How to start out my level 1 party


Advice

The Exchange

Hi everyone!
I'm currently prepping for a HB game and I was kinda flummoxed over how to start my players off in this campaign.
First some background.
My setting is sort of like ancient Greek city-states with good old fashioned catholic orthodoxy kinda societal structuring. At least the main focus will be such.
The region of Wymalt has a deep history of miracle and many faiths lay claim their holy land upon its hallowed ground. Because of this the various theocracies fight amongst each other and within themselves.
The main idea behind this setting is that the gods are not as transparent as they tend to be in many traditional cases. People know they exist to some extent as their are divine powers granted and creation and ascension myths, but the nuance of the various faiths cannot be agreed upon. So you'd see more morally questionable clergymen and the occasional inquisition.
Magic of the Arcane sort is seen as socially dubious at best and an act of blasphemy punishable by death at worst. These sentiments are reinforced by the gnomish country of Tryspon that is to the North of Wymalt. This country is run by gnomish clans sort of like the triad or mafia in their behavior and power structure, there is constant cloak and dagger activities going on within the clans. This is made worse by their constant meddling with all facets of the arcane morally evil or otherwise.

Common races(elves, dwarves, halflings, humans) are the most prevalent with humans and halflings being the most common, dwarves to be the occasional oddity, and elves to be a rare occurrence. As for the other races they are pensively accepted as long as their features wouldn't be considered monstrous. Aasamirs are non-existent(sort of), and tieflings are seen as devils or demons. And gnomes are seen as sorcerous cretins.

An important thing to note is that while I do enjoy the Golarion pantheon I've decided to go with the Forgotten Realms pantheon as my players are a bit too familiar with the Golarion Deities. I kind of want to keep the mysticism of higher powers prevalent and I feel that the familiarity my players have would ruin it somewhat.

Now my current idea is somewhat cliché but I was going to have them all imprisoned for heresy and have to escape and be on the run from a zealous inquisitor(is there any other kind?). They'd start with no equipment and would have to scavenge for what they could while on the run.
This is the best thing I could think of to start off with to introduce the party to the setting. Yet I don't know how to run it or even if it would be what I really wanted. It feels somewhat like immediately throwing a child to the wolves when they have no way of being prepared.
I'm looking for suggestions on either the scenario I've presented or
new ideas all together.

My party of five is
Human-Arcanist
Human-Witch-Winter Witch
Human-Cleric of Caylan(one exception)-Crusader
Tengu-Brawler
Tiefling-Unchained Rouge

The Exchange

I forgot to include the map I'm working on to give a sense of the land.
https://drive.google.com/open?id=1Zz4YH77ZCQEtWB-tHdlH5ps_QzL7sUoq


Does that mean the Arcanist doesn't even get a spellbook?

You could start by coming up with a theme for the prison. Maybe it's a prison island. Maybe they escape while still on the boat taking them there, and it's a sea campaign. Or it's a salt mine, and they can use tools as improvised weapons. Or they're being auctioned, and they can join a slave revolt.

You could give them an ally or two who already has an escape plan - nobody vastly more powerful than them, though.

After that, "on the run" isn't much of a story in itself; unless you want a sandbox campaign where they can go anywhere, they need a clearer goal, somewhere to head to. The person who helped them asks them to join a resistance movement, or they've got a friend who was sent to a different prison and who needs rescuing, or something like that.

Maybe there's a lost underground temple they stumble upon while fleeing, and they find old weapons and armor down there.


My recommendation is to try to spend some time with each player and work out their background. Find out what they want for their character and how that can fit into your world. And importantly: *make sure this actually matters in the game.* Not just the obvious PC race & class mechanics, but if they are from city-state X, they actually have all the basic local knowledge. They should have local connections, family and friends as appropriate. In other words, don't treat them as completely naive and ignorant.

As far as their starting circumstance is concerned, the races & classes are going to make a big difference. Two arcane casters in a land where magic isn't trusted and a tiefling that is going to be hated on sight. You didn't specify if Tengu are considered monstrous, but that wouldn't be surprising. So you've got reasons for three, possibly four of your party to start the game on the run or in the shadows.

You can use the Suicide Squad/Dirty Dozen approach. Someone wants a dangerous job done and 'recruits' a group of outcasts.

Another thought: Have them all in the same city for a festival. Something bad happens, like a riot or an attack by some outside (possibly even extraplanar) force. The party winds up in the same spot by chance. They're confronted by some obvious menace - this gives them a chance to get one combat in before worrying much about roleplaying. Be sure it's something they can handle. But after resolving the fight, they get picked up by the local guards (religious police?) on suspicion of causing the riot/attack/whatever. It doesn't have to be clear how long they'll be held or what will happen next. Others are held with them, giving them a chance to gather information. So, do they escape, is there a general jailbreak, do they get assigned to some dangerous civil duty as punishment, or does someone get them out? Up to you.

Hope these ideas help a bit.

The Exchange

Matthew Downie wrote:

Does that mean the Arcanist doesn't even get a spellbook?

You could start by coming up with a theme for the prison. Maybe it's a prison island. Maybe they escape while still on the boat taking them there, and it's a sea campaign. Or it's a salt mine, and they can use tools as improvised weapons. Or they're being auctioned, and they can join a slave revolt.

You could give them an ally or two who already has an escape plan - nobody vastly more powerful than them, though.

After that, "on the run" isn't much of a story in itself; unless you want a sandbox campaign where they can go anywhere, they need a clearer goal, somewhere to head to. The person who helped them asks them to join a resistance movement, or they've got a friend who was sent to a different prison and who needs rescuing, or something like that.

Maybe there's a lost underground temple they stumble upon while fleeing, and they find old weapons and armor down there.

Yeah I just wanted to give a general summation of those ideas. I know ultimately that the arcanist needs to have their spellbook and I was thinking that maybe he had a few pages stuffed away. The important stuff dunno. Its a little short sighted, I know. I'd set up ways for the casters to get their spells somehow the main point of the question was for ideas and I get that. As for the clearer goal? Well I have something in mind, nothing ambitious primarily they'd be fighting the church or be given the opportunity to join it. Or if they decide to flee all together I'm willing to let such a thing happen(with speedbumps and levys as needed) And I do know this is vague I'm working on concepts atm and charting things out from there. Thank you for your suggestions.


Starting in a prison is tricky for a lot of reasons. I'd caution against it unless the story really needs it.

The big thing I'm getting is that although you have an interesting setting, you don't have any sort of theme at all for a campaign. What this group is going to try to accomplish and why they should work together is something that somehow between you and the players should ideally be resolved before the game starts. As it is, I could easily see the party fragmenting (or holding together but only because the players are trying to be nice and not really feeling their characters motivations.)

Having it be an open world is great, but their needs to at be some sort of theme/goal/etc. or the players can't make characters that will end up in a cohesive party. I expect also that if you narrow in on what the theme for the campaign is, getting things like a starting point and some plot related events together will work out better.

The Exchange

Smallfoot wrote:

My recommendation is to try to spend some time with each player and work out their background. Find out what they want for their character and how that can fit into your world. And importantly: *make sure this actually matters in the game.* Not just the obvious PC race & class mechanics, but if they are from city-state X, they actually have all the basic local knowledge. They should have local connections, family and friends as appropriate. In other words, don't treat them as completely naive and ignorant.

As far as their starting circumstance is concerned, the races & classes are going to make a big difference. Two arcane casters in a land where magic isn't trusted and a tiefling that is going to be hated on sight. You didn't specify if Tengu are considered monstrous, but that wouldn't be surprising. So you've got reasons for three, possibly four of your party to start the game on the run or in the shadows.

You can use the Suicide Squad/Dirty Dozen approach. Someone wants a dangerous job done and 'recruits' a group of outcasts.

Another thought: Have them all in the same city for a festival. Something bad happens, like a riot or an attack by some outside (possibly even extraplanar) force. The party winds up in the same spot by chance. They're confronted by some obvious menace - this gives them a chance to get one combat in before worrying much about roleplaying. Be sure it's something they can handle. But after resolving the fight, they get picked up by the local guards (religious police?) on suspicion of causing the riot/attack/whatever. It doesn't have to be clear how long they'll be held or what will happen next. Others are held with them, giving them a chance to gather information. So, do they escape, is there a general jailbreak, do they get assigned to some dangerous civil duty as punishment, or does someone get them out? Up to you.

Hope these ideas help a bit.

Thank you! I do think that I'm currently pushing towards an idea of religious reformation kinda theme? Kinda martin luther esc, but with nailing swords through people's bodies instead of parchment to doors. I may push them towards such an event yes I didnt want much besides the start to be too railroady but Ill toy with those ideas. Thanks again.


Don’t fear the rails, especially early on. A good way to start a campaign is some sort of major event, something unavoidable, something that upsets the status quo and sets up the course the rest of the campaign will take.

That being said, I like the idea of some sort of disaster, and outsider attack on the city sounds nice. At first, it’s just a normal day in the life of PCs, but as night falls, chaos erupts throughout the city. The PCs have to make sense of what is going on and team up and cooperate in order just to survive. Somehow, they end up in the spotlight, which casts suspicion on them. Now they have to go underground, literally or figuratively, as the inquisition hunts them down. Either they find la resistance or the rebels or whatever and join them/ take the lead, or the inquisition catches up and then they end up prisoners. By then they’re probably lvl 3 or so and have more tricks up their sleeve to be able to engineer an escape.


There's a free WotC 3.5 module A Dark and Stormy Knight which has the simple hook "There's a nasty storm and all PCs take shelter in the same ruin. This ruin has some monsters in it.". The module or at least the hook is a pretty good way to assemble parties.


Before we started running APs, each player in my groups would run prologue sessions with the GM. The APs don't do too well of a job bringing the group together and usually the players have to work that in before play. Run each player their own prologue on separate days and then end it where the campaign starts.

For your game you should probably have the prologue explain why the PCs are in jail in the first place and establish the sense of deviance in the player. They should want their characters to be in jail and they want to escape as well. You don't want a PC who "regrets" his action and elects to wait his sentence out.

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