So you have made some decisions about your game. You may have drawn yourself a pretty map, figured out that the King is actually a Beholder, and even made a cute little NPC to travel with the players. If you were really smart you considered the campaign’s primary conflict, means of conflict resolution, and a setting. However, now it’s time to consider where the rubber meets the road, and actually start the game of your dreams and tackle the problems that come with actually doing that.
Players in General: Like it or not, you’ll have to interact with people to run your game. Cranky, disagreeable, clever, devious players that either through malice or ignorance will almost immediately begin to deviate from the beautiful tapestry of role playing elegance you had mentally envisioned. The first thing to do is take a step back and really consider what players are in a game. If what you want to do is craft a meticulously planned and rigid tale, go write a novel. Seriously. However, if you want to tell an exciting story, a story that even you ARE NOT sure about how it’s going to end, than roleplaying games provide an excellent Petri dish for creative storytelling. First of all, good players make good characters, which are the cornerstone of any story. Sure, you may have envisioned the noble knight sacrificing himself to save the party and the kingdom from the evil army, but what if that same knight in the spirit of sacrifice and a cunning plan actually lives? As a game master, you should embrace that eventuality when it occurs. In short, treat players with respect as partners ready to make valuable contributions to the game, and not as pawns to manipulate in a tapestry completely unknowable to the players.
Players Nuts and Bolts: If your game revolves around back alley deals, traps, and assassinations it may cause you some consternation to not only find the party without a rogue, but also without anyone able to use the hide skill. Even harder to foresee if the player/characters inclinations: if you planned a balanced game of social and combat interaction and find only slavering Min/Maxed barbarians and cruel wizards intent of torturing hapless NPCs, you may be worried. Sometimes, it’s possible to guide players to make character creation choices to avoid these problems, but never count on it. Faced with these dilemmas you have two basic choices: adjust your plan or stick with the plan. If you adjust your players will likely never know, but you will have to deal with the silent pain of having your delightful tale irrevocably changed. Remember, you ought to have fun too! If you stick to the plan things can either end disastrously or the players may surprise you. In one particularly shocking example, I’ve had eight person parties without a single divine caster not only survive a campaign, but thrive. As tricky and clever as you are, remember that you have many minds conspiring to thwart you and your conflicts. Players specialize in their character while you literally govern hundreds of beings actions over the course of a game. Given an even fight, always assume that players will come up with better strategies and more clever use of resources than you can possibly manage.
Running your First Adventure: So you have a bunch of players with a bunch of characters that may or may not fit into your conception of the game, what next? Run the damn adventure and make sure it’s a doozy! That doesn’t mean that you need to reveal that the major conflict, it just means make it exciting. Kill a PC, leave a cliffhanger, give the PCs a juicy reveal, have a terrifyingly difficult combat, make the PCs watch helplessly as the kingdom’s greatest hero is easily vanquished… whatever, just do something that has the players chattering about what happens next. Be sure to set the tone for your game too: if it’s a combat game have some combat, but don’t throw PCs a curveball by running a dungeon hack and never uttering the word dungeon again.
Conclusion: Dealing with players and running your first adventure will be your first opportunity to create the tone for a game that will be truly fun and epic. Do not underestimate these crucial first steps!
The Pain of Campaigning I: Story and Pre-Game Decisions
The Pain of Campaigning II: Starting the Game
The Pain of Campaigning III: The Plot Thickens
The Pain of Campaigning IV: Put a Little Politics In It
The Pain of Campaigning V: Suitable Villains