Cool way to begin a night of tabletop (D&D-like)?

I’d love some ideas from roleplayers for a good way to kick off a new setting.

I’m playing a game tomorrow night with two buddies I’ve played with before. We’re using a new system so I expect it to move a little slowly, and we also have to roll up characters and stuff, which I expect to take an hour or so at the top.

I’m thinking of a modern-day or steampunk-victorian setting, with the characters as paranormal investigators, either government sponsored or freelance.

Here’s my early idea: The PCs find that a recent scourge of hauntings is due to a brisk trade in Ghostrock, a substance that thins the barrier between the Otherwhere and our reality, making it easy for ghosts and ghouls to penetrate into our reality and harass innocents. The PCs find out that a recent aquisition of Ghostrock by a certain criminal ring is behind the hauntings, as the ring is trading it at very low prices to other syndicates and criminal groups. In fact, the baddies who trade in Ghostrock are making a giant transfer soon in the air over the city. They fly two airships near each other and make the transfer quickly, trying to avoid notice from aviation authorities.

The PCs will have to investigate, then smuggle or sneak aboard an airship, then disrupt the transfer in some way, perhaps tracking the ultimate baddies back to their lair to destroy the stock of Ghostrock. Or they could just have a massive fight in the air.

Thoughts? Suggestions?

I always wanted to run an adventure that culminated in a fight that took place in free fall. Unfortunately, the official D&D ruling (at least for 3.0/3.5) was that the number of feet you fell in one turn was ‘all of them’.

I’m a little unclear from your post, or you guys playing with a new system that you’ve just purchased, or one you’ve just homebrewed? It does make a difference.

I find that the best way to kick off a new campaign is to get people enthused and interested in their characters and each other’s characters. I’m a big fan of joint and collaborative character creation where people are forced to jointly work out the details of the characters so that everyone has a little input into everyone else’s character. It means the campaign starts with the party understanding each other’s characters and typically having some interest and enthusiasm for how they play out. This can give the campaign a nice jump start through the first few adventures while the GM tries to establish a campaign plot or goals interesting enough to sustain the game long term.

That’s a cool idea, Kraaze, could you talk a little more about how you get everyone involved in joint character creation?

In this case, I would do it by pointing out that they’re both part of an investigation team, and would have been hired (or sought each other out) based on having appropriate skills.

And the system? It’s Savage Worlds, a setting-independent roleplaying system (I don’t like the term ‘generic’) that claims to be rules-lite and easy for a GM to run. Based on past experience it’s rules-medium and mostly easy to run, but the openness of the setting possibilities make up for any downsides to the system.

Brute force :D

Originally when I tried this with stock D&D it went like this. I pointed to the person to my left and said pick a sex, person to their left picked a name, person to their left picked a race, person to their left picked a class, etc. I’d vary the direction sometimes, or make them roll off for their order they got to pick things, etc. Even if the system doesn’t call for it mechanically, make them pick out personality traits and background and all the details required to play a character so that the character is complete and playable right out of the box. Otherwise somebody get stuck with the task of trying to figure out what the hell kind of life led to the half orc bard with a flute proficiency and weapon mastery over daggers or some such silly thing.

Once the character has been jointly created, make people roll off for who actually has to play it, or use a bidding system, or most evil of all just generate all the characters and go around the people letting people assign characters to others. There’s a variety of simple techniques you can use to keep this interesting.

Keep in mind that this gives people some interesting characters and lets them have a lot of laughs during character creation but this type of system will deeply deeply offend a min/max player who is goingto be pissed as hell that he didn’t start out with the half orc barbarian with 20 STR that he wanted to play. Might have to make special allowances if your group has people like that, maybe let people pick their own class/stats but force them to still bow to the group will for the personality traits/name/sex and so forth.

If you want, I can post the lists I use for personality traits.

Delicious snacks and some suds of the alcoholic variety should lower most inhibitions to a very accommodating level to take in a new RPG system.

Starting an actual campaign adventure with the boring clerical exercise of “OK everyone, we’re in town, buy your items” seems like a very good way to suck the enthusiasm out of a session, particularly if you have rules lawyers on board. May want to start adventure with a more hands-on situation, like a life-threatening danger they must work together to survive, then breadcrumb in the rules about hit rolls and wounds and such as situations arise.

Man, can we restart the QT3 IRC RPG’s? We had a fun Stalingrad going but it died out due to hard scheduling.

Search for articles in tabloid magazines and listings for haunted locations that fit your theme. Print them off and allow the players to go through them and pick the sites they want to investigate. Have ideas for adventures at each location ready to go (or if you want to be really tricky detail out a couple characters/reasons and just have them applied to where the party goes).

Bonus points if you actually put together a little paper for them, a “news of the weird” that they can hunt through. Future versions may even begin to mention the players activities. It up to you to determine the relationship of the players to the paper, if the ghosts are supposed to be a secret then maybe the journalists are devotees the players have to avoid and dupe so they aren’t caught fighting ghosts. Or may the journalists may just be amateur versions of the players.

It also may be worth holding a seance for your players at some point during the first night. Have the players visit a fortune teller and play the whole scene out with a ouiji board, or candles or other real life effects to really create the atmosphere.

Man, I miss being a DM.

Buy Two Zeppelins. There’s your atmosphere for you.

Joints, obviously.

Two words, BLACK LIGHTS!

Three words: Boots of Dancing.

I really like the idea of having several different locations the PCs can investigate; say an orphanage, a church, and a bank. At each one there could be a different mini-adventure. At the orphanage there’s Ghostrock hidden in strange places, making hauntings regular and hard to thwart, and the PCs have to find all the pieces while fending off ghouls. At the bank a safety deposit box has been filled with Ghostrock and they have to figure out how to get to the box. At the church…something else happens.

Also, there could be time pressure. Say the authorities are coming in, and will bust the players for being involved in Supernormal activities. Maybe the whole evening can be them investigating the appearance of all this Ghostrock while trying to stay ahead of the authorities…

Those are all possibilities. One problem I see with my plot ideas is that they’re all fairly video-gamey, in a ‘go here, do this’ way. Not very open, impulsive, improvisational. That’s probably fine for now, as I’m new to GMing and don’t know much about getting players involved in the story-telling process. (also both players are like, ‘hey, whatever setting you want to run us in, man’; they don’t care much about the details) But as I go in, are there any general tips as to getting THEM to help guide me with the story?

Of course, in the bank vault, they’ll discover the Boots of Dancing.

Role playing allows us to do something that video games cant, we get to interact with believable characters. Instead of thinking about the tasks that have to be performed to complete the quest think about the personalities involved.

Who are the people at the location, what are their motivations? Maybe the ghost at the bank is that of the bank managers late wife. He may not directly confront the players but do everything in his power to make their lives difficult including attempting to steal the ghostrock form the party if they find it. A bank is a good place to introduce some moral dilemas. As a player is searching safety deposit boxes what if he finds some money he believes he can take without being caught. Maybe a big robbery happened there a few weeks before the investigation and if the players are sharp enough they may actually figure it out (one of the robbers is still working in the bank as she didnt want to quit right after the robbery and look suspicious).

Maybe a group of cultists have begun to gather outside the church, beliving the sitings there to not be ghosts but angels. Maybe some are even crazed enough to sacrifice themselves to the spirits and one may become possessed by a ghost and attack the party. You can have fun here with sighting around the cross, blood oozing from the statue of christ, etc.

The orphange could have been in a great fire, which killed all the kids inside. Now their spirits remain, as does that of the of demons that torment them. Maybe the parties task could be more than just finding the ghostrock to stop the manifestations, but actually asaving the children and allowing them to pass on and escape their torment.

Case o’ beer.

A list of fines for rules lawyering or otherwise violating the prime directive of tabletop rpgs: Don’t be a dick.

The min-maxers often can’t see the rules from the plot. But as long as each player understands they are trying to portray a character it becomes easier to have them tell the story. As a DM you can’t force the situation but try to keep some loose boundaries. The storytelling is what is lost, as a DM you are putting that setting and goals that fit the theme of the gamers you are with.

If you are lucky you can find people who want the same type of experience with the time. It’s rare not to find at least a few people who are in it to win it as min-maxers, but as long as they are there for the same type of game.

Sometimes it’s attention span, as a DM you are also the pacesetter. Also it helps if everyone can trust one another to not be a dick.

Others have commented on the importance of motivation for a good RPG, so I thought I’d expound a bit.

I kinda get your motivation, but I do not see the profit for the criminals. Like any business, organized crime is seeking a profit.

You could twist it a bit in that consumers are buying the rocks to communicate with the dead. People would pay for that…for 2 pounds, sir, you can buy this wonderous artifact and talk to your dear, deceased mother. But there are complications. As you mention, sometimes the wrong ghosts or even ghouls get thru, causing mayhem. Or maybe the Church in your setting finds the practice sacriligious and hires the PCs to end it.

This also leaves several threads you can choose to follow. Who is creating the Ghostrocks, and how? Are they mined from sacred burial grounds? Created by blood sacrifice? What happens to the Ghostrocks once the supply is stopped. Do they decay naturally? Do they have to be turned off in some supernatural way? Do they have to be returned to the sacred burial ground?

When I DMed tabletop and NWN campaigns, my players enjoyed it when you spin threads like this. Someimes you follow the thread. Sometimes the plot moves on and then weeks later the thread reappears.

You do not have to create all of these things yourself…simply listen to the players. As they try to solve the mystery, they will brainstorm and from that you can grab threads. Other threads will come from conversations with NPCs. Some of the best threads will come from some element in a PCs background that you wrap into the plot.

In fact, the baddies who trade in Ghostrock are making a giant transfer soon in the air over the city. They fly two airships near each other and make the transfer quickly, trying to avoid notice from aviation authorities.

I’d think flying 2 airships close together would be difficult, dangerous, and something people would notice! Don’t dump the airships idea tho, because airships are cool. You could have something analagous of mid-air refueling where the ships are attached via a long tether and the goods zip-lined between the ships. Or maybe ship-to-ground like LAPES

Yay! These are awesome ideas, guys! If the PCs want to do lots of fighting, eliandi, I pretty much have to lash two airships together, catch them on fire, then have the PCs fight on them while plummeting, in flames, toward the London streets below.

I’m fully using Kael’s ideas about the location-specific hijinks and combining them with eliandi’s idea about regular people purchasing Ghostrock. It makes for a clearer criminal motivation for owning the stuff if regular folks are interested in buying it. Like drugs, basically.

I’m unsure of how to manage the ‘saving the ghosts’ thing, though. If the ghosts of the children are tormented spirits, there’s maybe something the PCs can do FOR the ghosts to set them free, right? Avenge their deaths on the arsonist by killing him? Get the arsonist to come to them, allowing them to exact their revenge? Convince the arsonist to bring toys, dolls, and games to the ghosts of the children in a gesture of reconciliation?

So maybe the arsonist was driven to set the orphanage on fire because he or she was tormented by his or her past there, and wanted to destroy the building. Or maybe he knew the walls were being filled with Ghostrock and tried to destroy the place in order to save it? Maybe he was a criminal dude with ties to the Ghostrock smugglers, saw how some of his ‘product’ was going to be used, and tried to save the orphanage but ended up destroying it. He’s remorseful as hell and looking for a way to save the ghosts, but terrified of their vengeance.

Maybe the head of the orphanage was a real bastard (of course) who REALLY loved cats, but they kept dying on him. So he was hoarding Ghostrock in order to bring his little pets back to life, unaware of the hauntings they were causing in the orphanage. The arsonist was selling more and more of it to the director until he realized that more Ghostrock would tip into the “too much” territory and unleash something truly terrifying into the orphanage. He tried to break into the orphanage to steal the Ghostrock from the Directors office, accidentally started a fire, and caused the deaths of 20 children. Now he’s in hiding from the Director, torn with guilt over his mistake. He could even hire the PCs to help him, but I think it would be more interesting for them to have to track him down.

But how do you do THAT? I can have the ghosts talk to the PCs, but how could I get them to find him without just saying “the ghosts tell you who he is, and you find his house after searching for 3 days”. Lots of Persuasion rolls on underworld types, sure, but how do you make that interesting?

You could give him an accomplice that is still in the orphanage. Maybe a nurse who is looking after him. She won’t give him up but through questions the party should be able to find out that they were close. Then its up to the party to trail her and have her lead them to him, persuade or trick her into telling them, etc.

Or you could have the director freaking out because the party is here investigating. As they begin to dig to deep into his affairs the director could get closer and closer to finding the arsonist. Close enough that the arsonist kills the director to keep him from leading the party to him. Then the party has a nice twist to deal with. Their investigation was going well, but their suspect dies. They need to dig deeper into his past, find out who he was meeting with, and track down that guy (the arsonist).

I dont like persuasion roles for meaningful story pieces. Those have to be worked, thats what the game is (in my mind). Id allow a persuasion check to try to get a discount on buying something, maybe to see if someone likes you after an encounter, but I dont like them as part of the real dialog.

The first time I played a table-top RPG I was simply handed a character that was complete as far as the game went. All I had to do was figure out the personality I wanted to play. The nice thing is that it gets the game going right away. If you let people create characters with a system they don’t understand it’s easy for them to make mistakes and some people will invariably get bored waiting for others to understand the nuances or whatnot.

It also has the advantage of letting the GM have a pretty good idea of what the characters can do from the start and allows the session to be well prepared as a result.

For a new game system it’s not a bad way to go. You can even talk to the players ahead of time to get a general sense of what kind of character they would like and build it that way. Or create several characters and let the players choose which ones they want. A nice way to sweeten the idea is to also offer player controlled NPC’s or allow them to play multiple characters, especially when you only have two players as in this case, as long as it makes sense for the setting.