David Jackson is a real estate photographer and model train hobbyist, living in Lakewood, California.
Anyone who has run a roleplaying campaign knows that the first step is getting your group from the “unconnected strangers” stage to the point that they are acting as a group and following the flow of a story. This transition can often be an awkward one that makes it difficult to become immersed in the “theatre of the mind.” Stilted, artificial situations do not build a good foundation, even though it’s often the only way to bridge the gap and get the game going. So, what should you do?
Here are three tips for beginning your next roleplaying game campaign, that should help create a smooth start and ease your players into the story.
1. Have Them Come up With Scenarios
Are your players all part of a team or group? The easy trope is to create some device to bring them all together: a letter from a deceased family member, being thrown in jail, or the infamous “you see a notice on the bulletin board at the local inn.” These tropes are overused and create overly simplistic beginnings that don’t require much personal investment by the players. Let’s do something better than that.
Instead, have them come up with the reasons why their group of characters is traveling together. Work with them, helping to fill in the gaps about the campaign world, but let them decide how their character is tied to the other characters. Which characters have deep family backgrounds, which ones are brothers (or sisters), which ones are lovers? Be lenient, but don’t forget to keep in mind how relationships may create the potential for later abuses. The idea is to create the potential for rich, complex story arcs—not future financial rewards or intrinsic abilities outside of the scope of starting characters. Encourage relationships—marriages, siblings, previous business arrangements. These are all things that build rich tapestries for your story to unfold.
2. Find Common Beginnings
All too often, each player expresses their individuality, but sometimes this freedom comes at the cost of splintering the storyline to accommodate many completely different beginnings. Reign this practice in; allow the players to choose whatever race, class, or profession they want, but make sure that the entire group begins at the same place (a common town, the same castle, a distant enclave, etc.). If the player chooses a race or profession that is uncommon, rare, or even forbidden to the starting location, then work with them to create special circumstances which will allow them to move relatively freely; for example, a disguise, or a special writ of permission. This will provide the player with more background that they may not have considered.
With common beginnings, you aren’t overburdened by having to define several background settings. Instead, you can focus on the common beginning, and expand it to your heart’s content. Players will quickly invest themselves in their common origin, and future stories will have a more coherent and believable to start from.
3. Combine the Two
Although it may seem daunting, and your sedentary players may complain about the extra bit of work, a great way to quickly build immersion and encourage player investment in their characters is to combine both methods. Restrict the players to all coming from the same “common beginning” and encourage them to create the way that their characters are connected, and what reasons they might have to act together. This can be the most rewarding, as players will take an active hand in building the story, and through that, will invest their imagination and emotions into your setting, and the characters that they are playing.
Whichever method that you choose, remember to have a good time and don’t be afraid to throw yourself into your games. The rewards for your efforts will be very worthwhile.
© 2016 David Jackson