RPG a Day 2020, Part Twenty-Seven – Favours as a good plot starter
I thought this said ‘flavour’ at first and got excited about waffling on, saying about how some mechanics have a kind of flavour of their own.
Starting a quest can be a problem, especially getting groups invested. I’ve spoken before about the ‘what’s my motivation’ problem I had in tremulus. If the group don’t know each other or don’t care about the plot, things can meander and you can end up faffing around. I don’t even mean in a session zero kind of way, I mean doing that thing some Netflix shows spend way too long doing of spending episode after episode trying to figure out why they want to be heroes before finally trying to do anything. Our characters need to cut to the chase. We’re on the clock and want to get to the action.
There are variations on this, but those don’t fit within the theme so much. Owing someone a favour can be a great instigator for adventure. It might be contrived to have everyone in the group owe someone, but for a one-shot that’s completely fine. If the group all know each other then you can have one or two players owe an NPC a favour and have that called up.
In a Dungeon World one-shot I had the group acting as servants for Prince Khalid of Canbanton. It was a coastal town with a lot of guards protecting the place internally, but they outsourced to adventurers externally. In this case I did one of my favourite things and asked the players why they each owed him a favour. A lot of them were nebulous help or promises which meant if I ran other one-shots in the world (and I did) then they already knew why they owed him.
Another time I actually started with the group at the start of the adventure site, skipping past the initial briefing and simply saying that the group are troubleshooters enlisted by a noble to solve a problem. The problem turned out to be the noble, so the group were able to clean their slate and appease some ghosts by sorting him out.
In a recent game of Squamous the premade adventure in the book has elements of this. The group are tasked with recovering a book for a friend. I asked how they knew the friend and some of them made up the favour, others didn’t, but they all bought into their motivation right away.
It’s an easy trick and one you can do almost thoughtlessly. I know a lot of GMs like to start at the start and to have the discovery of a plot hook, but personally any tool to rocket folks into the story and get the buy-in is good with me.
Another potential way of doing this (albeit without favours… sorry RPG-a-Day deities!) could be to start with the group fleeing someone or something, then asking why during the action.