Ways to get an adventure started


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion


What are some good ways to start an adventure i.e explain why the PCs are interested in participating in the first place. At low levels I figure someone could put up an equivalent of a "help wanted" message i.e a piece of paper pinned to a tree or whatever in the town square stating the person's predicament, along with a reward and explaining where to meet the quest giver if interested. At high levels I imagine someone would just use sending or dream to send a message asking for help, as the PCs are probably at least somewhat famous by now (indeed legend lore/vision can identify anyone level 11 or higher.)


There is also the dynamic approach. Like the session starts with a description of the village the party is travelling to for the harvest fair, figuring it will be a good opportunity to look for opportunities. Then you ask one of the character's to make a perception roll. Why? They are on night watch when the attack comes while camping on the way. In the aftermath of the battle the party should be asking if this was random or part of somwthing? Should they followup themselves or report it to someone?


Do we not have a "101 Adventure Hooks" or similar thread somewhere in the board's history? Lemme see if I can find anything.


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I usually leave it to the players to design characters that have an interest in adventuring, and feed them the bait with the hooks they need to get started. Other times, things just happen to them and the adventurers are filtered out of the remains of what is left. In the Ironfang adventure path, I had the players make up interesting NPCs that were pre-existing in the setting and they got to play the ones that survived, able to retrain into actual PC class levels.

Specific exceptions exist when a player is new to the game, or table top roleplay, in general. I go out of my way to help them along.


Starting in media res can put off the day when PCs need to decide why they're in the adventure and maybe negate it entirely.

Encouraging players not to make characters whose reaction to adventures would be to avoid them is a fairly basic step too. I did know a guy who was prone to this error once, though we've since parted ways.


The party is levied into the militia when the town is facing a goblin army.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
avr wrote:

Starting in media res can put off the day when PCs need to decide why they're in the adventure and maybe negate it entirely.

Encouraging players not to make characters whose reaction to adventures would be to avoid them is a fairly basic step too. I did know a guy who was prone to this error once, though we've since parted ways.

This. I'm a fan of giving all the players a setting (town, family, friends, etc.) to build into and one fairly innocuous introductory event (a party, a fair, a meeting, etc.) that they give a reason for being at. When the party is attacked and a friend is carried off, everyone begins contracting a mysterious illness at the town fair, or a strange uncle at the meeting sends them after an objective, it's fairly likely that they'll want to see things through at that point, because their connections to the narrative make it the thing that a person in that situation would do.


Give them a set starting point, a location (probably a village or city large enough to expect diversity in both races and classes), then tell them to provide you with a backstory that leads them to this town.

Make sure you, either:

A) tell them to not be on TOO specific of a personal quest, or...

B) be flexible enough to incorporate their personal quests/reasons for being there into your campaign (probably give them hero points or a free trait for completing their personal goals while still fully participating in your campaign).

Either way, they find themselves gathered in a common area (such as a pub, a park, a town square, a crowd gathering around an overturned wagon, a festival of sorts, they are all spectacle to a seemingly random out of place event like a dual in the streets or a murder or the arrival of a mysterious knight at gates).

Then, they end up partying together because, despite the circumstances, they clearly share a common mentality... such as the party of generally Good alignment characters may be the only people to step out of the crowd to help upright the overturned wagon, blah blah blah...

Pretty much as soon as they meet each other, you have a hook to set... it doesn't have to be related to the main story, it just has to be something that gets them to act as a team for the first time.

A rogue steals the Paladin's purse as you all exchange pleasantries after helping to upright the overturned wagon, his new friends help him in pursuit of the rogue without being asked (because they are good people).

Obviously the reverse applies for a more Evil or really Chaotic alignment party. They can be the first people to step out of the crowd and start looting the overturned wagon and end up partying together because a Paladin shows up to chase them away.

Whatever you do, and I can't stress this enough, DO NOT, under any circumstances, do the Bethesda prisoner BS. I love Morrorwind/Oblivion/Skyrim, but that beginning is completely lame. And it always will be.


I guess that makes more sense, as they kind of have to participate then. I guess you could still put up the "help wanted" things as side-quests or whatever (which the players can just ignore if they want).


- The town festival is in full swing when orcs attack.

- Everyone is invited to a funeral and the will leaves them riches, but only if they complete a task.

- A mysterious illness grips the town, and the local wizard went missing in the caves while investigating. A reward is offered to anyone who finds him.

- The party wakes up in a cell with no memories.

Those are all actual beginnings for published paizo APs.

For our Kingmaker game we decided to go all-divine party who worship the same god. So for us our church sent us to settle the stolen lands in the name of Iomedae.


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I'm down with the D.O. upthread; I count on my players and the interests they roleplay from their characters. Here's my usual start to a campaign:

1. I pick the source material (modules, AP, etc) or write up an outline
2. Pitch the idea to my players to gauge interest
3. Finalize opening setting notes for the players and present them; relevant locales, potential opening monsters (for Favored Enemy picks), this is the general gist of the campaign (wilderness survival, deep dungeon hacks, political intrigue, etc) and theme.

Once this is done and players set their characters off in the world I generally just bait them with whatever plot hook(s) are relevant to the area. Some are obvious, like Old Man Withers going around telling all the local adventurers his barn is haunted and asking for help. Others are more subtle.

For the subtle ones, I look to the players.

For example, if you've got a druid in the party with a player who enjoys wilderness survival and plays their character as a destroyer of wicked fey creatures, you might simply mention a "dungeon forest" with a weird reputation. If this isn't enough, try spreading a rumor in local taverns of the Dark Hunters (insert evil fey here). If the player still hasn't taken the bait, hit them over the head with something obvious like a kidnapping.

I've been labeled a problem player because I have the "what's that" disease. That is, to me when I'm a player everything is a plot hook. If we're traveling on the road and my GM drops a hint that several old ruins are said to dot the landscape, unless we have some dire mission I will spearhead the party for one of the ruins. If we're in a dungeon and the GM mentions that the room shows signs it was once painted purple I might make the party wait 10 minutes while I cast Mending on a bit of masonry, followed by Prestidigitation, just so I can get a good look at the original detail and see if a Knowledge: History or Nobility or Dungeoneering reveals more info.

Finally there are those players who NEED linear games. If you say "you notice a rock in the corner that shines with a strange luster" intending for the party to pick it up and carry it to the local blacksmith for a side quest, a linear thinker might be like "Is it treasure? No? Does it help us defeat the Naga we came in here after? No? Forget it" and move on.

For these folks make sure you've got obvious versions of the subtle plot hooks ready. In the above for example have the "rock" be found in the hand of the corpse of the blacksmith's assistant with a note scrawled in blood that says "4 blksmth" so there's some direction. That might be a little too obvious but hopefully you take my meaning.


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Mark Hoover 330 wrote:
I've been labeled a problem player because I have the "what's that" disease. That is, to me when I'm a player everything is a plot hook. If we're traveling on the road and my GM drops a hint that several old ruins are said to dot the landscape, unless we have some dire mission I will spearhead the party for one of the ruins. If we're in a dungeon and the GM mentions that the room shows signs it was once painted purple I might make the party wait 10 minutes while I cast Mending on a bit of masonry, followed by Prestidigitation, just so I can get a good look at the original detail and see if a Knowledge: History or Nobility or Dungeoneering reveals more info.

As a GM, I love players like you, especially if they're willing to humor my off-the-cuff explanations and invented-on-the-fly dungeon maps.


I have found a lot of success in long campaigns (6mos-2yr campaigns) with this approach: in the very beginning of any campaign, I make it a point to involve the first story hooks to be entirely about the characters' backstories (the messier the mash-up, the better), and then onto the main plot lines and the 101 adventure story hooks can go from there for side questing. Every couple of levels or so, each character will be drawn back to their backstory somehow.

Sovereign Court

I can recall an old adventure starting in a Bar (No, really.).

The adventurers are all sitting at different tables in various stages of a meal/drink/whatever, when into the bar strides a hefty human. Just as this human crosses the center of the room, a crashing rumble is heard and the entire room pitches wildly. Ceiling beams fall, support pillars topple over, dust and darkness flood the room and ... as the sound settles down to silence the players realize the entire building has collapsed in on itself, sinking into a maze of old tunnels under the city.

Now... can you win free to the surface and escape the ruins of what used to be "Big Al's Bar and Grill"?

Sovereign Court

How about an adventure hook?.


Does someone contact the PCs with sending or dream make since at mid to high level? I would say so, as by mid-level (8-10) or so, they are probably at least somewhat famous, and by high level (17-20), they are probably world famous (especially if they've completed an Adventure Path.)


Yqatuba wrote:
Does someone contact the PCs with sending or dream make since at mid to high level? I would say so, as by mid-level (8-10) or so, they are probably at least somewhat famous, and by high level (17-20), they are probably world famous (especially if they've completed an Adventure Path.)

I think that is completely reasonable.

In the Kingmaker AP, you are a King before level 10, so you can easily argue that the renown of a PC is significant enough to warrant the attention of someone with the resources to make use of such magic to get ahold of them.

Some PC's may be too busy, don't actually sleep, or just flat out are not inclined to obey dream messages... but as a means to simply justify the party being in the same place to start your campaign... I think it's plenty adequate.

The Exchange

here's one I used once... The adventurers were on a ship in the Inner Sea, on their way to deliver a package in Absalom

Message in a Dream:

Suddenly, standing in the middle of what was an otherwise pleasant dream of … something (you knew a moment ago, but it seems to be slipping away)… is an older male human with a long grey beard, singed on one side and a large pointed hat. He appears slightly confused about something, and muttering to someone you can’t see – who isn’t even there.

“How exactly is this thing supposed to work again?” he glances down at his hand clasping the edge of a rust colored cloak he is wearing. (Knowledge Arcane: DC22 to recognizing it as a "Cloak of Dream Sending"). The rest of his outfit consists of worn black scholars robes covered in arcane symbols (with what appear to be food stains at odd points), and pointed leather slippers (one white and the other black) with the toes turned up. Small tassels dangle from the tips of the toes. The man continues to talk to someone you can’s see “You sure he can hear me? Seems like a silly way to send a message if you ask me… “

He raised his voice and looks right thru you. “The delivery location needs to be changed. It wouldn’t be safe for you to bring ..ah…’the cargo’, thru the streets of the city.” He glances to his left and seems to speak to someone beside him. “What do you mean, lower my voice? I want him to hear me right? And he’s all the way out to sea! Stands to reason I’d need to speak up!”

He turns back to you, looking to a spot just over your left shoulder. “SO, we’ve set up to meet you at a location just outside of the city. There’s an old siege tower that’s been recently cleared out by adventurers. Just five miles west of city walls – and the entire eastern face of the tower has collapsed. But the rest of it’s structurally sound.” He glances back to his left and lowers his voice – speaking to someone else again. “Think the bugger will be able to find it? I mean, I can’t exactly give an address, the thing’s a ruin for Nethys sake, not like he can stop and ask directions, nothing out there but mongrel dogs and undead…”. Looking back toward you with a smile, and speaking to a spot just past your right shoulder, “You can’t miss it. Only standing building in the area. Sixty feet tall stone spire. Entire front face peeled off. We’ll be waiting for your arrival in the upper room – smashing view of the city I’m told. You should be able to fly right up to it, nothing around for miles. Anyway – Mortimur says you’ll be there tomorrow about this time, and we’ll keep tabs on your progress till then. Got every confidence in you! See you then.” Glancing back to his left, “what? I already told him who… again? He knows who I am! It’s not every day someone gets a visit from the High Priest of Nethys!”

Glancing to a spot just behind your torso he finishes up: “Anyway, bang up job you chaps are doing! Keep up the good work See you soon!” he begins to tug at the drawstring holding the cloak on, “there, that went well if I do say so myself. And I still have time to make the evening dessert cart…” as he removes the cloak he winks out of your dream and you awaken.

It's for a home game, but I could easily see it being adapted for PFS... Delivered by VC Drang perhaps? Yeah, in the middle of the night...


This is supposed to be an idea generating thread so I'll post some ideas later, but first, I wanted to express my dislike for side quests and messages in dreams.

These things are frequently used for abruptly changing the direction of a story. If the story is a road, these things are sudden changes in direction; even roads in the middle of nowhere when they turn like that are often given different names at the L intersection. To continue the road analogy, it's difficult to gather momentum on those roads. You want a highway - a road that gradually makes a 90 degree turn, but turns smoothly at every point. The road may still meander back and forth, but it's unquestionably the same road.

Abrupt starts / turns / stops are okay for one-off adventures, but for continuous adventures there's an opportunity to set the bar much higher.

The characters motivations should draw from their backgrounds, and their future quests from the current quest. This requires some seeding of potential story lines as you go along.

Four people may start their adventure at a bar when someone stumbles in with an arrow in their back and dies on the table. That's a good way to jump start a one-shot adventure, for sure. But in a longer term campaign you want to tie it in to a larger story - PC #1 was expecting to meet the dead person, PC #2 discovers he knew the dead person, PC #3's father was murdered using the same arrow, and PC #4 was there watching the bartender. Later on quests can start with combinations of those backstories - PC #2's history with dead guy leads PC #1 to caves only DP's childhood friends knew, where they find evidence tying PC #3's dad to the bartender, which helps PC #4 put together the evil plot to take over the world.

At the end of it, there should be some unanswered questions and loose ends that form the fabric of the next adventure.

The Exchange

Watery Soup wrote:

This is supposed to be an idea generating thread so I'll post some ideas later, but first, I wanted to express my dislike for side quests and messages in dreams.

These things are frequently used for abruptly changing the direction of a story. If the story is a road, these things are sudden changes in direction; even roads in the middle of nowhere when they turn like that are often given different names at the L intersection. To continue the road analogy, it's difficult to gather momentum on those roads. You want a highway - a road that gradually makes a 90 degree turn, but turns smoothly at every point. The road may still meander back and forth, but it's unquestionably the same road.

Abrupt starts / turns / stops are okay for one-off adventures, but for continuous adventures there's an opportunity to set the bar much higher.

The characters motivations should draw from their backgrounds, and their future quests from the current quest. This requires some seeding of potential story lines as you go along.

Four people may start their adventure at a bar when someone stumbles in with an arrow in their back and dies on the table. That's a good way to jump start a one-shot adventure, for sure. But in a longer term campaign you want to tie it in to a larger story - PC #1 was expecting to meet the dead person, PC #2 discovers he knew the dead person, PC #3's father was murdered using the same arrow, and PC #4 was there watching the bartender. Later on quests can start with combinations of those backstories - PC #2's history with dead guy leads PC #1 to caves only DP's childhood friends knew, where they find evidence tying PC #3's dad to the bartender, which helps PC #4 put together the evil plot to take over the world.

At the end of it, there should be some unanswered questions and loose ends that form the fabric of the next adventure.

a dream in the quest:
Was this post above directed at my "Message in a Dream" suggestion? I would point out that in the story the PCs were tasked with delivering a package (actually a portable hole full of stuff) to the Temple of Nethys in Absalom, and the dream was actually directed at them from the BBE... trying to intercept the package. Lead the PCs astray. Due to other clues (in the dream and elsewhere in foreshadowing - and because my players are paranoid) the PCs were able to figure out that "it's a Trap". Or at least they assumed so. So they were then presented with a decision - to continue to the original location for the delivery (in Absalom) or try to "ambush the ambush". They actually decided to just go to the original delivery (Temple of Nethys) and report the "Dream" ambush attempt there.

Discussion when something like this...
Player One:"We were contracted to deliver the package. That's what we do first. We're a DELIVERY SERVICE." (The campaign was called "Special Delivery and the PCs worked for a Delivery Service specializing in high value magic items.)
Player Two with a Star Wars quote:"'Stay on target'. Yeah, head strait into town."


blahpers wrote:
Do we not have a "101 Adventure Hooks" or similar thread somewhere in the board's history? Lemme see if I can find anything.

I found 101 Adventures in Tian Xia, but it only is up to 1 at the moment.

A better one is Good starting points for PCs.

Of course, as a grognard, I like "You all meet up at a bar".

blahpers wrote:
Mark Hoover 330 wrote:
I've been labeled a problem player because I have the "what's that" disease. That is, to me when I'm a player everything is a plot hook. If we're traveling on the road and my GM drops a hint that several old ruins are said to dot the landscape, unless we have some dire mission I will spearhead the party for one of the ruins. If we're in a dungeon and the GM mentions that the room shows signs it was once painted purple I might make the party wait 10 minutes while I cast Mending on a bit of masonry, followed by Prestidigitation, just so I can get a good look at the original detail and see if a Knowledge: History or Nobility or Dungeoneering reveals more info.
As a GM, I love players like you, especially if they're willing to humor my off-the-cuff explanations and invented-on-the-fly dungeon maps.

I had a party spontaneously charge into a food hunt en mass because I metioned they spotted a deer off in the distance. Failure to catch up to it quickly did not discourage them. In the end I made up a hunting random encounter taking maybe twenty minutes to play out before they returned to the main plot.

/cevah


@ /C with the boss hair: Ironically I started a campaign that ended abruptly due to scheduling issues, but THAT started from a random encounter. I had intended to run an urban dungeon type campaign but the players made up pretty generic, level 1 PCs. Trying to get them TO the city that my dungeon would be set around I had the players escorting a small caravan.

Said caravan was attacked at night by a few kobolds with a tatzlwyrm. In the morning, noting how close on the map the caravan was to their home village, the players decided to try and follow the kobolds' tracks back to their lair. I warned them this might take a lot of time; the caravan was paying them to get to the city. The PCs quit their contracts with the merchants, citing that there were other NPC guards to get the caravan the rest of the way and this kobold threat could be serious to their homes and the fighter's family.

We only made it to level 3 but the PCs never did make it to the city. They followed the tracks of a random wilderness encounter, from there encountered more kobolds with a dragon-worshipping shrine, and the players began plotting out a long-term strategic siege of the kobold caves.


Cevah wrote:
Of course, as a grognard, I like "You all meet up at a bar".

My favorite variant: "OK, you're all meat in a tavern."

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