Starting the Game§

You’ve all just spent some time talking and brainstorming and hashing out ideas, but not embodying characters and situations, and now it’s time to switch, and start the conversation not about what has happened but what happens. The transition can be difficult, but treat it gently and know that you are all collaborating, and you will find yourself past it.

The first session§

The first session will usually lay the groundwork: you’ll start to explore the relationships between the main and supporting characters, see who wants what from whom, how characters feel about each other, and what stands in the way of the main characters’ hopes and aspirations.

As the Host, you will create supporting characters as they are needed, and make them push on the main characters in various ways. If a character wants something, embody the reasons they can’t get or do it. Even if it’s something like a servant wanting to study at Oxford, that is, something all of society militates against, make a character who laughs at them for their erudition, or who dangles the promise of going up to Oxford accompanying their master in front of them, or similar.

Also make some characters to be the object of a desire: a character who hopes to marry for love should find some characters loveable, but unattainable. Perhaps the object of their potential love is below them, or above them, or married, or of the same sex, or shrouded in suspicion.

You also want, in this first session, to highlight the various main characters, and the core mechanics: use a good mixture of outcomes in moments of uncertainty, and have at least one main character cast a spell. This is a game with magic in it, after all! Don’t let them forget that.

The first scene§

Lofty goals for the first session are fine and all, but what do you actually start with?

First, take a breath. This is a transition, but it’s not like everything’s riding on this moment. Everyone will play and collaborate and it will be good. But you, as the Host, do have a particular responsibility here.

There’s a strange phenomenon, I find, where unless and until there are obstacles in their way, the players may not pursue their characters’ goals. Once they know what forces are arrayed against them, or what other pressing matters vie for their attention, they are more likely to begin the pursuit. And so, as the Host, you may wish to start the game with an urgent situation, an inciting incident, a “bang” as it were, that drives the characters to react, and interferes with their ability to start pursuing their goals.

You don’t have to start with one perfect incident that will make or break the game. You can throw out many possible hooks, as you explore the characters and their daily lives, and see which the players latch on to. Perhaps, though, this is a useful way to look at the problem: the players have spent a bunch of time setting up a status quo, albeit with tensions and uncertainties, but with a certain amount of established norms. It is up to you as the host to start to upset that status quo in ways that the players can understand as putting their characters at risk.

Has a character been hiding in rural solitude from his creditors in London? Perhaps a strange man with a staff and a blue jacket has been seen poking around the village. Has a character been hoping to receive a proposal from a well-to-do gentleman? Perhaps another house in the village is let to a family with three wealthy and beautiful daughters. Has a character been treating his vicarage as a sinecure, and neglecting the parishioners? Perhaps a group of Methodists or Quakers show up, providing an alternative and populist religious outlet. Has a character been struggling to make ends meet, and keep a roof over their aged parents? Perhaps the local landholder begins a process of enclosure, denying people access to the common land.

Some more concrete examples of beginnings:

An option: “Mr. Reynolds, it is a fine spring day. Who are you walking out to visit?” “Oh, uh, I think I might see how Miss Fanshaw is today.” (She is another main character.) “Ah, good. As you’re walking to the Fanshaw house, the vicar, your rival for her affections, Mr. Fyffe, encounters you on the road. He seems to be going to the same place.”

Suddenly, you have a scene: how does Mr. Reynolds manage a potential rival, and the likely social awkwardness?

Another option: “Miss Netherwood, your parents are hosting a ball tonight, in the hopes that you will return the affections of the odious Mr. Grosvenor. Your lady’s maid, Miss Jennings,” (another main character) “is helping you get ready.”

And here, suddenly, is a chance to hatch a plan, and make clear how the two characters feel about each other and Mr. Grosvenor.

You see the pattern? It’s two characters with a relationship to a third, in a situation that will force a reaction.