You’ve decided how you’re going to introduce your PCs to the campaign in the intro adventure, but now you actually need an intro adventure. For me, the intro adventure needs to rope in the players but also showcase what the campaign is about. You need to get the player’s investment.
I was planning the intro for the first playtest session of Starship Commandos (think Heinlein’s Starship Troopers – not the movie – meets Aliens) and my first instinct was to start with a fight. Pirates had captured a freighter and had the crew hostage. The PCs – they’re MARSAT, Marine Special Armour and Tactics – would have boarded the vessel, fought the pirates and rescued the crew. Excitement! Action! The PCs being big goddman heroes! What’s not to love?
Well, the campaign was about the first encounter with extraterrestrial sentient life, and it was about the PCs getting into some really tight spots. Now the pirate fight was supposed to only be the first quarter to one-third of the initial session, but to me, that was still too long.
I’m going to be honest: I gave the players a choice. If they wanted to start with the pirate fight, we could, but I made it clear that this was not the campaign. That made the difference. The PCs wanted to get into the campaign and see what it was all about.
Ask yourself: what is this campaign about? What is awesome about this campaign? And what will my players like about it. Make sure that is all in the first adventure. It doesn’t need to be wall-to-wall action (unless your players dig that), but it needs to tell your players what to expect.
For me, Starship Commandos was about the cool power armour and the scary xenomorphs. The players got to play with their power armour and see what they could do with it (and they proved very able to exploit its technology to the fullest) and when the xenomorphs came, the setting had been seeded with enough clues that these things were bad ass that the players reacted appropriately – with their determined professionalism gilded by panic.
The funny thing is the first three quarters of that session was about building the tension. The crew were finding clues, and the players knew something was going to happen, but what? And when? I definitely introduced them to the atmosphere and the setting, and the players were definitely invested.
You can read more about Starship Commandos here.
You can find the Building Stuff series here.