Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’… (Designing the Intro Encounter)

In launching a campaign a lot rides on your intro session. Your goals are intrinsically more ambitious and complex while your mechanical elements are relatively easy to manage.  Most importantly you are painting-in the backdrop of your world.  Referring back to my goals with my starting zone checklist I will rundown a modified version of those goals for a starting session.

Quick Guide: Intro Session

Support the Party => Set the Initial Resources – Where are the PCs? Do they have gear yet? Who do they know? Are there mentors or parent organizations? Setting the initial resources of the group will determine the mindset of the characters for session after session.  A resource poor start will lead to a game that feels more “hand-to-mouth.” A high resource or support start strengthens the sense of “home-base.”

Introduce the Initial Conflict => Plan the First Encounter – What (if any) combat will occur? What type of foes will they face? Will the encounter be purely social and role-played? In readying your intro session you should consider the “complexity of the new”. Characters will be easier to understand but personalities and mechanics are brand new so even simple characters have a different level of stress than they will in later sessions of the early game. Be ready for that. Consider simple foes to allow the players to engage their mechanics or relatively direct social encounters as they flesh out their personas.

Introduce Plot and Themes => Start the First Storyarc – Where are you heading? What is goal?  What feeling do you want to evoke? Launch your first story.  Try to avoid a singular “random encounter” for your intro, rather take the opportunity to seed in the sense of “something more.” Your plot does not need to be 100% fleshed out but have an idea of where the encounter can go. Work in any thematics you want to be present throughout the game. Strive for a sense of rhythm and continuity.  A consistent world is a believable one. Events should strengthen and enforce each other unless you are trying to build a sense of chaos or confusion.

Establish Style => Visualize Vivid Descriptions – What are they seeing? Who can they hear? Is that smell important? How does their equipment feel? The players are going to be in “absorb” and “info-gather” mode here.  This is THE time to hammer home visual images and rich textures, sensory language and evocative metaphor. Go nuts. You are laying down the bones of your world in this moment.  Be strong and unbreakable in your dedication to rendering it.

Reprise => Seeding Significance – Why will they return? What dangers are being hinted at? What significance was the crying woman in the market? This is your que to drop hints of future dilemmas, add allies who will be available in later moments of need, and foreshadow your prophecies and enigmas. Do yourself a favor and pick a level point every 3-5 levels out there. Visualize the current party and about how they might look then.  What challenges will they face? Werewolves? A weapon shop selling silvered weapons at level one seems amazing at level 5 when you are in the first full moon since lycanthropy hit town.  Level 12 is likely a dragon fight against a nearby scourge? How cool is it if refuges are fleeing his shadow in the first session?

Starting the first session right sets you up for better sessions, less prep, and controlled player experience. Take the time to get it right.

Next: Example Intro Session – Endamon.

This entry was posted in Game Mastering, Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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