Issue thirty six of DMing 101 and only now do I bring this up. That’s because often the hardest thing to do is get started, as anyone who has stared down the barrel of a blank page knows all too well.
Before you’ve begun the game you should already have basics down like the world you’re playing in, a few rough story and questing ideas, some locations to play with, but how do you actually get the ball rolling?
One of the hardest elements of any game is getting a group of disparate individuals to work together, especially when driven by their own motivations and morals. In my article on players I suggested adding a few prompts or guidelines to the players when creating their characters to give them an initial common bond, shared goals like immortality or riches, shared origins like a single nation or organisation.
If you want to allow your group absolute freedom when character building then you’ll need to unite them in-game. There are a few basic motivations that most player-characters will adhere to almost blindly – wealth, survival, and glory being the highest amongst them, so here are a few way to appeal to their baser desires:
- Disaster Strikes: The end is nigh! It’s a little cliché, but nothing brings people together quite like their impending demise. Creating even a minor apocalypse creates a sense of urgency and scale that can drive a group to incredible measures, and forces them to cooperate or die bickering!
- Contract: There is a great deal of premise for organisations hiring mercenary groups to deal with problems in ways that would negatively impact their public image. Player characters make great patsies for larger groups to demonize whilst accomplishing their greater ends.
- Great Adversity: A single nemesis is a great motivator, especially if you can create ways that they have affected the lives of each of your characters. Alternatively, legendary feats or impossible tasks are a great way for your group to build upon their infamy, but only by working together.
These can often lead to fairly form-fill storylines, but they need only be the beginning of a far grander series of adventures that allow you to stretch your creative legs, and bring the heroes’ backstories into play.
Everybody has – at some point – started their game in an inn, tavern, pub or bar. It’s been done, but it’s sadly effective. It’s a social place that brings together people from all walks of life, but it isn’t the only one.
Prison is another cliché, but not necessarily one to avoid. It brings its’ own challenges, its’ own villains and characters, and an immediate quest option that can be run very easily, or very ridiculously complicatedly.
Consider other social gatherings though. Tournaments or sporting events, where the group could be spectators, competitors, or a mixture thereof. The theatre, assuming you have a group who can function in such a polite society. Markets, public events, fêtes and fairs, religious or civic ceremonies, or even a good old fashioned lynching can always bring people together!
Consider executing one of the party in the first session. That always makes things interesting.
Your location can also drive the story, suppose the group meet on the bus on their way to a better, brighter future. What does their destination hold that their past has taken from them?
The Nemesis of the Blank Page
Anyone who has done anything creative has stood before a blank sheet of paper, brimming with ideas, pencil, pen, or brush in hand and immediately stopped. I for one remember saying aloud to a blank word document “What the hell was I about to do?”
Inspiration is fickle and cruel, but there are resources out there designed to help you combat it’s machinations. Trawling through DeviantArt is my preferred go-to, as the assortment of visuals will inevitably trigger some thought or process that will lead to some of my better ideas.
The best thing you can do is to write any idea down that springs to mind on the nearest available piece of paper, or flat surface, then transfer it to a notepad or computer when you get home. Seeing your ideas collected into a single place will often help you bring them into a coherent story or adventure theme.
Thanks as always for reading. Eventually I will run out of ideas for these articles I’m sure but we are now at 36 and I seem to be carrying on regardless. One day they’ll become a book, but until then please give me any ideas, questions or DMing matters you’d like to see me address.
If you enjoy these articles as much as I enjoy writing them please enjoy my other site Quotes from the Tabletop, a place to share your funniest quotes and stories from your roleplaying games.