I need an easy campaign for total D&D n00bs.
February 24, 2011 9:36 PM   Subscribe

I'm being asked to DM a D&D game for a bunch of completely new players. These are people who aren't even really into gaming. This could be fun! But we have 2 roadblocks: One, I haven't DMed in like 10 years. Two, I need a pretty set campaign to run. Is there a resource somewhere for easy to run, complete scenarious/campaigns for total n00bs?
posted by GilloD to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have a particular version of D&D to run? If it has been more than ten years you probably haven't seen how the game has evolved since the publication of 3rd, 3.5, 4th Edition or the new 4E Essentials line. There are now also many "retro-clones", some of which are available low cost or free. Depending on the specifics of the system, there are plenty of materials available as pre-published modules, as always some better than others.

If you are looking for something that is similar to what you remember from the 80's and 90's, but cleaner and better presented, I'd suggest Castles and Crusades as a possibility. Here is a link to a free download of their primer/quickstart rules with a simple adventure.

For lots of geeky advice, I suggest posting your question here. (disclaimer - I'm a volunteer admin on rpggeek)
posted by meinvt at 10:10 PM on February 24, 2011

I suggest talking to the people in the RPG.net forums myself. Information on what editions you are familiar with would also help.
posted by Canageek at 10:48 PM on February 24, 2011

This is just personal opinion, but if you havent picked a version yet i suggest pathfinder - it's what i started out on and was pretty easy to pick up. I reckon it's pretty balanced and not too finicky.

Also, just a word of warning, the only total party kill we've had was on a pre-set campaign. So.... be prepared to be flexible/ tone it down if they are total noobs. Also, we had to tweak the dying rules after a couple of "it comes out of the ground, criticals you and kills you in one hit" incidents.
posted by stillnocturnal at 11:16 PM on February 24, 2011

If you're competent with 3.X, Pathfinder is also a good choice because it publishes quite a variety of adventure paths. Although I don't use them myself, they sound like they may be just what you're looking for.
posted by Muttoneer at 11:33 PM on February 24, 2011

I'm nthing Pathfinder and its adventure paths. If you were playing D&D 10 years ago, that may have been 3rd edition, which came out in 2000. Pathfinder is basically the same system plus 10 years of minor tweaks, available as cheap PDFs. The adventures for it are very popular.

4th ed. is a totally different game that works a bit like World of Warcraft. Every character type has about the same number of powers with cooldowns controlling their use. It was an interesting idea, but I'm not aware of any good adventures for it, because WotC lost me after their first few scenarios, which were incredibly bad.

If by chance you were playing 1st or 2nd edition, then you might prefer Hackmaster or Hackmaster Basic (which in spite of its origins in a comic book parodying D&D is nonetheless a pretty decent and fun revision of D&D1-2) and its Frandor's Keep campaign.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:30 AM on February 25, 2011

There is a new D&D Essentials red box which is aimed at lapsed tabletop gamers such as yourself. The game is complete and ready to run out of the box. It includes an adventure, rules, paper maps, tokens, dice, character sheets, power reference cards, and a solo choose-your-own-adventure style character generation adventure which is actually pretty cool for the lonely newb. It's just twenty bucks and the rules are like 32 pages long.

Not to stoke edition wars, but I'd avoid Pathfinder, D&D3E, D&D4E or Hackmaster for a newbie game. All of these games have pretty heavy character creation processes and weighty tomes of rules. Even Hackmaster Basic weighs in at nearly 200 pages. Unless you use pregenerated characters (which is actually a great idea for a newbie game) you're looking at a full evening sitting around flipping through books, making characters, before you even get to slay kobold alpha.

Good luck! Make us some new gamers. :)
posted by Sauce Trough at 1:47 AM on February 25, 2011

There's D&D Encounters, but that's more game-store based. Pre-generated characters and scenarios and all that.

On the other hand (and like Sauce Trough, not to stoke edition wars), it is 4th Edition, which I won't touch with a ten-foot pole.
posted by Heretical at 2:23 AM on February 25, 2011

The best first-run scenario I've played has a skeleton that you could probably flesh out and put a hat on in half an hour.

Local villagers are being harassed by a band of low-level monsters (go classic - a horde of goblins with a kobold 2IC and a larger leader) who have made their home in the ruins of a long-forgotten wizard's keep. In particular, they're raiding supply wagons and kidnapping the occasional traveller on the road that winds from the nearest large town through a nearby spooky forest.

Start the characters out travelling with such a wagon train, and have them fight off a low level encounter before heading into town. That night, at Ye Olde Inn, have them meet some locals and hear more about what's going on. The friendly innkeeper's daughter tends to their wounds and makes an impression, and they hear wild tales about what lurks in the woods and the keep. This might all seem incredibly corny to you, but they're first timers, so forget subtle.

Late in the night when everybody's asleep, the horde attacks, this time in greater numbers, with fire, and led by the 2IC. In the fray, the barkeeper's daughter is kidnapped. It's great if the characters can encounter but be moderately flogged by the 2IC and a couple of minions with some 'taunting a second time' thrown in to make it personal.

The next day, perhaps bolstered by supplies and trinkets from the harried locals, the team sets off for the keep. From here, you go in stages for a bit:

- a forest encounter (wolves are always good)
- scouting the keep (maybe an encounter with a patrol?)
- entering the ruins
- gaining entrance to the dungeons below the keep (secret door? rope tricks? diversions?)

You want to urge the players on through each of these stages. Look - a scrap from the innkeepers daughter snagged on this branch. Look - from a distance, we can see a 2IC or the head honcho smacking the innkeeper's daughter about and munching on the roasted remains of a villager before heading underground.

So, the dungeons. These can be your usual grey stone affairs with grates and brands set in the wall, the odd chained skeleton etc. Have them encounter some typical dungeon creepers - carrion crawlers or snakes are good. But as the combat draws to a close, have the creatures suddenly hiss / rattle / screech in alarm, and make a beeline for the entrance. Looking around, the characters spy something in the corner of their eyes - something black, fast, but which they can't quite make out, scurrying/slithering around a door frame, through a hole in the floor, whatever.

Soon they encounter evidence of goblin / kobold expansion - knocked down walls, hastily expanded rooms, signs of recent activity, and the bodies of a couple of villagers. The party triggers a cave-in trap, forcing them to retrace their steps - where they come across odd slime trails, across the floor, along the walls, over the ceiling - and the villagers' bodies are gone. The party resumes its hunt, finding another route through the dungeons.

The dungeons give way to caves, and it is here that the party realises they have almost found their prey. Sentries are posted at the entrance of a long tunnel, and lights and raucous laughter can be heard behind the wooden door at the other end. After working out how to dispatch the sentries without raising the alarm, the party makes their way toward the heavy wooden door - when the laughs suddenly turn to hideous screams, shouting and clamouring. The door opens, and as the torches within fizzle, the party catches a glimpse of...something, something that's dragging the escaping kobold back into the room - HELP ME I'LL GIVE YOU ANYTHING he screams, clinging to the door for dear life. There's a screeching, clattering chattering, a ripping sound, and the kobold lies still. The screams stop.

If the party decides to retreat, give them a little courage with faint cries from the innkeeper's daughter within. Inside the room, by flickering torchlight, is a scene of carnage - goblins, seemingly impaled by now missing spears. The kobold in the door is missing a leg. Tables are overturned, and while there's a smell of roasted meat in the air, all the fires in the room are out. Closer inspection reveals they've been doused in a white goo, extinguishing them. The innkeeper's daughter in cowering behind a table beneath the body of a headless goblin corpse. She's in shock - can't talk, can only shake her head, stare straight ahead and gibber occasionally. As the party moves to leave, they trigger another cave-in trap (if they're extra careful and looking for these things, then of course the innkeeper's daughter takes a turn for the worse, flailing against them, backing against a wall - click). The party is trapped and has no choice but to head deeper into the caves, through the exit on the far side of the kobold's feasting room, to find a way out.

It's cold, dark and wet in here. As the party makes its way down a particularly narrow corridor, something falls on them with a thud from above, coating them with thick strands of white goo. It's the well-coated remains of one of the goblins, tightly wrapped in rapidly congealing threads. Looking up, the party sees several more bodies suspended from the dripping ceiling. The body on the floor ruptures suddenly, and a glistening black spider almost a metre across erupts from within. As the party defends itself, more splitting and tearing can be herd overhead, and more spiders burst forth to scurry down the walls, attempting to bite and sting the players. You want to create a sense of overwhelming claustrophobia here - make it clear the characters have little room to manoeuvre, are tripping over one another, falling, rolling to find a spider in their face, maybe hitting each other by mistake. Make it clear, too, that the spiders are quickly avoiding the pointy people with metal skins and are starting to gang up on the defenceless innkeeper's daughter.

The party survives with minor wounds - if things start getting serious, have the spiders retreat deeper into the cave, perhaps dragging a corpse behind them. You just want to scare them, rattle their nerves, not kill them. Don't let them rest, though - soon enough they are set upon by the same spiders, this time from behind - try to drive the party into a corner this time, and make it clear they're going to be very badly beaten or even die here.

When all seems lost, enter the head honcho, wielding a heavy crossbow. He fires three stout bolts into the spiders, drops the weapon, grabs an enormous mace from his back and splats a spider against the wall next to a player's head. The remaining spiders flee. The head honcho slumps to the ground, and the party sees that he is wounded.

If your party is particularly callous and decides it wants to murder the head honcho, have the innkeeper's daughter snap out of her walking coma - no! STOP! He knows the way out, through the caves! I heard him talking about it! Yes, says the head honcho, I know the way, but I will only show you if you help me to escape. If we do not band together, we will not survive the dark.

Anyways, they encounter / finish off the remaining spiders (head honcho saves the day again, or perhaps a player saves his hide instead, resulting in grudging respect), engage in some team-building trust exercises getting across a ravine (will head honcho let go of the rope? Can we trust him to carry the girl? Is he leading us astray?), before falling through what looks like solid floor but is actually an enormous trapdoor web. In the warm, sticky hollow below, they fight their way free from the web to encounter the big momma spider, who can spit acid or poison and shoot webs. Fight fight fight. Loot the bodies of long dead adventurers piled at the back of the lair, including what seems to be that of the old wizard from the keep, who has a cool ring and a couple of scrolls in the robes around his bones. Clamber out of the lair, stumble through a stream into the dusk outside - where a ring of goblins with crossbows is waiting.

Let one drop a round into a player. Have the now very heavily wounded head honcho snatch the bow and use it to cleave the goblin's head clean off. He grunts to the goblins, who scramble into the forest. The head honcho nods at the party and limps off after his horde - to be seen again in another adventure.

Return to village, yub nub Ewok happy dance, speculation about the ring and the scrolls, fin.

Yes, it's Aliens meets Predator meets 3:15 to Yuma, but like I said above, don't be subtle with newbies. You want clear, classic fantasy imagery, bad minions, an ambivalent bad guy, a clear objective, a fast moving story and a hook to your next few adventures.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:11 AM on February 25, 2011 [9 favorites]

(*the little known sequel to 3:10 to Yuma, starring Russell Crowe as a half-ogre)
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:17 AM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

The classic noob module is The Keep on the Border Lands. Everyone who ever played back in the day played this module. You can always find a copy on Ebay for under $5.

I say invest in buying this famous module - and give them the real experience to start.
posted by Flood at 5:01 AM on February 25, 2011

Also came in to suggest Pathfinder!

I am a new player, participating in a game of the Kingmaker adventure path with a group of almost entirely new players, and it's going quite well. It's designed for first level characters and lets you go from exploring wilderness, to colonizing it and building a kingdom.

It's a fairly open world type of campaign with lots of freedom. Official Pathfinder content also offers some smaller scale stuff if you prefer.
posted by utsutsu at 7:02 AM on February 25, 2011

After running a PARANOIA adventure recently with a bunch of novice rpg'ers, I have some (potentially unorthodox) advice.

* watch the Community ep on D&D, which is a pretty faithful depiction of how my game went :)
* pregen the characters. Chargen was by far the least interesting and most confusing part the night for most of the players.
* have little handout suggesting some possible moves (fight, talk, run-away, cast spell, hide) etc. The 'wide-open sandbox' can be dauntingly too wide-open.
* (the most controversial) Share the adventure, or at least the adventure skeleton with any players who want to see it. Some of my players felt very *on the spot* about actions, and didn't care about the 'spoilers'
posted by gregglind at 7:34 AM on February 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

The new D&D Red Box is pretty nice, and affordable even if the game only lasts a single evening. And yes, B2 'Keep on the Borderlands' is the classic intro module, though you may have to tweak the state to make it fit with the latest edition of D&D.

If your friends want to play D&D, don't listen to people recommending Pathfinder or any of the other retro-RPGs that aren't D&D. That's like having a friend who wants to play World of Warcraft so you generously install Guild Wars for him. It may be a better game (or at least you may think it is), but it's not the one he wants to play. And I say that as someone who publishes a retro-RPG that knocks spots off D&D.
posted by Hogshead at 8:00 AM on February 25, 2011

If you can find it, the Temple of Elemental Evil is a great "campaign" that starts at low levels. It was originally written in AD&D, but its pretty easily adaptable to whatever version your using. Its good for noobs largely because it has boatloads of treasure (we used to call those 'Monty Hall dungeons' back in the day) while still quite challenging and makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Good old fashioned hack-and-slay.
posted by elendil71 at 9:04 AM on February 25, 2011

I haven't played it, but I hear that Gamma World is a quick, fun and funny take on D&D. Less traditional, epic battles -- more mutant pig bikers.
posted by rtimmel at 9:42 AM on February 25, 2011

I can't believe I didn't think of this last night, but the new D&Dish boxed games from Wizards -- Castle Ravenloft and Wrath of Ashardalon -- are supposed to give a very fun and D&Dish experience without all the heavy setup and effort a typical rpg campaign requires.
posted by Sauce Trough at 1:33 PM on February 25, 2011

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