I often read about how Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder and other fantasy RPG campaigns start the same way, the most common being with the players meeting for first time in a tavern, but honestly I have never started a campaign that way, not even as GM nor as a player.
In the years that I have played RPGs, I have started hundreds of campaigns, and I don’t find any type of “opening scenes” as a recurrent one. So I thought it could be a good idea to make a list of 25 of them. Hopefully.
Some of these are from campaign that I GM’d and other are from games where I was a player. I’m skipping the ones that seem to me to be perhaps very common. As I made the list I noticed that in my gaming group we have a tendency to start the story in the middle of the action, or maybe those are the “opening scenes” I remember the most.
Another thing I noticed is that the characters always know each other already at the beginning of the campaign. Unless meeting for the first time serves something in the adventure story, otherwise we have never seen the need to start by introducing ourselves.
25 “Opening Scenes” on TTRPG Campaigns
- Half of the party is around a campfire in the forest, while the other half is hiding in the bushes about to ambush them. (This is how the first campaign I played started, but honestly it doesn’t seem that original to me, I include it because I don’t read much about starting the game around a campfire).
- In an underground magic school, one of the players is about to graduate and receive his wizard’s title, but an army of winged fire elementals attack the place destroying and killing most of those present.
- In a highly populated city, an explosion happens at the inn where the adventurers were to stay, and they discover a group of masked subjects fleeing the place.
- In a castle built in the middle of the sea, a group of dragons make a devastating attack and the castle begins to sink.
- The adventurers travel in a small boat but lose their way when the stars disappear in the night sky, and suddenly they find themselves in a world that seems to be the astral plane.
- It is the wedding day of the governor’s daughter and the adventurers who are his friends are in the mansion preparing the party. Suddenly some furniture, objects and even the windows begin to secretly speak to the adventurers.
- In a temple, a group of monks manage to catch a murderous demon that was prowling the mountain, but this demon offers power to one of the apprentice monks in exchange for letting him escape. They are both players.
- In the town where the adventurers are staying, a series of murders occurred overnight in different parts of the city. One of the adventurers wakes up bathed in blood but is not injured, and in his room there is a huge sack full of corpses that he does not know where they came from.
- One or more of the players are on their way to the gallows, accused of heresy, the rest of the party are among the crowd that gathered to watch the execution.
- After crossing the sea, the adventurers are about to arrive at the port, but they see in the distance that the place is on fire and is being attacked. The captain decide to change the route, but the adventurers take a small boat to get to the port.
- All the adventurers but one are trapped in a dungeon. The only free player has to rescue the others one by one.
- When the tyrant who has ruled the kingdom for years is defeated by the legendary heroes, its body is divided into several parts that are lost in the forest, these parts take the shape of a person and each of these parts is a player who has barely any vague memory from their past.
- A vortex to a lower plane forms below a town, which begins to engulf the town as a whole. When the landmass on which the town sits adrift in the demi plane, demon-shaped creatures start attacking the inhabitants.
- A heavy rain has been falling for days in the town, and it is flooded. While the adventurers try to save some people, a group of Lizardman appears to attack the people.
- At midnight, one of the players is awakened by an apparition that asks him, on behalf of the demon he worships, to gather a group of adventurers and take them to a specific point on a mountain where they will be sacrificed. Obviously the adventurers are the rest of the campaign.
- The hermit of the mountain (a player) decides to go down to the village and form a new philosophical school that defies all the canons of the reigning church, but for that, he must convince and gather a group of very respectable members of society (the other players).
- In the middle of a ball game, the old man who always attends, approaches the adventurers sending them on a mission at the bottom of a sinkhole. Everyone knows, or at least suspects, that this old man is one of the gods who come to the temple’s field to see the sacred ball games (this was for a Maztica adventure).
- All adventurers begin the adventure as castle guards. That day, their boss gave each of them a day off separately. When they are all in the town they realize that the castle is being attacked right at that moment.
- Two of the players are farmers in the underworld where they grow mushrooms. In a normal work day they meet a group of adventurers (the rest of the players) and discover their plans to assassinate their evil lord.
- The adventurers are sent to look for an important character in a neighboring town, but when they arrive the town has been attacked by a group of imps, and they see one of them take the character they were looking for through a portal. The portal remains open for a while after the imp disappears.
- Adventurers meet in the line to enter a fighting tournament with a very large prize in gold. The line is so long that they spend hours getting to know each other. Suddenly, rumors start spreading that most of the challengers don’t come out alive and that the current fighter to be defeated is a 15 feet tall monster. The line begins to shorten quickly when some lose interest and soon it will be the turn of the first of the adventurers.
- All the adventurers are prisoners sentenced to death, one day a very important figure offers them all to free them and remove the sentence on them if they succeed in a dangerous mission.
- One of the players accompanies his master monk to the forest to cut firewood, on the way they meet a group of wolves, and one of them bites the master. But they are rescued by a group of adventurers (the rest of the party), who inform them that these are werewolves and the monk is now infected.
- During the White Moon celebrations, one of the players decides that it is a good idea to seize and revive corpses from the graveyard while the others have fun at the fair. However, the Dark Moon begins to eclipse the White Moon and hundreds of corpses rise from their graves.
- The three adventurers are the children of a famous and legendary retired warrior who decides that it is time for them to become heroes and sends them to seek adventures, because she no longer wants to keep supporting them.
Top illustration by Arthur Rackham. Bottom illustration by Xacur.