So as I get ready to start a new campaign, I’ve been thinking about most games start, ye old, start in a tavern, there’s a job listing or a mysterious individual and I was curious outside of the typical norm, what are some other good ways to introduce our players + their characters to the story without needing a ton of exposition beforehand.
I looked first to books, games and movies and how readers are generally introduced to a world and I found there are a couple of usual ways to go about this, if you’re reading this and see a way that I have missed or overlooked, I would love to hear it!
1.) The Guide / A Call to Action
Probably the most typical, you have someone far more knowledgeable than the reader about the world giving the main character or POV character a dose of exposition. Gandalf in LoTR, Hagrid in HP, Morpheus in the Matrix, Moiraine in WoT. In this situation usually the main character has some important thread they need to follow. From my research this seems to be the most common method in most of the examples I found.
In TTRPG’s, this can be a great way to provide information as a GM directly to players acting as the NPC, but the character may also end up as a crutch for players to use instead of uncovering the story themselves, they also may look to this NPC or individual to give them direction or reward for their action. Which is something I’m trying to avoid in my next campaign, I want the players to be motivated to do the thing because its in their best interest, not at the promise of reward, or because someone is saying it is important to do.
2.) Being at the right place at the Right[or wrong!] time
The placement of the characters in a critical moment can also work as a way to provide exposition. A couple of examples would be Skyrim or Oblivion where we learn from being present in that moment to realize “oh goodness, bad things are certainly happening” and are roped into the story by being present at the moment. Red Dawn, The Mist, and Hunger Games would be other great examples here.
This is extremely useful at introducing a villain or bad guy and also giving the players a reason to be involved, if your family, farm, town is in trouble and you’re the only one with the guts or ability to do something about it, that can be an excellent driver towards discovery and it can provide the necessary context to get your group going. I think the big drawback to this style is that it puts a ton of emphasis on the major threat and can force the story forward at a breakneck pace, “We know this is the bad guy, thing, lets go get him.” or vice versa “We know this is the bad guy, how can we find him?” It can also be a problem for those players/characters who are motivated by reward. I would say this style generally works extremely well for sandbox style games, where the players have options of where to go and what to do, something that I would like in my game, so it’s what I’m leaning into for the start to my next game.
3.) Messages, News and Mysterious Happenings
Another way that is used pretty frequently are the characters being directly influenced or informed by the changing world or a threat to their lifestyle, if we look at like Handmaid’s Tale we learn slowly about the growing threat to society through the news and TV and follow along with June as she tries to escape it. Lots of video games do this, and the horror genre as a whole uses this style by showing viewers/readers something that maybe the character doesn’t see.
Oftentimes when we see this in games its through the environment, a newspaper clipping your character can pick up, the recording of a voice or the radio, or other characters just talking about it and you listening. To me this can be hard to pull off in a TTRPG since it requires table time to show what is happening that usually the players cannot interact with, is the GM’s time to monologue for a minute. It could also be just text or talking in session 0 to give players insight into the world, it’s effective and functional, but can be hard to balance how much to give out, what to include that is necessary, and can sometimes leave players wanting in that discovery through the game and story themselves.
I hopped onto this train of thought because of one of B’s videos where he was talking about player + character knowledge growing at a similar rate. For some games, we can read about every class and character, the gods the lore, and as a player know everything there is to know, but as a character know nothing and I want to avoid that disconnect in future games
When i’m playing a mage, I want to know how society treats mages, what are other mages like, what’s their role in the world, but I don’t want to be told- I want to see it first hand through my interactions.
Anyway, I’ll leave you all with these mad ramblings.
What ways do you like to be introduced to Stories and Quests, how do you address the issue of player knowledge in typical games and address the nuances your game, what are some of your favorite ways you’ve been hooked into a story, it could be a TTRPG, a book, movie, etc. I’m interested in hearing all about it.