Over at Roleplaying Tips, John posted a tip and a tip request by a fellow reader. The question that has been asked there is an important one: "How do I excite my players in the first minutes of the game?" There are actually 2 questions there:
- How much time means the phrase: "First minutes of the game"?
- How do I excite the players?
For the first question, the asker gives an answer: 15 minutes. It's logical, and watching movies can prove this point: You need 15 minutes to stress the point and the mood of the movie. Truth is, though, that it's much more dependent on the length of the session being run than on a definite number. A session that runs for 3 hours will need much more minutes of creating excitement than a session of 1 hour. There are 2 reasons for that:
- In the longer session there is more time for the energy and excitement to dwindle down, and because of that we need more energy in the first place so we won't end breathless and zombie-like.
- 3 hours is a far longer time period, which means that far more activities can be done in this amount of time. We need to stress from the very beginning that this 3 hours are gonna be far better than 3 hours of watching TV and playing video games, for that matter...
So, what is the definite time that we need to allocate to exciting our players? I don't know for sure, but about 20 minutes for every 2 hours of gaming sounds good to me (and yeah, I include breaks in the 2 hours). That means that a 4 hours session will need about 40 minutes of exciting the players, or in other words: An act of its own.
Now, for the second question things get far trickier. In the original post, they gave 4 ways to do that. The first that was suggested was with an action scene. I'm not sure that I like this way, as it carries a few problems with it. First of all, this battle, this fight, won't be important to the story, and as such it will be a waste of time. We don't get to the table to kill monsters; we go there to tell a story. It can be a story about killing monsters, but even then, there's no place for a monster that has no relation to the goal of the boss monster. True, at first it might be cool to kill a few monsters every time we start a session, but it will become tedious.
The second tip is to reward great roleplaying during the start of the session. I suppose, as is normally the case, that they mean experience reward, and I've written about it already. But apart from the common problems of using experience points to bribe players to roleplay more, it's a really good idea. Rewarding the players for starting the session with a little bit of roleplaying is a sure way to get them to roleplay more during the session.
Then we get to the second tip by John, which is to finish the last session with a cliffhanger and then continue the next session right from there. This is a classic tip, and probably one of the best there are, but finishing every session with a cliffhanger (or even most of them) will drain from the players the feel of completion. If we'll look at our beloved TV series, it's less than 50% of the episodes that end with a cliffhanger. So, as though it can take us pretty far, something else must be used also. There's also one more problem with cliffhangers that at least from my experience I tend to overlook (and I'm sure that I'm not the only one out there who overlooks this): "Sometimes, the continuation doesn't stand to the promise of the cliffhanger. Then, instead of the benefits of using cliffhangers, we get the drawbacks.
The last tip from John is with the recap. I've wrote already about how to use this recap to get ideas for what to do in the session, but using it to excite the players is something that I haven't thought about well enough. Sure, I've let my recaps excite my players but it was more because it was another moment to shine (and to show what I want to get from my players) than because of the need to excite them.
What about my tip, though? I've written already about building platforms, and about the first act, but 2 other things:
- Start big. It's far better (at least to my belief) to start with a big and grandiose event than with an action scene. I opened a V:tR session once with the haven of the PCs being discovered during a school trip. I've opened another with the assassination of the prince (I don't think that I ever had a prince who didn't die at some stage in the game), another with a history book from the future written by one of the PCs and dedicated to another. It's far more useful, to my belief, than an action scene.
- Throw the PCs (and the players who play them) into the mood of the game. If I GM a horror game, I'm gonna start with a scene that showcases the mood of macabre in the story, and the players will fall into it. The excitement soon will follow, rising up to where it should be...
So, how about you? How do you excite the players in first minutes of the game?