Game Starters

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Been a bit busy lately, but the other night when I was heading off to sleep ideas kept popping into my head that just wouldn’t go away until I wrote them down.

The stereotypical D&D campaign has all the players meeting in a bar, where they become best buddies and decide to “adventure” together for fame and fortune. The contrivedness of this scenario has always bothered me. In most games it doesn’t matter all that much, you deal with the formalities of getting acquainted and then move on to more interesting things in the game. Basically trusting that by the time your group has gone through its first dungeon crawl that each character will have saved the others’ necks enough times that it’s credible that these guys want to stick together.

Starting off with something different isn’t necessary, but it can give your campaign a little bit of extra flavor to “grab” the players. This is probably more important in a Con situation where you’re running a one-shot campaign with a bunch of people you don’t even know, but hey, why should your regular game be a trough of mediocrity?

Cutting to the chase,

Concept: All of the player characters are denizens of a local area that’s come under the rule of a band of mercenaries. The players have been captured and put in a makeshift jail in one of the minor forts that the mercenaries have in their territory. The idea here circumvents the idea of introductions by putting the players in a shared plight for which they must formulate a plan and then escape. I envisioned this as a combat heavy one-shot adventure mainly to introduce the players to Iron Heroes mechanics and a more cinematic combat style than D&D normally allows, but there’s potential to use it in many other ways.

Drawbacks: You’re going to have to be a little bit restrictive when it comes to allowing character classes and races in this scenario. Under normal D&D rules spellcasters don’t have the endurance to handle what would end up being one really long encounter (the escape) with a substantial number of subencounters. It also doesn’t really make sense to have wildly varying races if all the people the mercenaries have captured live in the region. (And the concept of a mercenary band taking over a region of land doesn’t map nicely onto an urban setting.)

Concept: All of the players are patrons of a local bar when the local constable bursts in with a cadre of guards and arrests everyone on the spot. The players are all taken to the jailhouse and interrogated: Naturally they will have very flimsy alibis and will have some trouble explaining the arsenal or occult materials they are no doubt carrying around.

This is sort of an urban twist on the first idea and a bit of a mix-up with the generic D&D intro. You can pretty much take this idea where-ever you want. My initial idea is that the constable in charge of the arrests is corrupt and in the pocket of an underlord crime boss. The players might go through a short crime-room drama and then set about to clearing their names by exposing the constable’s involvement with the crime lord (and possibly taking down the crime lord).

Another twist that would be feasible is to have the arrests be part of a genuine attempt to clean up crime in the area. Perhaps there is a Jack-the-Ripper figure who is known by his only surviving victim to haunt local taverns, and the constable was tipped off to the particular establishment the PCs had been in. In this case, the PCs may be recruited as undercover agents by the constable once he realizes their innocence. You can probably add a bit of emotional drama into the mix if you make the killer’s surviving victim an attractive young lady, which will give the PCs a bit more motivation to follow through on the job. Alternatively (or complementary) you can make the victim a noble, and thus have the PCs earn the noble’s trust (and thus receive his patronage and future “jobs”) once they take care of the villain.

There are a ton of ways to mix this up. Maybe the entire government is corrupt and the injustice of being wrongfully arrested is just a way to get the PCs riled up to overthrow the government. Maybe the PCs aren’t even in a bar, perhaps they’re in a market square when the Montagues and the Capulets start a squabble and the guardsmen simply block off the entire square and arrest everyone inside?

Drawbacks: Not conducive to hack-and-slash play. Might start off a little slow from the players perspective because they will be entirely reactive to the circumstances you throw them in, rather than active.

Concept: The PCs are all summoned to meet with a powerful oracle. The oracle is seeking people who have all been born under a specific sign, and as it turns out all of the PCs have been born under this sign. The PCs undertake a ritual or are the subjects of a spell that binds them all together.

This is a pretty decent idea, as it brings the PCs together and establishes them as a group. However, what it doesn’t do is give them any motivation to perform any particular task. The previous two examples take advantage of the fact that the players are generally going to want to be “in control” and will oppose things that interfere with that. It’s entirely possible to incorporate some sort of motivation into the general concept here but not without making it pretty specific.

A variant idea would be to have the PCs bound by a curse. For example, a curse that means that each will feel each others’ pain. Placing the PCs under a curse gives them a really strong motivation to go out of their way to break the curse, and ideally by the time they get around to breaking it they will have forged strong enough bonds that it seems natural for them to stick together.

Drawbacks: Player turnover and player death become tricky issues when you go this route.

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