Wednesday, April 6, 2011

E is For Epic, Right From The Start

A-to-Z Challenge - 'E'

In the RPG circles I run around in here in NY, there is quite a bit of competition among GMs to secure players, a spot to play and a time that works for all. Our FLGS is awesome but not huge and there are only so many tables and chairs.

With multiple GMs, each one reserves the best table (the upstairs, back room) on whatever free Saturday is available. Players make it as often as they can to that Saturday and GMs do work with each other to accomodate their fellow referees on days when they can't make it. In other words, if I know I can't make my Saturday, I'll tell another GM so maybe he can get in an extra session of his game or make up for one he had to miss.

Now that said, if you don't garner interest in your game in the first few sessions, you tend to see a bit of player drop off. People don't want to hurt each others feeling but they just don't seem to be able to show after a while. To me, part of this is because the GM doesn't wow them in the all important First Four. What is the First Four? Well, TV show and Anime fans might be aware of it. It's basically the first month of a television series or an Anime program. The first four episodes. If you can't get people jazzed about the show in the First Four, the show is unlikely to do well. Granted the show may pick up later but in the competitive entertainment market you may not get the chance to have those later episodes aired if you can't hook'em early on.

When it comes to alot of games, what I feel is missing most from the first few adventures in a sense of Epicness. Now not every style and subject of game needs this but if you are running medieval fantasy of a D&D style, Star Wars, Star Trek, Comic Book Superheroes or any other flashy and somewhat over-the-top style universe, I want to say 'Holy Crap!' at least once in the First Four sessions. The problem is that alot of GMs and players think the start of game means low power, low level, low expectations of WOW! Why? Sure that is the traditional view but it really doesn't have to be that way.

Is this a scene in the first adventure of your Sci-Fi RPG?

I am not advocating starting a game at higher level or with more points. It's not about power. It's about feel. I can make a first level D&D adventure just as epic and exciting as a fifth level one and a fifth just as epic as a tenth or twentith. How? A simple trick I first tried back in the early eighties...

Or is this?

When you introduce a creature, trap, weapon or event to an adventure players should initially have little idea of its level of power. A horde of goblins (like, maybe 200) can have as many actual hit points as 4 or 5 goblins.

In one first level first adventure I ran for D&D 3.0, the players and some NPCs were attacked by an army of goblins, hobgoblins and other monsters. The more powerful NPCs took out the more powerful seeming monsters while the heroes waded through the throngs of goblins to reach a leader type. The leader was stated more appropriately for a fight between one monster and five first level PCs. In their mind's eye it looked epic. The situation appeared challenging and dire, and it was, just not as dire on paper as in the spoken word.

In another game, the PCs were on a failing starship that had been attacked by enemy forces and was now heading for an impact with the planet below (a modification of the old WEG Star Wars RPG module Starfall). Their characters had to face a malfunctioning vessel, hazards from fire and explosions to zero gravity and lack of air, all while fighting enemy soldiers and trying to escape. Brand new characters, act one, scene one, EPIC!

So in conclusion, before you send your PCs off to yet another dungeon in yet another pseudo european forest to fight rats and spiders (But they're giant rats!...Yawn...) considering a way to make their very first experience in your world an experience.


Barking Alien


  1. By the way, really more 'D' appropriate than 'E' I suppose but I just read through 'Death Frost Doom' for the first time and I can honestly say, "I read through Dead Frost Doom'.

    That is all.

  2. I am reminded of the first time I played Shadowrun, when the GM said to me "A properly planned and orchestrated 'run results in no combat and no one knowing you were ever there."

    Well, where's the fun in that? Properly executed operations are boring, which is why things never go as they should in fiction.

    WV: Undes -- the underdark of the Andes.

  3. By the way, that's a bitchin' example of a Type S Scout/Courier in the first picture. I am digging all the greebles and exterior zoot. Which Traveller book is that illustration from?

    WV: Pregr -- a pregnant Vargr.

  4. @Deidra - Thanks so much. That is very cool. I like your site as well.

    @Erin Palette - I think that pic is the cover of the Mongoose Traveller Sourcebook on the Third Imperium.

  5. I'm not much of a gamer, but those images are awesome!

  6. There's something to this. One of the most successful campaigns I ran started with a group of 2nd level characters running for their lives in an attempt to get off a causeway as Lord Soth and 12 other Nightmare-mounted Death Knights came thundering along. (It was ten sessions or so before Soth and Crew made another appearance, but that opener left a real impression.)
    --Stopping by for a visit, following a to z breadcrumbs... :)

  7. Thanks Steve. That is a great example. This is no rule, in a literal sense, that says the 2 hit dice creature has to be described as a scrawny lizard dog guy under 2 ft tall.

    Give him 2 HD, don't tell the players how tough he is and describe him as a nine foot, glowing din0-wolf. That's just an example of course. The gist is, there is no reason in a game of fantasy and imagination that we have to introduce the players to our worlds in such a pedestrian manner.

  8. Big fan of this. It clicked for me some time back, not sure when, and I'm not always successful at it, but making sure that first session especially ha something your payers can bite on and say WOW is a huge win.