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Monday, August 3, 2015


There are many ways to begin your RPG campaign. Many of these methods draw from other forms of fiction: older and more established forms. There are many tropes that come from movies and books. Sometimes, those work well for RPGs, but not always.

RPGs are their own medium, and borrowing tropes and ideas from other media doesn't always work. The interactive, collaborative nature of RPGs clashes with many of these traditional tropes. You cannot dictate your players' actions (or their characters' actions) once the game has begun, not without their approval and buy-in, anyway. So, any narration or opening action has to take place before the game actually begins. The idea here is that if you want the game to begin with a prison riot, don't start it three days before the riot and expect the players to sit on their hands; start the game as the riot begins.

More than just setting the game up before it begins, you cannot narrate the PCs actions beyond one or two simple ideas. Saying "you arrive in Sunshine City and decide to join the Adventurer's Guild; your guildmaster orders you to join the first mission that comes up" sets out several actions that you decided for someone else's character. That might not be what they feel their character would have done after entering Sunshine City, or even after joining the Adventurer's Guild.

Instead, use ideas like "You're on your first mission for the Adventurer's Guild of Sunshine City." The end result is the same, but now the players have more agency to decide what led to this opening. It lets them explain how they came to be there, rather than you telling them. Not only that, but you can jump immediately into the action (or at least into the player-driven narrative) with less GM exposition up front.

Here are some ideas that take the above concept to an extreme. They will help you, your players, and their characters jump straight into the action of a new adventure.

Beginnings (in media res)

  1. At the entrance to the Tomb of Princess Titania, the spirit guardian bids you enter and wishes you good fortune. The map should be reliable, at least the half of it that you have.
  2. As the port disappears over the horizon behind you, you find yourself wondering whether the legends of spectral pirates and ravenous sea serpents are true.
  3. The masked woman leads you through the destroyed prison wall, back out into the city, which is burning in many places. She says, "The creatures came at sundown, as was foretold."
  4. The escape pod hits the ground with a jarring impact amidst the bluish vegetation, and the last emergency distress signal from the orbiting cruiser cuts off with a burst of static.
  5. The words of the Queen of the Vernal Court still echo in your mind, "The medusae hunt you; your only refuge is in the Dreamworld."
  6. The subway screeches to a halt. "End of the line," tumbles from the crackling speakers. This is by far the worst part of town, but the email definitely said 1:00 am. It also said some other things, things that you'd pay dearly to keep secret.

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