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How I Set Up My New PF2 Game, “Gatekeepers.” Part 2: Houserules

Yesterday I discussed the optional rules I’m implementing for my upcoming “Gatekeepers” campaign for Pathfinder 2nd edition. On top of those, I’ve gone over the following houserules with my players, and we’ve agreed to use them. Since we are using character support software, I carefully crafted my houserules to be things that won’t alter the information a player needs on their character sheet. (So no bonus feat at 4th level for no reason, or adding +1d4 damage to attacks when attacking two-handed, these are all more universal action options and such.)

(The best houserules are shaped in the coal of past experience, hammered by a GM’s wisdom, tempered by the warm glow of good gaming, and yes I watch a lot of Forged In Fire, why do you ask? Art by Николай Акатов.)

HOUSERULES
These are just flat breaks from how PF2 rules are written, and I’m good with that.

Hero Points: Boosted Rerolls & Extra Actions
I like Hero Points in PF2, but I actively want to make them even more powerful. On purpose. (And, yeah, this is another in a series of power-up for players, and they all know what that’ll mean in terms of the kinds of threats I throw at them.)

If you use a Hero Point to reroll a check, it is a Boosted Reroll. On a Boosted Reroll, if the actual result on the d20 is a 1-10, you add 10 to the total. Thus the d20 value on a Boosted Reroll is always going to be 11-20. (As an aside this means you could perfectly well have Boosted Rerolls be a d10+10, rather than 1d20-add-10-if-less-than-11 without changing the math, but psychologically that weirds me out.)

There is a third way to spend a Hero Point – you can use it to gain one extra action on your turn, known as a Heroic Action. Any action you take on your Heroic Action ignores multiple action penalties for things you do this turn (normally multiple attack penalties), and does not count toward multiple action penalties for things you in the same round after taking your Heroic Action. You cannot use a Heroic Action as part of an activity that takes multiple actions.

Move And Manipulate
When you take a manipulate action that is not an attack action, and that only involves objects on your person that you can hold, you can also move your speed. Not only does this encourage a more mobile battlefield, it matches my personal experience from my days in live-action foam-sword gaming with the International Fantasy Gaming Society.

d20 = 2d10; Fumble on 2-3; Crit on 18-20
Okay, we aren’t actually implementing this one yet. But I often enjoy games with probability clumping more toward the middle than the flat distribution of a d20 (or d% for that matter). So the idea here is that all d20 checks instead become 2d10 checks. My feeling is that with the tighter math in PF2 (especially with no level to proficiency), that should work great as long as we make allowances for wanting success to go up one step/down one step more often than the 1-in-100 you’d get with fumbles on a 2 and crits on a 20. However, this also lets me make fumbles less common than 1-in-20 (which overall I like), and crits more common than fumbles (which conceptually I also like).

But none of my players have much-if-any PF2 experience (though they are all veteran gamers overall), so we’re going to stick with the classic d20 for the first few sessions, then we’ll try the 2d10 variant for at least one game session and see how we all feel about it. And, of course, I’d have to decide how (if at all) this impacted the Boosted Reroll houserule.

TOMORROW: THEMES AND BASELINES
Of course there is much, much more to a ttRPG campaign than the rules of the game. I’ve been playing with this group of gamers for 35+ years, and we’ve grown to a place where we can have an open and frank discussion about what GM and players both do, or do not, want to see in a campaign. tomorrow, I’ll discuss the planned themes and baselines of the Gatekeepers campaign.

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How I Set Up My New PF2 Game, “Gatekeepers.” Part 1: Rules Options

So, with the Really Wild West campaign closed, and me still needing to make sure I am engaged in rules that’ll be relevant to working on completing the way-too-delayed 52-in-52 subscription, I have concluded it’s time for me to run my first Pathfinder 2nd Edition campaign.

For reasons that will hopefully become clear later, I’m naming this the Gatekeepers campaign.

But, being me, that’s going to come with houserules and optional rules. Pathfinder 2nd Edition has a lot of really cool optional rules designed to help game groups find exactly the kind of ttRPG they want, and I’ve been wanting to try many of them out since before the game was published. Since we had a Session 0 to go over some basics for the campaign, here are the optional rules I worked out with the players during Session 0.

As the week progresses, I’ll talk about houserules, themes, quickstart gazetteers, and so on. Those articles will also all be linked from the Gatekeepers Index, so they’ll be easy to find.

(The adventure is likely to start here, at the “Smoke Pine Taven.” … Yes, “Taven.” Art by Asaneee.)

RULE OPTIONS
The PF2 GMG has lots of great rules for how to tweak the core system to produce a different feel or tone. I have gone with several of those options, and sketched out below along with why I picked them. It’s worth noting that these options are all supported by our electronic character software of choice, making them easy to keep track of.

Free Archetype
You get a free archetype feat at 2nd level and every even level thereafter. This significantly broadens the PC options and makes some classic protagonist tropes easy to model, and I like that flexibility. I know several players are looking at multiclass feats, but there are other interesting archetype options as well.

Ancestry Paragon
This slightly-more-than doubles the number of ancestry feats you get over the course of 20 levels. Ancestry feats have a high percentage of exploration, social, and on-theme abilities, and I like adding more of that flavor to a campaign.

Allow Nonhuman Half-elves and Half-orcs
I’m fine with dwarf/elves and goblin/orcs, or whatever other ancestral combinations players want to play with. I mean, I wrote Bastards and Bloodlines. Of course I’m down for weird ancestry combos.

No Coin Weight
Yes, it’s unrealistic. So is heroes who never have to go to the restroom. In 40 years of gaming, I have seen tracking coin weight slow down games way, way more often than I have seen it make the game more fun. My games normally enforce encumbrance rules, and I am certainly doing so with the bulk rules in PF2… except for money.

Proficiency Without Level
In this campaign no one (PC or foe) adds their level to their proficiency bonus for anything. This increases the threat of minor foes and dangers, and it lowers the total value of numbers people have to add in-play. Higher-level characters will still have a significant advantage due to things such as more feats, higher ability scores, special abilities, bigger damage and HP values, and so on. I’m excited to play PF2 this way and explore the feel it creates.

It’s easy enough for players to just not add this into their calculations. When running foes and monsters, I have to remove it, though that’s not hard (and there are electronic game aids that will do that math for me).

Automatic Bonus Progression
This replaces the need for potency, striking, and resilience runes with an automatic scaling potency bonus. This both allows a character to carry the same longsword at 12th level they began the game with at 1st (so if you grabbed the longsword off the mantle place that your grandfather carried during the Bloodletter Wars as a 1st level champion, that same blade can be part of your whole career and legend), and makes it easier for everyone to match the character vision they have with the gear they end up with.

TOMORROW: HOUSERULES
In addition to selecting some of the specific optional rules built-in to the Pathfinder 2e game engine, I’m also going to be implementing some not-in-the-book houserules, which I’ll go over tomorrow.

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#MotiePitch: Spread

Or rather than a movie pitch, you could use this as the plot to an adventure, a backstory, or a campaign kickoff.

Spread

A new viral breaks out. It has a very slow incubation period, very few external symptoms, and requires personal contact to spread, so by the time it is detected it exists worldwide, and no one is sure how many people have it.

People who get it are largely immune to bacteria, fungus, parasites, and other viruses. Also, they can recognize each other by touch, and have a primal urge to care for and protect each other. They aren’t telepathic and don’t always agree on anything else (including the best way to protect and care for each other), but they do all feel “curing” them, or slowing the spread of the virus, is bad. And some “Spreaders” feel their best bet is to infect as many people as possible, so the number of them that want to protect each other goes up, even though that requires lots of close personal contact.

Meanwhile, governments of the world begin to realize Spreaders could mean the end of the existing global power structure. First they try to deny Spreaders have any benefits, then briefly hammer on the truth unknowns — will Spread mutate? What are the long-term effects? But quickly, it becomes a combination of clanism and competing narratives. Stories claim some Spreaders have begun attacking anyone not infected in zombie-like biting sprees, but no one knows if it’s true and, even if it is, how common it is or what provocations might be present. More believable reports claim in in 1 million people die slow, agonizing deaths if they catch the Spread, but even that can’t be proven to the masses one way or another.

Spread becomes a new global faction, growing through a dedicated outreach program of its members without any core leader, debatable ideology, or unified message. Spreaders claim universal infection would mean utopia. Ethical objectors say much too much is unknown about how Spread will impact humanity over generations, philosophers object to the biological compunction of it overriding free will, and uninfected people in power simply have no interest in losing their positions to a virus.

Can a compromise be found, or will humanity destroy itself because of an infection that makes it want to selflessly help itself?

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#SettingPitch: Dwarf Planets, Dwarf Gods

Just a quick idea for a scifi-horror or urban modern fantasy campaign.

DWARF PLANETS, DWARF GODS

Each planet is a god… but only as long as they are revered as planets. Pluto was the gatekeeper of the realms of the dead. Its power was vast, but focused entirely on keeping the vile undying of the extrasolar void away from the worlds of light.

Now? Now Pluto is only a dwarf planet, and thus only a dwarf god. The civilizations of Earth have noticed as things get worse and worse, but don’t understand why. Small vile things from the cosmic true vacuum have been slipping past, and people are affected. But that was just the first cracks. Years have past. Pluto is tiring.

It’s about to get much, much worse. And much, much more obviously supernatural.

The mummies of Mars are rising. The vampiric tombs crawling along Mercury’s dayside are slowing, inching closer to the darkness that can awaken them. The ghoul spores of the world that became the asteroid belt are stirring. The angry Red Specter of Jupiter is awakening, and preparing to burst forth from his cyclonic cage.

The other god planets are preparing to do what they can. To empower people, organizations, and creatures to defend against the growing threat. But each god planet is already has its full attention and power dedicated to other concerns. Jupiter can spare little attention for the Red Specter, else the infernal comets it deflects from life-bearing worlds will smash into the inner system. Saturn’s rings must kept the ecliptic harmonic in balance, lest the constants of the current universe vary.

The god planets will help where they can, but it is humanity that demoted Pluto. It is humanity that must bear the brunt of the consequences.

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Adventure Set-Ups: The Free City of Delve

It can be useful to set-up a homebrew campaign to support the kinds of adventures you want to run. Want high-seas adventures? Set up a world with lots of good reasons to be on the high seas. So, obviously, want a reason for new, inexperienced adventurers to go dungeon-delving a lot? Build a campaign that supports that idea.

Here’s an example: The Free City of Delve

The Free City of Delve sits on the Isle of Acmonides, among the ruins of the Acmonidesi Empire of giants. Once a world-spanning superpower, Acmonides was the most advanced civilization, with titans and cloud and storm giants ruling over a hundred subjected kingdoms and enforcing their will on dozes of smaller species. Three centuries ago, some massive civil war set the giants against one-another, and the sub-giants (cyclops, ettins, athach, ogres, trolls, and so on) were so devastated they lost nearly all their culture.

Nearly a century after Acmonides fell, seafarers found the island that was its capitol, the location of which had been a well-guarded imperial secret. Camps were set up to loot the islands, then a town evolved as ways to loot the rest of the empire were discovered, and finally the Free City of Delve established.

The center of Delve is the Catacomb Market, built around an ancient step well 60 feet across and 2,000 ft. deep. Hundreds of channels run from various levels of the well. Each channel was once part of an Empire-wide aqueduct system, with teleportation gates bringing water in, and taking it out. For security, only appointed Tibiax, water-workers, could travel the gates. Each gate was controlled by a set of Keystones, attuned to specific Tibiax.

Tibiax were rarely giants, the job instead going to smaller subjugated peoples. The role was often hereditary, so Keystones still work for the descendants of ancient Tibiax, if first used in in the step well on Acmonides Isle.. As the Empire spanned the world, Keystones can be found anywhere worldwide. Merchants in the Catacomb Market import and buy Keystones, and prospective delvers walk the market to see if any stones will work for them. If a stone works for you, it grants potentially exclusive access to some distant part of the Empire, through the magic waterways.

Since the system was specifically designed to allow scions of Tibiax families learn the ropes of maintaining the mystic aqueducts safely, young and inexperienced individuals who first access a keystone are generally sent to a location no one has been sent to in decades or more (since those are the areas with the most failed sections of waterworks) that aren’t extremely hazardous (since the keystones are designed to find problems their attuned Tibiax can handle). The system isn’t perfect, but it means youngsters who discover there’s a Keystone that will work for them can generally gather a group of allies and explore some new part of the collapsed Empire that, though often dangerous, is rarely beyond their ability to cope with. And, they can freely teleport between that location and the step well at the center of Delve.

A a Keystone-bearing group fixes the problem in the region they teleport too through the step well, the keystone then begins to grant them access to new areas — often nes with bigger risks, and sometimes bigger rewards.

The primary trade of Delve is to equip adventurers to loot sections of the long-fallen Acmonidesi Empire, through expeditions sent through the Catacomb market’s magic waterway teleport gates. Loot is brought back to Delve, and used to fund more expeditions. While many nations would love to conquer and control Delve, so far none have wanted to risk angering all the other interested parties by trying to do so through force.

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Kickoff Setups for ttRPG Campaigns, Pt. 4

Fourth part of a series on setups to kickoff ttRPG campaigns.

You can find Part One here.

You can find Part Two here.

You can find Part Three here.

Event

An Event kickoff begins with some big happening that has long-lasting consequences, and that the PCs are intentionally part of one way or another. If the PCs are all contestants in a bloodsport that determines the fate of the world (or just has prize money they all want), that’s an event set-up. If they are all arriving in the Big City for the World’s Fair, Queen’s Birthday, Anniversary of the End of the Z-Wars, Inauguration of the Jack of Graves, or Battle of the Planar Rock bands, and plan to partake of those happenings, that’s an Event setup.

An Event can often be tied to other setups, as a lead-in to a longer-lasting framework for the campaign. If the annual Demigod Trial Festival is a continent-wide celebration the PCs are all attending, with various chances to get up to mischief, and at the end of the first adventure the PCs are all going to be accepted in the Demigod Academy, then it’s an Event leading into an Organization.

An Event can be particularly useful for new players if you can have their participation in the events help showcase individual elements of the rules. If the PCs are all young adventurer-hopefuls attending the Adventure Academy Admittance Trials, those trials can highlight the game’s various systems (a mock combat, a lockpicking speed trial, tightrope walk, insult-duels, riddle contests, and so on) allowing the players to see how their PCs do in those situations and how the rules world while the stakes are fairly low.

Wrong Place/Wrong Time

The difference between an Event and Wrong Place/Wrong Time is largely intentionality of both attendance and what spawns the adventure. It can be on a large or small scale. If a dragon (or kaiju, alien starship, floating castle, demigod, zombie hordes, tank battalion–whatever is genre appropriate) attacks a city that is home to all the PCs, or is hosting a major festival the PCs are all attending, turning it into a ruin from which they must escape, that’s a Wrong Place/Wrong Time setup. If the PCs are on a train headed west when it’s hijacked by teleporting snakemen, that’s also a Wrong Place/Wrong Time setup.

Wrong Place/Wrong Time is a great way to get quickly and directly into some action. All you need is to have all the PCs in one place, and then the adventure can come to them. This works best if the action that occurs naturally leads to more adventure, so the PCs don’t just go their separate ways when the first adventure ends. For example, if the PCs are all on a fantasy-themed roller coaster, and it warps them to an actual fantasy realm, not only do they have to deal with whatever is waiting for them when they arrive, they now have to figure out how to survive in this new realm, and make a living, or make it home.

Wrong Place/Wrong Time can be a good addition to a longer campaign setup. Even if you are doing Family, Organization, Patron, or Tavern as on ongoing setup, you can start with a Wrong Place/Wrong Time to get the PCs into the action, together, quickly.

Right Place/Right Time

The difference between Wrong Place/Wrong Time and Right Place/Right Time is that while the former is about misfortune arriving wherever the PCs are, the latter is about something good (in the broad scheme of things) occurring and leading to adventure. If the PCs are all hanging out at the Taco King parking lot when a Dark matter meteorite bathes them in cosmic radiation turning them into superheroes, they have been thrust into a world of adventure by being in the Right Place/Right Time.

Right Place/Right Time can later be revealed to be Destiny, if you want. While it may seem the servants of Sir Gerginald got lucky by being present when he was slain by a dragon, bathing them all in martyr’s blood and anointing them with eldritch magics, that may in fact have been the fulfillment of the Blood Guild Prophecy. Or perhaps Mr. Cellophane has been injecting hospital patients with experimental super-serum, and the PCs as survivors of a train wreck were just the first recipients to survive his efforts (which, obviously, they find out when they see right through him).

Right Place/Right Time doesn’t automatically assume the PCs are going to agree to participate in the adventure those events open up for them, so it may be useful to combine it with anther setup. It’s easy to have Right Place/Wrong Time blends by having the triggering event be random and a mixed blessing. Perhaps the PCs were in the same hospital as the Ghoul Outbreak, forcing them to fight for their lives against bloodthirsty undead, but as a result they also have immunity to the ghoul virus, and develop various necromantic powers. The outbreak forces them to deal with the Wrong Place/Wrong Time survival threat, getting the campaign started, but it also gives them powers which are going to make survivors in the ensuing Ghoul Apocalypse turn to them for help and leadership.

Obviously there are LOTS more kickoff setups you can use, but hopefully this short list will give you some options and help get you creative juices flowing.

Game On!

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Kickoff Setups for ttRPG Campaigns, Pt. 3

Third part of a series on setups to kickoff ttRPG campaigns.

You can find Part One here.

You can find Part Two here.

Organization

Using an Organization for the setup of your campaign kickoff can make things extremely easy at first, but may come with hidden work for you later-on. The simplest form of Organization setup is that the PCs are all members of the same Organization, and it sends them on missions that create adventures. This can be a military organization, a knighthood, an NGO, Star Fleet, a mercenary company, adventuring guild, thieves guild, wizards guild, the Honorable and Holy Order of Sewer Guardians, SpecterBusters, a newspaper, the FBI, a Lady’s Sewing Circle, insurance claim investigators, doctors without dimensional barriers, CDC field team, the Imperial Diplomatic Corps, starship crew, space trucker union, Lamplighter’s Guild, Library Overdue Asset Network and Interdiction Team (LOAN IT)– whatever fits the genre and tone of the campaign, and that the players are all willing to be members of.

Of course just because you start a game with players as part of an Organization (or even just trying to get in — a first session that is the Admission trials of the troubleshooter’s Union could be a lot of fun) doesn’t mean they have to stay in it. Here in my experience the two most important issues are player expectation and current player satisfaction. If you have proposed that a game is the adventures of the Stellar Alliance Battlecarrier Valorous, and you plan to have the characters all cashiered out over something that isn’t there fault by session 3, you may have a lot of unhappy players who were excited to be part of a big starship crew. OTOH, if the players end up hating how Stellar Alliance regulations hamper their desire to help non-member citizens and want to go it on their own, forcing them to stick with the organization they dislike can also be a big problem.

One good way to subvert expectations in an Organizations campaign is to have sub-organizations, perhaps secret ones, that the players can find out about and choose to join (or not). If the Lamplighter’s Guild has a secret “Bump in the Night” department that handles horrific things their lights sometimes illuminate (an awesome idea I am stealing here from my friend Carl), the players can work with that group, or look to join them, or even work against them if they think the Bit-N are actually traitorous vampire spawn.

Patron

The idea of a Patron setup is that the PCs are working for, or at least aided by, a powerful Patron who can direct them to adventures, and help them gain access to resources and/or people when it might otherwise be beyond the PCs’ reach. A Patron setup can be a nice mid-point between Organization and Wanted Posters — the PCs need not be as wantonly mercenary as an entirely Wanted Post campaign might suggest, nor as beholden to a set of rules as is common in an organization-style campaign.

A Patron might be just a wealthy or well-connected individual, but there can be other interesting options to. A Patron could be someone unable to operate in society easily on their own — a sentient magic item, or a strong AI, or a member of a marginalized group the culture won’t take serious or treat with respect. Or they could have legal or societal limitations based on standing and position — Commissioner Gauthier can’t be seen operating outside the law, but instead makes a deal with a group of vigilantes that as long as they play by his much looser rules, he’ll feed them intel and not pursue them himself.

One common trope is for a Patron to actual be evil, and planning to betray the PCs, and/or destroy them. While this is pretty well expected in some genres (noir detective stories especially, and things inspired by those tropes), I am personally not a fan of that “twist” unless it’s actually a stated part of the game’s assumptions. I find it much more interesting to do things like have the Patron trust the PCs more and more, in time setting them up to be independent or even take over the patrons wealth and power, because betrayal is no fun in real life, and when it comes in my entertainment, I like it to not be a huge surprise or have a big impact. YMMV.

Mysterious Patron

The big difference between a Patron and a Mysterious Patron is that there’s some big element of the Mysterious patron the PCs aren’t aware of. Perhaps they only communicate through a speaker in an office, send coded messages through the bottlecaps of daily milk deliveries, or meet the PCs in the back of an abandoned opera house while wearing a all-concealing cloak that suggests they have a massive hump… or maybe wings and horns. In my experience it’s much harder to get players to trust a Mysterious patron (which can be fun), and they almost always want to Solve the Mystery, which means only use this setup of dealing with those issues seems likely to be fun for you and your players.

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Kickoff Setups for ttRPG Campaigns, Pt. 2

Part two of the series on setups to kickoff ttRPG campaigns.

Family Ties

This setup is a lot like the Organization, but you may not have any choice about being part of it. The campaign is driven by PCs’ ties to a family, which they may all be members of, or may have some different connection to (such as all working for the same noble clan, or all having been infected as hosts to related strains of the same sentient fungus). At their simplest Family Ties can drive forward a campaign through familial connections, ranging from helping out other family members to working to expand and protect all family holdings.

Family ties can be little more than an excuse to be in the Wrong Place/Wrong Time, such as if the reading of a family scion’s will brings all the characters together into a haunted house (or onto a secret seabase, into an exclusive club, at the lost keep, in the big boardroom, or around the meadhall fire, depending on genre). They can also come with duties that are hard to refuse (such as being the nobles who oversee a territory, or being the only bloodline that can activate the planetary defense grid… or the bloodstone altar, or whatever). Family ties can also come with enemies who don’t care if the PCs want to be involved in family business or not, from demons sworn to end all descendants of a great champion (or great champions sworn to end all descendants of a given demon), to rivals for a familial claim to a throne–whether the PCs have any interest in claiming it, or not.

One great way to subvert this is to make it family of choice, rather than blood or marriage. In a session 0, players can all be asked to create one NPC that is close friend and beloved companion to them all, even if the PCs do not themselves know each other (or do, but don’t like each other much). This gives players power to help define their driving force, and no player will be a bit surprised if that group-generated NPC is kidnapped, or needs help dealing with blackmail from the wererat mafia.

Wanted Posters

At their simplest Wanted Posters are literal posters offering a reward for some deed to be accomplished, from bringing in known criminals to coming along on time travel expeditions. Players can all be told they are answering the same Wanted Poster, or get caught up on some NPC’s attempt to make good on on. The format can vary as needed, from the town crier to personals columns in newspapers, late-night public access shows, spraypainted messages on underpasses, online forums and electronic bulletin-boards, or Dark Curve InfoSphere Sites.

Many fantasy and scifi settings have formalized versions of Wanted Posters, and assume a self-employed persona can make a living answering one call after another. There may be a big Notice Board just outside the city’s biggest auction house where offers of rewards for quests are posted, or a Bounty Hunter’s Guild that passes out tracking fobs for specific freelance reacquisition jobs. If there are enough such tasks, an Organization may evolve to bond and insure the best adventurers to answer such offers, but it’s perfectly possible for individual middlemen, fixers, and “Agent Johansson” underworld figures to connect employers and for-pay-troubleshooters on an ad-hoc, if frequent basis.

The less common way to use Wanted Posters to drive a plot is for the faces of the PCs to appear on them, turning the mercenary community against the characters. This can be a subplot at any time, but if the PCs are all selected by some nefarious force to be blamed for a crime, it can kickoff a campaign to have the unknowning character all wonder into the new town on the same day, and discover they have a collective price on their heads, even though they’ve never met. This can become a variant of Wrong Place/Wrong Time.

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Kickoff Setups for ttRPG Campaigns, Pt. 1

Kicking-off a ttRPG campaign can be tough. You need a setup that gets all the player characters in the same place, working toward the same goal, and in most cases you want that setup to both not take a lot of time to explain, and have long-term impacts on the ongoing campaign so what time you take explaining the setup remains useful as the campaign moves along. Setup is connected to, but separate from, the plot, theme, and tone of a campaign. Some setups remain the backbone of the campaign for its duration, while others are mere starting points that are discarded once the PCs are comfortable working together and have their teeth in the meat of the game’s adventures.

Basically, anytime you think “That’d be a cool way to start a campaign!,” you’re considering a campaign setup.

Over the course of this week, we’re going to look at some common (and less-common) kickoff setups, including Tavern, School, Family Ties, Wanted Posters, Organization, Patron, Mysterious Patron, Event, Wrong Place/Wrong Time, Right Place/Right Time, and maybe a couple more.

The Tavern

It’s a well-known trope, and overused, but that doesn’t mean there’s no utility to it. The idea is that there’s a gathering place where you can go to get into an adventure. It may be the home of your Patron, a favored hangout of members of your Organization or the School, or the place where Wanted Posters get put up.

I actually think the most interesting idea for the Tavern as a campaign kickoff is to look at Lloyd’s Coffee House, which lead to the creation of Lloyd’s of London. What began as an effort to have reliable news for maritime patrons turned into a global insurance market. It’s not hard to see how a popular tavern (or meadhall, cafe, diner, or intergalactic truck stop, depending on genre) near areas that need adventurers might work to have news of potential adventures and people hiring same.

You can subvert this setup in a few ways. One is to lean hard on the Lloyd’s example, and have “taverns” have simply evolved over decades from primarily places to get drink and lodgings to primarily places to do adventuring-related business (or maybe the evolution of function means those places aren’t called taverns anymore, but Hire Houses or some other term you introduce to the campaign). Another is to make a tavern itself the primary site for early adventures–perhaps a famous and massive tavern was abandoned after some horrific tragedy, and now new owners need the stables cleared of dire rate, the stockroom cleaned of psychic fungus, and the zombies in the basement dealt with.

The School

Whether it’s Backrazor’s School of Berserking and Skulldudgery, the Starknight Academy, Eerie Indiana’s Stranger High School, or Miskatonic University, the idea behind the School setup is that all the PCs are students of the school, and that is what’s going to get them into the adventure.

If the school is training people to BE adventurers, or something similar (military academy, space knight squire class, witches and wizards community college, whatever), it’s easy to see how both minor adventures may be part of the standard class and exam methodology and lead to bigger adventures. For schools with less esoteric curriculum, adventure may come in the form of a locational threat (your school just happens to be at the center of the zombie apocalypse, or the hellmouth, or where the aliens land, or where the Queen of Love and Thorns sets up her fallback command post), or the secret headquarters of an Organization, or again as the home of a Patron.

School can also be easily blended with other setups. If the PCs are all AbHumans with superpowers, learning how to control those abilities at the Kenson Academy while participating as members of the Young Crystal Knights hero team, the academy is obviously also part of an Organization, and may even have a Patron in the form of Professor Kenson. If the school is ground zero for the Dragon Invasion, then being there put the PCs in the Wrong Place, Wrong Time.

One way to subvert this setup is to make the “school” something very different from a big building on a formal campus. Perhaps all young nobles of the realm must spend one full year with a touring knight-magistrate, learning about their lands and its problems. Maybe there is a specific starship for training cadets, and easing them into their final roles and duties. You could have a French Foreign Legion-like group that operated airships with sign-on-mercenaries (no experience needed) to patrol the Diesel Mountains, facing off against Sky Pirates, Wand-Runners, and Panzerdemons.

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