I’m trying to think of alternatives for game-openings, to replace the standard “meet up in a tavern” or “adventuring group applying for a job” techniques. I know these can be easy ways to get people playing, but I’m certain there are more interesting ways…
Scenarios for individual PCs to meet up
1. One of the characters is a charming thief, one is a princess. The thief breaks in to assassinate the princess/steal from the palace, but she falls for his roguish ways and elopes with him.
2. One of the characters is being forced to marry against his/her will. He/she enlists the help of a servant to escape and they both flee, the servant fearful of being caught.
3. Two PCs are down-and-outs working as plongeurs in a local restaurant. When the restaurant is broken into they find themselves in the middle of a mafioso plot…
Scenarios for all the PCs to meet up simultaneously
4. In a twist on the standard “Apply within” scenario, one of the characters is employed by the King to recruit for a particular task or adventure. He/she has to find the other PCs and persuade them to come along.
5. The characters are all settlers/deported prisoners on a ship bound for some relatively unexplored land.
6. There is a catastrophe (e.g. dragon attack, earthquake) and the PCs find themselves banding together in the burning or otherwise devastated town, trying to calm to people, fight the flames or just to escape.
Additional Ideas (26)
Everyone lives in the same building/ tenement.
If the people involved are secretive, had the "wrong message" or "mcguffin of choice" dropped off to the wrong room, with another person's address. As they are untangling their things, they realize somehow they have been sucked into some kind of plot... all because of a wrong address... now people are after them
A variation on the above is: Everyone eats/ drinks at the same pub/ cafe/ starbucks. (Yes my world has a starbucks or three... temporally/ dimensionally displaced people are common there).
Some of these places have mail slots that they hold things for people. Misplaced messages.
An event occurs there... and they are there.
Tables are busy, and they end up drinking/ eating together. The first time is contrived. The second or third time... they are friends and do it on purpose.
Can you say Laundry Service? Most civilized types will give a few copper for the locals to wash their stuff. Characters can meet at the "shop front" or can try to return items that are not theirs.
All PCs have the same mutual frield. They will meet each other through this non adventuring friend. They go to parties, or drink together. PCs will then find out they actually have much in common with the other PCs. This mutual friend might be a supplier of adventuring good or maps....
Everyone is on the same coach/ stagecoach. After three days with each other, even the most secretive will say something.
(Handy things stagecoaches, they are trains for the fantasy set. )
"You groggily wake up with your head laying on the table. As your eyes come into focus you are in a room just large enough to hold the (insert number) chaired table. In the other seats around you are others passed out and another, just as groggy, is gaining conscienceness. In front of each person is a goblet of wine. At the head of the table is an empty chair and a full goblet."
Something like that. Dumped at the inn in a private room. Innkeeper, after prompting will point them to a man. That man was hired blindly to do the drugging---or claims that....
-They all find they have lost their memory for the past week or so. Part of the mystery is why and what happened. And why weren't they killed if it was enough to drug them.
-Some lost their memory, others were kidnapped.
-The chair holds a noble, king perhaps. Had all the players kidnapped to fill a purpose.
(Had fun with this only once, but I love the idea and will use it again, and again, and again. I used the lost the memory version, but the kidnap one would be easy to implement I would think)
A variation on this would be a Shakespearian Tempest-like shipwreck, where the ship splits in two: half the characters end up on one side of an island and develop their relationships there, the other half meet at the other end of the island. After they have each developed into small pseudogroups they can be amalgamated and continue adventuring.
A land-based alternative...They are travelling with a caravan between two cities (maybe they are refugees, maybe they are traders) when the caravan is attacked. They are the sole survivors and must find their way through the wilderness where they have been left...
For various reasons, all characters seek enlightment or atonement for their deeds, and visit a mystic or a holy place. There they get a quest to solve, etc, etc, etc.
A renown cook completes a list of various rare and rumoured ingredients, and sends his assistant to get them. Some items on the list are from far away, some are parts of dangerous monsters, others may be poisonous, some are considered holy to the natives, some may not even exist! Of course there must come along some guard, a few helpers, and perhaps a spy for another cook. Would make a strange but culinary campaign.
All characters are invited or somehow convinced to come to a certain place. Seeking a job, wanting to buy something rare (possibly illegal), being promised money, etc. When they get into an abandoned house, almost exactly at the same time, confusion starts. Who are these people, are they interested in the same thing as I am? After a few moments the entire house starts to collapse. They should survive, and evidence will be found someone 'helped' to arrange the collapse. Why, and what do they have in common? Sort of a murder mystery, where all the PC's should be the dead...
Starting in prison, an old prisoner gives everyone a few clues to a place with a great treasure. They can't find it without helping one another, of course.
They meet in the tavern (surprising?). BUT, just yesterday an old crone foretold to every one their future, about meeting stranger(s), braving great dangers, but finding luck and wealth in the end, blahblahblah... Make it as stereotypical as possible, try to convince the 'seer' is a fake. But today, you sit with some strangers around a table, and they look exactly as foretold!
2) Insert Prince, where you see Wizard. In this option, one of the players could be in the employ of the Prince, as a spy upon the group. This could evolve into employment.
3) If the quest of the game is religious, you could have visions and dreams drive the characters in the same general direction. They will meet up together eventually and work towards the common good (or evil or chaos, or law... depending on the diety). The advantage of this is the group will be compatable allignment/ moral positions.
(of course the evil church could send in a ringer)
Could be a hidden cult that recognizes it or the King himself, but the item in their possession makes them the people that have to fulfill a prophecy. (Which can then be anything you find necessary)
They all where kidnapped by a group of pirates who where going to sell them on the nearest slave market.
Theirs was the choice, try to break free.... but..... There are too many pirates still aboard to just "leave" by yourself.
So the only real option they had was to break out, free the rest of the adventurers and then try to get of the ship.
Of course getting of a ship is not as easy as all that, as the cells are located on the lowest level..
The British Navy used to use press gangs whenever they needed sailors and would send groups of men ashore who would kidnap merchant sailors, and almost anybody else unlucky or drunk enough to not get away, and force them to serve aboard the ships.
The players don't have to be sailors but they could be pressed into service. The navy often brings the marines to do land based war, who is to say the players aren't pressed into the attack of some fort where they can make themselves heros, officially thanked and released and their story told to the king so there will be a reason behind them being asked to try another task.
Will give them a unique relationship with the king as well.
"Let me get this straight. You kidnap us, force us to overthrow Baron VonHogulst, who, by the way, was a vampire, and now you want us to help you again? You are going to have to make it worth it!"
Or they could escape and ditch their captors when put off at their mission destination and make them fugitives in the land. Either way they now have a common thread and a colorful history in a land.
(I really like that, thanks for that spark Ylorea)
The person they crossed has come into his/her own and is now wealthy and what to do with the newfound wealth? Well, vengeance is as good as any.
Makes a list of those he as crossed and starts to work his threads.
Have to force a little history onto the characters but I am sure they wouldn't mind. For them it was probably one of the many people they have wronged intentionally or unintentianally.
The all have a minor magical item that has somehow been manipulating each of them to meet at a certain place. They all are drawn to the town where the temple (or whatever) is that created the item. Through coincidence they keep running into each other to the point where the wonder if the other isn't following them. Being who they are the confrontation comes about, discussion, perhaps a fight, and maybe the finally realize what was going on and join to figure out the rest of the story.
The characters are servants working in the lightless kitchens of the Castle, lorded over by a tyrannical Chef called Filmor Mawthse. Sent into the cellars on various errands they discover a crevice in a pile of rubble by a collapsing wall. It seems to lead to a larger space behind. When Mawthse comes searching for them to find why they've been so long, he gets angry and beats one of them. Assuming the PCs don't just stand there and let him do it there'll be a little altercation. In this scuffle, Mawthse is killed: either purposefully with some cutlery or accidentally by slipping on the wet floor and cracking his head open. Fearing suspicion, the PCs will probably flee into the caverns through the crevice.
From my plot Escape from the Kitchens, but as Manfred says it's a good character hook.
Some more possibilities I've been considering...
Some of the players are protesters at a demonstration against the City's Tyrant Lord. The Tyrant's troops (including a couple of PCs) are trying to hold the crowd back. It's a grisly scene. One PC is an assassin and shoots the Tyrant with a concealed crossbow.
Only the PCs nearby see what has happened, everyone else is too busy fighting or watching the Tyrant keel over and die. The protester PCs run off, the guard PCs will presumably pursue. Get them down a back alley, let the protesters beat up the guards and tie them up and make the offer: join us or die.
Apart from giving the assassin instructions beforehand, it's not possible to guarantee the outcome, but it's possible to push them in the right direction. It'd be interesting to see how the players react to such an odd situation. I find players tend to group together even if they start off enemies, so it'll probably end up coalescing into a party sooner or later. This would work best run as a game without a fixed plot but a very detailed setting and see how things progress before fixing on plots in the second and subsequent sessions.
The PCs are out of work and poor. Suddenly a new job opportunity opens up: a Steel Road is being constructed through the mountains to the dwarf mines and the consortium of mine owners need navvies to work for them. They apply and are accepted. A month later, during work on a high bridge over a narrow gully there's a terrible accident and the PCs plunge many fathoms through the air to find themselves in a mountain crevasse. Everyone thinks they're dead and the only way out is through a dangerous cave system which leads to the equally dangerous mountain slopes.
This one's best started a month into the job. You tell them what's happened in the meantime and start play the night before the accident.
This group has already been formed. Whether they are family members, village friends or an old band that has adventured together many winters, they are probably going to work together.
A special case of the Family member character hook could be them being the children of some former PC(s). They could end up in all sorts of trouble when they are confront with their parents enemies in addition to those they make on their own. (Introduces the parents as possible saviours if they do something stupid(A twist of the "mysterious stranger" phenomenon))
This group belongs to the same organization. They may be followers of the same church, members of the thieves guild, guards in the same caravan or soldiers in an army. They get assignments and are supposed to work together. This group is extremely easy to work with as they'll have to do what they are told. Problem: The organization probably deals in similar activities. Armies kill people, Thieves Guilds steal from people, caravans go from A to B, etc... The adventures involved might easily grow very similar to each other.
Friends of Misfortune:
The PC's don't know each other but unfortunate circumstances demand that they cooperate. They may have been at the scene of some crime together or they may have gotten lost, shipwrecked, abducted by the mists of Ravenloft, had their souls spirited away from their bodies(trapped in "the astral plane" by some malign entity that inhabits their bodies and trouble the nation?"), etc...
Point is that they must rely on each other to get out of that mess. Problem: This group may have no incentive to stick together once they have solved the problem.
The PC's have been geased, threatened, released from jail, chosen by a power/god, etc... to do a task. They must cooperate to reach a certain goal. Once that is done, they are freed... or so they are told. But will such useful tools get so easily of the hook? This hook is superimposed on the characters by some individual or organization(as opposed to "Friends of Misfortune which is superimposed upon them by bad luck and circumstance).
Some problem/mission is shared by the pc's. They'd better pool their resources and deal with it. Problem: No reason to stick together afterwards. This hook is similar to "forced cooperation" and "Friends of Misfortune" except that it is not forced in any manner.
Why don't we play together?:
The PCs are drifting around and suddenly they meet each other. "Hey lets team up and battle evil!". The fantasy standard "meet in a tavern" might be a variation of this. Problem: It's just plain dumb. Players might sabotage such introductions and find something else to do.
Exception: If the players take their time to talk to each other, develop friendships and explore common interests this hook might be reasonable. It depends on the players and the circumstances their GM creates for them.
"The PCs are drifting around and suddenly they meet each other. "Hey lets team up and battle evil!". The fantasy standard "meet in a tavern" might be a variation of this. Problem: It's just plain dumb. Players might sabotage such introductions and find something else to do.
Exception: If the players take their time to talk to each other, develop friendships and explore common interests this hook might be reasonable. It depends on the players and the circumstances their GM creates for them."
I think I have a variant that is not so plain dumb... hopefully.
"Callast stopped by the notice board again. It was still there, the ink fading slowly, but it still called for noble heroes to help, and still promised a fitting reward. But no adventurers have been around lately, and the townsfolk seemed too conservative. Callast felt his fingers itching. He might as well as try it himself... but he is no group, and has no friends that would join him. But there must be others like him!"
The players simply recruit themselves. One or more of them issue a call for anyone wishing to become an adventurer, to form a group to be exact.
And they may still meet in a tavern the first time. ;)
- They know they are beginners, bloody beginners.
- The guy(s) issuing the call have a leading position initially. It can of course change over time, but is a good thing for the first few disputes, and worthy if some player(s) are more experienced. Provokes initial getting-known roleplaying too.
- It can actually offer the party some leverage. If there is a public need, they might be borrowed equipment, demand some training from local militia, etc. The employer may also help with funding (seeing there is no one else for the job).
- If they team up for some some clear purpose, they have less space for sabotaging it.
- It's not the tavern thing anymore. They have to have some life they leave behind, when they _decide_ for adventuring.
Well, I hope it's different enough... if it works with music bands (sometimes), it should work with adventurers, too!
Another method I have employed with some success, is to have all of the pc's in the same mercenary company. I know from my own experience that you meet many different types of people in the military, ones far removed from your own normal spheres. Mercenaries in most rpg's allow the pc's greater freedom of action, and will more readily have diverse skillsets in a small group--plus you usually don't have to all wear the same outfit. As the historic mercenary was responsible for his own equipment & training, this fits most pc-types better. Variations on this can be for the pc's to control the company, or as low-ranking troops assigned various missions. It certainly helps if the players know that this will be a mercenary campaign in advance, or there is a risk that one or more will create characters that absolutely do not belong in a mercenary group, due to skills, equipment (or lack thereof), or have prepared backgrounds that are very much opposed to joining a free company.
Midian uses a built-in mechanism for grouping the characters. The default backgrounds assume that each character is a lower-class peasant from a small town in Formour, and that they have never left the immediate area, nor been involved in any real battle. It is much easier to gather everyone together, if most of the group are old friends who grew up together.
Various players of Midian have started something of a guild culture, similar to those found in MMORPG's. This gives the pc's a common employer & home base, along with a reason to stick together--mutual support is the main reason to join an adventuring guild. This also makes it easier for later characters--or even starting an entirely new campaign--if everyone joins an established guild. It doesn't hurt matters any that the concept of a guild as a group of characters spills over into the guild as a group of players--synonymous with a gaming troupe.
The characters are all students in the same academy and are either close to graduation, or are beginning a new term. Their classes are designed around certain aspects to suit your individual setting. They have assignments or classes that put them in real world scenarios having them work through them as they normally would.
The adventure begins when the characters are on an assignment or a class. The academy is attacked and razed in their absence and they must find another way to return. They are also being hounded by an unknown player for reasons not clear to them, but having to do with them being associated to the academy in the first place.
Their goal is now common cause as everyone in the party has the same people after them and they must discern who it is and why.
Some characters start with a background directly from the street, so why not the whole group?
All PCs are effectively homeless. Some may have a provisory home, but no one has a stable background or job. They may be beggars, thiefs, minor handymen, living of the refuse of others, or find other ways to survive.
This could be a different kind of adventuring: seen from the bottom, the splendid city may show its true dirty face, with the ever-present corruption, and most people turning a blind eye to you. The characters may very well distrust each other, but know the others are needed, and how bad it is to be alone. Maybe they want to become honest citizens in the end, or just wish to climb up the social ladder, no matter how.
- A benefactor of them has died, and left some property in his/her last will. It may have the usual plot hooks attached (is cursed/monster infested/disputed/...) or may be a plot hook itself (the usual mystical amulet/parchment/map with strange writings). Other heirs may cause problems, too.
- A benefactor of them has been murdered, but the corrupt police/militia/court sentences someone from the street instead of the real guy. They start to investigate on their own... murder mystery.
- The street people start to vanish because of something dark (a cult/necromancer/cannibals/manhunters/...). Of course, nobody cares, but the PCs want to, or need to.
- They form a street gang, but the local crime scene is too hostile. Instead of petty theft they have to survive.
- Being what they are, (socially) invisible, they overhear a critical information that could be worth a lot of money. Of course, those that can pay may prefer to silence them.
- Being what they are, (socially) invisible, they overhear a critical information important for the city/barony/kingdom, that could earn them status. Nobody trusts them of course.
- They all start to exhibit the signs of a certain disease not uncommon on the street; while initially harmless, if uncured it is terminal within a year... so they need the expensive or rare cure.
Problem: potential for playing 'evil for evil's sake' or 'chaotic' characters that do whatever suits them at the moment. Requires a clear motivation and background for each PC. They also may need a reason to stay together, once successful. May be a short campaign with a nitty-gritty feeling, or a success story how a few nobodies achieved greatness. Or a fine start to a 'Poverty Campaign'.
Know the movie? I am sure you know. What better a reason for a few teenagers to team up, when they have done something bad, but managed to keep it secret from everyone... except for the killer that knows, and wants to make them pay now.
In the Ancient Gamer categorisation they may be "Old Mates", but this is really "Forced cooperation".
- it is almost mandatory for some PCs to die
- is only the initial starter, the group may split once the problem is dealt with
- probably best for short campaigns OR as a world-introduction adventure (perhaps for mystery/intrigue and similar campaigns? Or even horror?). Or as an introduction to roleplaying.
- the players may not like to be forced. On the other hand, especially if they are fans of this kind of movies, they may have great fun with the crime and the punishment.
Alternative: I know what you did a century ago.
More fantasy-ish, but certainly not bound to it: the character's parents (grandparents, ...) have done something bad, and the children have to pay. Or they have done it themselves in their former lives.
The problem is now to identify the problem itself. What happened then? And why did the revenge thing start now?
The mysterious killer may be replaced by a curse.
(I apologize for heaping the cliches here, but can't help it. :) )
The PCs awake in an unknown place underground with a massive headache, actually, everything hurts them. They need to piece together the foggy memories of yesterday, until they get this story:
It was a great evening, with rivers of ale flowing, and lesser amounts of most any type of alcohol to it. At some point, drunken enthusiasm and an idea of an unknown source has led these ordinary, decent citizens into the local haunted house, to defeat dem monsters and find the treasure. Now, anyone (sober) more than ten years old knows there is nothing spooky in that house. Still they went in, and after some bumbling around started digging in the cellar... which collapsed. It is a miracle they are still alive.
Finding a few traces (and bodies), they will learn of a great evil, that was sealed away here by some real heroes centuries ago. It seems the place is getting unstable, and the evil may be still around... they better get out.
A terrible villain, maddened arch-wizard, or an alien invader has tried to do what these people usually do - and failed. Before the plans could be really unwound, they were taken out by some random heroes, lab accident, betrayed by disloyal flunkies, or even defeated on the field of battle. Whatever, the end of his story is the beginning of yours.
The PCs are members of a completely different species (orcs, trolls, demons, aliens, ...), transmuted/genetically altered/whatever to resemble the typical species of this world. Some of them might have been volunteers, but after the horrors of transformation none of them roots for the villain (they might even had a role in his downfall). Some of them may have been sold out or duped by their families or clans, been criminals or just picked up by random. Now they are seen as monsters by anyone that knew them. So where do they go? Try their luck with the people they look to fit in. Maybe they were released by the original heroes as captives and feel impressed and/or duty-bound.
- they will have some some serious misinformation about this world, generating fun for the GM and players
- on the other hand, they might have useful, exotic skills and abilities (and some quirks... they are experiments after all)
- they better keep their exact origin a secret
- their conditioning is not complete, but they may discover to have some odd compulsions :)
The problematic part is to not let them devolve into sociopaths, that have no connection to the society around them. It may provide for a fun entry into a new world.
The Manchurian Candidates
The PCs were captured by the bad guys or the opposing side in a war and brainwashed. They were freed or could escape before it was completed, but find themselves without memories in a war-torn land. They need to find out who they were and fight off the compulsions the other side has already implanted in them... they would be also of great interest to their own side, so they need to be careful. Could make for some intense roleplaying.
The PCs are the followers, apprentices or employers of true, authentic heroes (the players can design the larger-than-life heroes for fun). Riding out to yet another noble quest, the powerful group is hopelessly overwhelmed, falls to a truly lethal trap, or is burned to a crisp by a dragon, whatever suits best. And who stays behind? Yes, their unqualified underlings - and their only option is to run. They need to find a way out, while the old way is sealed, fight through or trick the lesser servants of the main bad guy, hold on to anything left from their masters, survive and get back to civilization. Not that they would be much appreciated, but at least they will be alive... and may already have a mission for life. Insert any latent disagreements and the usual trouble that comes with inheriting someone's position, and fighting to be recognized as such in the first place.
This is one of the coolest adventure intros I've ever heard of. I have not used it, nor was I so privileged to have been present when it was used.
"You are fixed firmly in the goings-on of your normal, routine life (however routine, or not-so-routine it may be), when suddenly you are unfixed. Literally! Yes, you find yourself floating, for lack of better descriptive terms, your mind a blurry mish-mash of random thoughts and memories, nauseating colors, and dizzying mists. Just as you expect to blank out you begin to recover, the blurriness fading, colors melting, your mind returning. Your surroundings, however, have changed. You look about, finding yourself in an unusually dark room seated at a table along with X other people. All of them seem as bewildered and confused as yourself. Before you can speak you are spoken to. A resonating voice rings forth:
'You have been summoned.' "
At this point the Dungeon master should describe himself - yes his/her actual self - to the party as fading into view before the table where it is revealed that the DM is summoning the party members to accomplish some task.
The PCs are all Apprentices in their various fields. One day, it is discovered that their village/town/etc is under some form of iminent threat (advancing horde, dragon seen nearby, James gang riding in, whatever). The town leaders get together, and decide that someone needs to go get help from regional authority (the duke, the marshal, you get the picture). They don't want to send any members of the local constabulary since they will be needed to keep the peace/defend the village, so they ask the Masters to send their best Apprentices to ride for help. The logic being that the best students can be trusted with the job as well as being competent to do it.
The fun comes in when the players decide if that's true. Maybe they are the Master's best pupil. But maybe, they are the worst, and the Master wanted them far away so they didn't mess up the defense of the village. Or maybe they have a relationship with the Master beyond what simply teacher-student. It could be romantic (either condoned or illicit), or it could be familial. Whatever it is, the Master sends the PC for help to get them out of the village and out of danger.
Hopefully, the party will at least have enough top grade students to fullfil their duty (and survive), but it's the other students that will make the job interesting.