I’ve experienced quite often that a GM’s highest point of excitement and motivation towards a campaign hits right before and up to the first portion of the beginning. The concept is there, which is always the fuel for motivation though the actual process of fleshing out the campaign often becomes more work than initially had anticipated. Some GMs enjoy fleshing the majority of the world out for months if not more before beginning an epic long, multi-year campaign while others give the world a name and then build it on-the-fly as they go.
Whatever the case may be, there are a few key points that can occur before the campaign begins that really can enhance the flavor, increase excitement, and prolong motivation for both players and GMs alike.
One idea is for players to play an initiation session that helps their focus on what kind of character they wish to play. I generally make very vanilla characters with seemingly little to no huge distinctions of a particular class or even race. They are generic 0-level characters with perhaps three skills on their sheet with a couple hit points. From here, I either will begin their game as they were children or, at the very latest, into their adolescence years. Most players I have GMed have shown more appeal to playing children variations than anything. I scale things down, bring it on a smaller level. Full-blooded, enraged orcs aren’t attacking them. Instead it’s closer to a garden full of gophers that are threatening to destroy crops. Nonthreateningly threatening is the key so it is the right scale for child characters to handle yet not too dangerous for the need of teens or adult characters.
I give them opportunities to choose their class without choosing their class up front. Prior to the battle, I might have a skirmish where the party discovers a torn piece of paper that has strange words, but I leave it open to the table to have a player speak up they want to read it. Generally the person who is more intrigued about the words might very well want to be an educated class like a wizard or cleric. There might be a moment they can be mischievous and need to get into a father’s locked cabinet that might have some tools. Leave it open for someone to either speak up about inspecting the lock or perhaps trying to pry open the door with a lever. I simplify the classes to as elementary as I can present them, and provide subtle moments for the players to act upon.
Next, I allow for leniency on various challenges. If someone speaks up and wants to tightrope, I let them, perhaps with a die roll for good luck. I run the game far looser than I would during the campaign because the point is initial development and not actual story progression. The players are free to write down the skill they thought of using at the moment, and later they can reflect this into an actual skill or special ability that suits the rule set that is being used. Of the two or three skills that might be provided by the GM prior to beginning the game, allow for others to use another’s skill if the owner isn’t too wild about it. However, make sure the situation presents itself with that skill before the swapping occurs. Some new players will look at a skill such as lockpicking and think “that sounds awesome!” but then grow bored when they have to check door after door.
With that being said, I do throw in hints and foreshadowing of possible future events. They fight a small critter only for it to return years later as a much larger creature with the same battle scars. I provide an opportunity even for the players to mold the beginning of the long-term events. They might mischievously open a sealed door that unleashes a powerful spirit hell-bent to reclaim a body and dominate the country in which the players must strengthen and grow over the coming years before it succeeds.
There are a few RPGs that involve children as the characters such as Grimm where the kids have levels of imagination to alter the fairytale world they live in. One could use the concept as inspiration if using another system like Pathfinder.
Sometimes this scenario isn’t necessary. The players may already be eager to run a half-dragon half-vampire fighter/mage/thief. The idea really helps those who aren’t familiar with RPGs or are just unsure what character is appealing to them at the moment. Generally this one-shot adventure can provide the various focal points that each class offers.
Although this game should be light and quick-paced, the game can get out of hand easily if players begin over-role playing their characters as children or adolescence. The jokes will come flying in throughout, which is fantastic. However, as a GM be sure to not let the game get out of hand with nothing but ridiculous, time-consuming antics. Use this opportunity to become comfortable with what should be allowed and what needs to be throttled down a bit in order for the game to finish on time.
Feel free to leave a cliff hanger at the end of the session to get the players even more excited about the campaign. Perhaps make it catastrophic on a global scale. Also continue to pay attention to the players’ choices in the game. Try to learn their style of play if you haven’t already. Make notes about each player’s preference and try each week following during the campaign to focus on at least one of them.
Characters can be made as generic as possible or they can be pre-gen 1st level characters. Players can have two or more at the same time, deciding which one to play as during the introductory session. I have seen some play 3 low hit point characters at once for one-session, picking from the survivors. Whatever the method, consider this alternative to simply handing out blank character sheets and expecting them to know what they want up front. Often GMs will see their players make a character, but then they regret it after the first two levels because either it doesn’t fit the campaign very well or the initial concept was greater than the reality. Playing generic 0-level characters with slight customizations can prevent this from happening because they essentially are taking characters for a “test ride” before purchasing. They may be torn between a monk and a druid in their minds, but after playing the first session almost entirely in a city, they decide the monk is more fun.
Consider throwing a clause into the house rules where any character may be substituted for another without experience penalties prior to reaching 3rd level. Although having an initial session may eliminate the need for this clause, it is good to provide one as it really won’t break a campaign that early in the storyline, and it will allow fickle players to be more satisfied.
(Featured artwork “A Little Bit of Final Fantasy XII” by Lindsay Cibos and Jared Hodges. www.jaredandlindsay.com)
Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with. Thanks for stopping by.