The ‘D&D’ Campaign I Created for Newer Players

GeekDad
6 min readApr 10, 2024
The 'D&D' Campaign I Created for Newer Players

I run a Dungeons and Dragons game for elementary school aged kids at our FLGS using the Animal Adventures campaign setting from Steamforged Games. When I started this game, my players ranged from 1st graders to 5th. I had several dads at my table who played as well, one whose been playing for quite some time, and the others who had started playing in the last year or so. With that first adventure, we used pre-made characters at level 3 so they were a little less squishy overall as we took on those first adventures, and they were learning the ropes. The downside to this is that the higher the level you jump in at, the more powers and abilities you have to learn all at once. We all did a pretty decent job with me as a new DM and the kids as new players, and we also learned a lot in that first year. Still, I felt my kids weren’t always good at knowing what all of their abilities were.

Eventually we hit a point where we learned one of our players was moving and it would then be time to bring in a new kiddo. The level my players were at would have been really hard for a new kid to start learning to play at. Since my players are younger, they don’t tend to have a lot of play experience when they come to me. Some have sat at tables and watched the grown-ups play, but they’re still very new. Our adventures were fairly open-ended, so we decided the best bet was to wrap up these adventures in time for the kiddo who was moving. When the new kid came in, we’d start a new campaign that took advantage of all of the knowledge my remaining players had gained but also be easier for a new player to jump in.

I have to give credit and a special thanks to Brennan Lee Mulligan and his Fantasy High: Freshman Year campaign featured on Dimension 20. I was listening to it over Christmas break (when our FLGS has an event break at times) and that was when I got struck with a few epiphanies. One, that even he has to deal with the fact that Level 1 characters are squishy and had to DM/GM bring back two players they killed in the big opening fight. If an experienced GM like him has to be careful with that, then it’s honestly not just me. Two, the party was not great at their tactics and the healer (played by Ally Beardsley) was constantly at risk of being killed. In character, he had an NPC give advice to the “Bad Kids” about proper tactics and how to put your tanks in front and protect your healer. In the comments, it was noted how brilliant Brennan was at giving his players advice while in character. I totally agreed,

“I have an idea,” I realized.

The first player I suggested it to was my kid, now a 4th grader, who liked the idea. I ran the idea past the rest of my group who also liked the idea. My thought has been as follows: my players were going to all be students at an adventuring school, but while Fantasy High: Freshman Year didn’t spend as much time in class, I would work more of those moments in. My players would get asked questions about their abilities or tactics in a way where they would learn what their characters could do in character. I would award points for these moments and when their party earned a certain number of points, they were awarded prizes (the first was a Bag of Holding). Their first combats were sort of magically created scenarios so that at first level they could test their abilities without constantly panicking about killing off their brand new character, and I could get a feel for how much I could push this group without trying to wipe them all out (we have a running joke that I am not Anakin Skywalker and I do not turn up to our FLGS once a week to try to wipe out younglings).

We’re now about a month in and I have to say, I think it was one of the best choices that I ever made as a DM, and I would definitely recommend it for someone hosting a game full of very new players or those with limited experience.

When the kids were forced to look at their abilities, they started to get a much better idea of what their characters could do and took advantage of that. That first level can be a lot because there’s class abilities and species abilities at the same time. Some of these abilities really helped in social situations and created opportunities for them to get better at playing a character and not just be a set of stats.

I was able to create some really fun NPCs out of other students and let them interact with those students. A personal favorite of the group is Sammy, a golden retriever Paladin that appeared as a puppy who wanted to be a paladin when he grew up but needed rescuing in the last campaign. There’s been some fun little side shenanigans (sneaking extra honey cakes from the cafeteria, getting invited to social events, checking out where the Tinkermage (it’s a variation of Artificer) Workshop is (they really love the steampunk like sprinkler system and the sign that indicates how many days since there was last a fire in the workshop). I really think doing this kind of setting gave them lots of fun NPCs to interact with and a chance to grow as players, and as the DM, I’m really loving it.

Other things they have done or have been planned:

— They had a competition day with a variety of events they could choose to participate in and their group earned points versus another group based on the final placing. They loved that I got to give them choices and they really looked over their abilities and the events they thought they would do best in. Some of the events had firm limits (like spells only) so it helped them catch missing areas in their spell lists (like if they needed something in touch range). During the archery scenario our ranger had to pick between taking disadvantage on a foe one square over or risking the attack of opportunity if she backed up. She considered her armor class and risked the attack, but she was certainly thinking about what skills she truly has.


— An investigation into a stolen item forced them to seek out their contacts among students and get help from others on building things for a bobby trap.


— As they get higher in levels, they will get offered opportunities to be hired for adventures so they get to explore the local area a lot more. This is also where I get to work in some events from their character backgrounds.

And yes, I am aware other campaign ideas have opportunities for fun NPCs and such. However, what made this work for my players was that the adventuring school setting naturally creates a huge variety of NPCs the players can go seek out, there was lots of safer opportunities for them to learn their abilities in character, and the setting easily plays to every character class in a way where I can find something for everybody to kind of latch onto or enjoy. Sometimes their choices surprise me, but the choices are coming more from a “this is what my character would do” sort of place, and I’m really enjoying a journey. So if you’re trying to think of something to create for newish/less experienced players, lean into the fact that they’re new and create a campaign scenario where they get to learn in character and you might just find that it really works out for you.

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