Last week, we looked at the adventure we will be using to start our campaign – Zanzer’s Dungeon from the Black Box “New Easy to Master” Dungeons and Dragons boxed set released back in the 1990’s.
As we discovered, the adventure is split into four parts, each increasing the complexity of the game until, in part four, the players were using the full basic Dungeons and Dragons rules. Because the adventure is already split into parts, we can use these parts to define our own sessions.
Now, we get to the final step for starting any game – planning for our first session. This initial session helps set the tone of the game, and many players will base their entire opinion of a campaign based on the first session.
The first session also helps the players bond with their characters, and in many cases, the campaign may include a “Session 0” or campaign and character creation session, where the players get together and form the basic of their party, and what their characters would already know. The GM is usually on hand to help the players become integrated with the campaign.
Luckily for us, Zanzer’s Dungeon dispenses with the need for any sort of session 0. The party are semi-blank slates from which the players can get straight into the game and start playing. They play characters imprisoned within Zanzer’s dungeon, destined to become slaves in the mines unless they can escape. These characters are simply names with one-line basic descriptions, and the players get to develop their character over the first three parts of the adventure, as they learn about combat, classes, equipment, and magic.
Learning to Roleplay
The first part focuses on teaching the players the principles of roleplaying and Dungeons and Dragons, and introduces their first few combats. At this point, the PCs are unarmed and unarmoured, and they don’t even have classes at this point. The focus is on their basic abilities, which have remained largely unchanged since the early versions of the game.
After an introduction to roleplaying games, the PCs wake up in a large cell in the centre of the dungeon. The players get to choose from one of eight names, which provides a basic description for the character. Nothing else is defined for them, leaving the characters as truly blank slates for the players.
After this, the PCs meet their first two NPCs, as Jerj the hobgoblin jailer escorts a prisoner called Axel into the cell. Axel is a bully, and claims dominion over the cell, because the PCs don’t look so tough. Here’s where the players determine their ability scores, and then engage in their first checks as they deal with Axel.
Following this scene, Axel angers Jerj, who goes off to get guards to take the party and Axel to the mines. This prompts the party and Axel to plan their escape. They get to confront Jerj, who brings some goblins with him to shackle the PCs.
Having escaped from the cell, the party (including Axel) get to explore a few rooms, facing off against a few other guards. The combat with the guards concludes the first part, and thus concludes our first session.
This is a fairly simple sequence of events, arranged in a somewhat linear path allowing new players to ease into what is potentially their first experience with the Dungeons and Dragons game.
Because Dungeons and Dragons gameplay hasn’t changed significantly since this adventure was released in the 1990’s, some 25 years ago, it’s fairly easy to adapt these simple scenes to the homebrew d20 system that we will be using in our campaign.
The outline above can be broken into four key scenes:
- Choosing the PCs.
- Dealing with Axel and Jerj.
- Escaping the Prison Cell.
- Further into the Dungeon.
The first scene sees the players choose their PCs for the adventure. This is a good time to introduce the principles of the campaign stable, so we can include ALL 8 of the initial characters, of which the players choose two each to run for this adventure.
The second scene has a few key features, but the most important is that it is at this point that the PCs determine their ability scores. In basic D&D, this was done by rolling 3d6 for each score – Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. These ability scores haven’t changed much over time, and the core of the d20 system sticks with these six scores, even as they move from random generation to deliberate choice.
As such, rather than rolling 3d6, the players will be able to allocate the following values to these ability scores: 19 (+4), 16 (+3), 14 (+2), 13 (+1), 11 (+0), and 9 (-1). It’s worth noting that this range includes the 5E D&D human racial feature where all human characters get +1 to all ability scores. By doing this, we don’t get overwhelmed by looking at racial abilities as we are learning other aspects of the game.
In the third scene, the PCs get into their first combat, as they launch their plan to escape the cell. The party is unarmed and unarmoured, but so are their opponents, so this is a good chance to learn the basics of combat without worrying about modifiers.
In basic D&D, characters got to take one action per turn, and each side acted in turn. The combat sequence saw everyone on each side act depending upon what they were going to do – move, attack, or whatever.
The combat system has seen many changes from this simple concept, as the game has gotten more complex as players can do more. Currently, individuals get their own turns, and characters can do more actions, in any order that they wish.
We will be looking at using d20 combat mechanics rather than basic D&D. However, the combat sequence and party initiative will be retained, as this allows for a more tactical form of combat, as the players can use their characters in any order they wish, with a focus on the order of action types rather than on who performs them.
In addition, we will be looking at using one of the more significant improvements to the system – that characters get two actions per turn, rather than the one of basic D&D. This will allow the characters to move, and to perform an attack, cast a spell, or use another action.
The final scene sees the PCs explore two more rooms after escaping their cell, where they encounter guards. These encounters are quick combats, used more to demonstrate how surprise works as part of combat.
Having finished these four scenes, the PCs will be ready for Part 2 of the adventure, where they will choose their first class and obtain their first weapons and armour as they explore further in the dungeon as they seek their escape.
With our first session planned, all that remains is to prepare the assets we need to play, and then for our players to turn up for the first session.