Have you ever noticed how adventurers always seem to get the glamorous jobs and only rarely get the dirty jobs nobody really wants to do?
Let’s take a simple example. A new group of PCs gets hired to kill some rats or bugs in a cellar somewhere. Usually the NPC hiring them fails to mention that the rats or bugs are giant-sized and either terrorized or killed a townie, a staff member, or the last group “hired” to take care of the problem. But why would they hire a group of untested heroes to do this job? Do they want more bodies? Is it out of their generous spirit? Or are they just trying to throw cheap labor at the problem until it goes away?
Would you hire a young unknown neighborhood kid to take care of a pest problem in your house? Probably not. You might hire one to mow your lawn under supervision the first time, but that’s about it.
So why do we typically kick off campaigns by giving 1st level characters jobs that are actually important? There’s no trust or track record to offer enough reasons to hire anybody. You need to offer something small, easy to do that gives the team some confidence and their employer a reason to trust them with more important tasks.
Why not have the team do guard duty? Or deliver a message or package from point A to point B? Sure, these good old “FedEx” quests that we all love to hate. But these are the kinds of tasks that build confidence in an employer and offer a chain of evidence for something more.
Now I know there are naysayers out there saying things like “But FedEx quests suck!”, but even though that may be true, I think establishing a record of trustworthy behavior and successful job completion from the get-go can offer some interesting ways to not only get the PCs worked into the fabric of the story, but set them up with NPCs in the area they are working in.
Here are a few examples:
- Fighter Bob, who worked as a bodyguard for a time prior to becoming an adventurer, gets asked to help train someone in basic self-defense.
- Wizard William gets hired as a party clown or magician for a local bigwig’s son or daughter.
- Priestly Pauline is asked by her local temple to help out a family down on their luck through a bit of counseling.
None of these storylines is particularly exciting, but can establish a rapport with locals and offer opportunities for tidbits of information to fall into the PC‘s laps. Perhaps Fighter Bob is asked to help in a local manhunt for the criminals who ransacked and murdered the family he used to work for. Or perhaps the priestess learns about a local employer who’s really a front for a criminal organization.
Am I alone in wondering about this particular weirdness with campaign beginnings? There are few resources out there for developing campaigns. Plenty for developing good adventures, and at some level a campaign is merely a series of connected adventures. But the beginning of a campaign can be extremely important.
Just like with a good novel or short story, the beginning sets the tone for the rest of the tale. It may not reveal all the intricacies of the plot, but it should hint at what the players can expect for their characters as things progress. So be sure to give your characters an organic connection to the world they inhabit and don’t just throw them into the deep end of the pool (unless of course, you mean to).
- The Gassy Gnoll: Heroes Great and Small (RPG Blog Carnival, Heroes Living & Dead) (gameknightreviews.com)
- The Gassy Gnoll: Where’d that come from? (Blog Carnival: Making the Loot part of the Plot) (gameknightreviews.com)
- The Gassy Gnoll: Darkness and Our Fascination With It (gameknightreviews.com)
- The Gassy Gnoll: Hook, Line, and Sinker for Setting/Adventure Design (gameknightreviews.com)