Last night, my group kicked off a Ghouls chronicle set in 1983 (Ghouls being a subset of White Wolf’s Vampire RPG — mortal thralls with minor supernatural powers, each bound by blood to a specific vampire), and our GM put a spin on the traditional prelude mechanic: He ran the session round-robin style.

Preludes: Nuts and Bolts

In WW games, preludes are solo (one player, one GM) mini-sessions that take place before the chronicle begins. Given the nature of WW’s games, they often focus on the moment of transformation from mortal to whatever the game is about — human to vampire, to werewolf, etc.

Each player has their own prelude, and they tend to be mechanics-light and roleplaying heavy. They’re also interesting because the outcome is predetermined — what you don’t know is precisely how you’re going to get there. And they’re one of the most mainstream templates for solo play, which is still an unusual model for a lot of gamers. (Curious about solo GMing? I ran games this way for years, and wrote a primer for solo gaming.)

As an added bonus, preludes are one of the most driftable mechanics around — you can use them in nearly any RPG, not just WW games. So whether you run WW games or not, this approach to preludes might be of interest to you.

The Round-Robin Prelude

Instead of having each of us sit down with him for an hour, our GM, Sam, tried something new for our prelude session. We all sat around the table, just like normal, and then he ran a scene for each of us in turn, jumping to a new player at the end of each scene. This round-robin approach worked extremely well, and it’s not one I’ve ever heard of before.

Each scene was about 10-20 minutes long, and as it happened we had two players with deeply connected backgrounds (partners in the local police department), so they were in all of their scenes together. This meant that no one had to wait more than 40 minutes max before getting another chance to play.

That waiting time wasn’t boring by any means: Three of the PCs had interconnected preludes, so it was great fun to watch them inching closer and closer to one another. My prelude was necessarily largely disconnected from theirs, but the same thing applied — I had a blast watching everyone settle into their characters, make tough decisions, and roleplay like crazy.

And at least from my perspective, the spotlight time felt different than it usually would. Being in the spotlight for 10-20 minutes solo was a lot of fun, and a nice change of pace from the way gaming sessions usually work.

Last night’s prelude turned out to be one of the best single gaming sessions I’ve ever played — a pleasure from start to finish. That’s a testament to Sam’s skill as a GM, because he’s fantastic, but also to the strength of the approach he took to running the session. Based on this experience as a player, I highly recommend this approach.

Do you use preludes in your games? If so, do you handle them the traditional way (solo mini-sessions), or put your own spin on the process?