View Full Version : Memorable Campaign Beginnings

2013-03-02, 04:07 AM
I have seen a number of threads recently about how newbie DMs/GMs need help starting campaigns. I like the answers I've been reading, but I think it would be cool to have a thread with only stories and examples of good, memorable campaign starts. Sometimes you just need to look at good examples instead of wading through a discussion on a single aspect of starting a session.

To that end, please share your memorable/effective campaign beginnings. What made them memorable for your group? How did it affect the campaign or player characters?

Probably the most memorable campaign start for my group was a d20 Future campaign in which I told players that session 1 would be character building. "Have a character in mind," I said, "but don't pre-build it or fall in love with anything too specific." When the players showed up I asked them for reasons they'd be on a transport ship from planet A to planet B, and then had them roll up a set of Ability Scores. Before they could assign the numbers I started the game. The players were all in cold sleep on the spaceship, when suddenly an explosion triggered the emergency releases and their pods shut down. I told them to pick a stat and assign it to STR so they could make a check to push the pods open. There was fire and explosions, and through the course of the first session I had them make choices about saving people, hacking ship systems, and piloting the ship out of the path of an asteroid. Each choice was associated with a plot point or a mandatory skill/feat that the character had to take. We ended up with a first-aid/mech pilot, a gunner/swordfighter, and a computer nerd leader with ties to rebel forces. By the end of it they had pulled together the right resources to save the ship instead of using the escape pods.

I think this method worked so well because even though my players still got to choose how their characters would act and what kinds of activities they were good at, it forced them to think outside of their normal comfort zones to run with the character traits they had. For me it had the benefit of forcing a modicum of party balance. Another thing that made it work so well was the tension! I played appropriate music while I described them waking from cold sleep in a panic, and the urgency continued with every room description. The risk of dying in cold space was perfect for motivating them to work together. The reward of saving their own spaceship (beat up as it was) was a "feel-good" moment for everyone.

So, what is your most memorable campaign kickoff?

2013-03-02, 02:42 PM
I had a campaign in which we all met in an inn. What a completely original idea that's never been done before or since!

2013-03-02, 02:53 PM
I once started a campaign waking up from having been taken prisoner and drugged. Woke up in a cell in the back of a crashed airship with an anti-magic bracelet on. ended up having the barbarian sharing a cell with me break my hand so I could get it off.

2013-03-02, 03:43 PM
One campaign started from a restaurant (not an inn!), once they were hired by the village mayor because they were the only available people with combat skills, another time they all actually started at the same inn but didn't actually meet there (they met when summoned to the local church), once they were an already-established squad in an anti-magic inquisition, in one case they were sons of a criminal family... relatively different things and relatively memorable, but the most random of all was definitely the start of our magitech-ish campaign (also the one that ran the longest):

The Dwarf Barbarian was happily living in a tiny shack on a semi-deserted island with his dear mother for no real reason. The other two characters were a pyromaniac Elf Wizard and a just plain batty Human Cleric who basically got thrown off the ship they were working on, simply for being too darn annoying. They befriended the Dwarf and got recruited by an airship that made an emergency landing on the island.

Even if most of it was just silly, one quote made it into party mythology for some reason (much to my annoyance):
"We were attacked by beasts!"

That might not sound like much without an explanation, but I think it's enough to say that "beasts" in Finnish is said exactly the same way as "pedos". The general bluntness of that line and the fact that the most badly wounded person was a halfling woman didn't help my case at all.

2013-03-02, 04:03 PM
Not exactly a new-new campaign, but...

The first year I ran my campaign, the party had tracked down and beaten off the BBEG's attempt to seize the McGruffin god-artifact. In the process, it had been buried in a volcanic eruption. I had timed the arc to conclude at the end of spring semester. Over the summer, we decided that the characters split up, with the promise of regrouping a year later to reminisce. There was a minor level jump, and I allowed people to make new characters if they so chose (which I think wound up being about half the group).

In the fall, we all met back up. The returning half of the party were sitting around a table, wondering where the rest of their friends were. A stranger comes up to them, dressed in a plain brown cloak.

"Where is Krona's Heart?" he asks, voice slightly askew.

The party reacts with a range of "WTF?" and "not telling you, mate." The stranger reaches down and tosses a suspiciously-stained and -sized sack onto the table.

"Where is the Heart?"

One of the players looks inside the sack. The severed head of one of the missing party members* looks back at him.

And then violence happened.

(*Who had agreed to his guy being bumped off ahead of time, don't worry)

2013-03-02, 04:15 PM
I started one of my campaigns by having my players create characters for a near future game, then cut abruptly to 10 AF when they were reinstantiated by an unsettlingly polite mob boss.

I was in a campaign in which my character woke up with an awful hangover, watching his ship sail away without him and hearing the footsteps on an approaching orc warband...

2013-03-03, 08:06 AM
Our campaign started last year in a city under siege. All of the would be party members were inside the city at the moment the siege began and had at that time not met yet. They were all there for their own reasons. One of the characters was a guard in the specific city, my character found refuge in the city and most of the others were just resting from their journeys when they suddenly got trapped in the city.
The first part of session one, we were all doing our own things in the city and the dm presented us with small quest. We met some npc's and had some chance encounters with eachother. At some point in time, three of us teamed up against an enemy spy and took her down.
During the course of the day, the ruler of the city gained word from our skills. He summoned all six of us. It seemed that the imperial princess was within the city walls. We were given the choice to evacuate her highness trough a secret tunnel that went way underground or fight a bunch of invading orcs in the streets. We chose option one. We got the princess out, brought her to the capital where we received a new mission (and a reward offcourse).

I really enjoyed this one because it gave all the players the chance to introduce their characters and presented us with a central threat and a goal.

Another campaign started deep in a dungeon where all but one of us were trapped in a cage and we had to find a way out. It may sound obvious, but its always important to present the characters with a reason to work together.

2013-03-03, 09:49 AM
My favourite campaign opening to date, almost verbatim, went thus:

DM: "You are all half a mile up in the air and falling at terminal velocity"

It went on with "... surrounded by the burning, shattered remains of your airship. Above you, the dragon roars triumphantly, and with a thunderous beat of his wings, flies upwards into the clouds. What do you do?

We were prisoners aboard an airship of paladins, and were attacked by a dragon. It became the ultimate party mission to find and kill that dragon. Great campaign!

Amidus Drexel
2013-03-03, 10:22 AM
I remember starting a campaign in an inn. Except it was on fire. We were chased around the burning city by wild dogs and a dragon until we finally escaped through the sewer system.

The Fury
2013-03-03, 01:49 PM
My favourite campaign opening to date, almost verbatim, went thus:

DM: "You are all half a mile up in the air and falling at terminal velocity"

It went on with "... surrounded by the burning, shattered remains of your airship. Above you, the dragon roars triumphantly, and with a thunderous beat of his wings, flies upwards into the clouds. What do you do?

We were prisoners aboard an airship of paladins, and were attacked by a dragon. It became the ultimate party mission to find and kill that dragon. Great campaign!

...How did you survive the fall?

2013-03-03, 02:05 PM
Shadow run game i am running.

Al characters made and ready, all excited for the premise i had given them, all fairly new to shadowrun aswell. (premise working for a company doing odd jobs)

Opening scene and description:

"Its late evening, most of the normal working class people would be asleep, around 1 am, your at you workplace designated communal home. Its on fire, a huge explosion is heard just next door and people are screaming, and gunfire blazing, 2 figures in full combat gear burst into the room and point smg's at you, roll initative"

Was funny seeing how they reacted.. seeing as none of them expected me to be quite so harsh on game 1.

Angel Bob
2013-03-03, 02:10 PM
After one of our campaigns disbanded for about a year, I was given the task of resurrecting it. The characters' period of inactivity resulted in the villain taking over the kingdom; they reassembled in the capital city where he reined. New laws required all citizens to submit to a blood test and have their blood filed in the Sanguinary Archives (the villain was a blood magic kind of wizard); obviously, the PCs found creative ways to avoid this and went about their business.

After puttering around for a bit, picking a fight with some thieves, and antagonizing a bunch of snobby elves, they elected to leave and quest for a Helm of Seven Deaths. Now is probably a good time to mention that this city was located on an earthmote about a mile up, the only way off being the teleportation circles, flying mounts, or falling to your death. The group returned to the Teleportation Station, only to find it under heavy guard (since the last time they came through here, they dodged the blood test and put it on red alert). The leader managed to stall the guards long enough to run over to the magicians' guild and recruit a mage friend of his.

As the leader approached, the wizard's familiar saw him coming first, and received the message "Follow my lead." The leader then appeared, greeted the guards -- and ran off the edge of the earthmote, with an unseen mage casting Feather Fall on him. The three other members of the party followed suit, and successfully pulled off the most amazing stunt our D&D group has ever managed.

Well, one of the most amazing stunts our D&D group has ever managed. Shortly thereafter, they met up with a dwarf cleric (latecomer to the campaign) who proceeded to pick a lock with her beard and scare off a dragon. Long story.

2013-03-04, 06:12 AM
Starting at one of the possible ends of a campaign

The players made an evil party for a supposed god on earth. The campaign was a spin off from the normal campaign, which has been going on for 5 years and counting. They were now interpreting the evil side of the war they are facing, so they better understand their enemy.

The campaign started with them awakening on an airship that was on fire and about to crash into the Spire (Sigil, Planescape).
They remembered little of how they got there, as they were confused and infused with strange magical energy.
They see the ship breaking up and losing pieces, almost splitting in two.
They reach the command room, where they meet a force of soldiers and get killed one after another. This was the entire first session.

After that, i told them that they actually experienced nothing of that. All they have seen was inside a crystall ball that only the BBEG (their chief) saw. And it was only one of the possible futures that they could experience. They were actually kneeled in front of him the whole time, while he looked inside the ball, divining the possible outcomes of their missions.

The campaign ended a few months later, the cleric lost his powers when he discovered the BBEG wasn't a god, but only wielded a god-like sword that gave him power.
The group died while trying to board the airship on the material plane and about to planeshift, trapped, killed and tortured by their own "normal campaign" characters.

Zombie yourself

I started a Zombie campaign by asking PCs to make characters that were an idealized version of themselves. I didn't tell them the adventure was about zombies. I told it was a modern-day standard adventure. (one of them said "how cool it would be to play a zombie-apocalypse" and i told him "maybe someday")
Then, on the night of the game, i went to the bathroom and made some noises against the door. When i came back, i told them the game had started. They were there, at the table, and heard the noises at the bathroom door. The only difference was i never actually walked out. Inside there was me, zombified. They proceeded of course to kill me and take my things.

I told them they had whatever they had at that moment. They started searching their backpacks looking for what they could use. When the PCs went into the streets, we (players) actually went into the street and the players searched their cars for anything of use, even checking for fuel. One of them was so lucky he had a competion crossbow in his trunk!

2013-03-05, 03:31 PM
First off, I just want to comment, in the spirit of this thread, that no GM worth his/her salt should ever begin a campaign by having the characters meet in a tavern. It is the laziest and weakest beginning for a campaign I can think of without just saying "so you all meet and become best friends because I said so". A truly artful beginning needs to cement why the characters would continue to adventure together, even after the first job is done.

Anyway, I just started a campaign in a fantasy world I created where the PC's started out in a jail. I told them they were all asked "What're you in for?" during their stay and they introduced their characters to each other by answering the question (of course with the ability to lie). They then met a political prisoner named Old Benjen who was rumored to be planning a breakout. Together they forged a fake key, switched it with the real key to the dungeons, started a fight so they all could get sent to solitary (which was in the dungeons) and broke out through a corroded wall that only Benjen knew about. The hole linked up to an old catacomb tunnel which led to the resting place of an old war hero named Arannis the Steadfast and his legion. The party had to fight through the burial chamber, full of skeletons and other undead, disarm a thief catcher trap I designed, take down the reanimated corpse of Arannis himself and solve a religion-based puzzle to get out the other way. They were then led into an ancient ritual chamber, containing a statue for each character that is a perfect likeness and an ancient text saying that they are the heroes prophesized to save the land from a cataclysmic event.

2013-03-05, 04:51 PM
GM and five players. It's the 1980's, but no mullets were harmed in the process. The players (myself included, this was before I became a perpetual GM) picked our character sheets randomly from five the GM had already created.

"You awake on a beach. You are one of about thirty people there, none of whom you recognize. Your last memory was of going to sleep in the hull of a ship; you are not wearing the clothes you went to sleep in."

<pause for effect>

"Roll for initiative."

2013-03-05, 07:38 PM
If anyone has ever played that old game Nox by Westwood studios, this will be very familiar.

Each party member started off at home or somewhere else in the normal world.
In another world (this being Planescape and each world being a separate crystal sphere) a powerful mage summons powerful (but inactive) magic items from across the Prime Material, opening portals in the process. The party members are sucked into the portals along with the seemingly mundane items that they happened to be nearby and ended up literally falling into the 'D&D' world while the mcuffin parts are whisked away into the distance. By the time they organise themselves and figure out what's going on they are in a race to get their stuff back from the mage and stop his plans in the process.

Now that by itself actually wasn't that special or memorable. It was the characters themselves and their responses/actions that made it so good.

2013-03-06, 07:42 AM
The two notable beginnings my players seem to recall of mine:

1. The Train Job - Western campaign, I started the players as passengers on a train headed for a big town out in the west. They each heard a different piece of a rumor that the train's cargo contained a strange magical artifact. One by one, the players picked up clues that there was a group on the train trying to steal the artifact.

Ends with a rooftop gun fight on a moving train where the players decided to band together against the thieves. They won, and thus began an interesting adventure in the wild west.
This campaign happened over a year before the PS2 game "Wild Arms 3" came out in the USA (It starts the exact same way!).

2. Demolition - Modern conspiracy game. It started out with the the players all waking up on the roof of a 20-story building. They had nothing but their clothes on their backs and they were all tied to a long 200 pound cylinder that had a countdown timer on it. Watching them was a government man in a black suit who told them they had an hour to reach the lobby and find the keys to unshackle themselves from the bomb. Else...
The government man leaves by a helicopter from the roof.

To facilitate the scenario, I had put together lego men tied to a lego log using string. This made it work interestingly on the combat map because movement was restricted. The building was filled with hazards, assassins, odd spooky unknowns, and a scattering of equipment they can use to help them escape.
The party reached the lobby with only minutes to spare, unlocked their shackles and escaped (the bomb was actually a container filled with chocolate) into the streets.

A large black limo awaited them, with the government man, congratulating the party on surviving the first day of boot camp. Welcome to the Conspiracy! :smallamused:

Jay R
2013-03-06, 10:15 AM
I started a super-hero campaign as follows:

To player 1: You hear a woman scream. Looking in that direction, you see flames.
To player 2: You see a column of smoke to the left.
To player 3: On the police scanner, you hear about an apartment building on fire, a few blocks away.
To player 4: You hear sirens to the north.
To player 5: Sitting around at home, watching TV, it seems to be getting awfully warm.

2013-03-06, 11:41 AM
I remember how my friend's PF campaign began. There was this place called,
"The Adventurer's Inn" it was run by a kobold god.
The PCs were drinking in the main room when we got forced into a fight. Now this fight was organized by the kobold god himself. He took away our weapons and made us fight unarmed. Nonlethal damage only.
There were 2 teams. The PCs were all on one team, and the NPCs on the other. My character was a dwarf with a constitution score of 20 so he was the last to fall. It was a pseudo-TPK. No PCs actually died we all just got knocked out by nonlethal damage.
It was interesting. I thought it was a great first session.

2013-03-07, 09:36 PM
In my very-second game I played a Ninja Halfling, I started with a mision of ''taking'' a piece of a meteorite that crashed ground little ago, but my character was careless and he got trapped and jailed (the ninja, huh) in a castle/citadel, so when my character regained counsciousness, he looked by a side of the jail and a person was beign killed by a strange person (another PC).

He tried to enter my jail, I rolled Escape Artist and got rid of the ropes, when he was about to kill me (got to tell that he was a Warlock), my DM rolled % and told me that I had a poisoned dart in my power that my ''client'' gave me. So I hit the ''murderer'' and he slept, then I escaped from the jails.

I walked to a hall where a dog attacked me, I climbed to a pilar for safeness, but the dog was barking too much, I tried to silence it by attacking it with my kamas, but I rolled a 1 and he catched me with its jaws and struggled me until unconsciouness...

I woke up a while later, where an old man was carrying me as a corpse, he threw me outside the castle and I threw a shuriken on his face, instakilling him. I explored the place a little bit before I heard barks and screams, then a bunch of kids appeared from the nowhere and a lot of dogs were chasing them, I attacked the dogs for the sake f the kids (though I killed 2 myself because of my 1s...) then a party arrived at the place, another bad guy appeared from the inner castle and attacked me (another PC), but the party killed him...

2013-03-08, 05:43 AM
And I thought my idea of starting the players as prisoners on an airship was original :)

2013-03-08, 06:20 AM
The entire party awake to discover they are dangling by chains from the roof of a cave, unarmed, and with no memory of who they are or how they got there.

Time to escape from the monster’s larder before you end up like the pile of butchered corpses in the corner.

It was a spur of the moment session with some newbies – this allowed them to jump into a game and get a basic idea of how D&D worked without having to come up with back stories or even classes. All that would be sorted in the next session when they got back to town and got their memories restored, should they want to play again.

Man on Fire
2013-03-08, 09:10 AM
I started my first campaing this way

I asked them to not act for a moment, because I want to do some prologue.
I tarted describing a sallon with various people drinking and laughing. Then I described how two figures in red cloaks and masks walks into it. And how they throw something into the middle of the room. Which then explodes, setting entire place of fire.
I described them chaos and destruction, a running man set on fire. And lone goblin, who jumps out of the window and runs behind the saloon, where he left his horse. Only to find it guarded by third person in red cloak and a mask. He turns around and starts running away the main street. But then spots fourth assailant waiting for him. Panicked he reaches to his pocket and picks from it an object, some sort of small statue and seems to want to give it to them.
Fourth man shoots him in the head.
Four figures gather above dead body, one of them rips the figure from his hand.
And then I say "You take down the masks. You're standing over a dead goblin, with burning building behind you, in front of three people you had never seen before. Last thing you remember was getting to leep last night. What you do?"