The new year is right around the corner, filled with new friends, new resolutions, and (hopefully) new games of Dungeons and Dragons. We’ve been talking a lot lately about oneshots and single-session ideas, but there’s nothing like a game that happens over the course of months, or even years. It’s how most DnD games go, after all.
If you don’t already have plans to kick off a campaign in the new year, or have no one to DM one for you, why not try running one yourself? All you need is a little bit of prep, a few people to play with, and the time to meet with them. And if you’ve never done it before, here’s a bit of an overview to help you on the way.
Decide What Game You Want to Play
While I’ve been saying ‘Dungeons and Dragons’, in reality there are plenty of games for you to play. If you want something simpler and more roleplay focused on roleplay, the FATE system is a good choice, or anything that markets itself as a ‘storytelling game’. If you want something more focused on strategy, with plenty of “crunch” and realistic modifiers, Zweihammer is a fan favorite!
If you want something in the middle, that’s where Dungeons and Dragons lies. Older editions (like 3.5e) tend more toward detail and customization, while 5e is more simplified and less customizable, but easier to learn and play.
Obtain the Necessary Game Materials
The internet is overflowing with gaming materials, dice, supplements, and paraphernalia of all kinds. But all you’ll really need to run your game (at it’s bare bones, and relying on imagination, as many do) is the rules, and a way to roll some dice.
Most games have one or two rulebooks that you’ll need – for 5e DnD, The Dungeon Master’s Guide and the Players Handbook. You can those here at D20Collective, if you like, get digital copies, or buy their content for DnDBeyond, a popular website for containing the content. Personally, I like having a physical copy in front of me. It’s just the easiest way for me to look things up!
Other systems will require their own rulebooks. Most of these can also be bought either online, at your local game store, or as digital files.
Familiarize yourself with these rules, at least in passing. If you need a little more help, there are plenty of online games and tutorials that you can watch. Here’s a few ideas in how to learn.
You can buy yourself and your players the necessary dice here at D20Collective (we like to think we’ve got a great selection, after all)! You can also find rollers available online, although that makes it a little harder to make sure that your players aren’t lying about their rolls.
All you really need to run your game is the rules and some dice, but supplemental materials can make them more fun and easier to run. Spell, item, and monster cards keep you from having to flip through or go looking through the book every time you need them. Grids and maps give you a visual for your battles, so you don’t have to rely on player imagination. They aren’t necessary by any means, but they are very nice to have!
Create (or Find) Your Story/Adventure
Once you’ve decided on and obtained the game materials, you can start with the fun stuff – crafting your own story. Or, if you don’t want to, choosing a premade adventure.
For a first-time story, I’d recommend a premade module like Wild Beyond the Witchlight or Storm King’s Thunder. That way, all the fights and encounters are already balanced for you, and you can get a hang of the rules and how it feels to run a module without feeling it reflects on your own writing abilities.
If you’re determined to write your own, taking inspiration from your favorite novels and movies is a great idea. So long as you have places to go and people to meet, you’re good! Simple plots tend to be easier, even for an experienced DM, since players tend to take any story a little off the rails.
Hold a Session 0
After finding your players, invite them around to make characters and hold a session 0. In this session, you can get their input on what kind of a game they would like to play in. Do they want a more serious tone, or a sillier and funnier one? Do they have hard limits on the things they’d like to see in a game? Would they prefer to roleplay out all their skill checks instead of just rolling?
This is the time to clarify all of these little questions!
You can also use this time to vet your players a little bit, and make sure you haven’t accidentally recruited anyone who’s going to cause problems.
Run Your Campaign, Session by Session
Take into account whatever feedback you’ve gotten from your session 0 and get ready for your first real game night! This will usually involve getting the player characters together and familiar with each other, giving them the plot hook, and letting them (and yourself!) get used to the game.
Beforehand, you should give yourself a decent familiarity with the adventure that they’ll be undertaking. If you have a prewritten module, read through it a couple times. If you’re writing your own, make sure you have it down, and have enough interactive points (skill checks, fighting encounters, and roleplaying opportunities) to keep your players engaged.
I like to write down the names and general stats of each monster they’re likely to fight (including their name, their hit points, and attack bonuses), a brief overview of each NPC they encounter (such as their name, class, race, and what they’re there to do for the party), and summarized timeline (such as where they start, when they encounter the plot hook, each big event, and where they should end).
Overall, don’t worry too much about everything going perfectly. You’ll soon find the style that works for you, since not everyone DMs the same. Just take it session by session, encounter by encounter, and roll by roll. You’ll get in your groove soon enough!
Do you have any advice for starting a new campaign? Put it down below!