8 ways to start a campaign that’s not in a tavern (not that there’s anything wrong with that…)


Many thanks to Jrronimo for letting me use this photo taken in the St Leonards Tavern

One of the more persistent recurring jokes in any role-playing game is that games always seem to start in Taverns, Inns, Pubs, etc… While this actually makes a lot of sense considering that this is where travellers are likely to be, and where a lot of hiring/firing, etc would typically occur, when you find yourself starting the 7th or 8th campaign the same way, you probably need to expand your repertoire. What follows is eight ideas (some I have actually used…) for starting a campaign.

[Disclaimer: although the current campaign that I am running did start in a tavern, it had a twist, so that’s ok… right?]

1. Friends return to their hometown for the funeral of a childhood friend

The party grew up together but then went their separate ways to pursue their chosen career paths (*cough* classes). A message is sent out to them to return back to their hometown to bury a childhood friend. This can springboard the characters into investigating the causes of their friend’s death, or returning to right a wrong, or discovering massive corruption in their hometown.

2. The characters are travelling to some distant location on a ship

The ship can then be captured by pirates, attacked by monsters, shipwrecked, etc. The party forms up on a deserted island/on shore/etc to exact revenge/survive/pirate themselves.

3. The characters meet in a refugee camp

A great plague/war/etc has caused a massive exodus from a well populated area. The group are forced to band together in order to survive and perhaps find a solution to their mutual problems.

4. The characters are press-ganged into service for the local ruler

This is a way of introducing them and sending the party on missions/quests quite easily. The party can either accept their lot and work their way up the command chain taking on more and more difficult missions, or they can conspire to escape to freedom.

5. Have one of the characters actually own the tavern in question, and have them seek bouncers/support staff

We have used this in the past, and it was actually a hell of a lot of fun. I know it’s ‘kind-of’ cheating, but hey, it worked well when we used it last. This form of start is extremely good in big urban settings as it allows the group to form a base of operations, and gives the GM a continual hook for adventures (a gang tries to offer ‘protection’, local thieves move in, competition gets physical, local city watch suspect them of protecting thieves guild members…)

6. The characters are travelling in the same convey/caravan

The characters team up with merchants or settlers heading off to a dangerous location. Many travellers did this in antiquity as a way of protecting yourself (settling the West) or providing entertainment on long journeys (Canterbury Tales). What happens on the actual journey to throw the group together is largely up to you…

7. The party are individually captured and sold as gladiators

The party are captured and sold to a local thief lord who runs a labyrinth like form of entertainment for his local cronies/followers. Think Deathtrap Dungeon, or that *cough* D&D movie…  The ultimate goal is freedom and riches, but the party may wish to find a way to exact revenge or at least leave with a large portion of the thief lord’s treasure. This works best with characters who are starting with a few levels under their belt…

8. The party each have dreams of a local clearing in the forest that is well known to the locals (of which they belong)

The party each have dreams of a local landmark set at a specific time (full moon, sunset, etc). The character feel very strongly that they must be there at that specific time. Once there they are met by a ghostly figure who tells them that they have been selected for a specific task. What the task is, is up to you…

This is just a few ideas, and most people would be able to suggest plenty more (so please do…). And finally thanks and apologies to my friend Jrronimo for allowing his heavily edited photo to appear in this post. For those interested, it was taken in The St Leonards Tavern, Sydney a few years back…


About RupertG

RupertG has been playing roleplaying games ever since he discovered Dragon Warriors at the age of 12. Since those days he has played many different RPG's, collected not insignificant Dwarf and Tomb Kings armies for Warhammer Fantasy Battles and even worked as a games designer in the heady days of the late 90's building a CCG. Now he runs a gaming blog and is a participant in the Grand Gaming Experiment
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