Crafting an introduction to the first session of an RPG campaign is a powerful way of setting the tone for the adventures to come. In my opening post of the series, I described a handful of ways to bring up the unique feeling of Middle-earth in my Brown Lands campaign. Those concerned mostly the general layout of the plot. This time, I’d like to focus on how to perform it at the RPG table. So, let’s set off right into the campaign!
The story begins.
The Great River Anduin rolled its waters in the late September sun. Scarce bushes that covered its banks in this empty land resounded only with the rustle of the leaves and with the voices of waterbirds flying to the far South. Across them, a small wagon pulled by a pony was slowly making its way. It was rolling alone for many days across this still landscape. On the wagon, a thoughtful, grey-haired dwarf was smoking a pipe, unaware of his surroundings. And among the trees, other figures were moving.
A hunter pursued swiftly four horseriders, an arrow knocked on the bowstring. The riders spotted the wagon and assaulted it with no warning. After just a few moments, the brigands were all lying on the ground, and silence fell on the bush. The dwarf introduced himself as Bruni, son of Buri to the young but already white-haired hunter calling himself the Rook.
But as they were speaking, the sudden gust blew through the woods, covering the sun with heavy clouds. The dwarf and the hunter saw to their astonishment as one of the fallen highwaymen cuts another’s flesh with a coldly gleaming knife, uttering words of some unintelligible tongue. The bandit then stood up and resumed his assault, now barely caring for the blows he was suffering. With another of his companions following his footsteps, the dwarf and the hunter retreated to the hills. Rook lived in this land and hoped to alert his home village that more than some horse thieves was threatening it. There, in the hamlet of Limesplice, they met two other strangers, seeking a very peculiar person rumoured to live in the Noman Lands. But that was left to another time.
Nature – the silent watcher
That was pretty much the first session of our new RPG campaign. I’m curious what was your feeling while reading the paragraphs describing the session itself. I’ll be happy to hear about it! Even more so, that those are, I hope, exactly what I mean by “setting the stage” in the title. If you started with a vivid image of peaceful nature basking in the warm afternoon sun, then I succeeded.
The points I had in mind when writing the intro from the first paragraph were two. One was contrasting the calm, late summer ambience with menacing events of the campaign. And that is, on its own, a potent tool for managing the emotional tone of the game. I will explore this more in my Call of Cthulhu series, coming in just a couple of weeks.
But the second point I find even more essential. The description implies that the stage of events is largely separated from almost any inhabitants. The dwarf Buri spent many days travelling on his own. The other characters are hidden among the natural features of the land. And only, later on, comes the suggestion that Rook lives in a little settlement not very far away. But the separation from any larger group of people limits the involvement of anyone from the outside world in the story. Thus, the players get the feeling that their actions are very impactful on the events. And that they are left to themselves. Noone will probably hear of their deeds or death. The one thing that matters is their choices, and that is my friend, the essence of a good RPG.