10 Crazy Ways to Kick Off Your Next Campaign

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It’s a tradition as stale as the beer in the town’s lowliest tavern:

“You’re at the inn. Suddenly an old guy walks up and offers you a job.” Or, “You’re at the inn. Suddenly a bunch of orcs rush in and start busting up the place.” Or, “You’re at the inn. A drunk guy bumps into you, and you realize your coin purse is lighter.”

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with starting your adventure at the inn. But sometimes you just need a change of pace to keep your players on their toes. If you’re running low on inspiration, you’re in luck! Here are 10 unconventional ways to set your game in motion.

#1 – The Worst Hangover Ever

The PCs awaken to find themselves seated around an opulent table full of exotic foods and wines. The food is beginning to mold, and insects have gathered. Nobody can recall what they’ve done in the past few days, and nobody knows where they are or who hosted the dinner. But there is the small matter of a well-dressed corpse with a dagger between its shoulder blades. And is that the sound of guards coming…?

#2 – Escape from the Gallows

One of the PCs has been wrongly convicted of a heinous crime. Their sentence is death by hanging. The objective is to rescue them before the hangman’s work is done. This should provide a great opportunity for swashbuckling adventure, ala Pirates of the Caribbean. How will the party pull off the rescue, and how will they prove their friend’s innocence while living on the run?

#3 – Kidnapped!

The party members find themselves in a wagon, traveling over rough terrain. Their vision is obscured by black hoods, and their hands are bound behind their backs. They could be on their way to an audience with a powerful and super-secretive personality, or they could be on their way to certain death. Will they escape their bonds, or stay the course and see where fate leads them? As a twist, you could have the PCs awaken in a sealed room and struggle to find their way out.

Masquerade lady
Picture by August Rush

#4 – Murder at the Masquerade

The PCs are guests at a masquerade ball. Everyone who’s anyone has been invited. Have the PCs choose their costumes and enjoy a fun evening of drinking, dancing, and maybe a tryst or two. At midnight, a servant runs screaming into the room. The host has been slain. She was last seen strolling toward her private garden with someone in costume – the exact same costume that one of the PCs is wearing. Watch them scramble to come up with an alibi.

#5 – The Message

The party is hailed by a small child holding a bound scroll. The seal looks familiar. In fact, it appears to be from someone very important. Just as the child draws near, a cloaked figure knocks him aside and snatches the missive. Watch the party frantically chase the thief through the city streets, and witness an urban landscape (with all its crowds, hazards, and hiding places) in its full glory.

Lightning bolt
Picture by Alex Rouvin

#6 – Disaster Strikes

Ever wanted to end the world? The PCs will certainly feel like their world is ending when a disaster (magical, natural, or war-driven) strikes their base city. There will be droves of deaths, massive destruction, and possibly flaming, falling debris. Survival is the goal of this harsh opening scenario.

#7 – The Prophecy

The party is ambushed by a band of assassins. They manage to capture one and interrogate him. It turns out that the killers were hired to slay one of the PCs in order to prevent a terrible prophecy from being fulfilled. The PC and his pals will have starring roles in what might turn out to be a series of world-shaking events.

#8 – The Chase is On

You know how some action flicks start with a car chase? You can do the same thing in D&D. Open the game with the PCs on horseback, ducking and dodging their way through a thick forest while their enemies give chase. If riding at breakneck speeds through hostile terrain isn’t exciting enough, you could always throw in the obligatory cliff.

#9 – Rude Interruption

The PCs have come to pay their last respects to a fallen hero of legend. Hundreds have gathered for the public funeral service. It’s a touching scene until something goes horribly wrong. This untoward event could be an invasion, a disastrous wizard duel, or the dead hero rising as an undead monstrosity. Your choices are only limited by your imagination.

#10 – Dreams and Visions

Dreams and visions can be used in many ways. In this case, they can be used to kick off your campaign in style. Give your PCs a dream so real it hurts – literally. Maybe they get wounded in the dream, only to wake up and find very real marks on their bodies. Or give them a premonition of future events so vivid that the PCs believe they’re actually living through those events right now.

Have you ever kicked off a campaign in an unorthodox way? Tell us all about it in the comments section!

31 thoughts on “10 Crazy Ways to Kick Off Your Next Campaign”

  1. My long-running (decade+) campaign with the PCs being awakened for their shift on the make-shift walls of a city under siege by a horde of orcs and zombies. Of course, they arrived on the walls just as there was a surge and had to actually repel attackers. They were then tasked with escaping into a swamp to seek help. (One of the PCs – a 1st level half-orc bard – was eaten by a salt water crocodile along the way.)

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