DMing Your First Campaign – My Experience

Athesti, my very first map and campaign setting. The players travelled from Strawford up to Cekillbie before we ended the campaign.
There was a lot of LotR and Duelyst inspiration for the naming and lore of regions.
*Side note! Mapmaking was scary, Inkarnate helped me get into it and motivated me to hand-draw and learn photoshop. If you need a little push to get into making maps, let a program like Inkarnate help you with that first step.

It’s daunting DMing (Dungeon Master-ing) for the first time. Especially if your players are experienced, thankfully mine were not. There’s no one way to begin running a campaign, a big part of D&D relies on imagination and roleplay and there is no set way to handle that. So instead I’ll be sharing how I got started with my campaign.

I didn’t run a pre-made campaign, though I was tempted to pick up the Lost Mines of Phandelver, instead I gathered up battle-maps off the internet and found a mini-adventure called Tengrave’s Folly which I liked the sound of. I used this as my main plot-hook. The players were on a caravan towards the town of Strawford, but before reaching the destination they are ambushed by a gang of goblins. One of them was noticeably different, he was the boss that they would eventually fight. I was aiming at giving the players a character to dislike early in the campaign but it didn’t turn out as planned since the players didn’t have a reason to care yet. So what that a big bad goblin attacked their caravan, they hardly even knew their own PCs, much less the people driving them around.

The way I prepped the campaign was a bit interesting since I based it around the maps that I had available, from there I came up with mini quests to level-up the characters to prepare them for their encounter with the boss from Tengrave’s Folly. I made sure to mix things up in every encounter, and I made it clear to my players that the campaign was essentially one big experiment for me. Somewhere I could try encounters, or roleplay NPCs in different ways so that I could find out what works for the future. I mixed in RP encounters with shady merchants, enemies which used different abilities and attacks as they dropped lower in hp, combat which wasn’t winnable unless the players interacted with something in the environment, massed enemies and even a dodgy mindflayer with doppelganger servants.

That last one was fun to run, it was also our first PC death. It was a scripted death since the player discovered that he didn’t enjoy the cleric class and wanted to try the ranger. His character had a great relationship with some of the other PCs and everyone RPed beautifully. His death seriously shifted the relationship dynamics within the party and this was super exciting for me, as a novice DM, to witness.

To conclude, here is a run down of what I think should be kept in mind for running a campaign for the first time. Play in another campaign first if possible, this is what got me interested in DMing in the first place. It also gives you some experience with the game, and with what a player finds interesting as well as how the DM keeps the game flowing.

Next you should run your first campaign as an experiment and throw in a huge variety of scenarios for you to play around with. You’ll find out what you’re good at, and what you have to improve at. You’ll also discover things that don’t work, in my case I found that combat with loads of enemies got slow and boring quite fast. I’ve figured out a way to make it faster and interesting, but if I hadn’t played around with it first then I’d still be struggling with it.

Finally, don’t worry too much about pumping out original content. You don’t have  to make all the maps yourself, you don’t need to create the entire story from scratch. It’s completely fine to get ideas from other resources. In fact, even when you have experience don’t be afraid to get ideas from other people, there are some really amazing ideas out there which you can put to use.

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