Scripted “In Medias Res” – More thoughts on the beginning of adventures

I wrote an article a last month on techniques used to begin an adventure. I’ve just been reading an Organised Play adventure that commits one of the cardinal sins of such adventures: It allows the players to say “No, we don’t want to play this adventure.”

Huh? Why the hell is it giving them the option? I hate weak beginnings like that to an adventure. Start it off with a bang! Have the patron regard the player characters highly! “You come highly recommended.” Thrust them into the action! Or at least treat them as competent adventurers that want to go on an adventure.

Alongside that, I’m not a fan of briefings that require the players to ask the patron questions to get information Important to the Mission. There is a reason for interaction with the patron – a primary one being that it helps fix the information in the players’ minds, which is a notable problem when you need to give away Important Information. Players are really, really good at forgetting things. But don’t make the players fish for things. It is hard being a player: you do not have all the information you would have if you were an inhabitant of the world. Trying to read the adventure designer’s mind? Not a fan.

My favourite adventure beginnings of all time? They can be found in the West End Games version of the Star Wars RPG. Unbelievably brilliant, they were. We could probably do better now, but perhaps not.

Here’s an example of one of the scripts that were given to players to read out at the beginning of the adventure. This comes from the adventure Black Ice, which I very much enjoyed playing and running (I did both!) back in the day.

1st Rebel: Okay. This is Chief Scientist Benkin’s office. You keep an eye on the hallway: I’ll plug QueTeeSeven into the computer outlet. All set, QueTee?

GM: (As QT-7.) Sure, Boss! Ready, willing, and able! Lemme at ’em!

2nd Rebel: (Muttering) Cutey. Swell name for an overenthusiastic suitcase. Who thinks those things up, anyway?

GM: (As QT-7) I heard that! What’s wrong with my name? I think it’s a good name. Do you really think it’s a bad name?

3rd Rebel: Pipe down, both of you! We’re in the middle of an Imperial Tech base, surrounded by who knows how many Imperial Security Bureau guards, and you two are arguing about a name! QueTee, get to work!

GM: (As QT-7 muttering. ) Well, he started it! (*kerchunk*). whirr, click. beep, beep, bzzzzz

4th Rebel: How long’s this gonna take, anyway?

5th Rebel: Between five and 45 minutes — a lot shorter if the security programming picks him up

6th Rebel: That’d be interesting. What do you think they’d do to six unarmed enemy spies caught in the middle of a high security outpost?

4th Rebel: Probably give us a medal for stupidity above and beyond the call of duty…

2nd Rebel: Hey, we did volunteer for this mission, you remember.

6th Rebel: Really? I remember being reassigned to Major Lawra Mers of Sector HQ, listening as she briefed us on a new mission, and then being personally thanked by the major for volunteering — but I do not remember actually stepping forward…

1st Rebel: Stop complaining. This isn’t such a bad job.

3rd Rebel: Says you! I have trouble pretending to be a top-notch Imperial scientist. It goes against my nature. And I really feel naked without my blaster.

5th Rebel: Does anybody know if there are any stormtroopers on this post? I hate stormtroopers.

2nd Rebel: We may get a chance to find out. Here comes a technician now.

1st Rebel: Okay, everybody, act like scientists.

3rd Rebel: (Under his breath.) Act like scientists?

6th Rebel: (To Technician) Uh, er. Hello there. Nice day isn’t it?

GM: (As Technician.) Sure is. What are you guys up to, anyway?

4th Rebel: We’re, uh, calibrating the, uh, resistance coefficiency modulator on the…

5th Rebel: …the, uh, the subatomic frequency bonding refractor in the chief’s computer. See, it’s been acting up lately and…

GM: (As QT-7.) Hi guys; I’m back! Security system was a piece of cake! I’ve accessed the information but … say, who’s the new guy? … Uh oh…

That script gives the players their mission, introduces two important characters (QT-7 and Mers) and immediately thrusts them into the action and forces them to react. It’s also amusing – a key point of the films the game was based on.

This is not a technique that is always appropriate, but it really worked for the Star Wars game – making the many adventures I played of it very memorable. We even wrote our own scripts for our homebrew adventures! So, if you’re going to write an adventure where the players are sent on a mission, consider the possibility of starting in medias res – and perhaps even with a script!

2 comments

  1. alphastream

    I agree with you. The first time I really experienced this was a Living Spycraft adventure. It dropped us straight into the action, describing how we were in a Humvee, racing across a mountainous region in China. Ahead was another car, which we were chasing. The voice of our handler crackles over our car’s speaker, telling us to recover the other vehicle, as it has experimental technology. Also, we see passengers in the other car preparing an RPG. DM asks: which one of you is driving? It was an awesome start and completely in the James Bond feel!

    I went on to steal that start for the AOA1-3 Ashes of Athas adventure, placing the PCs in a chariot as it races after the bad guy from the previous adventure. As soon as the PCs figure out who is driving, the bad guy in the lead chariot casts a spell, causing rocks to tumble down – the first of several quick challenges during the chase.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. nerdarchy101

    Hah, the “mission briefing” or the beginning of every single Pathfinder Society scenario! As I’ve matured as a Game Master, I’ve come to realize that an abundance of exposition is, to quote admiral Ackbar, a “Trap!”. Put the players where you need to be/makes sense, just make things happen, and let them react to those events. -Nerdarchist Ryan

    Like

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