The Adventurers are the core of all games. As games have developed, adventure modules have been less about pre-packaged mazes full of hazards and more about dramas and conflicts, with the Adventurers at the heart of driving the changes.
As adventures have developed from their implausible "mazes full of traps and horrors" to more nuanced scenarios and dramas, so too have Adventurers. Modern Adventuring parties now more closely resemble bands of roaming mercenaries, military units or hunting parties - even posses, rounded up by the local law to track down and apprehend fugitives.
Adventuring parties show structure and purpose, and there is a definite lifestyle pattern to Adventuring.
Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing
Every party begins life during Session Zero, where the Games Master allows the players to introduce their characters. This generally just consists of the player introducing themselves, their character, and something about who their player is (what species they are, where they come from, what they are most famous for). In certain older games, it's all "name, species, class" and everybody would know what the character can do; but, this being Mythras, things are not nearly so clear-cut.
The player may use their background, or their career, or their culture, to explain why they are Adventurers, or add a detail out of whole cloth. It might be a good idea for Games Masters to note down any player additions to their GM character notes.
Games Masters, it's a really good idea to get a copy of the player characters' sheets, so you can tell at a glance what each is good at and where they are weakest. Players, work with your GM on this. It makes things so much easier when both you and the GM are aware of your character's 90% Track skill and grasp of the Pathway Folk Magic cantrip, for instance, especially if the other players forget these details about them.
An example - in the adventure "A Race Through Dark Places" which I ran during GenCon 2021, each pregenerated character had one thing in common - some sort of connection to the spirit realm. Only one of the characters was an actual animist; the others had some sort of exceptional ability or experience which connected them to the spirit, and which allowed them to interact with spirits in some way. This was, of course, important to the scenario, which required characters who were capable of defending themselves against spectral assaults.
Another adventure might have the characters united by a common theme - they are all theatre entertainers who lost their job, or they are all competitive fighters who are out training, or they are a patrol of guards securing the condato of a city (the country beyond the city walls which grows the crops the city needs to keep its population fed).
The real point of Session Zero, beyond introducing the characters to the other players, is to allow the players to let the character bond with one another. They will be working as a team, soon enough.
First Time Out
There are many ways to start an adventure going. The Adventurers could be drawn into an ongoing story, unfolding before their eyes; or they could be brought together by a friendly Connection ("I'm puttin' together a team"). The party leader could well seek to form a team of people, based on their already-existing renown (The Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven, The Dirty Dozen, Hawk The Slayer, Krull, Battle Beyond The Stars, The ABC Warriors) and lead that team in person, rather than send them out on a mission.
However the team forms, they must spend their first few days together. This is the time where the players get to form the team's dynamic. Which characters are early birds; which ones are night owls; and how effective the party leader's Oratory skills are.
It is okay for the players to have trouble integrating the team at this point. Every team of veterans began as raw recruits, and there is no such thing as Adventurer Boot Camp in most fantasy milieux (unless a member of the party comes up with the idea as a long-term ambition, but that's for a later blog). Every new team has to start learning to fit in, to work well within the group, and to complement everybody else, filling in the weaknesses in other characters' skills while hoping other team members will support their weaknesses, and so on.
An example is a party whose first adventure takes them deep into the wilderness, for example looking for the driver of a trading wagon who disappeared during the night. Characters need to have access to a variety of wilderness skills to make sense of the adventure - but while every character may have access to Athletics, Boating, Locale, Ride, and Swim, not everyone has access to Navigation, Seamanship, Survival, and Track. It is reasonable, however, to have at least two characters show a mix of at least two relevant skills (Navigation and Survival or Boating, Seamanship and Swim, Locale and Survival) in order to ensure that the party has access to all of the relevant skills between them. This allows each character a chance to shine - the Survival expert to build shelters, the Track expert using Navigation to determine where the prey is going, and so on.
The players should work out for themselves how to allocate the best tasks to the best players - such as getting the Folk Magician with knowledge of Ignite to help start the fire built by the Survival expert, and getting all the party members to help one another out with pitching tents, foraging, finding clean water, preparing the food, establishing a camp perimeter, and so on.
The concept of standard kit should be brought up before play ever begins. Every character must have access to a minimum amount of kit to help them to survive. This will be covered in the next blog post.
Games Masters: What To Do
Give the characters tasks suited to their needs. Let the party leader know what needs to be done, and allow the leader to negotiate with the players as to what tasks they ought to do. This is the best time to iron out any conflicts and complaints about leadership style, and allows the leader to get a feel as to how the team can work together. Remember, this is the first time for these Adventurers. They will have been torn from their cosy lives by the call to adventure, and they are bound to make mistakes.
Games Masters: What Not To Do
Their mistakes should not, however, cost the players their lives, or even injure them. Humiliate them, sure. The Survival expert might put together a perfect campfire, but the wood might be green and non-inflammable without the team magician's Ignite spell; the Navigation expert might get turned around and be unable to find his way back to the camp until somebody finally gets the campfire lit, and so on.
Never put the starting party in jeopardy of any great or permanent injury.
And never have them face a combat encounter on their first ever trek out - not unless the combat was the point, such as teaming up to fight brigands camping out in the woods, or kobolds driven down from the mountains to raid a village, and so on. And even so, never soften them up with a lethal combat encounter, first thing. Even an adventure involving tracking down and punishing miscreants should end with the battle, not have the battle take place in the middle somewhere.
No, it is a stupid idea to have them face a random giant, passing dragon, or lich on their first night under the stars. You know they couldn't cope. They know they couldn't cope. Handing the party a TPK (Total Party Kill) in their first session is a guarantee that you'll never have a second session with those players.
First Night Rewards
The first day and night of adventuring should end with the characters being rewarded for their efforts. Either their skills (or spells or other abilities) can bring them some physical reward (such as an Ophidian's superior sense of smell detecting truffles, or a Bestia hunter discovering a perfect site to set up camp), or they can learn something (such as discovering tracks leading away from the site where the wagon was found abandoned, indicating that the wagon was indeed attacked and, judging by the bootprints mixed among the bare footprints in the soft dirt, the driver abducted).
Always give each player a chance to feel that they made a difference to the whole team, before their first period of rest.
Assigning Watch Details
Part of the fledgling party's duties may include watches. Who gets to sleep for four hours first; who has to stand watch for predators of all descriptions in the small hours; and who gets to be woken in the middle of a lovely dream, with hours to go before sunup.
There is no need to play out each watch as its own scene, unless the Games Master has something planned for the party on their first night out. Not an ambush; something unexpected.
- The old ruins were once a thriving town, until it was abandoned by everybody but the ghosts. The night the Adventurers camp out in the ruins is the anniversary of the town's desertion, and this is always a night for the ghosts to come out and play.
- The legend of a Parliament of Wolves in the area happens to be true. All the wolves gather nearby this night. Not all of them come on four legs.
- The miscreants were from a non-human species (e.g. Bestia or Lili'tri). Most of the time, humans stay away from the communities of these non-human beings, but these raiders are outcasts from their communities, and the characters' activities have attracted the attention of a patrol of members of this species, who are basically doing the same thing they are.
- An object falls from the sky, waking everybody up with a tremendous explosion nearby. The characters desert their camp to investigate.
The First Real Conflict
The Games Master should not drag out this first adventure. Its point is to bring the party together and unite them, allow the players to give the team an identity. Scenarios run in conventions are always one-shots, self-contained and designed to last no more than, say, four hours, wrapping up with an ending for each character; but even if you are planning a long campaign, this first adventure should not last more than one or two sessions, of four hours each. The first session establishes the party; the second pits them against their first ever antagonists, and the characters should have acquired enough information about the antagonists in the first session, or first half of the session, to know who they are up against in the second half, or second session.
When pitting the characters against the antagonists, injuries on the players may hurt, but always stop short of Serious or Major Wounds or outright death. Characters may expect wounds, but nothing grievous.
They should always come home, grinning and telling onlookers "You should see the other guy."
Wrapping Up The First Scenario
The Games Master must always challenge the characters with each scenario or story in their campaign, assuming you are running a campaign instead of a one-shot. The challenge of the first session of actual play must always be to get the player characters to play nice with each other and to have each other's backs when the inevitable conflict occurs. There will always be other challenges; but the first challenge should always be to turn a bunch of disparate heroes into a team, for the first time.
Edited by Alex Greene