Beginning the Adventure - How do you do it?


3.5/d20/OGL


Generally the most difficult step in planning an adventure or running a pre-published one is the beginning. Specifically, how to get a group of characters to interact and pursue the intended objectives. It may have something to do with the anti-social nature of most of the characters I deal with, and with my way of beginning the adventure.
I don't like obeying the trope of 'you meet in a tavern and accept a random job together', nor do I like having the players pursue an adventure as a group for the sole reason that its the adventure offered by the DM. A good beginning is an important element in creating a good campaign.

So how do you get your groups of characters to interact and form a team? How do you get them started on an adventure, particularly one at the beginning of a campaign?


Arctaris wrote:

Generally the most difficult step in planning an adventure or running a pre-published one is the beginning. Specifically, how to get a group of characters to interact and pursue the intended objectives. It may have something to do with the anti-social nature of most of the characters I deal with, and with my way of beginning the adventure.

I don't like obeying the trope of 'you meet in a tavern and accept a random job together', nor do I like having the players pursue an adventure as a group for the sole reason that its the adventure offered by the DM. A good beginning is an important element in creating a good campaign.

So how do you get your groups of characters to interact and form a team? How do you get them started on an adventure, particularly one at the beginning of a campaign?

Based on the background premise of the adventure(ap or other) i try to weave a few strands into player backstories that give them a little in common goal or motive wise.


This depends on a whole lot of variables. Are the characters created for that adventure/campaign? Are the PCs continuing on from a previous scenario?

If it is the former, the GM could be on hand to help the group weave some kind of backstory that would allow them to be together already, say they are all from the same village/town. Or the PC are created as individuals or are from a previous campaign just before the main adventure begins you run a scene that brings everyone together through shared adversity, eg pirates attack the passenger ship they are on and are forced to call in the port where the adventure starts. Another way is that a NPC (good or malign) is wanting a group to do the quest and specifically asks for/recruits the characters, though this is a little less deus ex machina then "you're all in a pub and there is a dark stranger in the corner with a big yellow question mark over his head".

If your player are fond of anti-social characters think about each one and why that person might join a team to pursue a common goal. once you have that for each of them you can then think about how to go forward. If you can, a one on one game prologue for each of them could get that info for you and help you guide the PC to the right place without it feeling forced.

Dont be afraid of appointing a Leader or Face to the group. A bard travelling the country side with his backing singers and bodyguards. A cleric on a mission for his church with some followers/converts to help preach. A fighter proving his mettle with the beginnings of army/warband. Just make sure that all the players feel like the star at the table and their characters earn reputation in their own right for any actions done in game.


I'll do a bit a meta gaming and explain the general nature of the adventure without giving any of the surprises away. I then let the players decide and describe their characters motivation. Then again the people I play with are on board with having an understanding that their characters are going to go on an adventure as this is what D&D characters want to do. Basically, we don't over think things and try to recreate real people but instead just focus on what's going to be fun.


Generally when we start a campaign, the characters are created specifically for that game. However, the players themselves generally have little to no knowledge of the setting, and usually have little more than a one-sentence background which often gets forgotten in the excitement of 'getting to do cool s&!+'.
I try to create interesting and interactive hooks to get them actually involved and engaged with the story of an adventure, but I have difficulty creating such beginnings.


First thing of all, I don't allow anti-social characters. I don't have a general alignment restriction in my games, but there is the requirement that the character is a team player (i.e. can work in an adventuring party) and has a reason to be an adventurer (i.e. you don't need to bribe them with a kingdom to kill a bunch of goblins). And I instituted those requirements after one player/character ruined a weekend with his demands.

Anyway, that doesn't mean I won't try to find a way to bring the characters together, it just means I don't want to spend too much time getting players and characters to get a long and go along. I run adventure paths (because I don't have the time to come up with campaigns myself, and those PF APs are so great), so there will always be a certain amount of "rail-roading" involved (in that they can't suddenly decide that, say, Westcrown sucks and that they'd rather travel to Augustana when we're in the middle of Council of Thieves).

I find the APs make a decent job getting the party together without repeating the "you met in a tavern" trope. Emulating that method for your own campaigns could work very, very well:

In cases where the missions/quests come from some sort of contractor - or at least the first few missions are from someone like that - you just have to think of some likely reasons for why a character would want to take that mission: From general stuff like "lust for adventure", piety, greed, to more specific reasons like "the mission is to investigate the Ghost Village of Hee and my brother went missing there years ago".

If it's more a situation where they have to be at the right place at the right time, you just have to compile a list of possible reasons why they are there - they could live there (especially if it's in some sort of settlement), they could be there on a sort of mission (and the campaign's first event will tie in on that), or they could be passersby.

All of these hooks provide the player with a reason to be there, some ways to flesh out the character's background, and, if you use traits, some small bonus for the character.

And if none of the choices you present fits for a character, you at least have a baseline to work something out, something the GM and player in question should do together.


Arctaris wrote:


I don't like obeying the trope of 'you meet in a tavern and accept a random job together', nor do I like having the players pursue an adventure as a group for the sole reason that its the adventure offered by the DM. A good beginning is an important element in creating a good campaign.

So how do you get your groups of characters to interact and form a team? How do you get them started on an adventure, particularly one at the beginning of a campaign?

The last time I did it like this: LOCAL_BARON's guards round up beggars, thieves and other undesirables (=adventurers), throw them in prison, then force them through some kind of military or gladiator school. The beginning of the adventure is the day on or before the end of their military training.

This explains nicely why they are better than commoners (they are trained in fighting), and being forced means even the most annoyingly chaotic-neutral character has a reason for being there. Also, it might start a revenge subplot and it's a good way to introduce the first few npcs (their trainer, maybe one npc that's in the same situation as them, and the baron).

And with regards to anti-social characters: some people just really like to play those, so I generally allow them. But I always make sure that the context forces everyone to work together, at least to some extent.


I really dislike the cliche beginning, "You're all sitting in a tavern..." myself. I've never run a game using that concept and I don't intend to unless I figure out a really interesting twist to it.

I prefer to start all characters for my campaigns with really thought out backgrounds. I work with the players to create an indepth history, examining personalities and motivations and working on weaving the characters together through that. Sometimes the PCs will have relationships that already exist at the beginning of the game, or they'll have a lot of background material that'll help to bind them together. Similar motivations, and the like.

Then I like to throw them right into the game. I usually write up an introduction for them to read while I'm setting up the table and then when I'm ready and they've gone through the introductions we hit the ground running. It's not always combat but something is always happening and usually dice are rolled as soon as they get to the end of their write-ups.


I like the idea of having one thing lead to another. If one adventure involved golden apples, I might put golden apples in another adventure to raise the question of where all these golden apples are coming from.

For D&D, I usually figure that the PCs are adventurers who want the chance to earn the kind of money that farmers can only dream of. Once they start making a reputation, barons will start asking them for favors.

Sometimes I will have the PCs be part of a group. When I ran an adventure in the World of Greyhawk, one of the PCs was a monk who was asked by his superior to do something.


I usually give the players a rough idea what the campaign or adventure is about, and which types of characters are most suited for it. Then I tell them the starting location, with some background. On the basis of that they get to write a background story for their characters (which has to include details on how they got to the starting location, and why they are there). I read these backgrounds and then either accept them as they are, or consult with the player in order to resolve details that do not quite fit.

I also have a rule that no matter what kinds of characters they make, they have to work as a team and have to find a reason for working as a team.

When I prepare the first adventure, I take care to include some small details of the background stories of the PCs, so that they are "drawn into" the storyline. At the start of the new adventure, I elaborate a little on these details, based on the actions of the PCs in the previous adventure.

The Exchange

I like to start them in the middle of an action sequence. Usually they are being chased, have just been captured, right in the middle of a battle or pinned down by enemy fire.
One time I started the session with one of the PCs about to be executed by the local baron. The others were in the midst of executing a rescue.
I only use the "you are in a tavern/inn" to mix it up because they never expect it.
I also never tell them anything about the adventure in advance. At least not if it is one that I came up with on my own. Occasionally one of them will ask to go on a quest or a more personal mission. That's the only time they have advanced info about the nature of an adventure. If they come up with something they actually want to do I almost always put my plans aside to accommodate that. I figure if they have taken the time outside of the game to think about their characters, they deserve to have that input. If the player requests something really silly just to annoy the rest of the group, they pay for it. So that rarely happens.

Dark Archive

Arctaris wrote:

Generally the most difficult step in planning an adventure or running a pre-published one is the beginning. Specifically, how to get a group of characters to interact and pursue the intended objectives. It may have something to do with the anti-social nature of most of the characters I deal with, and with my way of beginning the adventure.

I don't like obeying the trope of 'you meet in a tavern and accept a random job together', nor do I like having the players pursue an adventure as a group for the sole reason that its the adventure offered by the DM. A good beginning is an important element in creating a good campaign.

So how do you get your groups of characters to interact and form a team? How do you get them started on an adventure, particularly one at the beginning of a campaign?

It depends on how complicated you want to get with it. You can say at the beginning "I want everyone's backstory to include a reason or two for why you adventure together" or you can spend a few sessions roleplaying it all out (much like Stargate got Teal'c into SG-1) or you can handwave it for the sake of getting the game off the ground. "You four murderous hobos are sitting in a tavern when a plot hook walks in..." is a cliche but it doesn't mean that it's always a bad cliche.

==
AKA 8one6


United causes like the "summoning of heroes to save the world" from Lord of the Rings or the "common goal" from The Hobbit work well for me. The "save the world" bit also works just as well on a smaller scale with low level characters that are called together to save their homes when the town they all live in is menaced.


Capt. D wrote:

I like to start them in the middle of an action sequence. Usually they are being chased, have just been captured, right in the middle of a battle or pinned down by enemy fire.

One time I started the session with one of the PCs about to be executed by the local baron. The others were in the midst of executing a rescue.
I only use the "you are in a tavern/inn" to mix it up because they never expect it.
I also never tell them anything about the adventure in advance. At least not if it is one that I came up with on my own. Occasionally one of them will ask to go on a quest or a more personal mission. That's the only time they have advanced info about the nature of an adventure. If they come up with something they actually want to do I almost always put my plans aside to accommodate that. I figure if they have taken the time outside of the game to think about their characters, they deserve to have that input. If the player requests something really silly just to annoy the rest of the group, they pay for it. So that rarely happens.

I think "in medias res" is one of the things that has been abused in fiction, and never works in RPGs. The problem is that you don't have a clue what is happening and to whom and why, so why should you really care.

The problem with "in medias res" in RPGs is that the characters created may not be appropriate at all for the situation they found themselves in. If they are being chased by an ogre magi, how did they get there and why? If they are being executed by a baron, what did they do to get into that position?

I am thinking of doing a "at the beginning of the res" for my next game, where the PCs are gathered at the front door of this dungeon they intend to loot. That's because for the adventure I want to run, I planned to have them having just made a lot of money from looting a dungeon, but was concerned about having that gap about that actual dungeon they looted, so maybe I'll start with the looting of the dungeon.

I also try to give the players as much information about the setting and the reason for the adventure as I can without giving anything away that they wouldn't know beforehand, so they can be sure to create characters that will be appropriate for the adventure. There is not much worse than creating a character who is optimized for something that he never gets to do.

Shadow Lodge

I hate to point out the blindingly obvious, but it will depend on the adventure.


Utgardloki wrote:

I think "in medias res" is one of the things that has been abused in fiction, and never works in RPGs. The problem is that you don't have a clue what is happening and to whom and why, so why should you really care.

I actually think it works really well if you work with the players to build a strong and coherent background. I prefer to play with players who like to put a lot of work into their characters and especially favor those who like to write, which fortunately I do tend to find fairly frequently. So I give them a little bit of information as to where they're beginning from: Setting, dramatis personae, and let them go crazy. Then I work in a little bit of extra details, connecting them to the other PCs or NPCs in the setting so that they are starting off with fully developed characters with fully developed motivations.

If all that background work is completed, starting off in medias res works really well. The players are already in their characters heads and are ready to pick up the reins of the adventure and run with it.

That's just my experience, though. Granted, that can only work with certain types of groups.


I agree pretty much with Wander Weir.
What works best for me, and I have tried all kinds of party starting, is letting the players themselves come up with back stories that link them together some how. Then I rain them in as needed. This helps give them some cohesion in the beginning. I have found this even works well on the numerous evil campaigns I have run. Though, it still comes down to players need to be mature enough to work together or it destroys the game.


Wander Weir wrote:

I really dislike the cliche beginning, "You're all sitting in a tavern..." myself. I've never run a game using that concept and I don't intend to unless I figure out a really interesting twist to it.

I prefer to start all characters for my campaigns with really thought out backgrounds. I work with the players to create an indepth history, examining personalities and motivations and working on weaving the characters together through that. Sometimes the PCs will have relationships that already exist at the beginning of the game, or they'll have a lot of background material that'll help to bind them together. Similar motivations, and the like.

Then I like to throw them right into the game. I usually write up an introduction for them to read while I'm setting up the table and then when I'm ready and they've gone through the introductions we hit the ground running. It's not always combat but something is always happening and usually dice are rolled as soon as they get to the end of their write-ups.

i like the old tavern bit, where's the first place every party goes when they get into town? that's right the tavern. you just gotta make each one cool and unique, somebody should make a cool tavern and inns book

Dark Archive

''You wake up with a terrible hangover in what appears to be a dungeon of some sorts.''

The Exchange

First, I apologize for assuming that everyone would understand that you don't put the PCs in any encounter, whether it be in a tavern or the midst of battle, with out description. I should have been more clear in my comments.

Utgardloki wrote:


I think "in medias res" is one of the things that has been abused in fiction, and never works in RPGs. The problem is that you don't have a clue what is happening and to whom and why, so why should you really care.

It not only works very well, I've never had a group that didn't enjoy it. When I do the standard "you're in a town/tavern/on road..." they just want me to hurry up and get to the point.

Granted you may not want to do this type of beginning unless you are playing with a group with whom you are familiar, and who are using their regular PCs or you are controlling the creation of the new PCs in some way.
It also isn't nice to do it to new players, they have enough to deal with just trying to keep track of all the numbers and learning rules. No need to make it harder by throwing them into a confusing situation.

Utgardloki wrote:
The problem with "in medias res" in RPGs is that the characters created may not be appropriate at all for the situation they found themselves in.

If someone is GMing for their regular group and can't develop an adventure/encounter that is appropriate for their PCs they have bigger problems than which narrative style to use. That's why you only do it with your regular group who use the same PCs every week in an established world/setting.

Now if you are not only starting a new adventure, but a whole new campaign with new PCs, that's a different story. Still if you know your group well enough, you know what kind of characters they are going to roll up anyway.

Utgardloki wrote:


If they are being chased by an ogre magi, how did they get there and why? If they are being executed by a baron, what did they do to get into that position?

You also don't drop them in and leave them with no explanation, that's just silly. Just like any other situation in any other adventure, you have to give them some idea of the situation and where they are in respect to what is happening. If you just started by saying "the executioners axe is swiftly approaching the back of you neck... what do you do," then not only are you doing a very poor job as a GM, you won't keep your players very long.

You always describe the immediate situation and environment. It doesn't matter if it is the standard "You are in a tavern..." or a more action oriented beginning.
You have to describe the tavern, the people, the atmosphere, and the PC's position(s). Have they been here before? Are they a regular customer? Do they know the owner/barmaid or anyone else in the room? Why did they come to this tavern and not the one across the street? Is there one across the street? What town is this?
Starting in the middle of an action sequence is no different. You have to give some kind of explanation of the current event and the atmosphere. Both instances are events/encounters and the PCs technically don't know what is going on in either scenario, until the GM describes it to them.

The Exchange

Wander Weir wrote:


I prefer to play with players who like to put a lot of work into their characters and especially favor those who like to write, which fortunately I do tend to find fairly frequently.

You're lucky.

Mine have their character's personalities down well enough and they tend to stay true to character, but they aren't big on developing their PCs past that. Generally I throw in the back-story elements, if I have an idea that I feel they will enjoy, as I develop adventures.


Enevhar Aldarion wrote:
United causes like the "summoning of heroes to save the world" from Lord of the Rings or the "common goal" from The Hobbit work well for me. The "save the world" bit also works just as well on a smaller scale with low level characters that are called together to save their homes when the town they all live in is menaced.

Gandalf built the party with help from Thorin in The Hobbit. That's definitely an option---some higher level mentor does the necessary introductions and suggests a course of action for a young band of freebooters to seek their fortune. Maybe he does it periodically as a way to weed out or at least make useful the area's talented new loose cannons :-)

Liberty's Edge

It varies, depending on the campaign.

In D&D, I've directed the characters to all worship the same deity, and then had them summoned to the local temple and asked to do missionary work!

In a Cyberpunk campaign, they did all start in a bar, but that bar was a) the scene of the first adventure and b) became their base, indeed they went into partnership with the owner, thereafter.

Spoiler:
Which sounds horribly like the opening part of the Second Darkness AP come to think of it, only I wrote the Neon Crocodile campaign in 1993!

Sometimes the opening session will be used to bring the characters together deliberately. Sometimes they meet during someone's hiring process, or all answer an advertisement.


Capt. D wrote:
Wander Weir wrote:


I prefer to play with players who like to put a lot of work into their characters and especially favor those who like to write, which fortunately I do tend to find fairly frequently.

You're lucky.

Mine have their character's personalities down well enough and they tend to stay true to character, but they aren't big on developing their PCs past that. Generally I throw in the back-story elements, if I have an idea that I feel they will enjoy, as I develop adventures.

I'm actually more picky than lucky. I love to play RPGs and am particularly fond of well-crafted campaigns but I do have standards. If I can't find a group of like-minded individuals I just don't play. It's rough sometimes, but I have better things to do than to waste my time in a game with GMs or Players who aren't interested in the same level of play. Unfortunately, that means that I sometimes have to go a few years without gaming while I search for the right group.

The Exchange

Wander Weir wrote:


I'm actually more picky than lucky. I love to play RPGs and am particularly fond of well-crafted campaigns but I do have standards. If I can't find a group of like-minded individuals I just don't play. It's rough sometimes, but I have better things to do than to waste my time in a game with GMs or Players who aren't interested in the same level of play. Unfortunately, that means that I sometimes have to go a few years without gaming while I search for the right group.

You're lucky too. I've got a player pool of about 8 people to choose from in my small rural town. 5 of those 8 are completely undependable and aren't that good at playing anyway. The other 3 are better at playing but are only slightly more dependable.

Outside of those 8 the only other person I have to game with is my 12 year old daughter. She's just learning, but is already better than most of the older players in the area. At least she has an excuse for not knowing the rules that well. She's only been gaming a few weeks. Now I just run solo adventures for her.


The easiet way to get everyone together is to have a waelty noble type in the party.
In a realms campagin I take my first level of aristocrate then wizard all the way. I have money to hire the other players or they were hired by my family to protect me.
In eberron I always take favored in house and play the very wealthy dragon marked noble type. It makes things so much easier to get a party together.
the players don't stay "working" for me very long before we just decide to adventure together although I keep them on the books so they can get house discounts.

Playing a noble/waelthy socilit is a lot of fun. Plus when NO other player is intrested in being the party face or putting ranks in diplomacy but they always want you to roll that dc 30 to get them +10% on all items the party sells.

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