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Interesting ways to start a campaign


Pathfinder RPG General Discussion

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I know most people have done the old "party meets in tavern" thing, but what are some of the more unique ways you guys have had campaigns start?

My personal fav was when the party started out as guards for a small caravan, but orc raiders ambushed said caravan and spooked the horses, causes them to bolt and resulting in a high speed chase between the party and the orc raiders with their dire wolf mounts.


I had one game start with the old "alien abduction" plotline: we woke up in a field together with strange tatoos on our arms, didnt know each other and no memory of the last few days.

Qadira

Check out this article.

Silver Crusade

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* Ravenloft-based, in a crypt facing a vampire battle without explanation, and (upon death or pre-arranged event) awakening in the Inn with no backgrounds or memory of how they got there. Toss in an insane asylum and seeing things and sanity questioned.

* On a ship in a storm that crashes on shore of a strange island (based off 1st edition adventure that started folks at 0-level and based on your play style on the island with no abilities you played into your class).

* In a monastery for gifted pupils, monastery comes under attack.

* Prologue style, we knew where the campaign would start and role-played a wedding and political assassination 6 months earlier that brought the party together. Basically players, on the fly, developed a reason to be at the wedding, people they knew, and I wound the prologue into how they met. No dice start, just role-play.

* Returned to flesh by treasure-hunters who found them buried in a battlefield a 1000 years old. Useful for a new setting where players didn't already know the towns, cultures, etc. Players decide if they had some memories still or not of why they were there.

* Running into someone murdering a humanoid (who is an identical twin to a player) and muttering "2 down, 3 to go" before teleporting away.

Not all of my campaigns have a flashy beginning, but these were the hooks to shake things up.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Only works with an all-female party, but....

You are all Princesses captured by the same dragon. None of you are interested in waiting around for some idiot Prince.


The first line I spoke introducing my most recent campaign was this:

“You awake with a start on the grass in a small village. Around you, the world appears to be ending.”

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure Path, Tales Subscriber

I completely rewrite the opening encounters of campaigns I run:

Kingmaker

Spoiler:
You are slaves in Cheliax. Working for a cruel master. You have been working on a plan to gain your freedom, and tonight you hope to enact it. But first you have another day of work ahead of you.

Jade Regent

Spoiler:
You are tasked with guarding a caravan for Ameiko Kaijutsu, your longtime friend. As you travel along the road between Magnimar and Sandpoint make Perception Checks.

The PCs were attacked by Goblins with fireworks. The fireworks spooked the horses and so half the party fought goblins the other half calmed the Caravan horses.

Skull & Shackles

Spoiler:
You are on a trading vessel called The Misty Mourner, boarded by the Chelish Navy as the rain patters down...

In this scenario the Chelish Admiral found nothing out of order, but suspected the captain of piracy and began firing cannons. The PCs had to escape to the Jolly Boat as the ship collapses and explodes around them. A good opening.


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I once started a party all in freshly dug graves with no gear (or clothing) and no idea who each other was.

Good times.


Let your players come up with a meeting on their own based on how they see their characters. Help them with questions and suggestions.


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You could always go Geist: the Sin-Eaters style and have them all die. Then, just as there are at the point of wanting to live so desperately they'll do anything, have some off them a chance to live again, if only they will let it join them...


Touc wrote:
* Ravenloft-based, in a crypt facing a vampire battle without explanation, and (upon death or pre-arranged event) awakening in the Inn with no backgrounds or memory of how they got there. Toss in an insane asylum and seeing things and sanity questioned.

Glad to see people remember the Dreamscape module.


My favorite one is starting them all off in a Prison under charges that are either Drummed up or real.

My second favorite is starting them all off on a Raft with little to no memories and heading towards a shore of a village that will be their introduction to the setting. Though they might not necessarily keep those characters all the way through the campaign.


I started a WoD campaign with a bunch of werewolves looking to recruit at the local insane asylum.


My current campaign started in the town square on the day an accused werewolf was killed by a silver weapon then burned at the stake.

We're four sessions in and they still don't know for sure the guy who was executed was the werewolf.


I started one campaign off with my characters playing their Parents/Mentors/City Guard saving their future characters from the Castle falling into the hands of the Boss of their First Campaign Arc.


I usually ask my players what their PC's most significant memory is as part of their backstory. One set of players, w/out speaking w/one another (to my knowledge anyway) all came up with some key elements in common: a small village hometown, a terrible fire, and some great evil (one said a demon, the other an undead, and two others just said some evil guy.) I put them all together and had an infernal lich, minion of Orcus, arrive to visit vengeance on their home village. I started them off Bruce Wayne style, with a terribly vivid shared nightmare.

I also used a dream sequence to re-imagine the opening of the module The Silver Princess. The party dreams of a beautiful maiden fighting a terrible evil creature, she's slain just before the door of a mausoleum in the woods, and as she falls she begs the party to finish a rite and bring her back. As she calls out to them the creature notices them, turns and unleashes a massive fireball! They awaken, not in their rooms, but in the middle of a clearing at midnight in the forest; before them stands a sealed mausoleum...


Mark Hoover wrote:

I usually ask my players what their PC's most significant memory is as part of their backstory. One set of players, w/out speaking w/one another (to my knowledge anyway) all came up with some key elements in common: a small village hometown, a terrible fire, and some great evil (one said a demon, the other an undead, and two others just said some evil guy.) I put them all together and had an infernal lich, minion of Orcus, arrive to visit vengeance on their home village. I started them off Bruce Wayne style, with a terribly vivid shared nightmare.

I also used a dream sequence to re-imagine the opening of the module The Silver Princess. The party dreams of a beautiful maiden fighting a terrible evil creature, she's slain just before the door of a mausoleum in the woods, and as she falls she begs the party to finish a rite and bring her back. As she calls out to them the creature notices them, turns and unleashes a massive fireball! They awaken, not in their rooms, but in the middle of a clearing at midnight in the forest; before them stands a sealed mausoleum...

I honestly love this beginning!

Taldor

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

You only need two things. A wagon and 1d6 goblins.


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you awaken on a ship with nothing but the clothes off your back no memory of the last week. your gear has been confiscated by the captain, and you are now the newest swabbies. please enjoy your new job.


Starting players as slaves, servants or prisoners is not a good idea. The last is overdone in games like oblivion and skyrim, and they all take away mastery, power and prove quite (initially) un-enjoyable from what I have seen and heard. E.g. the person that is playing a char that would rather die than be a slave, feels put out to start as a slave. A person starting as a highly skilled rogue will feel bad about starting caught, as it were.


3.5 Loyalist wrote:
Starting players as slaves, servants or prisoners is not a good idea. The last is overdone in games like oblivion and skyrim, and they all take away mastery, power and prove quite (initially) un-enjoyable from what I have seen and heard. E.g. the person that is playing a char that would rather die than be a slave, feels put out to start as a slave. A person starting as a highly skilled rogue will feel bad about starting caught, as it were.

It all depends on why they were caught as to how it effects their initial perception of their characters.

For instance, they could all have gotten caught on purpose, perhaps independently and for highly different reasons.


I think my openings also depend on my players. I ran the whole "stuck in a cell" thing for one group, but that was because they were all slackers that didn't list out any gear or backstories on their characters.

If my players have taken the time to fully flesh out characters, all the way down to their gear, they don't deserve to sit down game one as shipwrecked or shanghaied.

Currently I'm running 2 campaigns. In one the players chose to have a guild be the uniting characteristic in their backgrounds; in the other it was their home town. So here's the 2 openings:

(guild) Each of you has received a cryptic letter (handout) and a map leading you first to the port city of Dunspar and then north, up the coast to a mass war grave near Felder's Gap. Though you may have seen one another in passing around the halls of the guild none of you has ever met before tonight yet for some reason your masters have sent you all here, now, to the windy mounds and mausoleums of the seaside dead.

(home town) A group of dwarves have arrived from nearby Tashtanshire with a rush order for cut lumber; they intend to build a gallows for the man who has doomed their lord and their city. The old curmudgeon teamster delivering the load has boasted that he knows a path back to the city that will bring the lumber by nightfall; he only requires the services of some able-bodied assistants along the way.


I have used the Guild method before a lot. In fact I am working on converting some things from the Manga Fairy Tail for my next one.

I find the Guild, Prison, Shipwrecked, Slave, etc. beginnings are fairly good for newer groups that way they don't have to completely gear up at the beginning.

Silver Crusade

I had one DM work with us to each have different backstory reasons for all of our PCs to be traveling in the same area at the same time. We all happened to be passengers on the same riverboat, and got to know each other's characters from sitting on the boat over a week or more voyage, when the boat crashed on some rocks one night. We worked together to save as many of the crew and other passengers as possible.

Once the survivors made it to the shore, our PCs, as the only qualified adventurers there, took off through the dangerous wilderness. The goal was to hike a few days towards the nearest city and bring back another boat to rescue everyone. In the mean time, the other survivors just kept their heads down where they were and tried to go unnoticed by the local orcs.

It was definitely more original than the "you meet each other in a tavern" approach. And the boat crash provided for an interesting skill based "encounter" with no actual combat.

Unfortunately, that campaign fell apart after only the one session, so I don't know what the DM had planned for us, other than the obvious fighting off orcs during our wilderness march.


One I am planning is the mysterious letter offering the PCs something they want in exchange for doing a job. To get the job they have to arrive at a Small Village's Tavern and show the letter to a specific Barmaid and then wait for the letter sender to arrive.


I once had my players create 3.5 characters before the session and began with the standard "you met ina tavern" beginning.

Once they had finished doing their role played introdutctions. I just said "And something being beating on the door."

Once they asked what door I was talking about I pointed to the door of the FLGS we were playing at and said "That one."

After all the blank stares / questioning looks subsided I got out my d20 modern books and had them roll for pregen characters I had made.

And thus began my d20 modern zombie apocalypse two off.

It was tons of fun the only gear they started with was what as in their out of game pockets. I think the first two zombies, which broke the door right after they chose characters, were killed using a combonation of broken glass and the fire estinguisher that was on the wall.


Nothing beats rigging up a Fire Extinguisher to go boom.

In my current campaign I am playing a Fire Elemental Sorcerer. We all start off being brought into a Gladiatorial Arena after being captured at our home towns.


Worst intro I've gone through in a while: our GM for a 4e game said make anything. Being a novice I made a wizard and a warlord. We were told we'd start from different areas so I detailed the skeleton of a city, a mage's order I was from, the noble house I and the warlord represented etc...only to start off captured on a slave ship which shipwrecked on a different world than our own.

So...I SHOULDN'T have written all this down?


Wow... my worst one is starting in a Tavern and immediately getting attacked by about 50 slavers only to have the GM get ticked and Rage Quit when we killed all of them.


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Heh. Reminds me of the opening of a WOD werewolf game. My first player goes into a basement where there's 3 bangers waiting with machine pistols. He epic fails to notice them and they open fire w/him in crinos. Then he rolls a soak...epic success. He stood, poing blank, in front of 3 mac 10's and didn't take a pt of damage. I just shook my head.

Anyway, another intro I've used is 4 separate events leading into the unifying one. The party began at a faire; each had some wierd experience. The fighter was pickpocketed poorly and gave chase; the sorceress was given a wierd letter wrapped in a scarf to be delivered to a merchant, the monk was almost run down by chasing riders; the ranger was at an archery contest where she discovered cheating. Then the guildhouse in the square they were all on the verge of burst into flames - goblins were kidnapping people inside and covering their tracks.


Seems an epic jumbled mess at first glance. But I like the basic set up.

Silver Crusade

1 person marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure Path, Tales Subscriber
3.5 Loyalist wrote:
Starting players as slaves, servants or prisoners is not a good idea. The last is overdone in games like oblivion and skyrim, and they all take away mastery, power and prove quite (initially) un-enjoyable from what I have seen and heard. E.g. the person that is playing a char that would rather die than be a slave, feels put out to start as a slave. A person starting as a highly skilled rogue will feel bad about starting caught, as it were.

It's worked out great for my group. Thrice. If you're going to do it keep this in mind:

1- Tell your players straight up that's how the campaign begins. Tell them the last part of their backstory needs to be how they were captured/enslaved/became servants.

2- Remind your players they aren't legendary heroes yet. At 1st level they are barely more powerful than a commoner.

3- Don't dwell on it, the players might have tasks to do, but the goal of the opening is to escape capture/become the heroes they should be.


Methulock wrote:

I once started a party all in freshly dug graves with no gear (or clothing) and no idea who each other was.

Good times.

I have a semi-related thing I'd like to try some time. You start off all in media res, with a decently-leveled, very well-equipped party facing off against the main villain of the campaign, who it just so happens has them completely outclassed and it's just a total wipe...

... but everyone in the party just happens to have the feature (available from a surprising number of sources) of automatically reincarnating a week after dying, in random nearby locations, with none of their equipment, and totally unrecognizable to anyone they know.

It lets you start with high level players without the usual headaches of starting with high level magic items, gives you a session or two of novelty where everyone has to find a way to cover the basics (steal clothes off a line, forage or find work to get some food, figure out how to meet back with everyone else. You also get some interesting flavor (read: stats that aren't totally optimized) if you actual roll random reincarnation results.

You also get this nice bit of foreshadowing on the big bad!

... who you can quietly upgrade while the party is out rebuilding equipment sets so he can knock everyone back to square one again in their next encounter if you feel like being a jerk.


Sounds like the beginning of one of the Vecna modules.


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A simple campaign start I have planned for my next Gamma World campaign: the pc's are acquaintances who work/play together among their little mutant community, one night a fireball streaks across the sky and explodes on the horizon, the community is curious and supports the pc group to embark on a journey to find out what it was and if anything useful can be recovered.


Since I haven't GMed in years, here are a couple of things that a couple of friends have done to get the party together.

The first one REALLY, REALLY liked the movie "A League Of Their Own" I think he was just strange. Anyway, this non-D&D game had a group of female characters appear in a baseball locker room in uniform of the time. The group immdiately groaned because we knew our GM's predilections and we knew the movie. Never the less it was a different way to get the group together. I suppose a D&D way would be to have the group wake up in an Arena or some kind of city games. Each character has been captured by various means (fighters or barbarians may have entered on their own)

The second GM had the group get together by way of disaster. For what ever reason, the characters were in different places in the city and they all went to the epicenter to help the injured (this game was in the early 90's). When all was said and done, the group was together.


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With my next campaign I'm planning to go Elder Scrolls style and have the party start out as prisoners. They'll be in a high security island prison run by the Hellknights and with the help of two NPCs have to escape.


Mark Hoover wrote:

Heh. Reminds me of the opening of a WOD werewolf game. My first player goes into a basement where there's 3 bangers waiting with machine pistols. He epic fails to notice them and they open fire w/him in crinos. Then he rolls a soak...epic success. He stood, poing blank, in front of 3 mac 10's and didn't take a pt of damage. I just shook my head.

Anyway, another intro I've used is 4 separate events leading into the unifying one. The party began at a faire; each had some wierd experience. The fighter was pickpocketed poorly and gave chase; the sorceress was given a wierd letter wrapped in a scarf to be delivered to a merchant, the monk was almost run down by chasing riders; the ranger was at an archery contest where she discovered cheating. Then the guildhouse in the square they were all on the verge of burst into flames - goblins were kidnapping people inside and covering their tracks.

:D

Great!

That is where you need to describe/act how your char spits out a stray bullet. The next line after that epic soak has got to be cool. Excusing yourself in an embarrassed fashion and walking past them would also be memorable.


Just finished skyfall and it gave me an idea for starting a campaign. In the past I have had chars with impressive backstories, but something terrible has befallen them to take them back to level 1, where many games start. They aren't peasants or young lads (not all of them) and have actually seen the world and done things, but they are back at the bottom of the level table.

So the idea is simple. An spy branch of a (high magic?) kingdom faces new threats. Each member of the party comes out of retirement, is finally healed or re-emerges from the shadows presumed dead, and they team up again. Part of the genning involves who they are and what they did, but also why they are level 1 again. Cool scars and dead eyes come free.

PF was running with this broad idea in the "Agents of etc" concepts.

Washed up spies, regenerated thugs and spellcasters presumed-dead brought together again for a new mission.


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I did not play in this game but I thought it was a cool approach when I heard my former DM talk about it.

Basically the region was preparing for war against a demonic power that was established as an empire. The PC's began play as being pulled together out of other soldiers, conscripts and as recognized as particularly capable, uniquely skilled or not a fit for regular army. Essentially they were picked to be a kind of special forces. They took to the situation like water working to impress the general and stand out.


Tired captain: lad, you are not fit for regular duty. *Sigh* But I hear you have a few tricks up your sleeve.
Mysterious pc: prostitutes do tricks sir, I have skills.


you are invited to meet someone at a tavern

you arrive just in time to see the tavern go up in flames, and watch the deaths of other similarly invited adventuring bands in the tavern.

you are now the only heroes in town, and something very bad this way comes


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I started my last campaign in the middle of a fight, which the party had lost / were losing. Stairs down into a dungeon, desperate rearguard action with party members separated; handed each character a card with a description of what they were facing. One guy was barricaded in a room, slumped against the wall wounded with the dead body of a colleague next to him that he'd dragged in. Told him the sounds of hammering on the door had died away, he had no idea what had happened to the rest of his group, and he needed to stop the bleeding. Another two had been separated from the others and beaten back up to the entrance. Another was trapped in a corridor with enemies at both ends. Just thought up a combat scenario for each of the six, and let them take it from there.


Some other memorable starts I've played in:

1. the game begin amidst a siege. Our characters were just lowly defenders and some previous mid-level characters from another game were the GM's NPCs commanding the ranks on the wall. None of us knew one another other than in passing; we were all individuals conscripted into the defense of the town that night when humanoids and an undead frost giant attacked.

When all was said and done the town survived but was badly damaged. Most everyone, including the famous NPCs were all slain. Our PCs were the only ones around that could still do anything about what just happened, so we were hired by the lord mayor to report what happened to the duke.

2. A Marvel Super Heroes game began with a mysterious stranger contacting each of us individually, telling us he knew our secret ID and telling us to meet him at a derilict warehouse. The twist was once we were assembled and he gave us the pitch that we were going to be his new team of heroes blah blah blah... a pair of Dreadnaughts activated.

Now he'd shown them to us and told us he was going to activate them on a low level so that we could display our powers and such, but they activated against his control at full power instead. Just at the same moment hydra agents busted in to capture our benefactor. Melee ensued and predictably Mr Silver (our benefactor) was taken. The game only went on a couple sessions after that but the focus that drew our party together was 1. what just happened, 2. why is Hydra after this guy, and 3. we should rescue him b/cause he knows our IDs and if they get to him he could expose us.

Andoran

My group started as a unit in the army of a kingdom where civil war was beginning. We were in the outer provinces, so we were more concerned with fighting off the orc/hobgoblin/ogre invaders than with the power struggle in the heart of the kingdom. Our NPC commanding officer was killed during the first session.

Someone on these boards was planning to start the party as slaves, with no gear at all. I liked the idea so much that I started my campaign that way. The party rescued 25 more slaves when they escaped.

Osirion

All the PCs called up for jury service. They were the only honest members of a bought jury and ended up investigating a series of murders that according to the local authorities had already been solved (fall boy was an honest politician). Led all the way to the top.

Silver Crusade

"You all wake up in a side passage of the sewers covered in cob webs and really really craving blood."

DM: Okay guys, just go ahead and add the vampire template to your characters.

Silver Crusade

Had this happen once.

DM (Me): Alright guys you are all sitting in a tavern when...

Player1 (Interupts): I grab the barmaid and I slit her throat.

DM: Ummmm maybe that's not....

Player2: I jump behind the bar, grab the barman by the neck and ram his head into the bar.

DM: But but but no that's not what I....

Player3: I set fire to the pile of wood by the hearth and watch it spread quickly throughout the tavern.

DM: Oh god, not one of those campaigns again.


Y'know what I'd like to see? Party starts off in a military unit and... boring military stuff happens.

The first 3 levels are basically your basic training - a series of humiliating, minor missions.

Or another angle would be there's a major attack starting off the first game, but unlike my, Theconiel's and many other people's experiences that first battle is like a total win for the PCs' side and none of the major NPCs die.

In other words, has anyone played a game where something MAJOR happens the first game but nothing EVER comes of it?

I'll give you an example:

A couple campaigns ago I started the PCs off as visitors to a border town for one reason or another. As they're wandering through the market square suddenly a guy is forced to transform into hybrid wererat form and a horde of giant rats leapt out of the shadows of a nearby alleyway. There was mass panic, causing a horse to break loose from the hitching post. As pandemonium ensued the party made short work of the rats, held the wererat at bay until a powerful cleric nearby showed up and just as the old priest arrived that's when the horse reared and took off. A chase followed and the party subdued the wild animal without a single life lost.

Now for the best part; no single player seemed the least bit concerned with the fact that a man was very obviously FORCED into this malady or that the rats were acting of their own accord, so I didn't do anything with it game wise. In other words there was an explosion of action which forced the party to meet, and then the rest of the game happened.

On a side note several adventures in a new player joined. When hearing about their first adventure his female cleric announced she was going to do some private research and the player took me aside and asked what happened to that plotline, so I made up that the guy had been affected by a hag's curse but that, soon after the melee, a gypsy caravan was seen leaving town under ominous portents...


@shallowsoul: I started a riot in one campaign simply because he started us in a tavern. for the 15th time. in a row.

@Mark_Hoover: I actually have a campaign that the first 2.5 levels are Basic Training and their first mission for their unit.

And I have had plenty of moments like that example. Though you have to admit it is funny when a New Player shows interest in a Hook that the rest either missed or didn't care about.

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