View Full Version : Starting Campaigns

Gnomish Wanderer
2013-01-05, 10:49 PM
Throughout my many years of gaming, I've found the most awkward part of any campaign is the beginning. It seems I am always forced to stretch either my own or my players' imaginations uncomfortably to get the party together before I can actually get into my campaigns. I just can't seem to get a believable narrative or purpose for the party to group up without being blatant and railroading.

Things I've tried in the past:
Making the players from a village that is attacked, leaving just the four of them remaining to figure out what happened
Using some kind of magical calling to force them to be in one area
Hiring them independently to work together to complete a mission/job
Having the players incriminated for something they didn't do
Joining a guild and being banded together by a guild leader
And more than once, 'you figure it out'

The first one, while perhaps my most successful, had the distinct disadvantage of forcing a specific build from my characters, as d several others on that list. I really dislike the last one in all my games in general because it feels sloppy somehow, like I'm not doing my job to tell the beginning of the story.

So what kinds o things do you do to get the party together? Any gems out there that could be useful in curing the general awkwardness of starting a campaign?

2013-01-05, 11:34 PM
I find it's a good idea to do one session entirely devoted to character creation, and encourage my players to create backstory together and have some way of working together beforehand.

Golden Ladybug
2013-01-05, 11:57 PM
The single most common thing I do to get a Campaign going is throwing the players into the middle of something. Get them working together to achieve some sort of goal, so that once they succeed or fail in this endeavor, its natural for them to continue working together.

For example, my current real life campaign started with me telling the players that their character had responded to an offer of work from the portmaster of the shipping town the game started in. They were then told what the work was, and went off to accomplish it.

Rather than starting the game earlier, and spending the first session getting the characters to the point where they can start the first "quest/mission", I feel that it is more time efficient just to skip to that part and get to the more enjoyable stuff.

2013-01-06, 12:13 AM
The single most common thing I do to get a Campaign going is throwing the players into the middle of something. Get them working together to achieve some sort of goal, so that once they succeed or fail in this endeavor, its natural for them to continue working together.

I second this. If the characters get some initial momentum It's a high chance that they'll keep working together, the bigger the momentum the easier it'll get. (Moral issues with working across the alignment chart gets resolved quicker if there's a dragon behind the task threatening to eat them if they fail.)

2013-01-06, 12:14 AM
I generally try to start en media res. Having the players already involved in something keeps you from having that akward phase when people are trying to figure out what to do. Either that, or I kick things off with a combat encounter, as to get people excited and give them a clear opponent to face.

2013-01-06, 07:25 AM
I think that 'you figure it out' is actually the most helpful, but maybe turn it into 'we'll figure it out'.
May I further suggest having the getting together be something in the past, so it's nicely behind you by campaign start?

2013-01-06, 10:09 AM
I ususally go for either having everyone in the party already knowing each other, with a bit of time dedicated to working out how they all know each other and why. In one game I decided to play a Knight, and it turned out that one of the other players was playing a noblewoman. when asked why my character was on the missing I looked across at the other player and said "The Feudal system".

The other one i've found to work well is the all hired to do something variety.

My current campaign started with all of the characters on the road to a certain city, we discussed where it was, what the world was like, then everyone came up with a character and worked out why they would be going to the city, we also worked in some links which the characters wouldn't neccersarily know about when they all met on the road heading in the same direction.

2013-01-06, 12:03 PM
Use "you figure it out", but add lots of hints.

For example, when my party started at level 5 for a summer campaign, I told them they would all meet in the VIP box at a gladiator arena when the action hit them. Each player was required to think of a reason they'd be in the VIP box at the behest of the Emir or whatever.

This worked well - everyone had an adventuring flair to their backstory, they came together really quickly, and it set the stage for how notable the characters are relative to the world.

Seems easy to twist this same idea with different flavor. It's better than meeting in a tavern because EVERYONE goes into taverns - you wanna find a place that is suited to the characters in your campaign.

aberratio ictus
2013-01-06, 12:40 PM
Make them survivors. Start them off in dire situations, situations in which people are simply forced to work together.

For example, they could be inside the walls of a besieged city (most characters have reasons to be inside a city some time, and when the situation grows dire, even extremely different people work together), they could even be, if we take that scenario farther, part of a trail of refugees after the city falls (the only ones who are able to handle themselves, good and lawful characters might be interested in the welfare of the other refugees, chaotic and evil characters might be interested in strength of numbers while travelling through hostile lands) Another tried and true idea is to make them survivors of a shipwreck.

When they have successfully survived such a start at last, they should finally be accostumed to each other enough so that they don't start wandering off. Especially as the real plot kicks in.

2013-01-06, 01:02 PM
Almost every game I played had our characters as mercenaries hired for some specific task, like guarding the caravan (that was later ambush by the mobs) or finding some item by some rich guy (who turns out to be BBEG, who wants to dispose of us afterwards) or entertaining hutt crimelords on their brutal planet-wide games which are all crime and death and rage of the beast.
Oh, there was one time when we were all sentenced to death convicts that authorities sent to place infamous for being a deathtrap, but that was a unique case.

So, the pattern is clear - employing PCs to complete one common goal.

2013-01-06, 03:23 PM
I generally find that "you figure it out" is the least restrictive to character backgrounds, so it tends to be what I prefer to use. I have the various players figure out why their characters have come to the location, and then I rope the characters in with some (hopefully fail-safe) plot hook.

If it's a one-shot campaign, though, I'll likely just come up with some contrived reason that they're all in the same place at the same time. That's faster.

2013-01-06, 03:40 PM
I find it's a good idea to do one session entirely devoted to character creation, and encourage my players to create backstory together and have some way of working together beforehand.

1) Edge of the Empire: they're aboard the same ship and start the game having been hired to deliver a cargo to Na Shaadar (got the name wrong I know!).

2) Legend: Used pre-gens and had them members of the same village in the same setting as an earlier adventure but they start off with magic. That had them involved in a search for a missing villager eventually revealing one of the party is the estranged uncle of said missing villager whose father (and grandfather of the missing villager) was murdered by the patriarch of the village theocracy (based on the Beastmaster movie villain if you were wondering!)

3) Other Legend Game: Start off in the process of trying to liberate some captured villagers with the PCs consisting of two nobles, the village blacksmith and a woodsman and then introduced a quest for the barony which one noble was interested in whilst his sister was in line for a duchy due to some treasure she found during the second adventure...

4) Next Edge of the Empire game starts off with them on the run after their ship is stolen and the local Hutt has sent his enforcers after them because of the bounty on the heads of two of them...

5) Had a d6 space game where they're on Mars of the future and its under attack by the Cybermen and the Dalek from the Doc 9 episode of the same name reappears rather than self destructs and goes after them leading to them complaining that the guns on their ship are only annoying the Dalek... well it would wouldn't it!:smallwink:

6) Traveller game started off after months of emailed character generation with them using an inherited mining vessel to fulfil the last bequest of one PC's late uncle, didn't expect them to actually jump straight to the system as one player gave a really detailed description of the system interesting enough that I thought they'd go exploring... you never know!:smallbiggrin:

doc neon
2013-01-06, 05:59 PM
I find that it works best to tell the players where they will be starting before chargen, then let them work out how they got there during chargen. At the end, I'll have them state a prior relationship to one other character in the party, whether they're related by blood, they worked together, or were adventuring together before the party got together.

From there, it'd probably be best to give them some kind of plot impetus (your caravan is attacked by bandits! You are all accused of a crime you didn't commit! The town is being plagued by goblins!) as I've been somewhat guiding/railroading them towards the first quest in the past, and it hasn't worked out too well.

2013-01-06, 06:00 PM
One thing you can do is to require that their backstory have an element that allows them to be connected. For example, in the 3.5 campaign I'm running now, the characters were all supposed to have a connection to a certain noble family. They then all came together when the lord of the house asked them to do something which required some degree of finesse and couldn't be too closely connected to their house (in this case, finding his estranged daughter who ran off years before after being found researching forbidden necromantic rituals).

Morph Bark
2013-01-06, 06:17 PM
Current campaign of mine is probably the best example, considering the one before that started as all of them (save one) being prisoners on a slave-trader ship.

One of the PCs was travelling through the cold wilderness when he was attacked by a polar bear. He was saved by a group of three people (three more PCs) who were out there testing some new pseudo-magical technology. They told him they knew there was a village nearby where they could go to to rest and bind his wounds and get him some food and there they met the fifth PC, whose brother was the seventh (he joined a session after the sixth). The sixth PC was a baron who lived nearby who sought help in vanquishing a dragon who kept eating the livestock of his people.

My other campaigns that I've run have always been just two players, in which cases it was more travelling-together-out-of-convenience.

Jay R
2013-01-06, 07:58 PM
1. "Down the street a woman screams. What do you do?" I can get *any* PCs to work together if they all hear a scream.

2. To A: "As you are heading toward town, ten orcs attack you."
To B: "You see ten orcs attack a man coming your way."
To C: "You hear the sounds of fighting over the ridge."
To D: "You find orc tracks headed towards town."

2013-01-06, 08:55 PM
Hmm. My campaigns have started with:

"We found your minds stored in a centuries-old archive taken with us when we escaped from Earth ten years ago. As a test case for my version of the Mafia philosophy I'm giving you new bodies and 50,000 credits each, and you don't owe me anything..."

"There's a serial killer on the loose and the higher-ups have cut me orders not to get involved with the investigation. It's my damn precinct though, so I talked to my people on the down-low and they said you two were desperate enough to take a job like this. Are you in?"

2013-01-06, 10:26 PM
I've done introductory sessions and all that. For the current campaign I did an introductory session, but the character didn't get along with one another at all. So, those characters got scrapped and I started them over.

This was in d&d 3.5, so I told them that they could all play +1 LA races without a penalty this time. They all liked that and accomplished my secret task of creating a party of weirdo monster races. (Just plain asking a group to go play weirdos is less effective.)

In order to band them together, I presented them with an immediate obstacle in their way in the form of two angry and not very polite outsiders. The outsiders were rude to all of them both as a group and personally, but the group didn't end up slaughtering them all right off the bat.

Being discriminated against is often a very good way to make people feel closer to one another. The group was immediately angry at the Outsiders and intent on finding out what was going on around them and pursuing tasks without even questioning the intents of eachother. They were also in a town of almost all pure humans (with a few elves and halflings), so they banded together even further when they realized that they were the weird people in town and soon became even closer while being shifty eyed at everyone else they met. They also took the approach of judging individuals by their words and actions instead of automatically trusting them based on race. It's been great roleplaying so far.

TL;DR Give all the players the chance to play slightly stronger races. Lead them all into playing wierdo races, then present discrimination on top of them at the get-go. Watch as the weirdos suddenly band together against the world.

Kobold Esq
2013-01-06, 11:31 PM
I agree with making the players figure it out. You get more cohesive groups that way.

2013-01-07, 02:18 AM
I'm a big fan of in media res. If done right, all of the players feel like they have something to do or something to contribute to the group. You can kind of get the same feeling by describing how they all just accomplished something together, or went through some common experience, but they will never really coalesce into a unified group until they have actually overcome something together. Something you can use to cement a group after this is to allow them to choose their own name. You can throw any old adventurer into a party, but by letting them choose a corporate identity you give them a sense of belonging.