethyst Rest, Master Bodart)
  3. Make an interesting NPC that sits in the taproom and gives out rumors (Condarr the Walker)
  4. Make up a general store and its proprietor where the players can buy and sell (Curios of the Void, August Leland Brown)
  5. Make up a town official for when the player need to talk to somebody "in charge" (The Warder, Lord Xylen)
  6. Think of a premise for a local ruins (Perched on the Nolan Shard lie the hovels of Voidside. It is located in the midst of the ruins of the old Amethyst Empire, the most famous of which is the Darkshard Tower, the seat of the Imperial Wizards. For a 1000 years the Tower has stood, with generations of wizards delving deep into the earth to make room for their quarters, labs, menageries and most of all to seek the elusive magicium. Then the empire fell and the tower was wrecked but the levels underneath still remain.)
  7. Now make the first three levels of your dungeon. Try to make it not linear but with many branches and circular routes to make it interesting. Just go through the book and look at various interesting creatures of the appropriate encounter level and throw them together. Think of how the level was in its glory days, and what happened to it after aging the dungeon into its present ruined and dangerous state.

Now, you have an odd assortment of races here. A Drow, Githyanki, Goliath, and Warforged. Not exactly standard fare for the typical merrie olde England type of fantasy kingdom. Hence my example more envisions a shard of land floating in the astral sea where it would make more sense that these type of races would be found together.

For later adventures you can keep focusing on deeper levels of the dungeon or the exploration of other ruins on the shard and the exploration of the shard itself. As you need to expand, you can develop the idea of portals or astral ships that sail on starlight between shards in the astral sea. Players can visit other shards.

The Heroic tier of the campaign could be just simple exploration. The Paragon tiers would be about investigating the Amethyst Empire and why it fell, putting the knowledge gained in the Heroic tier to good use. Then when they reach Epic levels they find that what brought down the Amethyst Empire is still very much alive and preparing to unleash hell once again on the survivors.

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I am a fairly new DM myself and I had trouble with my first session. It was hard work DMing the first time and I am still not sure I do it the "right" way, but roleplaying is about having fun and that's what we do, so it can't be wrong.

I make my own stuff because I have to – the players have already gone through the modules that I have. It adds a level of difficulty to preparation, seeing as I have to make everything myself. That work does pay off though because I know my stuff when it comes to it.

My advice is that since your group is new and you will be DM sharing it is best to start with the modules, then if you feel they are not what your group is looking for go ahead and stray away from there. No matter what you guys end up doing, have fun with it. D&D and roleplaying in general is about having fun, as you tell a story.

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The first thing you should do is get everyone to play more standard fantasy character types. Human, Elf, Dwarf, Halfing with Fighter, Mage, Thief and Cleric. People find it hard to role play things outside there context, most players will have read some fantasy book or see a movie like Lord of The Rings. This will greatly help to get into the correct mind set. Use pre created characters for the first session or two so player get to see how the rules work, allow them to use their strange characters once they 'get' how the games is meant to play. It is always best to use a beginner module, as this will help you as a referee by introducing the rules simply. Then do a few modules but don't start a large campaign, most campaigns do not last to completion without a very steady group and you will not know this for a few months. The effort on the referee to know the campaign history, background is to much to worry about, make the game light and fun, serious dark background can be a turn off until players want something with more meat.

NB:1) by 'correct mind set' I meant, the understanding of and getting the right mood for role-playing in the generic sense. This depends a lot on how your groups plays and what they think is appropriate. Not what I or any one else thinks is 'correct' there is no one true way to roleplay. For example, as a 13 year old we played where ever we could and were more interested in combat and treasure, as a 18 year old I hated DnD for its lack of in character roleplaying, we had lots of fun with DnD again when 3e came out and now hate it again with 4e. I have total switch to Savage Worlds as it more fits my mood and mind set now.

NB:2) I only suggest LofR as it is the sort of fantasy movie that your player will most likely have seen. DnD used to be though of as roleplaying in Fantasy Medieval Western Europe, well a Holywood pasteash of it. It seams that DnD 4e has total left this behind, if that is so then pick your fantasy novel or movie that fits your groups point of view. I still hold to my main point, unless the group has read or seen, Drow for example then I find it had to believe that they will understand how to play one.

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I'm not downvoting you, but let's just say that I don't agree in the least with your first statement. One standard answer would be "I just saw LOTR, i don't need to see it again". –  Adriano Varoli Piazza Feb 9 '11 at 12:03
    
I have no problem with you not agreeing but are you really saying that first time players can really get to handle on playing a Drow, Githyanki, Goliath, and Warforged paty? Wow is all I can say. they have not even seen them as they should be in advantures and they are already playing them ;| –  David Allan Finch Feb 9 '11 at 14:12
    
Also I did not say, watch LotR or even play it, just they would understand them. –  David Allan Finch Feb 9 '11 at 14:14
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In my answer I am assuming that everybody read the PHBs with the descriptions of classes and races. The races and classes were picked because the players thought they sounded cool. For a game run in a store or at a convention where there are a lot of newcomers I would agree with your first sentence and limit the selections to something more generally known and understood. –  RS Conley Feb 9 '11 at 15:31
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@David If all they want is to play a fun game, what they really don't need someone telling them "No! You're doing it wrong!". Perhaps they chose Warforged, Drow, etc. because they thought it might be fun. How could they! Ever heard about the "Saying yes" recommendation? It's on the DMG. –  Adriano Varoli Piazza Feb 11 '11 at 15:02
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I'd recommend if you use a premade adventure use The Slaying Stone....one of the best 1st level adventure's I've ever read. I HIGHLY recommend it. I also ran Keep on the Shadowfell for first level but it's pretty standard fare. Making up your own area is good if one DM were to be running, now if you guys keep a fairly good accounting of events and areas you go to you could collectively run a game, but then because of the sharing of DM information you may end up finding it hard to remove player knowledge from character knowledge. So I recommend at least for now running pre-made adventures til like 3rd/4th level to help learn good ways to set up encounters and story telling. Also, be careful with the older premades with combat...the old monster stats had issues with too little damage or too many hit points so combat can seem to drag if the group doesn't optimize their efforts against enemies. I recommend if you use an older (pre late '09/'10 published material) reduce the Monster HP by 1/3 and add +3/4 to their damage bonuses.

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+1 for using premades. If you can assume the adventure is fairly balanced and well thought out, you've removed half of the variability, particularly if you use a rotating DM. –  yhw42 Feb 9 '11 at 15:38
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Step one: Before game

Ask them what kind of goal they want. Do they want a big bad of the week to defeat? Or One a month with more time getting there? Or just to explore dungeons? Or to defend the village? Or Rob the king?

If you, as a GM, know what kind of story they want, you can more adequately plan.

Step two: decide your first encounter, still before the game.

Figure out who they are facing, and why. Figure out who they're fighting, and any clues to the later bigbad.

Plot a second encounter, and clues. And a third. Expect you'll only get through one or two, but plan extras. D&D 4 is kinda slow.

Step 3: The session.

Start with a bit of backstory. Not too much. Who hired them, and how long it's been, where they are. Describe the setting of the first encounter.

Then describe the threat, and ask them what they want to do. If they draw and fight, go to combat rounds. If they talk to the bad guys, figure their responses based upon the talk and/or some skill rolls.

In combat, D&D is a boardgame. Outside of combat, it's an improvisational radioplay.

After each encounter, do your bookkeeping, and then narrate to the next. Sometimes, you'll need to do something different than planned. That's fine. Just keep it sensible, and flowing.

Anytime you get more than 1-2 minutes of silence, move to a new scene or NPC encounter within the current scene.

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Here is how I start a new campaign. First, ask your players what kind of game they want. I think this is the most overlooked step to gaming. If they want high adventure with an epic storyline, they will be disappointed if all they get is a tactical game. Conversely, many players are just looking to kill some monsters and get cool stuff. It's your game and you should do whatever is fun.

Second, don't over plan. Honestly, players won't care that an island 200 miles west is the home to a group of mindflayers. They won't care about the political rivalries between two neighboring lords (unless one is hiring them to kill the other). Keep things small and local. You should only spend a couple of hours fleshing out the backstory and encounters. Create a few NPCs (don't stat anything, just write a name and one sentence to describe their function and personality). It also helps to have a list of 20 'good' names for NPCs and 20 'evil' names for monsters. This way you never have to name the random shop owner 'Bob'. If you give something a name, players will think it's important, and you've now got hooks for future adventures.

Third, don't be afraid of making mistakes. It sounds like you are all new to the game, you are going to have hiccups on your first run. Don't stress over it. If there is a rules question, adjudicate whatever sounds reasonable and look the rule up on the next break. Nothing slows things down worse than stopping everyone to figure out how to grapple. When in doubt, have them roll a d20 and add the bonus from a relevant skill or ability. If it's over 12 + their level, it works.

Fourth, say yes. Out of all the advice, this is one of the hardest to do. But it will make you game better. If a player wants to do something a little crazy (I'm looking at you chandelier swinging addict), let them. If they suddenly say, lets go see whats over there, smile and say sure. If you need to, just reskin your stuff on the fly. It's easy to just rename monsters and areas that you've already made. As long as it isn't going to unbalance the game, let the players be a little extra cool.

Finally, have fun. With all the blog posts and advice columns on the 'best' way to play the game, people seem to forget that it's a game. Everyone there is sitting at the table to have a good time. It doesn't matter if you follow the rules exactly or your encounters/players are perfectly optimized. It doesn't matter if you weave a deep story or if the party just hacks things apart. If everyone at the table is having a good time it's your game and it's a good game.

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I up-voted this after I read the first line. :D –  Gordon Gustafson Sep 18 '11 at 21:56
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For a first time start at this you surely are trying some advanced races never the less the standard array in my opinion is the most important element in creating a character after that you can read from the phb

Remember though as a class feature you may be entitled to extra skills and their fore gain +5 to the result plus your modifiers good luck happy gaming

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This doesn't answer the question, Luke. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jul 16 '12 at 1:33
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