That Pesky First Scenario
That first scenario which kicks of a campaign (whether sandbox or no) is a funny thing. On the one hand it’s the easiest to plan as you’re all fired up for the campaign with the goals solid in your mind. But on the other hand it’s the most difficult as this is your “hard sell” to your players, your opening pitch.
In many ways, a first scenario in a new campaign arc is like a pilot episode for a show. The goal is to introduce the characters (both PC and NPC), show the players around the set a little and define what you expect the playstyle to be. If your first scenario is high-action all the way then that’s what the players will expect from the next and subsequent sessions. Likewise if it’s light-hearted and played for laughs. If it’s a playstyle that the players enjoy (and hopefully you’ve thought of that ahead of time) then your campaign will make it beyond the pilot session. If not then it’s most likely dead in the water before it’s begun.
The good news is that folks tend to be very forgiving when it comes to pilot episodes. Yes, the scenery might be shaky and the NPCs not quite as you’d like them but that doesn’t matter provided the viewers…. I mean, the players…. end the session wanting to see more.
The job of that pilot session is to introduce the characters to their gameworld. It has to say “this is who your are, this is where you are, and this is what it’s like”. For my Endday campaign I made that first scenario a biggie with a scene straight out of a major Hollywood disaster movie.
This set the tone of the whole campaign: the entire world is going to hell and demons are to blame. The plot was pretty thin (Storm. Demons. Fight!), but for a first session that’s a Good Thing. The players will have enough to worry about with their spanking new character sheets without having to think about multi-layered plots and twists. When it comes to that first scenario keep it simple.
For my new Sandbox 4e D&D game I’m going to do just that. Grand Theft Donkey (love the name!) brings the style of the Grand Theft Auto games to D&D with the “heroes” low-life scum at the bottom of the crime career ladder. They are going to begin disembarking at the Docks (their home for the first few levels) and be given a simple task by Big Vinnie, their new friend and first contact in the Ptolus underworld.
And I’ll tell you all about that, next time.