New Group; Breaking the Ice for Reign of Winter

Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Giant Snow Mantis. Because, why the hell not?

A few days from now, our newly assembled group will be rolling it's first initiatives. Our plan is to run through The Reign of Winter, Paizo's Baba Yaga themed adventure path. There are a lot of unknowns when starting up a new group. Humans be strange, and everyone comes to the table with their own expectations. As the DM, it's my job to keep the rabble together through the adventure and make sure everyone has a good time. It's a daunting task with a new group of people.

In this case, I've got a distinct advantage. Everyone in the group already knows each other. That said, not everyone has played together, so there are bound to be some interesting moments that pop up as the party comes together. Many GM's don't have the same luxury.

It's best to start off easy. Play a few other games to break the ice and test the group dynamics. The Resistance is a great barometer for party behavior under pressure. It's mix of teamwork and betrayal make for interesting banter across the table and the alliances that form naturally in The Resistance often mirror those that form in the adventure. If nothing else, in twenty minutes time, you'll know which party member is more likely to stab another in the back.

Introductions are important at any gathering.

When everyone is ready to work together, it's time to give them a quick challenge. Establish some history for the party by running them through a couple quick encounters. Nothing huge, just a small, self contained story block that can serve back story for the party. Let them all flex their individual character muscles by building a few enemies that play to their strengths. If you're a bit devious, throw them a "Kobyashi Maru." No-win situations force the group to find their breaking point and test the limits of their fight or flight. That knowledge will serve them well down the road.

Start small. It's tempting to go immediately for a huge, sprawling campaign that will take 5 years to complete and write it all yourself, complete with alternate takes on core races and mechanics. Making your own world can be fun, but it's absurdly time consuming and it will always sneak up on you. The game is always next week until it's tomorrow. Great games and parties are built over time. Be patient.

Your group will never be this awesome on it's first night.
For the first adventure a little railroading is okay. Everyone is still learning, after all. This is one of the reasons I chose the Reign of Winter as our first campaign. It starts off in a way that guides the players through the adventure, but opens up more and more as you get deeper into it. There is plenty of time for players to learn their characters without having to worry too much that they're on the wrong path since the first few books really only have one path.

The best thing any GM can do for a new group's first night is know the material. Study the adventure path thoroughly. Not just the parts you plan to get through that evening. Go  into the first game prepared to run at least half the book. There is no way of knowing how long a new group will want to play, let alone how quickly they may advance through the story.

The above suggestions don't cover everything. Every group has it's ups and downs, but a good first game is a great step towards a long lasting crew. Get to know your players, be fair, gracious, allow them to experiment with the game (within reason), and if nothing else, have fun.