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Surviving The First Session


In 1961, Marvel published a comic that revolutionised an industry and launched a new era, which would come to be known as the "silver age". Four ordinary people, on a voyage into space, were bombarded with cosmic rays and transformed into legends. Over the course of a single staple-bound comic book, Marvel seamlessly launched a story, a group, a comic-book title and an industry. That comic was Fantastic Four #1, and those heroes were - of course - the Fantastic Four: The Human Torch, The Thing, The Invisible Girl and Mr Fantastic (or as his wife calls him: "Mr Fucking Excellent!").

That's the sort of grand start we dream of when we start a campaign. But it doesn't always turn out like that. In this article we take a look at some things that have buggered up the starts of campaigns we've played in.

#1: Unintentional Humour

What Happened

I once played in a conspiracy game which was to start with a journey to a bar.

All we had to do was go to this bar, and then the scenario would start. It was the biggest bar in town. It was beside the harbour. It was in the town of Bar Harbour, in the state of Maine.

It was the main bar beside the harbour in Bar Harbour, Maine.

It took us eight hours to get through the briefing.

The problem was that we just couldn't take it seriously. We were playing Dark Conspiracy. It was supposed to be dark. It was supposed to be gritty. It was only supposed to take half an hour.

Player 1: "Okay, so we'll go along to the bar---"

Player 2: "That would be the main bar in town would it?"

Player 1: "It would. It's the main bar."

Player 3: "And it's beside the harbour, isn't it?"

Player 1: "It is. It's beside the harbour."

Player 2: "Okay, let's get in the Humvee, and head down the highway. Where is it we're going?"

Player 1: "It's a place called Bar Harbour."

Player 3: "And that's in Maine, is it?"

Player 1: "It is. In fact it's the---"

All Players: "---main bar beside the harbour in Bar Harbour, Maine!"

GamesMaster: Please! Will you just drive to the *fucking* bar!

Then when we finally got there, we got into some kind of row, and got banned from the bar. That's right:

We were barred from the main bar beside the harbour in Bar Harbour, Maine!

The Lesson

Humour's fine, in the right places. But if your gritty tale of urban counter-terrorism features the players serving in the Continental Unified National Task Force... Well it might not be the seering, though-provoking story you were hoping for.

#2: Tiredness (Mars Campaign Screwup, Part I)

What Happened

I once started a superhero campaign set on Mars, in the year 1959 (it was a Lowell style Mars, with canals and an ancient Martian civilisation). It actually went on to be a pretty good campaign. But the first evening didn't go to plan, thanks to one of the four players, who I will refer to here by the code "Aaa".

I started the session off with a little group visualisation (yes, I know that does sound disgustingly hippie). I got them to lie back with their eyes closed, and then described a scene. I started off describing a fifties diner, the decor, the waitresses, the patrons, then moved to the desert outside, describing the red, rusty sand and rocks. Finally, I described the lizard-like creatures flying beneath a pink sky.

I gave them a few moments, then told them to open their eyes, which they did, except for Aaa, who lay motionless with his eyes closed.

"Aaa?" I asked. Nothing.


Then we realised he was asleep.


Cue one sleepy roleplayer lifting his head and blinking at the light.

"Sorry," he said, "I've had some late nights recently."

The Lesson

Try to get players who might arrive at your game at least half-awake.

#3: Lack Of Commitment (Mars Campaign Screwup, Part


What Happened

Same player, same game, same night.

Now you must remember that I'd been building up to the campaign for quite a long time. This was a serious attempt at an epic storyline. We'd spent a couple of weeks just working on the characters, making sure that they had detailed backgrounds and motivations.

Then we started, and the evening had actually gone pretty well, after the slight hiccup with the visualisation. The four heroes had been recruited by an all-powerful entity called the Guardian. The Guardian had "lifted" them from wherever they had been and transported them to somewhere else (a space somewhere, which they couldn't identify).

Then it had taken them on a tour through the past and future of Mars. They had seen the glorious past of 50,000 years before. They had seen the dying, despotic world of 8000 years before as the eco-system failed and canals were desperately built. And finally, they had seen Mars as it would become if nothing was done to save it, an airless vacuum world, of dead cities and men in space suits.

The Guardian had told them that fates of Earth and Mars were linked, and that only they, men of Earth, could prevent them dying. It had told them this was their destiny. They four had been selected to save the two worlds. It asked them to accept their destiny.

And they did.

Well during the game, as PCs they did.

Because after the session ended, Aaa announced, "Oh by the way, I won't be coming to the roleplaying any more. This was my last evening. I won't be able to make it any more because I'm on different shifts at work."

Something he could have told us, at the *start* of the evening.

The Lesson

Again, make sure you have the right players.