Friday, September 2, 2011

SoSA the 1st: Meet Cute

This is post 1 out of 25 in the Cygnus Series of a September of Short Adventures (SoSA)!

Let's begin at the beginning. How do the player characters (PCs) in a campaign meet one another? Do they initially decide to form a cohesive (and stereotypical) "adventuring party" from the moment they lay eyes on another... or does getting along take a bit more work? In this post, I'll lay out some ways to augment that sometimes-awkward first gaming session... and provide an initial "adventure seed" that helps things along, too.
When M-U met Ranger...?
First, I suggest that even before beginning character generation, the players roll some dice to decide on the relationships between the still-nebulous PCs. So, each PAIR of players should roll 1d8:

1-5: They don't know each other at all.
6: They knew each other a long time ago; old friends reuniting!
7: They knew each other a long time ago, but they were rivals or enemies! ("Oh... it's YOU!")
8: They know each other now: friends, family, or lovers.

I left out the other obvious combination ("They know each other now, and are active rivals or enemies") since that one makes it much tougher to form a group with common purposes! :-)  JB at B/X Blackrazor has created a much more detailed version of this kind of table, with 100 possibilities for how one PC knows another.  JB suggests that the players sit in a circle, and each roll to determine the relationship with the player to his or her right. For more than 4 or 5 players, this may be simpler than rolling for each combinatory pair.

Anyway, once this is done, talk a bit about the type(s) of relationships that these may be. Don't go overboard, of course, since PCs often die...  THEN go roll your ability scores, choose your races and classes, buy equipment, and so on. I think, at this stage, it's best to do all this die rolling out in the open, in the presence of the DM. Players should feel free to riff on how all of this "new information" emerging through the dice affects their relationships with one another. (Though sometimes, PCs are wise to keep secrets from their compatriots...)  If someone is having a tough time getting a bead on their character, one could try Jeff Rients' table of random motivations for adventuring, too.

Okay, then there's the transition from character generation to actual play. I assume the DM has worked out some details about the hometown of the PCs, which can also serve as a home base for adventuring (at least at first). Some players may want their character to be an "outsider," so it's fine to have one PC be just passing through the town when it all starts. There are tons of cliched meeting scenarios (tavern brawl; responding to a want-ad; mistaken identity; press-ganged into service)... for other ideas see also tables in Brian Jamison's Gamemastering, or see how many TV shows handle it.

But let me outline a potentially fun one that's been rattling around in my brain:

Guess what? Today is the main yearly festival of the town -- say, the celebration of the town's patron saint if you're doing a medieval European setting. A big crowd is gathering in the town square for the festivities, and all the PCs are there, naturally.  (Are some of them there together? It depends on whether they know one another or not.)

The Lord Mayor of the town is Simon de Bungheye, a portly, fiftyish man who behaves foppishly to cover for his humble upbringing. Think Cornelius Fudge. Stats? Don't worry too much about it; he's a just a normal man (1d4 hp), lawful neutral, with probably slightly above-average charisma, and whatever NPC skills or expertise that you think he'd be likely to have.

The newly minted PCs all know who the Mayor is, but without any in-game experience yet, we need to jumpstart their knowledge a bit. The DM goes around the group and begins to have each PC roll 1d12. The process stops when someone gets a result on the following table that contains the word strong...

1-6: PC has no strong feelings about the Mayor, neither positive nor negative.
7: PC's family was helped out financially by the Mayor; PC feels a strong debt towards him.
8: PC's family and Mayor's family have been tight for generations, but PC has seen the Mayor at his worst (drunk at parties, etc.) and doesn't care for him too much.
9: PC's family was screwed over financially by the Mayor; PC strongly hates the Mayor.
10: PC was once in love with the Mayor's daughter or son; PC still has fond feelings for him.
11: PC was once in love with the Mayor's daughter or son; the Mayor sabotaged the relationship, and the PC still harbors strong hatred.
12: PC once saw the Mayor giving alms to a beggar; PC kind of likes the guy.

The DM conveys this information to the player in question secretly. All other PCs are assumed to have no strong feelings about the Mayor.

This is a fateful day. A handsome and prideful man about town, Roger FitzRoger (3rd level fighter, also with above-avg charisma), burns with hate for the Mayor. Think Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, or Vodalus from Gene Wolfe's New Sun series. The hate probably stems from reasons 9 or 11 above; choose one that wasn't rolled by a PC.  Roger has gathered up his friends to cause a ruckus at the festival. The best-case outcome for Roger is that the Mayor is so humiliated that he resigns his office, leaves town in shame, and the joyous crowd unanimously elects Roger to be the new Mayor! (Yeah, right...)

Roger and his friends have a few things planned:
  • Sneaking some rare semi-poisonous herbs into the food for the town feast. Nothing really harmful, but it will induce lots of vomiting and convince the people that the Mayor cheaped out and fed them old, spoiled food.
  • At the denouement of the big religious ceremony, the Mayor has to place an offering into the arms of the big statue of the town's patron saint. That statue has been rigged to collapse when this happens, which will be perceived as a horrible omen for the town (and the Mayor's fault!).
  • They also hired a very pregnant woman (conveniently from out of town and thus unknown to the locals) who will go up, slap the Mayor's face, and very loudly accuse him of ignoring his responsibilities....
Of course, some subset of PCs overhear the whispered plans of Roger's men. Do they stop these treasonous doings? Or do they help Roger rid the town of a horrible leader? The fun is in the open-endedness and the fact that Roger and the Mayor are probably less than a hairs-breadth apart, morally!

No matter whose side the PCs are on, so much chaos is erupting that they need to act as a team to accomplish their goals. Notice that there is no set outcome that anyone can be railroaded towards. Will the PCs be hailed as heroes? Will they end up on the run from the law? Who knows?  :-)

1 comment:

  1. I like this take a lot. The strong feeling mechanic is very useful, especially right at the outset like this when we might expect multiple links to a single location or character, but it would work excellently for a campaign built around a single location or region. The adventure could be a lot of fun, and the many loose ends which seem likely could come back into play later.