Campaign Prepper: First Session

Most of the Game Master prep I do at the start of a campaign was touched upon in last week’s post. To sum up, I heavily detail everything immediately around the party’s start location, because this is the part of the campaign they’ll spend the bulk of their time to start. But I do have other things I do at the campaign start, mostly related to the players.

Campaign Intro Email – I send out an email to the players with the following:

  • character creation rules
  • campaign restrictions; which books are available for use, any races/classes that are off limits, any optional/house rules we might be using, and so on.
  • what I’d like to see as far as character background information, and the rewards for such
  • date/time suggestions for our first session(s)
  • details about snacks, dinner arrangements and the like

I also use this email as an opportunity to discuss details of the campaign world, ask for player input, and give the players information their characters may know. If we are starting with a Session Zero character creation session (and we usually are), the email gives the players a chance to think about character concepts. If we want to jump right into play, the email gives players everything they need to have a character ready to run.

Stock my Campaign Binder – Even though I find my laptop useful for taking notes during game sessions, I still use a physical binder to hold some campaign information. Things I include in my campaign binder include:

  • the game world’s calendar, so I can track time
  • a random weather chart, just so every day isn’t sunny and clear
  • a print-off of any non-player characters the party will encounter
  • a page of random NPCs in case a player really wants to talk to that shopkeeper
  • blank character sheets, for leveling up or recovery from horrible spills
  • blank loose-leaf, preferably graph paper, for taking notes and mapping

I keep the binder next to me during play and add/remove pages as required.

Prep my Playing Space – About half of my gaming takes place in my game room; I have a travelling GM kit (article to come) to cover myself for the rest. Prepping my space includes:

  • clear off the table and make sure I have enough chairs
  • pre-draw the maps we’ll need for the first few sessions
  • set up my GM space at the table: laptop, dice tray, GM screen
  • ensure good lighting
  • select miniatures I’ll need for the first few sessions
  • setting out snacks, as well as the collection jar (my players each chip-in $5 each session, which I use to buy snacks/drinks/make dinners for each session)

Amongst those three things, I go over my notes and make sure I haven’t forgotten any details. I like to get as much of the prep work out of the way pre-session, making it easier for me to improv during a session as needed. If you prefer to fly by the seat of your pants, or you’re playing an RPG that is more improv-based, you can skip that step. If you’re starting with a Session Zero, you can use that time to instead compile a list of questions for your players to help them meld their character with your world.

You’re ready for your first session! Next week we’ll take a brief interlude to look at my travelling GM kit and give you some ideas for making your own. Then we’ll talk about Session One, what to expect and what you shouldn’t try to do.