by NPC Aaron
Last week we talked about character creation and world-building. We fleshed out character concepts and the parts of the cities they came from. That was the easy part. Now we move on to the first session, which is honestly the hardest part. The first session is like a first impression, you only get to make it once. If your players don’t buy in for the first session then its going to be hard to get them to buy in at all.
Getting Your Players To Care
Your players need to have something in common. They can already be part of a formed organization, they can have a mutual ally bring them together for a task, or they can be forced to go through some ordeal together. I usually go with the third option for my games because then I can give the players as much freedom in character creation as possible since my games are more open world sandboxes than predestined stories.
Looking over last week, our character’s only common thread is that they all hang out at Eaton’s Alehouse. This was by design so that I could bring them together by threatening it. I came up with a small adventure hook to capitalize on this. I decided that a crime lord in a neighboring district was having trouble with his competition and had decided to try to move his protection racquet to the peaceful neighborhood of Greenstreets.
Expanding The Hook
Now that we have a mutual threat we need to figure out the details for that adventure hook. Every good criminal organization is defined by its boss. The man at the head of the organization really should project the character of that organization the most.
Pathfinder has a Gunslinger class that I really wanted to try out. I also for some odd reason really like orcs and half-orcs, especially ones who defy the stereotypical characterization. So I created Boss Qarl of The Qarl Syndicate. He would be a half-orc who contained his fury and was far more cunning and calculating than his peers. He would use a flintlock pistol and would rule his organization largely through fear. His group would be representative of his heritage and they would be the type who could be held in place by intimidation. So now we have a group of half-orcs, humans, and a few orcs (the enforcers of the gang) who run protection racquets, black market trades, and smuggling rings.
Now that we have our villain, we can derive the first encounter. I decided that a gang starts busting up Eaton’s alehouse when they are refused payment for their “protection”. I decided that the gang will be mostly human, including the leader, with one of the group’s orcs for muscle.
Now that we have this planned, we have to guess at our player’s reactions. Looking back at the group, I think we can safely say this group is going to defend Eaton’s from the initial attack. It then presents the players with a dilemma, even if they stop this threat here, they know that will not be the end of it.
Plan, But Don’t Overplan
While I felt comfortable thinking that the group would come together to defend Eaton’s, I was less certain about how they would handle things from there. Certainly Qarl would not stop with this one attack, and this attack might even bring more trouble to Eaton’s in the long run. The player’s aren’t altruists though, and they have their own agendas. I was sure that Pyka as both a vigilante and an employee of the alehouse would want to take action, but would he be able to convince the others?
In a situation like this, how do you plan for further scenes and encounters? This is where I brainstorm possibilities. The players could decide to attack the Qarl Syndicate, they could try to reason with Boss Qarl or threaten him with further violence, they could ignore the problem and find a new watering hole, or they could try to find the proper authorities to deal with this.
Looking at Boss Qarl and his organization, we know that if the players don’t take action, he will. Criminal organizations need to rule by fear, and nobody fears failure. We also know that Boss Qarl is calculating enough he wouldn’t start a protection racquet in an area where he could be easily stopped by the authorities, so the last option seems improbable. The players could go into the Qarl Syndicate and just start busting heads, or they could try to talk to boss Qarl.
So, if they decided to talk to Qarl, how would he react? He could just kill them off, but that doesn’t make for an interesting story. He could give in to them and cease the threats, but I don’t think the players have the standing yet to apply that kind of pressure to a whole gang. The most interesting outcome would be Qarl having a need of the PCs? This will make for interesting negotiations. I decide that Qarl needs the players to steal two crates from a train, called The Rim Rail that circles the entire Ark. What is in the crates? Who knows? I decide to wait and see how the players interact before I continue to flesh out the adventure hook, plus they may just try to eliminate the Qarl syndicate altogether. If they do decide to rob the train then I can watch their characters develop and decide what in the crates would further keep the party working together.
Make Good Notes
Now that I know where the adventure could go, I decide what to put in my notes. You want them to be concise. Don’t be overly elaborate because you may end up not using some of your information, and it will make it harder to find the relevant information each time you need it.
I first make notes for the initial encounter in Eaton’s. I write some dialogue lines for the thug leader and for Eaton to help set the scene. I also get the relevant combat stats for the enemies in that group. After that I make brief notes about the ways I think the players could respond and how my NPCs and their factions would react to those choices. Lastly, I don’t want to have to search through books for more combat stats if I need them, so I write down the stats for the other conflicts they could possibly have. I make sure to give Qarl combat stats and I decide to give him Burrowing Bullets enchanted with necromancy that burrow beneath the skin of his enemies because it makes him seem a little more menacing in a fight. I also decide to give him a pet boar named Quincy, and then I make sure to have the stats on hand for additional Qarl Syndicate thugs. In the same way I decide to give stats to the Rim Rail guards and some guard dogs. Could the players find other forces to fight with? Sure, but there’s only so much planning you can do for a sandbox game and you don’t want to beat yourself up if your players come up with an option you didn’t see.
The first session went pretty well. Initially one of the characters, Trace Fielder, the ranger and mushroom gatherer played by NPC-Chris was having a hard time motivating himself so I took note. The group fended off the attack on Eaton’s in a pretty ruthless manner, dispatching their enemies. They then decided to dump the bodies on Qarl’s doorstep as a message to stay away from Eaton’s. Due to some complications the plan didn’t go as well as it could but the players made it away with Qarl knowing they killed their thugs. Since they didn’t decide to start an outright war with the gang and just attack the headquarters though, I decided that Qarl was the type of man (half-orc) who would respect their power and would come to the players with his offer.
After an attempt at intimidating him the group decided to do the robbery for him. They managed to do it without actually fighting anybody. Jon put one of the guards to sleep and then Trace used his affinity with animals to soothe the dogs before they called for more guards. They then tied the crates beneath the train, got off at the next stop in an upscale elven district they named Gossamer Heights and cut the ropes, so that the train would drive away and leave their crates there.
Since NPC Chris was having the hardest time getting his player to buy in to the adventure, I decided that the crates would need to contain something he cared about. Since his character had a half-elven son that he wished he could do more for, I thought that the crates would contain two mysterious elven children held in some kind of suspended animation. They would obviously have some kind of power for Qarl to want them, but what that power was could be elaborated on later. Del’s character Jon immediately received a call from his dark master since his master could see through his familiar’s eyes and decided to retreat from the situation before he could be told where they were going, to protect the children from Shindrogon.
The other players decided that Trace’s ex-wife lived in Gossamer Heights and since she was an elf they would bring the children to her and maybe she could provide answers. We wrapped up and I began thinking of what to do next.
Since we only play every other week, and the party is currently split up, I decided that we would do the next part of the game through email. I’ve never done it before so next week I will talk about how I decided to handle the challenges of that format. I also need to come up with some backstory for the elven children, and I want to start bringing the element of prophecy that we developed in the first session to come into play.
I hope this information on my process is useful to you at your table, and if you have any questions, comments, or criticism send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or send me a message on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/npcaaron.