Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Beginning The Session

Yeah, yeah, it's a bit weird to do this post after yesterday's post, but there is a reason to this madness. Part of that reason? I really really suck at beginnings. I don't care if it is beginning a game session, a story, a campaign, or just starting to clean my room I really suck at doing it. As such, a lot of today's advice is stuff I've heard/been told, and some of it is my own noodling that while it is good in theory, I've yet to actually put into practice (mostly due to freezing up like a deer in headlights when I have to begin something.) So, shall we begin?

Schedule Your Beginning Time
How often does this happen in your game? You have your game set to start at about 7pm, people show up at around 6:50-6:55, and then everyone is talking until nearly 7:30 or so? It happens a lot around here, and I can't really blame anyone. Often times people at the gaming table are friends, or at least acquaintances, and often times the only real time these people have to hang out and catch up is when they meet each other every 1-2 weeks at the gaming table. Because of this, it becomes easy to get caught up in social issues - like asking how someone's week is, or hearing about a new promotion/job/cool story at work - and forget that you have to begin your game.

The best way to handle this? Schedule for it. If you want your game to start at 7, tell everyone - and actually try - to have your game start at 6:30. Some days you'll get to start at 6:30 and everyone gets more game time (huzzah, everyone wins.) Other times, people will show up and want to talk and catch up and you won't start for about 20-30 minutes; right when you wanted to start (huzzah, everyone still wins!) Now, the trick here is that you have to actually be ready to go as the GM at the earlier time, and the game does have to start at around 6:30 at least some of (if not most of) the time. Why? Well, because if the game isn't starting until 7, people will start not showing up until about 7 and then you're back where you started. This isn't even anything personal, but life will happen and hold people up and their brain will go "it's cool, you have time, game doesn't start until 7" when in fact they need to be there early if they want game to be on time.

I've personally been doing this for a while now and it does work. For the most part we are going - at least with recap and XP/administrative stuff - by 6:45 like 90% of the time. Some times we go late, not starting until nearly 7:30 still. But for the most part, it works well and when game does start at 6:30 like the plan is, we get a lot done.

A Good Ending Will Set You Up
This is the real reason yesterday's post came before. Unless it is your first session you have a chance most sessions to use the previous session to set up your next session. For example, if you ended the last session with a pack of gnolls charging the players, you start this session with the combat from that charge. If you ended the session with the players about to meet the king to tell him his daughter is the evil witch attacking his land, then this session starts with that meeting.

This is how most serialized fiction works, and it is a wonderful trick to borrow. You leave the audience hanging at the end - a "how will this turn out?" feeling - and then you begin to address it at the beginning of the next session. This way everyone gets involved right away in the drama, and you can naturally ease into your normal ebb and flow of how events process.

Don't Be Afraid To Use Tropes
How many people have had a D&D game start in a bar? How many in jail? How many waking up with the PCs having all been drafted into the army? Yeah, a lot of you. These are all very common  ways for games to start and there is a good reason for it: they all work. Don't be afraid, especially when all else fails, to employ a cliche to get things going. If you have to, let the players know that you know you're using a cliche to get things going (I like to put actual train tracks or other railroad references into the scenery when I am heavily limiting my players choices for something. It lets them know whats up, they get to chuckle at me, but they also know I'm asking for them to just play along and help out for a bit to get back to the good stuff) but get it done. Once the game is going smoothly you can hand the reins over and let them run roughshod over the world. First though, you need to get the world in motion.

Just Do It! Go! Start! Now!
This one is one I have the most problems with. often times I'll spend so much time thinking about how to begin the session that I won't actually begin the session. Fact is, your players know that it is a game. They know not everything will be perfect. They know some parts are going to clutter and clang a bit before things get going. So stop worrying and just get going. After all, once things are going you can smooth out the operation. Until things are going, you're just standing there with your mouth hanging open awkwardly.

Frame The Scene, Tag The Creative Player
Every group has at least one player who not only takes the ball but runs with it, bounces it off someone else's head, then has them chase to get the ball back. Don't be afraid to use that player. If you have no idea what else to do, look at the player you feel is most able to get things started and present them with a mundane situation: "It's eight PM on sunday with the heat spending it's fifth consecutive day in the triple digits. What are you doing?" Maybe the player swings for the fences and gets things really going, maybe they just say "I'm at home eating ice cream", but either way you now have a game in motion. Much better than one waiting to start.

Absurd Can Work
Finally, when all else fails, do something absurd. Ask a player what they're doing. When they say - and especially if it is something bland and mundane - have a team of assassins try to kill them. Or have something else truly bizarre and weird happen. Sure it is kind of silly, but it gets things moving and that is all you need. After all, once the session is in motion, it's no longer a beginning, right?

Your Thoughts?
I'm sure everyone here has some advice on how to begin the session. Sound off in the comments if you'd like to share.

1 comment:

  1. When it comes to starting a session mid campaign, I go back to my comment on your blog yesterday; if you leave it a crucial point where survival is key, or just plain interesting to the players, kick off by asking the players where they were. there will almost always be one guy who claims that they'd defeated the enemy and were swimming in cold coins, but most of the rest of the players will have had a memorable ending in their heads all week and happily tell you where they were because they've had a great idea about what they want to do next.

    Starting a campaign? I like social gatherings. Weddings, funerals and the like are a great place to kick things off, as when something happens that needs to be addressed by the group, it tends to be totally unexpected for it to happen at the social event. that surprise factor can really help drag people in and commit to the premise. Also, I like describing the scene - with breaks for the players to describe their characters physically - like the opening shots of a movie. It sets the feel for the type of game I want to run by the language I use to describe things like light levels and NPCs etc.