You all find yourselves at the Sneezing Dragon, a well known inn and tavern in the small rural town you’re passing through. One of you notice the others, and so on and so forth until you find yourselves paying attention to each others conversations and eventually move to the same table to all be together talking. Our adventure begins here…
We’ve all done the tavern start. There’s nothing wrong with the tavern start, but sometimes you want to get away from tropes and do something original for your tabletop gaming group. The tavern is the place where adventurers go to wind down, and in their glee yell about their accomplishments until someone is likely to hear them and inquire about their deeds and someone else hears them and asks you all to do something. It’s surefire, reliable, and easy to write in a pinch, but sometimes you want an intro that’s a little more, or a little different. Below is a list of (hopefully) original and creative ideas to help you get your party started outside of a tavern.
Glossary PC=Player Character
1. A Museum, or other historical building We so often default to tavern, and it’s possible to use any shop in a town/city really. Maybe each PC needs candles for some reason and everyone meets in the candle-makers shop. You could also use a museum, or other less-common building. Each PC wanted to view a unique item in the museum and finds themselves on the same tour, lending them the opportunity to talk to one another. Perhaps each PC lives in town, and is attending a town meeting. Either way, you can use any building in town besides the tavern to start the adventure.
2. The Road Almost immediately after getting a job in the tavern, PCs will hit the road. Why not give each PC a job they picked up, and they all meet on the road, each going to the same place, but for different reasons. This allows PCs to immediately feel like they have valuable information about the world. Try to give them similarly aligned objectives. What I mean is, if the cleric got a job to consecrate a grave site, and the rogue got a job to steal a ring the lady was buried in, you’re creating conflict for your PCs, maybe that’s what you want, but typically as the GM we want our players to work together. They could all be heading in different directions even, but for that you’ll want the Campsite.
3. The Campsite PC’s have each been given a task (or are seeking one) and are at a crossroads and decide to rest. Oh, there is already a camp set up off the road here for the evening. One of the other PCs set it up only 20 minutes ago, and the tea kettle is whistling. One of the most natural ways for people to “group-up” is over a meal. Similar to the tavern start, the campsite start allows for a more PC lead adventure, where one of the PCs is on a mission, and the others at the campsite are simply passing by. Perhaps the mission-PC requests their aid, or talks about it revealing the danger, and the other PC’s are inclined to ask to help them. This is so similar to the tavern start it feels familiar as a GM, but is different enough to be novel, and carry a small risk for the party, whose first encounter could occur that very night!
4. The Dead Of Night The PC’s have extinguished their last torch, and burnt out all their lamp oil. They now plod around: a dark small village, the blackness of open road until a moonless night, or perhaps trek ever so cautiously through the woodlands while insisting that their campsite was this way and that they’re minutes from finding it. They bump into another adventurer, and another, until the party is assembled to wait out the lightless evening together. Nothing like fear of the unknown to bring people together. This would also work well for a cave, or underground start.
5. The Serene Waterfall The PCs have each been traveling on their own. Be it through northern, coniferous forest, or lush tropical jungle, they’re becoming exhausted, sweaty, and in need of something, anything rejuvenating. As they trek wearily, they hear running water, and after a short while longer come across a crystal clear, serene watering hole at the foot of a short waterfall. The air is clean, the sounds of the falls mask the din of the city, and the cool water is as refreshing as healing magic. While resting, another PC comes along to the scene, and so and so forth, until your party is together soaking in a natural spa. The perfect place for it to all start to slip downhill…
6. The Theft In-Progress As the PCs are walking down the busy street of a populous city, they notice a humanoid wearing all dark brown run out of a shop. Seconds later, an old man with a cane hobbles out of the shop, waves his cane for a moment and begins to yell “Hey you stop…” before trailing off, clearly defeated. He’ll kick the sandy street with his old flip-flop, and limp back into the shop muttering to himself. The PCs may each then react, either running down the thief, or inquiring to the shopkeeper. Perhaps one moves on, and is not involved until the PC who ran down the thief is back in the area asking for directions to a shop that was robbed and inquiring to passerby if anyone else saw it happen and knows where the shop is. Once the party is all assembled, the shopkeeper can let them know about the bigger plot at work.
NOTE: One thing, both about writing and playing opening scenes, is that you really need to know if your party is staying where they start, or moving on. Will the first person they talk to become a quest hub, or will they point them to a far off lead and they’ll move around the world seeking new opportunities as they go? This helps to inform how much writing you have to do in regards to the first characters they’ll meet.
7. Deity In Disguise Each of the PCs have a dream to go to this obscure place, a high-and-away plateau, the cellar at a local florists, a tribal camp near the base of a volcano, or perhaps simply to attend dinner with some noble, that incidentally no one else in town has heard of. When they follow their intuition and meet the stranger, they'll be some enigmatic, charismatic individual who has a request of them. They could continue on from there, performing task after task in exchange for clues to the identity of their host, as well as other wondrous rewards. This could be a full level 1-10 adventure hook.
8. A City Siege Or any siege, or battlefront really. The PCs are all somehow involved in the military, or militia, and have signed-up, been drafted, been on the other side and were captured, pretending to have signed-up but planning to leave as soon as you can, or whatever else you can think of. The city, or army, is under attack by some militant enemy. They all had their lives before them up this point, but with recent events they’ve found themselves working together for the moment to save the day.
9. Boaty Beginning The PCs each find themselves on a boat for some personal reason: a vacation, research expedition, avoiding being discovered for a time. The vessel can be a tour, cruise, expedition, or whatever else to include everyone’s stories. From there, the adventure could go anywhere in the infinite planar seas.
10. Explosive Start! In the village/town/city, as PCs are going about their own business, there is an explosion in one of the buildings. This explosion can be caused by all manner of things, leading to shorter or longer quests to resolve this opening scene. It could’ve been an old alchemist who made a mistake in his senility, or it could’ve been an up-and-coming young alchemist who was starting to make a name for themselves whose materials could’ve been swapped in order to murder them. It could’ve been an arsonist, a demon, a child who is a sorcerer and just found out, etc.
11. Escape Room Your PCs find themselves randomly selected from a pool of entrants to participate in a new and exciting craze within the city. A young warlock, wizard, or sorcerer who has gained the power to create alternative realities has started an entertainment venture where participants walk through a door beyond the small foyer of the shop, where the young magician sits atop a colorful old wooden stool. Beyond the door, are a series of rooms, wherein each contains a clue to help get the players out. It could be a jungle one moment, and after getting the clue they are eaten by a T-Rex and awake from the darkness in a futuristic space ship, is the T-Rex a robot? Is it only a step on their way out? How many clues are there?
12. In A Tavern, But You Didn’t Start Here Everyone wakes up in a destroyed tavern. Tables and chairs are strewn about or destroyed, there are cracks in the bar, bottles, glass, puddles of various liquids are about the floor. This could go any number of ways from here, someone in the tavern is dead no one remembers how, why, or who they even are. One of PCs wakes up next to someone who no one knows who is, and they’re wearing a wedding band, that matches this mysterious person. Perhaps someone recalls there was a festival last night in town, but what happened? Was the festival attacked? Did someone give a speech? Where did the parade go? Who was under the big paper dragon? Where is my arcane focus? You decide!