Set Up The First Scene
Start things off by being as unsubtle as possible—take one of your story questions, come up with something that will bring the question into sharp relief, and hit your players over the head with it as hard as you can. You don’t have to answer it right off the bat (though there’s nothing wrong with that, either), but you should show the players that the question demands an answer.
That way, you’re setting an example for the rest of the session and getting the momentum going, ensuring the players won’t dither around. Remember, they’re supposed to be proactive, competent people—give them something to be proactive and competent about right from the get-go.
If you’re in an ongoing campaign, you might need the first scenes of a session to resolve loose ends that were left hanging from a previous session. It’s okay to spend time on that, because it helps keep the sense of continuity going from session to session. As soon as there’s a lull in momentum, though, hit them with your opening scene fast and hard.
An Arcane Conspiracy: The Opening Scene
Amanda mulls over her questions and thinks about what she wants as her opening scene. A couple of obvious suggestions come to mind:
- Enforcers from the Collegia show up at Zird’s door and serve him papers, demanding he come with them.
- Cynere receives the contract and job details from a mysterious employer, and must decide whether or not to sign.
She decides to go with the latter scene, because she figures that if Cynere rebuffs the contract and then finds out that Zird’s going to the Collegia anyway, it might create a fun scene where she tries to get the mysterious employer to reconsider. And even if she sticks to her guns, it’ll establish whether or not they’ll have to deal with any drama on the way there, as the mysterious employer’s lackeys harass them on the way.
That doesn’t mean she’s going to just toss the scene with Zird aside—she’s just going to save it for a follow-up to the first scene.
Powerful Session-Starting Ninja GM Trick
Asking the players to contribute something to the beginning of your first scene is a great way to help get them invested in what’s going on right off the bat. If there’s anything that’s flexible about your opening prompt, ask your players to fill in the blanks for you when you start the scene. Clever players may try to use it as an opportunity to push for a compel and get extra fate points right off the bat—we like to call this sort of play “awesome.”
Let’s look at our example scenes above. The prompts don’t specify where the PCs are when they get confronted with their first choices. So, Amanda might start the session by asking Ryan, “Where exactly isZird when the brute squad from the Collegia comes looking for him?”
Now, even if Ryan just replies with “in his sanctuary,” you’ve solicited his participation and helped him set the scene. But Ryan is awesome, so what he says instead is, “Oh, probably at the public baths, soaking after a long day of research.”
“Perfect!” says Amanda, and holds out a fate point. “So, it’d make sense that yourRivals in the Collegia Arcana would have divined precisely the right time to catch you away from all your magical implements and gear, right?”
Ryan grins and takes the fate point. “Yeah, that sounds about right.”
Of course, you can also just have your opening scenario hooks count as “pre-loaded” compels, and hand out some fate points at the start of a session to start the PCs off with a spot of trouble they have to deal with immediately. This helps low-refresh players out and can kickstart the spending of fate points right off the bat. Make sure your group is okay with giving you carte blanche authority to narrate them into a situation, though—some players find the loss of control problematic.
Amanda wants to start the players off with a number of fate points off the bat, so at the beginning of the session, she says to the players:
“Zird, it’s bad enough when your Rivals in the Collegia Arcana give you trouble, but when they pretend to be peasants in the local watering hole, get you drunk, and start a bar fight so they can haul you somewhere secluded, it’s even worse. You wake up with a five-alarm hangover and a black eye—someone punched you in the face!” (2 fate points, for Rivals and Not the Face!)
“Landon, I know Smashing is Always an Option, but how are you going to explain what happened when you tried to fix the wagon while everyone else was away?” (1 fate point for Smashing.)
“Cynere, whoever decided to make you this contract offer knows you pretty well. They’ve included several large gems along with the contract. Problem is, you also know what noble house they were stolen from, and there’s no doubt you’ll be a wanted woman if you don’t sign—and you’re infamous enough that you know no one’s going to believe how you came by them.” (2 fate points for Infamous Girl with Sword and Tempted by Shiny Things.)