When you initially start a story, the main concept is getting the characters together. The initial trope was that you all start in an inn, perhaps some shadowy figure offering you a job. However, some people want to change things up and make it so its different. There are a whole list of options in the Character Introduction tropes page, but I was thinking about some video examples recently so I want to give you a few examples.
Let’s begin with Marvel’s blockbuster The Avengers. This is an example I like because you first have individual movies which are essentially the PCs backstories then you have the opening scene in the movie which is the event that starts the story in motion and now we need to start introducing the characters. With no previous movies to go by as we did, these are your introductions to your teammates and it allows each person to breathe life into them as they’re introduced one at a time. Seriously, think about how it happens:
We start with Hawkeye and the NPCs who are there when the Big Bad attacks, taking off with Hawkeye. Then we have the interrogation scene with Black Widow, who is then sent to recruit The Hulk.Nick Fury (played by the GM) goes to recruit Captain America, Coulson (again, the GM) goes to recruit Stark. We then begin the meeting on the Helicarrier with all except Iron Man, before Cap is sent to apprehend Loki and Iron Man makes his fashionably late appearance and then who appears but Thor? They start battling it out before joining up and they all now start interacting together in the ensemble cast they are.
An example that fits more to the traditional stories, Dragons of Autumn Twilight. The movie, and the novel it was based on was about the return of a group of friends at The Inn of the Last Home, consisting of Tanis, Sturm, Caramon, Raistlin, Flint, and Tasslehoff, who had separated to pursue their own quests and pledged to return in five years. Kitiara Uth Matar, the half sister of the twins Caramon and Raistlin, was supposed to be there as well, but only sent a mysterious note. It plays on the meeting in a tavern, but again, each character has their own backstories for five years and has some tale to tell about what happened to them in those times. If you read the book series, you can learn more about the characters pasts as well, like the Avengers prequel movies.
Of course, anoher example of doing a meet in a tavern and how different players do things is in the movie Ronin. In the opening of the movie, the key characters are meeting in a bar to discuss a job. We see Robert De Niro walking around and scoping the place out, playing up the secret agent bit even going around the back to plant a gun in case he needs it later, as when asked about it says ‘I never walk into a place I don’t know how to walk out of’. While this is going on, you can see the other characters either already at the bar or arriving like with Jean Reno’s character just getting out of a car and walking into the bar. It doesn’t show if they took similar precautions as De Niro, so if things went bad that could be terrible. After all, look at Jason Bourne who quoted: ” I come in here, and the first thing I’m doing is I’m catching the sightlines and looking for an exit…I can tell you the license plate numbers of all six cars outside. I can tell you that our waitress is left-handed and the guy sitting up at the counter weighs two hundred fifteen pounds and knows how to handle himself. I know the best place to look for a gun is the cab or the gray truck outside, and at this altitude, I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start shaking.” Sounds like one of those sort who plans for every occurrence, just in case. I’ve seen those in a lot of criminal type games, but also some in hero games.
Next, The Usual Suspects gives us the idea of prison time arranged for the players.so that they can be offered a job all in one place to take advantage of their skills. Unfortunately, they get out early but due to some circumstances are brought right back to the group who wanted to meet them in the first place. Its not a tavern, it gives a little edge to the RP as you wonder if the cops will be watching and the like. Works great for games where one or more plays a criminal, and you could possibly even convince one to be something more. There are other such examples of jail being used as an meeting place of the characters and in some cases even central to the story, like Escape Plan or even the TV show Oz.
Classmates is another example, seen in various movies from horrors like The Faculty to comedy/dramas like The Breakfast Club, but for a roleplaying game example I think Harry Potter does it well for fantasy. Taking the players and putting them together because they all come from the same school. Different walks of life, so the characters will be different, but they are learning as things go. Young Hercules TV series took place with a training Hercules in Chiron’s School along with other famous heroes.
There are other approaches, such as introducing the case one person at a time, which is common in video games and can be in adventure movies too. One of the first I remember growing up watching was Dragonheart. The story starts off telling us about Bowen the knight, the central character to the story, with little bits by other key characters like monk Gilbert and peasant Kara. They all finally come together to work towards fighting against the evil king to free their land. Sounds like a lot of the Final Fantasy games I’ve played, where the party is picked up person by person, giving each a bit of stage time to tell their story before being overshadowed by the next person.
One story I grew up watching was the kids show Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin. It was a childhood fantasy show and it was a perfect example of introducing the characters slowly, but it also had a second element to it as it introduced characters who would be reoccurring. You had your three main characters in Teddy, Grubby and Gimmick, but then you had allies in Prince Arin and Princess Aruzia, The Wooly Whatsit, and Leota, who could be the GM playing NPCs or it could be a game where when your character isn’t involved you can play another PC, or having that friend/family member who just can’t shake coming over and you have them RPing a character. The webcomic Darths and Droids did that in some of the earlier stories which even got some of them involved deeper in the stories. In one of the earliest stories, a younger sister couldn’t be babysat so was brought over and gave a character to play. It happens more than you think.
Another example of movie that fits with alternative character introductions is military style movies. Depending on what the story you’re telling, it could be Starship Troopers where your characters are part of a larger military force and are being sent on missions (check out Roughneck Chronicles, the animated Starship Troopers series for some great mission examples), or it could be something like a covert ops team designed for infiltration that, if caught, the Secretary would disavow all knowledge of your existence in a Mission Impossible style. You can convert this to fantasy so easily as there are a ton of huge army movies and a small unit movies. Lord of the Rings versus Alexander, for example. Games like Shining Force series are made up of large groups of units in tactical combat and then scenes of storytelling RPG.