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In Media Res: Starting a Game with Combat

In Media Res: Starting a Game with Combat

This thread is going to be in reference to my Deathwatch / Dark Heresy game. If you're thinking about applying to that game, you might not want to read ahead as there will be minor spoilers.

Still here? Okay, typically with my WH40K games I start with a briefing between the characters and a knowledgeable authority figure. Effective and straight to the point. For this game, I want to try throwing the two characters right into the thick of things immediately, with their shuttle or other craft crash landing in a storm and some rather savage locals coming to administer to local greeting of a rusty axe through the brainbox.

I'm worried though that this will leave the players with too little reference and context at the outset. That initial briefing thread is boring but it serves a purpose. I've thought about it and I see a few options for still getting the crucial information to the players.
  1. Briefing Documents
  2. A "retcon" thread
  3. OOC Infodump

Essentially, the briefing documents would be IC documents and the like with the relevant information about locations, people, and objectives. Likely I will include these no matter what, but if I follow this path this will be the only briefing information given IC.

The retcon thread would be an IC thread of the typical mission briefing variety, running concurrently with the action scene. This would allow the players to RP their interaction with the superior and get the information that way while keeping the momentum going.

Last, I could just dump all the information out of character, and answer any questions along the lines of "Would my character know. . ." out of character as well. An inelegant method, but quick and easy and unambiguous, and I'll probably end up using this method in combination with whatever choice I make.

Any suggestions for making this work? I'm definitely open to other ideas, and if anyone has tried a similar game opening before I'd very much like to hear about your experience.

Thanks for reading.

The briefing documents are a good idea. That one will give them hard copy reference material to refer back to IC.

You can try giving them a reason why they didn't get an actual briefing, thus giving you a reason why you skipped it.

Maybe they were in a hurry to get the mission out the door, so there was no time for a proper briefing.

Maybe this mission isn't actually a mission. They could have just completed the actual mission and the crash happens while they're on their way back to report from it. Mission control may be unreachable, or when they manage to call in, they're told to do X [the new mission] since they're there anyway and have the gear for it.

What dauph said, except with one thing...

Try to do ooc infodumps ic as much as possible, more like a gm paraphrase of events (with some frivolity thrown in, ie after that night at the bar you all...) rather than a list of facts. This serves two purposes: it's more readable giving you gm points for presentation and because lists of facts raise questions rather than give a sense of exposition. If you give facts, lots more questions are going to come (it will still happen with exposition, but less so) and eventually they will dissext the plot before the game even starts, or, you refuse to answer and the players feel cheated because "that's something my character would have looked into".

one.parting bit of advice, I hope your players already know each other if you expect their characters to have a pre existing group dynamic, otherwise it will create sloppy story prroblems where the characters know each other but the pcs dont because this is their first adventure.

If, just having crash landed and being the only survivors from different units (something dauph touched on) is a viable alternate option.

I don't know the setting too well, but can they have, like, radios in their helmets, or visual displays? That way they can be in communication with some NPC on the other side of the wire that can fill them in on the needed information in little pieces.

When you're on the field and the order on the radio says "your target is over the next ridge: remember, you've only got 20 minutes until your shuttle loses power" or whatever, the players have all they need to know to jump into the scene. They can get filled in on the backstory during the mission debriefing.

^^^ good call, a HUD I believe is well within accepted parameters for Space Marines and the like

There is one potential drawback to this though...

If you tell the players all the intel that HQ has and the orders that accompany that, it will be directing them the whole game and giving very little free will.

The best option is to then have an either planned outage (area where radios are known to be out of service due to space stuff, white noise, etc.) or to have the radios go dead or HQ get taken over by aliens or something.

Thanks for the ideas people, all excellent. Naturax, I especially like the idea of using communications to set the scene. I think I might go with your advice and use the debriefing after the immediate crisis has passed as the time for clearing up question in character. It would make more sense anyways, given that this is a mission with an investigation element to it and the characters' superiors know as little as they do. The people actually equipped to answer the characters' questions are going to be the ones they meet after their landing.

Originally Posted by World of L_Tiene View Post
If you tell the players all the intel that HQ has and the orders that accompany that, it will be directing them the whole game and giving very little free will.
Ideally the orders won't tell the players what to do exactly, the orders will just give them their goals. The players should still have plenty of options about how they go about doing what they need to do.

Originally Posted by Naturax View Post
Ideally the orders won't tell the players what to do exactly, the orders will just give them their goals. The players should still have plenty of options about how they go about doing what they need to do.

Yes, but you're missing the point...

With space age tech and magic... having a dropship with orbital scanning and higher point/level characters above to give intel means info will be far more specific...

They will know it's 300 meters until the enemy is encountered in the jungle.

They will know where the underground bunker is, and be able to point out that there is a ford in the rushing river to cross just 2 clicks north.

As such, orders get more specific because of tech and magic.

The only way around that is to do what I suggested, which is to pull the command out of the picture for one reason or another.

I disagree. In every second episode of ST:TNG, there is some radiation or plasma cloud or something that prevents the teleporters from solving the episode in the first 2 minutes.

Likewise, despite how awesome your tech/magic is, there is always something that makes it so that the PCs have something to do instead of them just blasting their target from orbit. You can come up with a million reasons: some kind of radiation, a plasma cloud, etc. Or even just mundane stuff like cost, or time.


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