Your players have just spent hours crafting their perfect characters for your next long-form campaign. They’ve pored over the rules and splatbooks looking for just the right mix of classes and powers to get them what they want, they’ve picked all of the feats and skills for the next 12 levels, and they’ve written down pages and pages of backstory for their avatar in your game.
It comes time for the first session and you sit down at the table. “Ok, everyone describe their characters to each other.” That was the situation for me a while back and I remember having this incredibly anti-climactic feeling as the players described in a short paragraph or two these incredible characters they had spent so much time on. Surely there has to be a better way?
Start With An Introductory Scene
Every character should get the chance to shine, and that chance should happen in front of the other players so that they get the full effect of who and what the character is. So how can you do that? With something that I’m calling an introductory scene. TV Tropes would call this an Avengers Assemble and that concept mostly fits. What I see an introductory scene as can be boiled down to the following:
- During your first group session, each player gets one scene that focuses solely on them, where they get to reveal their character and their abilities. This scene gets played out individually between the player and the Game Master, but the other players watch it go on so that they can get a sense of the character.
- The outcome of the scene should always be in the character’s favor (unless they specify elsewise) and the general plot of the scene should be determined by the player. A good and quick way to do this is to ask each player to give you a bullet point list of 4 or 5 things that they want to happen in their scene. Something like this example scene for Jose the escape artist/thief/paramour:
1. The scene should start on a train with Jose sitting in a seat with his best suit on.
2. He should get a chance to pickpocket a secret document from someone in some amazing way, but then get discovered by one of the train guards or a conductor.
3. There should be an incredible chase where he gets on top of the train and is cornered by someone.
4. He should escape in a way that makes the person think he jumped off, but in reality he drops into someone else’s private car without them noticing.
5. It should end with him using his face change skill to change the way he looks and finding somebody beautiful in the private car, allowing him to seduce them as the scene fades.
- These scenes should be watered down mechanically. The goal is to give each player 15 to 20 minutes to act out the most awesome version of their character while the others watch. If you are working off of a plot synopsis that is determined between you and the player, assign 1 or 2 instances of the game’s mechanic to each point, but weight it in the player’s favor. The player should have little chance of failing unless they botch big-time.
- These scenes could be a tie-in to the larger story, but they could just be introductions.
- Time the scenes out so they don’t take up the whole session. Lather, Rinse, Repeat with each player at the table and then you can begin the “merge the group together” scene if the characters don’t already know each other, or just move right into the first scene of the story if the characters are already acquainted.
What An Introductory Scene Will Get You
Starting your game this way has a lot of benefits for both players and Game Masters. You don’t have to start off with anything anti-climactic. Each player gets a turn in the spotlight with guaranteed successes. Each character gets shown off at their best. Everyone gets more and more excited as their turns come up. Everyone has a feel for the other characters, not just an idea of who they are supposed to be but an example of who they are in action. The first session avoids feeling like they all met in a tavern, even if the first group scene has them meeting in a tavern.
If you think back to the beginning of any James Bond movie ever, the goal of the first scene is to introduce this character. Not all of their details, but the quintessential, core points of who they are and what you can expect with the rest of the movie. Doing that for your game will give the players a sense of what they are in for and give them each a little taste of how awesome your game is going to be. So, what do you think? Have you ever started a game this way? How did it work? What would you write up for an introductory scene for any character you’ve played?