I just rebooted my Monday night campaign this last month and I had no idea how to begin the story. I sat down with my players and designed the world setting with their help. They created a floating world connected to other worlds only by rare air travel. Each world produced goods to be shipped to the other worlds in an effort keep each floating civilization sustained.  To fall off the edge of one of the floating land masses was to fall from existence. Each island was peaceful and well organized.

It was the peace that made beginning the adventure hard for me. How would I bring the party into conflict with the main antagonists without rushing the initial role play? I was seriously considering making my players go through two sessions of only role play before they came to the first combat encounter. My players are very creative and really get into the story but I was not sure I could hold up that kind of role play action. I’m not the best at voices and I need to see a bit of bloodshed to keep me going.

It took me a bit of brain storming and some movie watching to finally figure out how to get my players some action and not ruin the possibility of some role play opportunities. I had NPCs, many created by the players, and I had a story that would take them at least a few sessions to get through. There were plot hooks with twists and turns and lots of side quests for those who needed a bit more. All I needed was to get some combat worked in to a completely secure, peaceful country.

When the players sat down at the table the first thing I did was roll out a large pre-drawn battle map and told them to “Roll initiative”. No questions were answered, no time was given for preparation; the characters were surrounded and doing their best to protect the crew of an intercontinental airship. Faced with an overwhelming force and a handicap of helpless crew members, the party fought valiantly and defeated their foes. When the battle was over and right as the players began asking me questions about how they got on the ship, I pulled out a map of a tavern. I said, “A few days earlier your party was celebrating at the (insert verb here) (insert animal name here) Inn. From there began the back story of how they found themselves in the situation they had just experienced.

For the next few weeks the players will bounce back and fourth between present time combat and story, and the past experiences which brought them to the present. Each time they role play in the past the players will learn a bit more about the back-story and if they succeed in a few skill challenges they might even gain a few extra items that will help them out in the next fight. The role play in the past is not a railroad– when the players feel they have learned enough they can move on to the present time. But as long as the group feels there is more they can learn, they can visit the past story at the end of any combat session.

DMs looking for a way to make their story a bit more cinematic might use this example to form their own adventure. Allowing PCs to play through flashbacks to learn about or even alter the present story line can be a welcome break from the straight forward story line of most games. Flashing back can be a bit like a time travel campaign; often the DM and players need to keep track of what information the characters have in the present but not in the past. But a very small amount of book keeping can make the information tracking simple and easy.

Allowing the party to meet the main villain in the future and perhaps even have their first combat with him before they know how he fits in the story can also be interesting. After their first combat with said villain, introduce him to the party as someone who is a friend or an ally. It puts the group in an awkward position to get to know this person who will at some point become their foe, but at the same time avoid showing their prejudice. When done well, flashbacks might lead to a very memorable story line.


Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. Thadeous can't think of anything interesting about him self right now. Know this though if he could it would be creative and funny as well as thought provoking.


About Thadeousc

Thadeous can't think of anything interesting about him self right now. Know this though if he could it would be creative and funny as well as thought provoking.
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