When planning a new campaign I think in terms of overall campaign feel. Then I think in terms of getting the campaign moving. How am I going to gather my PCs together? What is the hook that will put the PCs on the adventurous path? What will keep the group glued together? Now if you are starting a campaign hopefully you have floating in the back of your head ideas for major story arcs in the campaign. Use these arcs and themes as inspiration for your campaign start-up. I also feel you need to introduce the players to the campaign villain.
Starting a campaign can often be more difficult than continuing an already established one. This much is obvious since once a campaign is started and characters are formed it is easier to create adventures based on previous events. To help, here are some of the methods I use based on my Weird Wars: Blood on the Rhine campaign set late in World War II.
- Find an Event
Whether your campaign is fantasy, historical, sci-fi, or horror, there is always some event in that world’s history that you can get your characters involved with. My own campaign started June 6th, 1944 with the characters arriving on the beaches of Normandy. Setting your first adventure around major events gives the opportunity for high energy and exciting intros. Picture your characters helping to shut down the energy shields on Endor or assaulting Isengard and you immediately have setting and motivation.
- Make It Different
While everyone knows what happens at D-Day, Endor, and Isengard, the events may be different from an individual aspect or because of a different set of circumstances. With my beach landing, the characters experienced the terror of approach, the shock of artillery, and the beaching of their craft. All happened during the true events. However, upon reaching the beach, the PCs found less resistance than the players and the PCs expected. As anyone who’s seen Saving Private Ryan can attest to, a quiet beach with few guards on D-Day is unusual to say the least.
- Leave a Mystery
So you have your players expecting one set of events based on their knowledge of the history or storyline and you have just thrown them a curveball. They may have passed the initial trial by fire but you can’t give them the entire ball of wax. For example, my soldiers storm the beaches, take out a machine gun nest and begin investigating the strangely quiet trenches along the area. Behind the scenes, an SS Blood Mage has already vaporized the information and evidence in the German command centre as well as witnesses who were too low ranking to know as much as they saw. When
the players reach the scene all they find are scorch marks, burned corpses, and strange runic marks. This gives them a little scare, some information about the villain, and hopefully sparks enough curiosity that they come back next week for the second adventure.
Be creative and exciting in what you do. Your first adventure can set the tone for your entire campaign and establish most of your initial adventures as well. I hope this helps!