6/18/12

Opening sessions: Getting the party started

Sure, you could just open with a mysterious old man who calls for all the PCs to meet him in a tavern, where he explains that he wants to hire them to recover the McGuffin from Adversary Corp or the Dungeon of Generic Goblinoids.

But how much fun is that?

Tips for an awesome first session:
1) Give the PCs an immediate and compelling reason to work together.
2) Show the players how much fun this campaign is going to be.

Thoughts and advice below the cut.

1)Give the PCs an immediate and compelling reason to work together.
The keywords here are 'immediate' and 'compelling.' One of the best ways to get competent and dangerous people to form a cohesive group is for something bad to happen that encourages them to work together to fix it.

The standard opening for zombie apocalypse games is a perfect (if extreme) example: the PCs all happen to be in the same place when things go to hell, and band together to survive. Not every opening needs zombies,* any external force will do as long as it causes the PCs to need each others help.

When I can, I like to tie this in to the PCs' backstories (plot hooks are a required backstory element in my games). That helps to give it long-term game potential, provides a solid in-character reason for the PCs to care, and can lead to some very interesting PC-to-PC conversation once the dust has settled. 

*Personally, I think that zombies are like bacon: they go well with everything. Not everyone feels this way though.

2) Show the players how much fun this campaign is going to be.
Get to the good stuff as soon as possible. If your players like killing things, angle for a good combat early in the first session. If they like suspense and investigation, drop some of that creepy goodness in at the very beginning and let them start to sort things out.

For this, it's important to know what parts of the game your players like most. Players tend to create characters that are good at the actions the players most enjoy in-game, so another way to look at this is to make sure every character has a chance to shine during the first session. If you can give the PCs a chance to show/develop their character as well as their skill sets, even better.

If it isn't practical to start the game off with a bang, than fast forward to the first good part. I've played plenty of games that had potential, but started off with several sessions of travel, or day-to-day corporate banality, or other 'atmosphere setting.' The vast majority of times,** it has been a deathknell for that particular campaign. If can work atmosphere and NPC introductions into action and conflict, do that. If not, summarize and get on with it.

**The only time I have seen this work was a game where there was ample social conflict from the beginning and the PCs all had a good reason to be involved.


Some Examples:
These have worked for me. Your mileage may vary. I haven't assumed that any of the PCs know each other prior to session 1, but I tend to work at least a little of that in as well.

Example 1) Finding Jason Reynes
The PCs don't know each other, but they are all new in town and they are all looking for Jason Reynes, a local information broker. Their motives vary - one is an old friend, another is hunting for someone and thinks Jason has useful intel, etc.

The PCs all show up at Jason's house within a couple seconds of each other. The door is ever so slightly ajar. Up close, it is apparent that it was kicked open. The house is a disaster, and Jason's coded notes (and daughter) are gone. Jason's corpse is in the basement, both his hands nailed to a table. As the PCs examine his body or start to look around the basement, one of them hears the front door close . . . 

The long term direction of this is going to depend a lot on the backstories. I'm a fan of there being something that the PCs all need to find that was missing from the crime scene. Some combination of revenge, or trying to clear their name if they are framed can also work. This adapts well to variety of settings, with Jason Reynes replaced by any important NPC (local nobility, crime boss, etc).

Example 2) Suicide mission

The PCs are all soldiers in a war. They can be mercenaries, foreign auxilliaries, or pretty much whatever. The game opens with them (and a small number of NPCs) being placed under the command of an particularly noxious NPC for a special assignment. Use some early encounters to make it very clear that their fearless leader is going to get them killed and that the other PCs are the only people in the unit worth a damn. They'll need to work together to figure out a way to save their skins. They can do it sooner, while they have to opportunity to mutiny or desert, or they can do it later, when their leader orders them to sacrifice themselves by covering his retreat from an ambush that he lead them into.

The important thing with this is not to let the 'mission' drag on, unless the players are into it. This is easily adapted to exploration or colonization as well - anything where the PCs can be made to depend on someone whose woeful incompetence will get them killed.    

Example 3) Enemies of the Rose

The PCs are all wanted by/enemies of a particular faction; in this case, a militant order called the Knights of the Pale Rose. The individual PCs happen to be near each other in a crowded market with few exits. Several small groups of Knights enter the marketplace and work their way towards the PCs. Each group is easily large enough to take on a single PC, but if the PCs can coordinate they can probably pull off an escape or cut their way through the nearest group.

After they escape, the PCs will need some good long term reasons to work together. Being on the run from a powerful shared enemy can be one, but I like to have some more mundane ones in there too - need for each other's skill sets or contacts, that sort of thing. 

No comments:

Post a Comment