Recently one of my players playing a wizard, who needed some spare parts from a monster, so what did she do? Well, her character went to a local inn, which was known as popular hangout for members of the Monster Hunting-guild, and here she hired a group of NPC-adventurers to go on an errand for her. This was not the first time it happened. The first time was when another wizard in the group needed somebody to investigate, who was threatening local guilders. The player had deciced, his character hadn’t the time to do the footwork himself, and he therefore hired a bunch of adventurers to investigate.
This is actually the closest I have been in years to a scenario, where the characters meet and/or are hired in the inn for some job. Instead I look for alternate approaches or simply skip the tavern-start. Reading the post Burn Down the Tavern and One More Round, burn this tavern to the ground I was reminded how rare it is, that I use the tavern approach.
The Three Musketeers
This story was a great inspiration for me as to how you gather your party for the first sesssion. The story begins with the young d’Artagnan, who sets it all off, when he meets one the central foes of the story with whom he exchanges insults, afterwards he arrives in Paris, where he has a series of encounters that each results in a duel taking place at more or less the same time, and once they all meet for the duelling, d’Artagnan and his fellow duellers, the three muskeeteers, wind up in new trouble and from this they form their party.
Now that is a fun way to start your party.
When we started playing Night’s Dark Terror we met and created characters and we spoke a bit back and forth as to the composition. We ended up with warlock, who grew up among poor weavers, a halfling rogue from a big in family of rogues, a fighter from a small lumber-village, and a dwarven priest, who was a former goldsmith.
We decided upon the following backstory: The old dwarf priest (and he is old, almost 400 years) have decided to raise the three youngsters by showing them the world. On to this I added that they had reached the regions of the city of Kelven, where they met a horse-trader, who hired them to move horses to an elven village, and now they were traveling with the trader to meet his brother and pick up the horses.
So no inns, no negotiating hire and no getting to know each other. It had already happened and we skipped forward to where the story begins.
After the first session another player joined our crew. He created a wizard from a family of river gypsies, and he was visiting the horse-traders farm, when the remaining party arrived, which happened to be during a goblin assault, and from then on they joined forces.
With this kind of campaign-start we have also agreed, that this is how the party members are gathered. The players are supposed to end up traveling together. This for example means that when the party met the wizard, we all knew that they would form a party and travel together. It is part of the agreement, and it is not unspoken agreement.
You broke it, you pick up a new one
In our long running wizard-campaign I started one session with describing the PCs falling along a gigantic pillar of ice spanning kilometers in length floating through the empty air with no of nether a sun or the ground.
Then we skipped back in time. I instructed the players, that this session covers the episode, where one of the characters obtained The Book of The Apothecary (according to the House Rule: The coolest magic item ever – I will describe that rule later), that we will cover the reason for the PCs being where they are through flashback-scenes and that for the session we had a Rule of the Day allowing the PCs to define facts.
Then we played the first flashback: “While picking up The Book of the Apothecary you have broken a glass bottle containing the rare essence pure elemental ice belonging to powerful noble wizard.” Any suggestions as to who, that would be? The players came up with a fitting explanation and we played the scene. We skipped back and forth in time, establishing the reason for the PC’s to end up in the Elemental Plane of Air near a gate to The Para Elemental Plane of Ice.
I lay out the ground work for the players, and I inform them of which special rules apply for the session and if there any specifik narrative tricks, that will be applied, such as flashbacks. Once the players are informed, we begin playing, Because the players are informed, they know what way to push the game, even though they have no idea, what is going to happen, e.g. just because they know, that we are using flashbacks does not mean, that the players have nothing to explore, neither does it mean that the characters are safe, far from it.
The Pupils Meet
When the wizard-campaign the players created wizards from all over the Glantrian principalities. Their characters all came from different regions and only two of them knew each other vaguely being distant noble cousins of Alphatian stock.
We agreed that the campaign is about a group of teens going to The Great School of Magic, and that the campaign were about their time at the school, so during the first session, they would meet and become friends. I then presented them with small scenes, where they met each other and they met enemies (some of the other students), and through these brief scenes, they got to know each other and became friends, much like any other story about school life.
The Flying Ship-campaign
This one is easy. All the characters are the crew on a flying ship on a diplomatic mission. Each session begins with the captain sending a team on a mission. The captain is played by the GM, and after he has presented the mission, each player chooses which of his three characters, he wants to send on the mission (technically it might make more sense, that the captain picks a team, so we pretend that he does that, but the players decide on the characters).
Other Media; Skip, Borrow and A Little Trust
There are many ways to both new and old groups on to a new adventure, and no need using an inn for such. Take a look at books, tv-series, comics and movies and notice how they gather the adventurers and set them off. For me the most important trick is to have the players pitch in on how and why, and then establish an agreement on how, the PCs become a party.
Also don’t be afraid to skip things, that are not really important. Is it important, they meet in an inn, that they negotiate their hire and that they take the hook at the beginning. Many stories in other media skip this part, because it is not that important. And don’t forget the episode of Firefly, that begins with a naked Mal sitting on box in a desert musing, that things went well.
Perhaps one more thing should be mentioned. A part of using these alternate introductions is about trust. I don’t use these kinds of starts to take equipment from them, put them in situations, their characters never would choose to be in, or otherwise violate their character concepts.