How I Start an RPG Session

22:31 Thu 16 Sep 2010
[, ]

One of the minor irritations in running my roleplaying campaign is that I can’t blog about a lot of it. Blogging about the things I find most interesting would give away too much to the players, who must perforce toil in ignorance. I’ll probably post some of the “encyclopedia entries” I’m working on for the world, but that’s much less dynamic than what arises out of game interactions.

I did recently come up with some ideas for opening game sessions that I think are worth sharing, however.

I now have an explicit intro to the game, a little ritual that clearly marks the beginning of gaming proper. I’ve used music for this purpose in the (distant) past, but while that’s not a bad approach, I think this one is better.

The first part is an exercise I found in Keith Johnstone’s Impro. It consists of holding up objects and having the players call words out in response. The words can be anything—except what the object is. So I hold up a book and someone says “snake”, for example. (At one point I held up my driver license and Micah said “character sheet”, which we both realized was too close to the object, so he had to come up with something else.)

We do that for a while, and then I have each player introduce themselves and say something about themselves speaking in character, in the first person. The first time it was a quick self-description, and the second time it was a quick self-description followed by a quick take on what they were doing right then. I think it’s worked well both times, and I’ve now made it a little more ambitious, in that at the end of each session I’m assigning “homework”, having them come up with about a paragraph each that they’ll use for part of that intro—so the intro from now on will be introducing themselves, with a very brief self-description, followed by the “homework”.

These are the pieces I’ve planned for them to do so far:

  • A description of something about where they grew up.
  • Their most treasured possession, and some details about it.
  • A description of the first time they were in a real fight.
  • Their take on something significant they’ve learned in the campaign so far.

While I haven’t tried the more involved intros yet, the original version worked well, and I think the new one will also. It pushes the players to identify with their characters explicitly, which should help the game, and it also pushes them to consider how their characters see themselves—which is already prompting some questions about how their self-image fits in with what they’re actually doing. The additional information they’re being asked to come up with about their backgrounds and personalities should be small enough so as to be not that hard, while still prompting increased consideration of their histories and of their place in the setting, which all sounds good to me.

One Response to “How I Start an RPG Session”

  1. Mike Says:

    Don’t know much about roleplaying games but “Impro” is an awesome book. Read it for an improv class years ago and actually used a lot of his ideas in my ESL classes. It really makes you think how education dulls people down. Should be required reading for every teacher.

Leave a Reply