You're starting a new game. What's the first thing you say?

edited January 2008 in Play Advice
This is a thread for tips and tricks.

Let's say you're starting a new game. You're done with the setup phase (chargen, town creation, etc.) and everyone is at the table and ready to go. There's a beat of silence and then... what's the first thing you say? How do you actually start, specifically, word for word?

Please share your thoughts, tips, and experiences. Be specific to a particular game if possible, but more general advice is welcome too. What works? What doesn't? Be as ultra specific as you can, writing out a little script if possible. That's the goal here. We already have lots of stuff in books like, "Frame a scene about X" or "Start the party outside the dungeon." I'm looking for the actual words spoken.



  • I'm pretty certain the first word out of my mouth is usually "okay" :)

    Then I will almost always start with a description of the world, zooming in on the location where game opens. By whole world I don't necessarily mean the planet (though in a Sci-Fi game I might start at an even larger scale) but whatever is necessary to give everyone a sense of place and flavour. This would be the case even if we have just introduced the world in more thematic detail.

    So I might say something

    Okay. It is daybreak over the mountains at the edge of the stormy northern sea where the city of Sudar is located. The air is full of the smell of salt water and fish from the dockside, chilly enough to see your breath before you and clear enough to see all the way across the fens to the mountain peaks. The city is just waking up: the knights are calling out to each other as the guard changes on the castle wall, and the monks are finishing their morning prayers and setting to work on washing the temple floors. At the entrance to the city a line of farmers are waiting on the frosty road for the gates to open, bringing their cattle to the weekly market
    After that I would zoom in to where the characters are located, knowing they have that picture in their mind. Usually I would just do them in order, going round the table, saying something about where each one is, and then move on to the first scenes, character introductions, or whatever goes next in that game.

    So the start is all about setting the scene and the feel, with smells, sounds, sensations, colours, things to get everyone on the same page about where we are.
  • "So, you're all members of the retinue of Inquisitor Valant. You're here with him, in the depths of the underhive, in deep disguise, in the single shabbiest, most gun-filled bar you've ever seen. He leans forward, probably to begin your briefing."

    "He coughs up about half a pint of blood, and slams forward, bouncing off the table, before hitting the floor. He's still vomiting blood as he does, and you're pretty sure that you can smell his bladder and bowels evacuating as he hits the floor, twitching."

    "Any questions before you start to... Do whatever it is you're going to do?"
  • "Right. So you've been sent into Blue City. You're going to start in a hotel: you can choose where and what you're doing."

    (Holy shit, everyone else talks a lot.)

  • edited January 2008
    "I'd like to have a scene with my connection. Per, could you play my connection? Cool.

    Bob Smith is a small-time conman who works the diners and bars all along the coast. He's a weedy, greasy little man. And he's agreed to meet a man who claims to be his father. In the pool room of a dive he sees the man for the first time, and recognises the same receding hairline."Fuck you, dad". "

    (I don't like a lot of description - use yer damn imagination!)
  • Graham, is that actually your tip for how to start a game of Lacuna? Maybe there's some back and forth or a little something that might be helpful to see. Like I said, this is about tips and advice, not just a recitation of your literal first words.
  • edited January 2008
    I think so. I'll have explained what Blue City, and so on, before and during chargen.

    I tend to give the information in short chunks. During chargen, I'll say things like: "It's set in Blue City, which is a sort of mindworld. Everyone who exists in the real world exists in Blue City".

    Then do a bit of chargen and, later, say "You're Mystery Agents. You hunt down what are called Hostile Personalities: they're criminals in the real world, so you hunt down their criminal personalities so they're not criminals anymore".

    Then a bit more dice rolling. Rather than explaining everything, I wait for questions to come to me: "What's Access?".

    And at some point I'll explain that this game can work different ways: it can be Film Noir or The Matrix or a spy thriller.

    Then, by the time we're ready to start, all I need to say is "So you've descended into Blue City...", as above. And there'll be a couple of questions as we go along, which I'll deal with: "Do I have a gun?", "No, you've got to make an Access roll to pick one up or produce one from your pocket".

    I probably won't explain the resolution system fully until the first time we use it. And, the first time someone picks up anything, I'll make them do an Access roll.

    Does that help? I realise it doesn't quite answer the question you asked in the first place.

  • I start with ''So.''
    I then jump right into it by telling them what their characters are doing right now, then doing a flashback to explain how they got there and a general description of the situation.
    Example, in my Van Dread playtest, characters are in a bunker for a year, trying to dodge the apocalypse:
    ''So, you're all doing your regular chores in the bunker. Working out, opening one of the last cans of beans, cleaning your firearms. You've been holed up in this bunker for a year now and things are starting to fall apart. You decided to buy a spot in this bunker when...''
  • "Okay, I'd like to start with your kicker, James." Looking around to see group reaction. "Okay. George gets out of the taxi in New York, it's raining, where is he going?"
  • "Okay. You're just arriving in town."

    Present is important. Present calls for response. NOT: "You've just arrived in town."
  • (Holy shit, everyone else talks a lot.)
    Shortest truly successful game starter I've ever done was...

    "I've got a dungeon. It has cultists. You're there, cuz' that's what I've got. Why are you in it?"
  • My favorite thus far is the following line I used to introduce a moden-age horror/action game:

    "They're getting away."
  • Usually, I don't even get a chance to start the game off. With my group, by the time some of the people have made their characters, they just arbitrarily decide that they're in a tavern or game-setting-appropriate-equivalent, talking about things of no importance while they wait for the rest of the players to finish their characters. So once everybody is ready, they're already in-character socializing, and then I say "And then, [something happens to kick things up a notch]"
  • Hmm.

    Mountain Witch. "It is early morning. A light mist coats the path ahead, and makes the trees to either side into a wall. Shadows and light and eddies in the fog play tricks with your senses. As is tradition, you plan to travel through the forest today, and ascend Mount Fuji tonight, so that you will reach the summit at daybreak tomorrow. Everyone, please provide us a quick impression of your samurai; a sketch in words. [pause for that] Alright. The path allows one to stride down it, or two to walk side by side, if they are comfortable. Who takes the first step?"

    Essentially, provide some colour, and set the scope of the adventure. Prompt for input on colour, and open the door for dark fate hints. Then, force them to make decisions about each other before they can move closer to the Witch. This last, I've found is really important to tMW. Always funnel the characters early decisions into relations to each other, and by the time they reach the summit, the Witch might as well be a painted backdrop for their blood opera.

  • I can't believe I'm the only one to say this so far, but in just about every game I've ever run, the first real words out of my mouth are: "Roll for initiative."
  • I'm starting my next lunchtime game, Exalted HeroQuest, on Wednesday. One has never played an RPG, most haven't played Exalted, and none have played HQ, so it's almost as new as you can get. I'll let you know what those first words are like.
  • "BOOOM! The detonation shakes the sub. Steam pipes start tearing loose, spitting scalding gas at enormous pressures all through the compartment. Someone screams over the intercom that robot gorillas are boarding through the aft torpedo tubes. The main engine is on the verge of failure and all this moisture is RUINING your hairdoo! GO!"
  • I think my favorite opener was, "So, how would you like to be in trouble?"

    After a hearty affirmative, my second line was, "So, how would you like to be in trouble?"

    Things went pretty well from there.
  • edited January 2008
    A few weeks ago, Meg, Vincent, and I played Misspent Youth with Rob running it. We'd gotten all the details down, and each of us started speaking in character, so much so that we didn't tell Rob. I think he thought we were still hashing out details, but no...
    I'm pretty sure that's happened before, where the characters enter the world before the GM. We lay down how our characters interact with each other, and then the GM or scene setter catches up and says, "So Captain Brimstone Jack has been poisoned by the cook..." If I were GM'ing, I'd then say something like "what do you do?" Sometimes I ask a specific character or leave it open to anyone who wants to jump in.
  • Graham: Yes! That's good stuff, thanks.

    Everyone else: Great posts so far. James, I really like your explanation about why you said what you did. That's really useful.
  • "But hope was not yet lost, for n_ still heard the song of the stars. And so it was that n_ ..."

  • You're supposed to actually say "n_" ?! I always thought that was just an example. Man, have I been playing wrong.

  • Also, Ben: What do you say after that?
  • Saying the underscore is a bitch.


    P.S. Depends on the cosmos, after that.
  • "Snedgar, you're in the dockhouse mess kitchen. Hestel and Lisk, you're seated awaiting dinner. There are dozens of dockworkers eating noisily. Suddenly the main doors burst open and five Uldish guardsmen crash through. The leader demands to see the cook.

    You're pretty sure it's inappropriate for uniformed Ulds to be here."
  • There's also always the old...

    "Last time on..."

    I used to begin a game be recounting the last session's events, which (hopefully) would help jog everyone's memory and get them in the mood. Once the narrative caught up with the present, I would frame a scene as everyone else has described here.

    (This summary has to kept short, though, unless you're extremely entertaining. I did once play in a game where the GM would just talk for ages, sometimes holding long conversations between NPCs (!) that would go on for a long, long time, but he was so good at it that no one minded.)
  • Uh, right. I forgot this thread was for people starting a new game. My apologies!

    I'll make up for my blunder with a different story:

    I once started a game for first-time players by preparing a page-long story. I read most of it, and they read their characters' lines. Once we got to the end of the page (which ended with some action and an uncertain, tense situation), I said, "OK, what happens next?"
  • Something equivalent to this

    "So, your know where you are and what your goals are... what do you do?"

    Followed up by things messing with what they want to do.
  • I like to start with a scene that doesn't involve any of the player characters. I find TV shows do this all the time and it really works to get the players thinking about how the contents of that scene will eventually bisect play-- but how? Dun dun duh! That's with more traditional play though, as a lot of "hippie" type gaming doesn't need that.

    In a traditional fantasy type game, I often like to start by passing out very simple pregen character cards with all the pertinent information and then have the "big bad" of the story arc kill those characters. I've even found this works well before character generation.
  • Last night, swear to God:

    JOE: You guys are sleeping in the Steward's house. Clinton, some guy sneaks in and punches you in the head.

    CLINTON: No he does not!

    REMI and JASON: Conflict!
  • The first game of Spirit of the Century I ran started with something like:
    "Thirty seconds ago shooting the stormtrooper seemed like a good idea. Now that he's tumbled backwards into the driver's compartment and the grenade he was going to throw has exploded, causing the train to start racing out of control through the Bavarian Alps, you're beginning to wonder..."
    Since then it's become a tradition to start every new session with "Thirty seconds ago X seemed like a good idea. Now Y has happened you're beginning to wonder." I think my favourite one has been X = "telling your bride to be that if she eats another piece of Swiss chocolate she'll never fit into her wedding dress" and Y = "hordes of the blood-monkeys she's spawned descend from the rafters of the castle and start tearing you limb from limb".
  • The first thing? The very first thing?

    Some variant on:

    "So, the guy with the knife is coming for you; he tries a stab at your face. What do you do?"

    In media res all the way.

    I'll let you know how this latest variant goes after my first session in February. :)
  • Here are a few that I remember:

    Orcs over Skype:

    "Alright, this begins just like we discussed. The Elven army has decimated your horde and you've lit the forest on fire in an attempt to hamper their archers. Raxxor, the Troll Warlord was supposed to attack up north and keep the elves off of you while you forded the river but he has obviously betrayed the orcs. You come through a clearing, and there are six elves, three in the trees, trying to get shots at you and three on horseback. Okay, guys, let's just try out the Fight! mechanics and see how this skype gaming will work and all that..."
  • Posted By: AndyMy favorite thus far is the following line I used to introduce a moden-age horror/action game:

    "They're getting away."

    I like to start media in res for my games. One famously started (and I use the word 'famously' rather loosely here), with:

  • Posted By: Justin D. JacobsonI can't believe I'm the only one to say this so far, but in just about every game I've ever run, the first real words out of my mouth are: "Roll for initiative."
    Beat me to it.

    The D&D mega-module Eyes of the Lich Queen explicitly suggested starting off like this, i.e., open with the first encounter, and then flash back to the PCs getting the "job offer" and negotiating terms and play forward until you reach the present again. It worked so well that I did it again for the second chapter of the adventure.

    I think this is a great technique for D&D, as it skips the pretense of the PCs having a choice about what adventure is being played. :)
  • edited January 2008
    Game dependent. I go with the game familiarity the players show me as they settle in. If they're knowledgeable and excited it's something like "That library you were looking for isn't there! Just a vacant lot!" If they're a bit disconcerted, like with a totally new system, I ask them what their goal is "what do you want to get" since that's pretty much a universal, and drive it to the first ruling situation.

    Oh right, Contract Work starts with:

    "Your target, Mr. Elvin Atombender was selling CIA intel to terrorists.

    "How did you kill him?"
  • My Exalted game, it's using HeroQuest and was built using a custom made Burning Exalted question period (which needs the kinks worked out to tie it to the system better). They have an island with an oricalchum mine that is sort of center of their operations in the area. The kicker is that a Queen nearby hates Solars, and wants to get rid of them. But here's how I started.

    "You guys live on the island, right? Okay. So, the Queen of the Silken Kingdom does not want you guys here. She's just heard about Solars in the area, or Anathema as she calls them, and she wants you dealt with. She's either afraid that you will eventually take over, or that you'll bring the Realm down on her (she doesn't like them either) for letting you thrive, and there are a lot of Realm friendly nations in this area."

    Player A: "Does she have a navy?"

    "Why, yes. Yes she does. You know this because they are currently blockading your little harbor."

    Player B: "Can I find out what they are doing?"

    "Yes, you can go down and as the dockworkers and the fisherman in the little port village. So, where are you guys? You don't have to be on the island."

    Player C: "I'm out on the high seas on my ship. I don't know this is happening yet."

    There were actually some more questions, like are they anchored, but I left in the stuff that had answers that moved things along instead of filling information in. The first roll was shortly after. The Twilight summoned an Elemental, which I gave as an automatic success, but then had to roll to dominate the creature to serve him. I helped the player pick out the proper ability, and then possible augments, and then we rolled. He got a critical, and soundly bound the elemental to his will. It then accompanied them out to parlay with the fleet captain.

    And it went from there.
  • That's great stuff, Alvin! Thanks for explaining and giving context to the words spoken.
  • edited January 2008
    Posted By: Justin D. Jacobson
    I think this is a great technique for D&D, as it skips the pretense of the PCs having a choice about what adventure is being played. :)
    That's an excellent point. I always found there's a slight chance of a lack of buy-in when it comes to dungeon crawling. And probably not because the D&D players don't want the game to go there (they're playing D&D). They often don't want to go through the boring, cliche process of getting there.

    I think one of the worst ways to start a session is to describe the setting and then ask what the players do. By this I mean excluding the description of the current situation anything that interests the players or characters and then relying on them to figure out what they should want to do (much less do). What the players (or characters) want should be established asap.

    "You're in the main square of the small city of Ranath. Peasants and merchants are walking to and fro. Some local farmers have set up a few booths to sell their crops. A couple jugglers are performing with their apprentices holding out hats to passerbys trying to get some coins. What do you do?"

  • What he said. I've been seriously re-thinking my game starts recently; often they do begin in a clunky fashion, but after a neat thread I got going on (and more briefly here) I think the whole in media res idea has a ton of merit. Works in any situation where you've got a likely contest that players are likely to be involved in. I say contest to mean any situation of player vs something in the game, though not always combat. Like if you were playing WoD Priests you could start right in the middle of a tricky exorcism, or if you were Dust Devils gamblers you could be in the final of a big card tournament. Or my favourite, mad scientists all running around flipping giant switches - later we find out what the machine does, but for now all we care about is man's struggle against science!

    That's not how I have been starting my games, but its how I want to begin starting my games, if you know what I mean.
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarLast night, swear to God:

    JOE: You guys are sleeping in the Steward's house. Clinton, some guy sneaks in and punches you in the head.

    CLINTON: No he does not!

    REMI and JASON: Conflict!
    You guys. You totally tickle my attention-span bone.
  • edited January 2008
    I started the last game I ran with, "In a wicked age, in a vast empire slowly turning its reaches from wood and stone to smoke and steel, in a small town on that empire's frontier, you walk through lawless streets in the dead of night."

    No guesses for what game it was.

    Mine tend to be very variable and tailored to the system, but they all contain that sort of general to specific "zoom" effect like the one above.

    Also, Paul T. - there's nothing wrong with starting up a brand new game with "Last time on..." :)
  • I'm thinking that "Last time on..." is a particularly great way to begin a game.
  • edited January 2008
    For Lacuna, my first words are: "Are you here for Orientation?" Then if we're at a convention or a game day where we're at a table in the middle of a bunch of other tables with people walking around, I'll apologize for having to meet here in the cafeteria while they're finishing renovating the meeting rooms. The rest of the game session is played in character -- I'm Agent Graves, and the players are new recruits to Mystery Agent status. We're going to be simulating a dive into Blue City and of course I don't need to tell you that Blue City is [I tell them what Blue City is] or how dives go because they've already been on dives into Green zones, you'll still go to the Slab, get strapped down and injected with blah blah blah. Basically, I tell them that they already know this stuff, tell them the stuff they know, and tell them I don't need to tell them that.

    It works.

    For anything else, my first words are usually: "Fade in from black. The camera is focused in on..."

    Ever since running Primetime Adventures, every game I've GMed tends to be framed as the television or movie adaptation of the game we're playing. Every game session of the current thing I'm running starts out: "The television has warmed up, the children have gathered around the set, and the commercial for [whatever] has just ended. We cut to black and 'Previously, on...'" Because I know some of the main scenes, the major NPCs, and/or the focus of what the players want to do that session, I'll do an actual recap that's not a recap of the previous episode, but a recap that shows certain people and themes that might come up in the session. These clips may have come from the prior game session, they may have come from sessions weeks and weeks ago. They're re-edited to emphasize certain things and dialogue may be moved around or used in voiceovers for action sequences that weren't married together in actual play in prior game sessions. Tonight's game was the first we've had since a month and a half, so instead of a short 'Previously, on...' recap, we had an hour-long recap special, sort of like how Lost has that one-hour season summary episode that your Tivo is tricked into thinking is a new episode but it's really just a crappy clip show with a stupid voiceover. We had the actors explain how they saw their roles, the writers talking about different plotlines, and several clips from the show taken completely out of order and context.

    Loads of fun.
  • edited January 2008
    After the characters are ready, in one way or another (they could have a sketchy background or just a name and a few lines, whatever), it's like:

    "Okay, you are leaving for a cruise. The ship departs at 6pm, which means that you have to be at the terminal by 5.15pm at the latest. Who is there first and at what time?"

    (The players decide who comes first, usually based on what kind of mindset their character has, which starts the process of establishing the characters)

    "Right, Anna, being the prompt management-type of lass she is, arrives early. Mats, the rich lawyer, comes in second with a good margin of time, but not too early... Anna, what are you wearing and what does Anna look like?"

    "Does she have a bag? What's in the bag?"

    "What kid of cellphone does she have?"

    And the same thing for every character, and then backing out and letting the players to establish the scene further (they are in a cruise terminal, they know what cruise terminals are like - and they probably have a beer or something).

    I quite often start like this, since the kicks on two of the most important process of the game, establishing a character for a player (who am I? What do my clothes, accessories, time-management and what not tell me about me?) as a person, and establishing characters in general for all players. Establishing the starting scene or situtation kind of rides alongsides of this, and once the characters are established, players are happy to move on to explore the situtation, and then proceed forward.
  • Posted By: M Eryesen"You're in the main square of the small city of Ranath. Peasants and merchants are walking to and fro. Some local farmers have set up a few booths to sell their crops. A couple jugglers are performing with their apprentices holding out hats to passerbys trying to get some coins. What do you do?"

    I started a D&D game in almost exactly the same way once, only the final question was "Why are you there?"

    The answers were fun: the half elf ranger was there buying black hair dye to disguise his elven heritage while the halfling rogue was looking for an excuse to run away from her family of merchant gypsies and go adventuring. What was even more fun was when the players decided that of course it was the halfling's family that the half elf was buying hair dye from, and that the halfling would follow him to the local tavern afterwards and strike up a conversation with him. I then got to sit back and watch a solid half hour of entertaining roleplaying as the half elf essentially gave the halfling a job interview for the position of adventuring companion.
  • Sounds cool. That last question really sets up the players one way or another. One thing I've learned over the last while is to have the desires/goals of the character cut through one another and with NPCs (and their goals intersecting player goals). I think they should also probably be in the direction that play can go in (or will go in). For example, in a D&D game that's going to be about clearing dungeons of monsters, goals about winning the county dress making competition likely isn't going to fit well. Unless ofcourse, the ogre is guarding a rare Needle of Sewing Mastery.
  • For Dogs I often start with some variant of "A week out from the Temple you reach town just after nightfall and see a big crowd gathered in front of the general store, waving ropes and torches."

    For a very-long-ago game of Revelation Hero I started by asking the players to describe their character's entrance with the camera only focused at feet level. You can tell a lot about a person from their shoes.
  • My most recent game starting was the Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies playtest. Since we game over skype and I'm recording the sessions, here is the word for embarassing word transcription:

    Me: "Petar Wellbringer (PC) received a ransom note from Dread Pirate Tordeg. Dread Pirate Tordeg had sent a ransom note to Petar Wellbringer for his beloved sister Cecilia. This information quickly traveled throughout the court and there were two Musketeers sent at Petar’s… well, one was sent at Petar’s request and the other came along. The one who came at his request was Armand (PC), and Armand is traveling with Colin (other PC). You are currently at the largest port in Colrona. You have secured passage and are heading down to the docks when the three of you have become embroiled in a bit of a scuffle. There are six men, and they have drawn steel on you... why have they drawn steel on you?
    Player of Colin: "Because in my despair over losing fair Cecilia, I wooed someone’s sister."
    Group laughter. Some in character jawing took place and I then found out exactly how powerful the PCs were in this game system. Very quickly.
  • This is the opening for what I consider the best single game session of 2007 that I played. It was a one shot of Don't Rest Your Head that I GMed for Ryan Macklin. In it, Ryan chose to play Shane Vendrell, the weasley aide to Vic Mackey in the FX series The Shield. Ryan chose to play Shane at a particular moment in the TV series, right after Shane had murdered one of the team because he was afraid he was going to be ratted out to the police. I started the game very slowly. It was our first game together ever, it was over Skype, and it was pretty dark stuff.

    ME: "Shane, you have just returned home after witnessing the murder and the burning of the body of Guardo, a man who died for your sins... a man who Vic believed had murdered Lem. It’s dark in your apartment. No lights, but its late, about 3 in the morning."

    I walked Ryan through the realization that Shane's wife and son were missing and that something was in the apartment with him, but only showing up in the corner of his eye or in reflections (bathroom and hallway mirrors). Shane drew his gun and fired on the crome handle on his fridge and dashed out into the night, hopping in his truck and driving to anywhere but his apartment, knowing he'd lost it.
  • Beat.
    "The court of the great Sultan is at peace, for the moment..." I then go on to describe the mood of the Sultan, lightly outline any current events of interest, especially bringing in anything from char gen, and how tense or easy the undercurrents in court are at present, ending with something like "Now let us briefly see our daily life within these walls." And then it's short scenes between PCs to establish relationships before the first Story.
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