The good-old-fashioned tavern setting has been the de facto standard for starting off a new tabletop RPG adventure for as long as anyone can remember. Sure it’s cliché, but clichés exist for a reason: they work! Despite the fact that it works, however, you might not want to start off all of your adventures like that. Variety is the spice of life (to quote another cliché), so mixing up your tabletop RPG starters can be a breath of fresh air (damn, look at these clichés).
Today, we’re bringing you a few alternative starts that you can bring to the table the next time you start a new campaign!
You meet ON a tavern
This one isn’t my idea; I got it off of Reddit, but heck if I can find the post now.
Rather than open on a scene where the characters are meeting each other for the first time inside a tavern, they are instead on top of it for some reason. It could be that the building is flooding or on fire (or both) and they’ve had to seek higher ground. Bonus points if the flooding or the fire (or both) are the fault of the characters.
Variant: You meet UNDER a tavern
This one’s good for those shadowy/clandestine type of game starts. The party can be meeting in the basement to discuss a high-stakes job that they’ve all been brought in on, or maybe they’re tunneling up through the ground to break into the tavern to rob a noble who’s staying there.
You meet in battle
“You look up from your fallen foe just in time to see a warpick swinging toward your head; what do you do?”
Apropos of nothing, the characters find themselves already banded together in a fight against some hostile force. After the dust settles, they have a chance to not only catch their breath, but also to introduce themselves to their new comrades-in-arms. Alternatively, you could assume that the party already knows each other, and intersperse flashbacks into the fight as a way of introducing the characters and their relationships to the table.
Alexander: I take the help action to assist Farlax Steelhammer.
GM: Alexander kicks up sand into the face of Farlax’s enemy. With that, a brief flash of remembrance comes into your mind; Alex, how did you and Farlax first meet?
You meet aboard a prison ship
One by one, the characters awake in the darkness, lying on their backs. They can smell the salt of the water, and feel the back-and-forth swaying of the ship. On top of that, they can feel the cold tightness of the manacles around their wrists and ankles. Questions abound: who are they and what circumstances brought them aboard this prison ship, and more importantly: how are they going to escape?
You meet as guards for an ill-fated voyage
Down on their luck, each of the characters was separately hired on to guard some sort of voyage. It could be a merchant vessel that’s wary of pirates, or a caravan crossing over a dangerous mountain path that wants to discourage the local troll population. Whatever the mode of travel and impetus for hiring guards, things don’t go according to plan: the voyage is attacked (likely from an unexpected source), and the party are one of the few—or only—survivors. With this shared experience behind them, they can band together and get to the bottom of the attack that nearly cost them their lives!
You meet because you are immune
While a plague ravages the city, the characters are left to wonder why they alone are immune. As the characters wander the city streets, they begin to find one another. Thankful to see a healthy face and hear a voice unladen by the stench of decay, the characters form a tenuous bond over their shared hardship. Why and how are they all immune, and what can they do to save the lives of those around them?
You meet in a coliseum
The characters find themselves in a dark stone room, with a single portcullis leading out and up to the bright light of day. Out in the light is the sound of a cheering and jeering crowd. Their sounds are punctuated by the ringing of steel and the grunts of gladiators.
Each one of them knows that they’re next up to fight for the entertainment of the crowd, and for their freedom. But what manner of horrific creature awaits them beyond the portcullis?
You meet on a beach
Each of the characters had chartered passage across the sea. Unfortunately, a violent storm erupted and their ship never made it to their destination. Now, the characters awake on the shore of a strange land as the only surviving members of the voyage.
You meet at a heist
The characters have been individually hired by a shady figure to perform a high-stakes heist. Now, they meet up at the designated spot to receive their final instructions: get in, get the McGuffin, and get out. Also, there’s totally no way that the shady figure would throw the characters under the proverbial bus at the end of all of this in order to cover his racks.
You meet in a forest
The characters wake to the sound of birds and the feel of grass underneath them. All around is a mysterious forest, and no one has any recollection of how they got there. Worse still, no one has any idea who they themselves are! Now they’ll have to band together to find their way out of the forest and get to the bottom of how they got there, and their own identities.
You meet during an odd job
Here, each of the characters is part of a work crew sent off to do some menial task outside of town. From there, they discover some ancient artifact that identifies them as (or makes them) special. They eventually return to town to find it being razed by a warlord who is searching for the same artifact that the party found earlier.