Start At The Beginning

As a teenager I cannot remember a single campaign that didn’t start for most of the characters in the local tavern/pub/nightclub.Yes it works but it gets very monotonous and this is especially the case if you go through a lot of games.

tavernJim Forrest@Flickr

Personally I blame the Dragonlance novels for my groups inability to start with any other location. For those that have never read the novels, and there are a couple of you out there so I’m told, the main characters had been spread out adventuring on their own with the aim of meeting up in the Tavern in Solace. The books start with a couple of the characters having a little bit of trouble with the bad guys just to let you know everything isn’t they way it should have been but other than that all the other characters meet at the tavern. It’s a pattern that crops up time and time again and is up there with ‘the shady guy in the corner of the tavern that has a quest for your style of play. It is also a reason why I love the Dragonlance novels though.

So how do you break that rut? Over the years we’ve tried many ways of starting off campaigns just to say we didn’t meet in the pub at the beginning and do you know what? What actually ended up coming back to start games off at the tavern as it just worked far better than most of our other attempts. A few examples of the successful attempts are below.

Start With A Bang
One of house rules meant that during gaps in gaming if the GM wanted to he could have the characters go off on low powered adventures to tide them over financially and depending on the amount of time that went by maybe even give them a little XP bonus. It was never anything huge but just enough to make it believable that they had been away clearing out a cave system of beasties for the village.

What this meant though was that we could start the new campaign midway through the fight at the end of the ‘gap adventure’. The players were always going to get out alive and no permanent damage would be done to them but it get them straight into the action from the opening seconds of the game. It then allowed the players the choice of what they did afterwards and where they would use as their base for the new campaign.

When the players usually meet up in the tavern to start thier adventure we usually had already arranged the job by this point. so what we did was to throw the players directly into the recruitment drive for the adventure or into the meeting with whatever benefactor happened to be funding the group. Whilst the DM had to be careful that the players didn’t do anything that might endanger to campaign or go against anything that had already been planned it meant that they got their roleplaying feet wet straight away and hopefully this meant there wasn’t a slow start to the game once the actual campaign started.

The other option we chose was to pick something from a players past be that a fear, a person or an object that will have a bearing later on the story. Think of Indiana Jones where he goes into the crypt full of snakes and you’ll get the idea. Your accentuating something that will have an impact later in the story giving your players a taster of what to expect. With this option it also has the bonus of being able to include the ideas behind the Start It With A Bang example.

You could of course just go down the route of finding some other location for them to start in but when it comes down to it the location doesn’t really matter as where ever it is they will go through the same traditions and routines anyway. Give them something different to do and they’ll thank you for it.

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  1. Dyson Logos says:

    The majority of our campaigns start with a chase scene, a running battle, an ambush or in the case of our all-rogue 3e game, with the four characters trying to figure out how to get out of a pit trap (we were given a map of what we had explored so far, and a description of what we were doing, and the game started at the bottom of a pit trap).
    .-= Dyson Logos´s last blog ..[Exosuit A-OK] Lieutenant Jordan Miko, Exosuit Infantry =-.

  2. Neph says:

    When I start an adventure or campaign, I like to start ‘em off with whatever I hope is going to motivate them.

    For instance, if I want them to investigate the sea cult, I start them off just as a tsunami is hitting the shores, and the players have to scramble to save as many lives as they can. If they’re going to be fighting a horde of orcs, I have them finally reach a village, tired and hungry after a long journey, only to find the place burned and sacked with no survivors. If they’re going to investigate the king’s advisor, I start them off witnessing the assassination of someone who crossed him. Etc.

    The idea is to get them emotionally invested in doing whatever it is they’re going to be doing, and to get them directly into the core themes of the adventure or campaign quickly so that the context is established. I also like to highlight the wider effect that the challenge is having on the innocents around them, to give them a sense of responsibility, influence, and purpose, and to connect what they’ll be doing to a detailed, living world.

  3. Bob says:

    I’m loving the idea of the all rogue game

  4. Bob says:

    I think when it comes down to it the best idea is to look at Hollywood blockbusters. They want to do the exact same thing and pull you into the film. It’s very rare for them not to start with a scene that gives a flavour of the next 2 hours.

  5. Ameron says:

    One of the previous editions of the Star Wars RPG always had your PCs start in the middle of a combat encounter. No explanation or warning you just sat down and BANG you were in combat when the GM started the campaign. It rarely had any bearing on the larger story arc, but it did get you excited from the very beginning.

    It really is a matter of pacing. If you start I a tavern it will like take a while for the group to get some momentum,. If you start in the middle of a dangerous situation then you begin an a high note and can get to the story points when the PCs are catching their breath.

    I think Bob’s comment above is absolutely right. Look at Raiders of the Lost Arc. It starts with the thrilling, action-packed sequence where Indy recovers the idol and then is chased by the natives and finally escapes in the plane. Now that’s an excellent beginning to an adventure. Only when he returns to civilization do we start to learn more about him and get a sense of where this story is actually going.

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