Best Place To Start Is At the Beginning: Creating Great Openings For Your Tabletop RPG Campaigns

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When I began writing fiction, one of the things that was drilled into my head was that I absolutely needed to get the beginning right. It’s the beginning of a story that engages the audience, one that sets audience expectations and can easily derail a story if screwed up.

If one looks back at older books or movies, they’ll quickly notice that it often takes a long time for things to get going. Back before the internet when access to culture in both film and literature was a lot more constrained, people simply accepted infodumps and slow openings because they didn’t have much in terms of entertainment.

Modern audiences, by contrast, have tons of books, films, games, and other forms of entertainment at their fingertips. A storyteller has to grab their audience quickly, or they’ll be tuned out.

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A Twist of Fate

 

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Photo by Dylan Greene

 

I remember when I was looking for a setting-neutral RPG to play when I wanted to play something outside of Dungeons & Dragons. Originally, I was playing d20 Modern for a Silent Hill campaign but with the end result having so many rules thrown out for the sake of streamlined play and less searching through the rulebook that 3.5e derived systems often entail.

I was directed to a system known as Fate Core and it quickly became my go-to universal RPG system. While I still enjoy D&D, I have a particular fondness for Fate Core’s sheer flexibility and design elegance.

It took a bit of a learning curve for my d20 regulars to get used to it. I ran a single Silent Hill session which was not so well-received. Then I took it to another group and the outcome worked better. But it was when I ran two steampunk campaigns in a homebrew universe (Cloudrunner) that I was able to truly explore the system.

Much like how D&D opened up a world of possibilities within a fantasy universe, I was similarly engaged by the immense amount of possibilities that Fate Core had to offer.

A World Beyond

The system’s modularity makes it incredibly simple to tweak, it’s something of a GM’s dream RPG. The merger of mechanics and storytelling, in particular, stood out as brilliant. While a game like D&D often segregates its mechanics and narrative, Fate Core ties them together in a way that gives narrative progression mechanical weight.

The key to a character is the usage of Aspects. These are small character traits that say something about them. For example, “Plucky Airship Mechanic” can be used mechanically in relevant rolls. This allows for a more flexible implementation of characters than strictly defined class roles. Fate Core uses skills and stunts, which are like feats in D&D. Its lighter cousin, Fate Accelerated boils them down into approaches.

Fate Core overcomes the “combat first, roleplay second” nature of d20 based games by folding combat into the broader “conflict”. By making stress tracks instead of the typical hit points and by allowing those to go beyond physical, one can make mental stress attacks. Extending beyond those two is also possible, and in one campaign I portrayed a conflict between nations with political and military stress.

Character creation, normally framed as a necessary step to reaching play in other games, is instead treating as an act of play itself. It’s also collaborative and does a great job of connecting characters together to create interesting character dynamics.

The Bronze Rule, or what’s commonly referred to as the Fate Fractal, posits that anything and everything can be made into a character or have gameplay mechanics of a character applied to it. In my Cloudrunner games, airships would often be given this treatment. But you can also take mechanical pieces such as aspects, skills, stunts, stress tracks, and consequences a la carte.

Of course, players looking for large lists of tables aren’t going to find it here. It is not as crunchy as a system like GURPS, and it does take a slight shift in mindset to play. But it also benefits from modern design and is additionally easy on the wallet with the core rulebook costing about $25 and ends up being very portable.

In many ways, Fate Core has become my go-to RPG and it’s one that I’m looking forward to exploring more.

When the Garage Door Opens

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Whenever I go over to see my girlfriend, Rebecca, I can feel the excitement build as she opens up the garage door. She shares the enthusiasm and within seconds we are in each other’s arms. She says to me “I missed you.” Unless I say it first.

We have been together a little over two months, although we were friends since last October. When we began going out, it had been a few months since I broke up with my last ex and a few weeks since we stopped talking completely. At the time, I was unsure of what to make of it.

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Do You Call it Solitude? Do You Call it Liberty?

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For the past month and a half, I have been occupied with the return to school and my relationship with my girlfriend. It has been a tremendously positive experience for the both of us, which I will write more in detail about in upcoming posts. Today, however, I wanted to address a canard that I heard when I was in my “chronically single” days. I kept hearing from others that it was far better to be single than to be in a relationship.

I have no doubt that there are some people who legitimately are better off being single, people who are asexual, aromantic and have no interest. But these weren’t the people I was talking to. They were people who I could infer as, for whatever reason, being unsatisfied with their current status. Perhaps they were in a toxic relationship, or perhaps they wanted to reduce their own discomfort about being single through rationalization.

But as someone who has spent a long time being single and who has seen a lot of lonely singles, I want to dispel this idea that “things are just better when you’re single”.

Is It Freedom or Stagnation?

My particular issue with this notion is the idea that being single “gives you more freedom”. The logic is that, without another human being that you need to be responsible for, you have more options available to you.

But in practice, human beings are creatures of habit, and it doesn’t take long for a rut to set in. My nights alone were spent with activities that were more about killing time than meaningful experiences. It was an alleviation of discomfort as opposed to the introduction of joy, and these two aren’t the same thing.

Above all else, I remember saying “This would be so much better if I had someone else to share this with.” While I was able to engage in solo activities, I found myself quickly bumping up against the limits of those activities.

When I started seeing my girlfriend, by contrast, I gained freedom. Now, I could go places that I previously wouldn’t consider because going to those places alone wasn’t going to be nearly as fun. Suddenly, walking around the park in Columbia, the National Aquarium in Baltimore, and returning to Final Fantasy XIV were all viable options.

All of this has been great in terms of our bonding, and we’re practically inseparable now.

That being said, I would not advise anyone to stay in an unhealthy relationship for this reason. After all, it only works if you genuinely enjoy being around your partner. But to me, I have noticed a marked improvement in not only the activities I want to do but the enjoyable of activities that previously felt like chores. Cooking at home is no longer a menial, but necessary task, but a wondrous discovery of new dishes and ingredients.

Sometimes things are better when you have someone else to share them with. Don’t see anything wrong with that. Especially since my girlfriend is an amazing human being who is always fun to be around. I’m looking forward to all of the great times we’re going to be sharing together!