This summer, I went to two high school reunions. My own, dinner and drinks at a local tavern, and my wife’s, a picnic held at an old country barn. (1)
I was reminded that the occasion of a reunion can serve as solid backstory to explain how an adventuring party comes together.
While in real life, I don’t think any of my classmates would have jumped at a suggestion to form up ranks, designate one of us a cleric, and go then plunder the nearby coal mines.
But still, in a fantasy setting, it is plausible enough. Especially since no one in a fantasy setting would be forced to choose adventure or leaving behind a family-style serving of tavern fried chicken and mostaccioli (2).
I am reminded that the first Dragonlance adventuring party was formed in a reunion of sorts. The companions had gone out into Krynn singly, seeking a sign of the old gods. Not finding any (3), the old crew, except for the black-hearted Kitiara, reformed at the Inn of the Last Home, ate some of Tika’s fried potatoes, and set off to foil the scheme of the dark dragon queen.
Menu selections aside, a reunion gathering gives built-in reasons why the PCs would be familiar with one another, but not necessarily a close-knit group. Yes, they grew up together, or trained together, or once served a common cause together — but had since gone their separate ways.
This works even with first-level characters, because there’s nothing to say that as individuals the PCs accomplished any adventuring goals in the interim. The real adventure begins at this point.
Reunion backstories are also good chances to play the “how do I know the person on my left” style of character creation. A chain of connections is what draws the PCs to one another, but doesn’t guarantee that EVERY member is friends with every other one.
If you’re inclined that first session can be done over a shared meal. That way, the players around the table will be invested in the same memory. Good food. Old friends.
And evil to vanquish.
Yes, we both attended small high schools – in rural areas.
A central Illinois flavor favorite, if ever there was one.
I’ve always wondered at the companions’ collective failure at that, considering the Dragonlance gods proved to be the most meddlesome of any fantasy world that I can recall. It was hard not bumping into one of their avatars, as I recall. Fizbin, anyone?
Re 3: The good gods were still obedient to the turning away from humanity thing after the Cataclysm, I think.
I like the idea of a reunion as a story starter. As you mentioned, in a level based system it’s unlikely that you were a tough adventurer for years, but are now first level… except, of course, that that’s the conceit of DCC, right?
I think it’s a conceit for a lot of games. Even D&D, you got that first level ability by training to be … something.
The only d20 style game that really made you start from ground zero was d20 Modern. Squishy builds in what is supposed to be a high-action adventure setting. But it was always tweak able.
I actually started my epic Eberron game as a reunion with a flashback. I had the players build their characters as 1st level characters and as 5th level characters. They were told that their background had to include being part of a mercenary company that fought in the Last War several years ago and that they would have agreed to come to Sharn for a five year anniversary of a big battle.
They gathered in the bar of a former squad mate (who had lost his hand in the war) and awkwardly began to get reacquainted (for the first time since it was the opening session) when I threw them into the flashback which explained how they all met and ended up forming a squad that saved the day of the battle they were there to celebrate.
It worked really well and the players bought into the concept as soon as we got going. Because they were already buying into their old ties, they were easily willing to fall into ‘old’ patterns to rescue a princess and then go on an epic journey to stop the forces of evil.
See that sounds like a fun way to do it.