So you want to start a D&D campaign. You know that a good beginning is half the task.
So where do you start a D&D campaign? The best place to start a D&D campaign is somewhere memorable, that sets the tone for the rest of the story, that sets event into motion, and forces the characters to act cooperatively in spite of their differences.
Picking the right place to start your campaign will make your storyline flow more naturally. To come up with good campaign starters I’ve asked DMs to give as many original answers as they can. All answers MUST meet the following criteria:
- Original: Must be different from other answers.
- Memorable: Something players will still remember during the final session.
- Set the tone for the rest of the story: Grim, realistic, fantastic, etc.
- Sets events into motion: This is just the first of a string of events.
- Forces characters to act together: Even if characters never met, they must work together to solve the problem. If possible, end your campaign starter with one or more questions.
Where to Start a D&D Campaign: Top 10 starters
Campaign starter 1. In Front of a Judge, Ready to be Sentenced
You find yourself standing in front of a judge, accused of crimes against society. In these lands criminals are randomly batched together to be sentenced as a group. Can our heroes convince the judge of their innocence? And what punishment will they have to face together?
Campaign starter 2. Behind Enemy Lines
For entirely different reasons you all find yourself behind enemy lines. If you are discovered you’ll be taken to the infamous torture chambers. Some of you may have already been there. Can you find your way to safety undetected? And what discovery will you carry back to your homeland?
Campaign starter 3. Climbing Out of Your Graves
You all wake up in coffins and have to climb out of your graves. As far as you can tell, you are alive and not one of the undead. You feel you’ve been given a second chance at life and that you have just five days to make the change permanent. But what was it again you were supposed to do?
Campaign starter 4. Forced Together In a Burning City
One of the burrows of the city is burning. With you in it! You must find a way out and keep the fire from spreading to neighbouring burrows to protect something you love. Who started the fire? And how do you keep it from happening again?
Campaign starter 5. On a Sinking Ship
You are in the middle of the ocean on a seaworthy vessel. It’s a clear day, not a cloud in the sky. Suddenly, a shudder runs through the ship, and you hear the splintering of wood. The ship is starting to make water! Can you keep the ship form sinking and find out what caused this disaster?
Campaign starter 6. In Quarantine
On a calm summer day, you walk face first into an invisible barrier. Following the barrier’s edge, you find a note saying: “A lethal magical disease has been detected in this area. To prevent an outbreak you have all been quarantined.” You find people growing ill all around you. But for now, you and some others do not seem to be affected.
Campaign starter 7. The Moon
You are hired to accompany a powerful elderly wizard. Then, without warning, the moon explodes. The wizard looks at you apologetically and says. “This planet is doomed. Fortunately, our sister-planet on the other side of the sun is still safe. To survive you must find a way there within eight days. Sorry I can’t take you with me.” Then he teleports away.
Campaign starter 8. Kindness
Somewhere during the course of your lifes, old lady Boterbloem has shown each of you extraordinary kindness. That is why her brutal murder comes as such a shock. But why was she murdered and how will you work together to catch her killer?
Campaign starter 9. Inheritance
Each player receives a letter which states they have inherited a county from a man claiming to be their father. If true, all characters are siblings. But how is that possible if they are of different races? And how are they to rule this county?
Campaign starter 10. Mind controlled
Our heroes are among hundreds of mind controlled slaves excavating a cave in the underdark. They regain their mind when they accidentally unearth a magic crystal that negates mind control within 30 feet. Can they escape the mind flayers? And what were they searching for anyway?
Where to Start a D&D Campaign: 11 to 20 starters
Campaign starter 11. Dreams
For as long as they can remember our heroes have visited each other in their dreams. Living very different lives and removed far from each other, they have never met in real life. But now one in their circle has disappeared. What happened to her? And what is this mystical connection between them?
Campaign starter 12. Heroes and Heralds
You all felt so proud to have been accepted to master Parchmentus Hero & Heralds Academy. But now, four years later, you’re either last in every class or just don’t fit in. Whatever the reason, nobody wants you in their party and that’s how you misfits ended up together. Having just graduated, can you prove yourselves or are you just not hero material?
Campaign starter 13. The Orphanage
It’s been almost ten years since you last saw Baloe back at the orphanage. A horrible place you’d like to forget. It’s why you never kept in touch with the other orphans. But now Baloe tells you some maniac has been murdering everyone who has been an orphan while you lived there. And the others (your party) are in hiding nearby.
You wake up old and frail in the sleeping quarters of a tavern. A witch, posing as the inns owner, has stolen your youth in the dead of night! Will you oldsters find her before you kick the bucket?
Campaign starter 14. The Chain
For trespassing through the lands of a fairy prince, you are all connected by a 50 ft magical chain. Will it ever come off? Or will you be forced to spend the rest of your lives together?
Campaign starter 15. The Chosen one
You are the chosen one! Destined to stand against the Titans and save the world. The symbol of Ehl that has appeared upon your forehead marks you so. As you make your way to the Highpriest of Ehl you notice there are others (party). But why are they wearing Ehl’s mark on their forehead also? Shouldn’t there only be one?
Campaign starter 16. The Ferry
The Middleburg Ferry is one of few places to cross the Whitewater Rapids. Our PCs have all booked passage for various reasons when they spot an army of orcs on one side of the river. On the other side of the river an army of goblins gathers. The camptain takes no chances and cuts the ropes. You drift rudderless into the wild. Where will you end up and how will you survive?
Campaign starter 17. The Wilderness Lodge
You wake up on the floor of the Dirty Pig Wilderness lodge, striped of all your valuables and down to your smallclothes. You vaguely remember a group of young wizards entering the tavern casting what you now believe to be sleep spells. Your first thought is of pursuit. There is only one problem. It’s the dead of winter, the snow outside has piled up three foot high and the fire in the hearth is already dying. How will you survive?
Campaign starter 18. The Apprentice
You are all apprentices, shieldbearers, or banner carriers to the undefeated Heroes of your planet. That is until they accidentally opened the phylactery of an evil undead witch. Now they have all secretly embraced evil. Nobody will believe you if you told them, and none is powerful enough to stop the Heroes. Your only hope lies in each other. Will you be able to thwart their evil schemes?
Campaign starter 19. The Zealot
A new radical religion has surfaced and spread along the population. Those who do not follow it fervently are to afraid to resist. Each PC has a trait that is considered inferior. Therefor you must be eradicated. You all find yourselves in the cellar of a bakery hiding for your lives. How will you overthrow this religion and reclaim your freedom?
Campaign starter 20. Divide the Loot
The PCs happen to find themselves on a crossroads when an angel and a devil fall from the sky. Their epic battle ends with both of them dying. The fallen do not carry any valuables except for an angelic sword that must be worth a fortune. But who would even be able to affort such a thing? And how to divide the loot?
Where to Start a D&D Campaign: 21 to 30 starters
Campaign starter 21. Zombies
Zombies have taken over the world! You could feel being bitten and slowly turning and should have died with everybody else. But for some reason you healed from your ordeal and are immune. And so are these others you’ve met. Can you find out what causes your immunity and possibly change those turned into zombies back to their original selves?
Campaign starter 22. The New World!
You all set out sailing for the New World where the streets are rumoured to be paved with gold and opportunity awaits. The captain lowers your rowing boat so you can cross the shallows to the thriving city of New Bellhemuld. When you step ashore your expectations are crushed. The people of this hovel look dirty and underfed. They can barely survive and you are just one of too many hopefuls who have no way back to civilisation. You quickly realise you newcommers must stick together if you have any hopes of not being found dead in an alley before nightfall. How will you survive?
Campaign starter 23. The Flying Ship
The Highborn have ruled the skies since before you can remember, while you grounddwellers live in poverty and war. One morning you see a line across the autumn sky of a two-master crashing into the Forlorn Forest. You rush towards the site and find no survivors. But there are other scavengers looking for riches. Suddenly the Flying ship starts to hover and repairs itself. You don’t really trust these others, but if you cooperate the sky could be yours! What do you do?
Campaign starter 24. The Tavern
You all start at a tavern. But the spagetti with meatballs you’ve eaten never did taste right. As is confirmed by customers keeling over and dropping dead left and right. A man dressed in dark garb rolls his eyes at his apprentice. “I told you to poison the Paladin, not poison everyone! You’ll never make assassin if you keep making those kinds of mistakes.” He turns to you apologetically and says: “Don’t worry, the poison is bound to be diluted. You probably have 24 hours to mix an antidote from the Boterbloem herb that grows on the east mountainside.” Then he takes his apprentice by the arm and teleports away. What do you do?
Campaign starter 25. A Bunch of Animals
You are an animal. And you’re pretty sure you didn’t used to be. And the other animals around you all seem to be agreeing with you. Wait, wut? You can understand each other! You must get to the bottom of this. What happened?
Campaign starter 26. Hostages
Of course the money changers of the grand Capital have the best vaults in the country, nay the world. And of course you just happen to visit their bank when bandits break into the vault and hold everyone hostage. You also happen to know that Lord Bethem – the ruler of the Capital – cares nothing for your lives and will consider you collateral. So you better act fast! Who among you is willing to attempt a daring escape?
Campaign starter 27. Cellars & Lizards
On a county fair a new magical board game is presented to the public. You are among the happy few who get to demonstrate this new game called Cellars & Lizards. You put on your magical goggles and your mind is transported to a fantasy world. But something is wrong. You can’t seem to remove the goggles and neither can the other players you’re with. Will you finish the game or perish?
Campaign starter 28. Rock Bottom
Everything in your life that could go wrong, did go wrong. And in short order you find yourselves homeless beggars, who own no more than the ragged clothes on your backs. You sit around with a group of other beggars discussing where it all went wrong. Remarkably, you all tell a similar tale. A bard came to town singing an enchanted song and you felt your luck leaving you. Who is this mysterious bard? And how will you get your luck back?
Campaign starter 29. The Mansion
A ghostly outline of a mansion has appeared in the middle of the town square. Nobody can see it except for you and a few others. Why are you the only ones that can see the building? What ties you together?
Campaign starter 30. Under the Shadow
You and your countrymen fought the dark one. And the dark one won. Now the land of Ridani has fallen under the shadow. It’s few survivors seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. Among your party is princess Ilani who is in hiding. Her location must remain a secret for prophecy predicts that she will one day lead your people back to the land of Ridani. How will you keep her safe?
Where Players can Start a D&D Campaign
All of the examples in this list assume the DM somehow forces the PCs together. It works, but it doesn’t give your players much agency. A great alternative is to let your players come up with their own ideas for where to start their campagn.
The Prepless GM is a book I’ve created that teaches you how you can run an campaign without any prep work. It also teaches you how to use the ideas of your players to set up a campaign. If you are interested a cutting down on your prep time or not preparing your games at al, check it out in my marketplace.
By Paul Camp
Post image: WotC