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Sunday, April 5, 2015

How Do the Characters in Your Campaigns Actually Meet?

We talked a bit about how characters meet at the beginning of a campaign during this afternoon's recording of the Far & Away podcast, although I don't recall if it was during the episode or afterwards - things tend to meld during these recordings ;)

Anyhow, we discussed how the "meet in a bar" cliche is about as over done as all hell but is still used constantly, as it has a certain sense of familiarity to it. In a way, it's part of the common experience of many roleplayers, and even if they groan when hearing it, they still willingly go along with it.

All of which got me thinking - maybe this would make for a useful random table. Then I thought further, and I realized that there is more than just one cliche (geas, political pressure, imminent emergency and and others that have been used repeatedly) when it comes to kicking off a new campaign and introducing the player characters to each other, or at least making an excuse to put them in the same place.

So maybe a table of "how the PCs meet" cliches that then takes the cliches and gives multiple ways to play each of the cliches off - a table leading to more tables.

May be worthwhile, even if not used as a series of random tables but as a list for inspiration.

Yea? Nay? Useful? Pointless? What say you? How do characters in your campaigns meet?


17 comments:

  1. We have used the tried and true tavern-meet-up like everyone else, but the last campaign I ran I took a slightly different route. I had the players come up with backstories for their characters, and submit them a few weeks before the game began. I took the backstories, and wove them into a series of short "prequels" that explained how everyone came to be together. Where it was possible, I also wove the backstories into the campaign story arc. For an easy example, two players said that their characters were each in search of his father. With some tweaking, these characters' "prequel" had them encounter each other while both were on their search, and they discover that they might be related. Since neither character actually knew their father, it was fairly easy to work that NPC into the existing story arc. They didn't find out for certain until much later that they did, in fact, have the same father but different mothers. It took some work, but each prequel was a single night (or sometimes only a couple of hours) of quick gaming. Everyone enjoyed it.

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  2. I think it would be very useful. Even if you don't roll, and just use it to jog the brain to get away from the universal tavern meet. Not that there is anything wrong with that. It has its charm. But as you said it is seemly the standard cliche used. I want to start my next campaign more or less in media res. No meet and greet. Just roll initiative. The caravan (or whatever) is under attack. You can talk after you drive off the goblins.

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  3. I usually start a campaign by saying "Okay, you all know each other. Tell me how." This puts the onus on the players to come up with their reasons for adventuring together, and usually plants several adventure seeds at the same time.

    Alternatively, the DCC-style funnel adventure can give a good reason - in my current campaign, the PCs were a bunch of commoners rounded up by Prince Charming to rescue Sleeping Beauty from her castle (RavenCrowKing's excellent module).

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    1. I use this as well: learned it from the D6 Star Wars game 1st edition when they talk about character creation and the "how they know each other" section. Works like a charm.

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  4. In Tenkar's Tavern, of course!

    In all seriousness, I generally leave that for the players to hash out. If they don't think it's too important, they'll sort of hand-wave it, and if they're the sort that loves intricate back-stories, they'll go to town.

    Long as I don't have to do it for them, I'm happy.

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  5. Me and my group are at the point where we hammer all this out before the game actually begins. The group starts together already having a relationship and a reason to adventure together worked into their backgrounds. That way we can jump right into the gaming.

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  6. JB's got a hundred reasons:
    http://bxblackrazor.blogspot.com/2010/08/give-me-reasonor-hundred.html

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  7. 'Now that you've all escaped that madman with the "Adventurer Centipede" scheme, perhaps you should introduce yourselves...

    [Works best with DCC.]

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  8. In media res, I start them in the middle of a fight and let them work it out from there. A little term and trick I learned from C. S. Forester's Hornblower books. The back story is only important if you tie it into the story you're telling.

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  9. Last time I stole a page from the beginning of "Musashi" and the PCs were the survivors of a terrible battle for which they had been conscripted. They were left for dead and behind enemy lines. Gave them a reason to work together and impetus for adventure.

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  10. The last game I started was, "You are all adventure minded townsfolk. After a landslide, children start showing up in town with gold pieces and bones." There was more to it than that (I described the desert town, etc) but that was the gist of it. They then spent their creation GP on what they thought they needed, and headed up to Miller's Peak to climb into the cave opened by the landslide. Most decided they knew each other, some decided they just headed out at the same time, arriving at the cave together and going in together for advantage in numbers. I didn't particularly care; it was up to them to form the party dynamic.

    Prior to that, I started everybody in a smoking pit, with townsfolk throwing feces at them. I had everybody roll a d6, and split the party in three groups who knew each other and decided their alignment together by hand gestures while the other players had their eyes closed. After that, they were all people who had recently arrived in town, and were woken up and tossed into the pit by the townsguard for unknown reasons. Together the party figured out what was happening, and got to know each other -- without having a clear idea how the other groups were lying or of lawful or chaotic alignment. In that case, I drove the party together, and intentionally added some friction inside the party itself.

    The latter one I have since written up as a convention game, and am probably going to port it over to the GENERALA FRPG and toss it up online somewhere.

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  11. The meet in a bar trope is interesting now that I think about it. I have never just met someone in a bar in my life. I mean I've arranged dates that started at bars/restaurants/coffee shops, but I've never gone to a bar by myself and left with a new friend, let alone a group of new friends. I don't think any of my players (all 40 and under) have either, most of us don't even go to bars very often for that matter. It makes me wonder, if the trope grows out of '70s culture, our gaming forebears may have been more gregarious when going to the bar. It's interesting to think about.

    That said, I've been playing and running a lot of Dungeon World, which has bonds each player chooses for their characters which can usually cover the whole "how did you all meet" question, and then I start the adventure in media res and the rest of that background often comes out in play, one player may say something like "It's just like that time I saved your ass" and then I ask questions to tease out detail, and the other players add to it.

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  12. "You meet in a prison cell under the king's palace" then ask how they ended there. Never failed me.

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    1. In one campaign here, the GM started us all out on a slave ship, locked up in cages and being transported to the auction block. We were just starting to get an escape plan together when a flotilla of goodie-two-shoes lawful-goods attacked. It was a nail-biter, but we all got out, and landed on a deserted beach down the shore from the slaver's city. Ahhhh... what memories.

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    2. That's when I excuse myself from the table and say good night.

      Seriously, I can't stand that approach.

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  13. I prefer the players to work out how they're connected and how they met, but I like a variety of the suggestions given above that are along the lines of telling them they are already together in some situation and then asking them to fill in the backstory.

    For less creative / newer players, however, I like using one of the many tables that let them roll up how they're connected to each other. For example, each player rolls on a table to find out how they're connected to the player on their left. The B/X Adventurer sports one, among many possibilities.

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  14. The tavern-meet works in-game because it also works in real life; it's where real people actually tend to meet one another - over food and drinks in a public place.

    This is one of those things that I think gamers object to just to show how ' original' and 'out of the box' they believe they are.

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