And So the Adventure Begins...Dan Armstrong April 11, 2000
The sounds of conversation and laughter fill the cool spring air. Walking through the makeshift tents and camps, Gaeld can't help but stare about in wonder at the massed diversity around him. There, to his left a mage, long white beard tangled and matted with pine needles, is leaning on his staff and chatting with a plump dwarf. Ahead, he sees a group of mercenaries dressed in sweat-stained leather and bearing the silhouette of a spread-winged dragon centered on their chests.
As Gaeld passes, on of the men bows deeply and the others laugh heartily. Elves, dwarves, men and a few creatures Gaeld has never seen before mingle freely about the camp and share information on the fate of common friends, exploits - both successful and some not so rewarding, and of mutual enemies and their acts of villainy. Other would-be adventurers can be seen walking through the camp, wide-eyed and awe-inspired, making them the butt of a few jokes and pranks. Rather unnaturally, the code calls for all attendees to leave their differences outside the camp as violence will not be tolerated.
The Gathering has always taken place in the spring and even though many of those present have crossed swords on occasion, they know that this is neither the time nor the place to rekindle old differences.
Being a DM, or GM, is one of the most rewarding experiences within the role-playing arena. It allows role players to become the eloquent, all-knowing bard, creating exciting stories for all to enjoy. But creativity is not always easy. Many times in my nearly 20 years of role-playing I have spent uncountable hours creating worlds and cultures and scenarios only to find myself stuck when it came time to gather my players into an adventuring group. How exactly did they meet and why did they decide to set out in search of adventure?
In role playing, it's the small details - like how a party meets - that can separate a good adventure from a legendary campaign. Because starting the whole affair off in the right direction is of utmost importance, I have put together some of my own techniques that have proven quite useful in the course of my DMing career.
And the Adventure Begins...
So, you have a world you plan on running - whether it's of your own creation or a pre-packaged plethora of information - but now you need to get the party out the door and into the maelstrom. The first thing to do is familiarize yourself with the land, the cultures and the customs. How large is the world? Is the land easily traveled or are there great physical barriers that limit movement across the terrain? How heavy is the population of the area? The realm? Are the people primarily static farmers and townsfolk or is there a large number of nomadic adventurers? What are the local customs, festivals or holidays? All of these questions will help you develop a sense of where characters come from and how they might meet.
Over the mountains, through the valley, around the lake and into the woods... A large world is likely to have a sizeable population of adventurers, but the distance from one kingdom to another might prove to limit cultural and class diversity. Terrain can also affect the diversity of a party. If the primary land type is grasslands and rolling hills, character migration could be a common occurrence. Likewise, vast mountain ranges, sprawling deserts and large bodies of water can deter many young, inexperienced adventurers from setting out on their own to find an adventuring company.
When creating your scenario for how a group of adventures comes together for the first time, try and find a section of the world that contains many different elements in a relatively small area. A good example of an area like this would be like the valley pictured. Rolling grasslands surrounded on one side by foothills and mountains, and a good section of deep forests to the other.
Having all of these elements within a relatively small area will allow you, as DM, to create a believable scenario for introducing nearly any type of character class or race. Most players have some sort of 'preconceived ideology' when it comes to where certain races and classes come from. Elves are from the forests, dwarves equal mountains, halflings are found in valleys and rolling hills, and humans fit in anywhere in-between. A dwarven character appearing in a forest city hundreds of miles from the mountains immediately seems odd, but there might be a very good reason for this.
The idea here is not to say that you cannot have displaced races or classes. It is simply to point out that, within each fantasy setting, there is a method to the placement of specific races and classes. If you are going to go against the grain, have a reason for it, or better yet, have your players come up with the reason and if you think it's plausible and can fit within the framework of your campaign, use it.
Mr. Wizard goes to Po-Dunk
If you look at modern America, the presence of specific careers and trades is directly related to population size. A small town is less likely to have a software manufacturer, just as a large city will be filled with merchants, but lack a strong representation of farmers. Along this same line, the software manufacturer is not very likely to move its operation to a rural farming community - at least not without a really good reason, such as to avoid higher taxes and inflated costs of living. Why should things in a fantasy world be much different?.
There have been some really good adventures that begin in rural settings where the local townsfolk are in dire need of a group of heroes to free them from some evil or other. But, even for fantasy, how likely is it that five or six separate novice adventurers happen upon the same small town in need of saving? Even the most hardened and wizened dungeon delvers would be hard-pressed to develop such a nose for adventure. Like the software company moving to a farming community, most adventurers don't go looking for fellow adventurers among the limited population of small villages - without a reason. In general, larger towns and cities are the destination of choice when seeking out adventure. More people, more trouble, more diversity. All of these elements can be found in nearly every city, and usually well before getting into the more seedy parts of town. Docks, and warehousing districts are notorious for having positions available for the adventurer willing to work without asking too many questions. Local city garrisons might be looking for caravan escorts or body guards. Both of these scenarios offer possible ways for the party to be brought together without any prior knowledge of one another. The village, on the other hand, might need a sheriff - a position that is less than likely to have would-be adventurer lined up in hopes of gaining the position.
Wandering under the Harvest moon...Now that you have a good idea who is where, and who is likely to travel and to where, all that is left is coming up with the reason for the individual characters to meet. It would be very simple to tell your players that they each see a posted flyer requesting adventurers, but it rarely lends itself to furthering the flavor of the campaign. Some of my simple suggestions are:
CapturedBeing caught in a similar situation (literally!) can be a wondrous tool for brings characters together. Locked away in the lower depths of Hessik Palace, Aeron, Lywenneth, Fergitty and Brna found themselves in each others company, but for very different reasons. As the guard is killed by another prisoner and the rest of the prisoners begin to escape, the four find themselves in each others company...but do they run or stay to explain the dead guard? And what do they tell each other of themselves and their reasons for being imprisoned in the dungeon?
CaravansTrade routes between cities and nations are a common source of income - and not just for merchants sending their goods. Caravans hire drivers and guards to move and protect the merchandise. Bandits might rely on caravans as their main source of income. And obviously, some outer-lying villages and towns rely on caravans for their income and supplies of rare - but essential - supplies. Caravans also tend to pick up new cargo and crew along the way, allowing the GM to seamlessly fit characters in without requiring all PCs to originate from the same location.
The Collector/Secret ConnectionsA good way of bringing characters together while developing a deep story line is through the use of the Collector scenario. A mighty wizard appears one day to one of the characters and tells the young adventurer that his services are required for an important quest. But first, they need to travel about the land to gather "the others" needed to successfully complete the quest. The old mage then teleports the adventurer and each subsequent party member to the location of all members of the party until the party is complete. Once they are all gathered and ready to begin their adventure, the mage can either leave them at the location of the final party member or take them to a specific starting point. This scenario lends itself well to campaign development as the party tries to uncover the hidden reasons why each of them has been chosen. It also allows the players to create characters from anywhere within the game world.
FestivalsFestivals can be a great source for not only allowing characters to meet, but also as a means to adventure. Festivals might take place on the outskirts of larger towns or cities, attracting people from the outlying villages and the surrounding region to celebrate - and to bring their stories of woe and terror with them. If a festival or fair were raided by a vagabond clan of orcs, aspiring adventurers might find themselves back to back, fighting off the enemy in a forced alliance they might not have otherwise discovered.
HarvestsAlong the same lines of the festival, harvest time usually attracts the aid of neighbors from the surrounding area. Whether it's sowing wheat or raising a new barn, many people will come from all around, knowing that after the hard work is completed, there will likely be a grand celebration for all. Of course, the benefit of this gathering in such a social setting is that many rumors and tales are shared among those attending. Old farmer Jas never mentioned it before, but he remembers hearing that there was a hidden entrance to an underground lair near the outcropping of rocks in the hills. Maybe that could be the explanation to the recent disappearance of farmer Kohl's milking cows several weeks back...
HolidaysMost people travel to see friends and or relatives during the holiday season. Perhaps each one of the young adventurers has a relative located in a common city. While traveling the roads to town, they join for the simple rule of safety in numbers. Conversations lead to uncovering that they all share the desire to seek adventure and they form a common bond based upon this.
PilgrimagesWhether religious or lore oriented, pilgrimages can be an effective way of compiling a party of adventurers. Characters may be traveling to a holy place or a site renown for some significant event. You never know who you might bump into or what might occur along the way or at the pilgrimages end.
WakesAttending the funeral of a friend brings many people together - some for the very first time. Added to this, if the death were for some reason other than natural, young brash adventurers might take it upon themselves to avenge the wrongful death of their friend. Death can be a strong motivator in aligning characters for the common cause of revenge.
WarThis can be a tough one to work with, but it can be done. In feudal societies, the common setting for many fantasy RPGs, war and conflict were a common occurrence. In times of need, many were willing to pick up sword or staff to defend their homeland - from all across the kingdom. Adventurers are all the more likely to travel forth in search of the glory of battle. The problem with this scenario is that the characters are likely to become stuck in a war and unable to set off on adventure without certain risks. Characters that choose to leave an army in search of adventure would likely be seen as deserters. Although this might be a campaign twist that can add more flavor to your sessions, I recommend that the GM have the adventurers converging on a small battle or border skirmish that ends before the characters become involved. Of course, there should be all sorts of potential for adventure that develops from the talks with the local army...
Other Special EventsOne way of creating an interesting scenario for adventurers to meet is to develop your own specific event. My personal favorite is to create an 'adventurers festival,' mush like the medieval tournaments. In my current campaign there is an annual spring event, called "The Gathering," where adventurers of all sorts meet to share information, work out differences in a peaceful manner and find or sell items that they may have uncovered over the year's adventuring. The Gathering is in actuality a guild for licensed adventuring companies, overseen by a committee, and is a well-known event. Each year, The Gathering attracts many new would-be adventurers vying for a position among any of the companies. This allows for unlimited scenarios, such as:
Meeting is just the beginning...The most important thing to remember when developing the scenario for introducing your player's characters is that we all play RPGs for the entertainment. Going back to my earlier statement, Gaming allows you to be the master bard. Be creative. Pull from the ideas you have read about in fantasy novels or have seen in sword and sorcery films. The creation of a campaign should be fun and rewarding. Coming up with intriguing ways for characters to meet will not only make your players feel more a part of the setting, but it will also give you an incredible sense of satisfaction and lend itself to creating depth within your continuing adventures and campaign.