This post demonstrates just how easy and quick this method can be. Of course, it can also be used in a much more thoughtful and deliberate manner, similar to a “session zero” or regular “soft start” for an Apocalypse World game. However, it should be possible to begin games easily and quickly with this tool, so this little guide is intended as a demo of that extreme: you can sit down and start playing very quickly this way.
Using This Technique
To use these rules for an effective and quick beginning to a game, I would simply write down the NPC names (perhaps have each player suggest one that they find evocative or memorable - they can choose a name from their playbook if they don’t have any ideas - or bring a list with you).
Then, have the players fill out a handful of connections from their list (above). Try to target NPCs other players also have connections to. Either deliberately choose interesting and complicated connections, or choose arbitrarily, without knowing what others have chosen (the quickest method). The lists above should have enough nuance and variety for this method to generate some good material.
There is no need to create any information about the NPCs before starting; a name and either an illustration/drawing/picture or a single unusual fact is enough. A picture or a single detail will be enough; the rest will emerge from the connections themselves and a handful of quick “provocative questions” (which the connections should pretty easily inspire).
Perhaps like this - a sample NPC:
- Partridge, an aging collector of insects
Let’s say we have three PCs in play (picking playbooks at random from my printed stack): a Savvyhead, a Brainer, and a Hardholder.
What’s the deal with Partridge? I’ll pick three connections at random from the lists above, and we will see how each choice will flesh out this NPC further. As each player announces their choice, the MC might think of (or ask them to provide) a detail to illustrate that connection.
Partridge helps supply me with water, food, and tech or energy, which keeps my workspace running.
- Partridge runs a small generator, lighting up a spotlight every night, shining into the sky. The Beacon draws people to the hardhold, and attracts clouds of insects for Partridge to sort through.
Where do you think these insects come from, mostly?
Partridge needs my therapy on a regular basis.
- Partridge is one of the oldest people in the holding, and remembers very little of his past. He asks the Brainer to trawl through his memories on a regular basis in order to “remember” who he was.
Do you ever lie to Partridge about what you learn from his brain? Why?
Partridge is the former hardholder.
- When the people revolted against Partridge, they came into his room at night, blinding him with a phosphorus grenade. His eyesight returned, but his memories did not. He is now a shadow of his former self, obsessed with bright lights and collecting insects.
What secret do you think Partridge holds, and why do you desperately need to know it, NOW?
To begin the session, simply frame a scene with each PC, showing us how they interact with Partridge on a regular basis. Spend a little time on each, and then (if necessary), introduce a threat. This could be the appearance of a former lieutenant, still loyal to Partridge, an unusual type of insect sent by the maelstrom, or a volatile and dangerous memory (potentially harmful to the Hardholder) surfacing during a “therapy” session.
Anything which sets up a PC-NPC-PC triangle (by creating an imbalance of power or information) is sufficient to get the story moving.
This is a single NPC; if you have at least two more with multiple connections, the first session should pretty much “write itself” simply by exploring the nature of these connections. Each one will provide more story material and interesting situations to play out. Frame a sequence of scenes exploring each set of relationship or unstable dynamics, and the game is off to a good start. That should be plenty for the first session.
Explore each NPC’s role in the PCs’ lives, and the first session can be spent framing the scenes necessary just to lay the groundwork for each set of connections: they will imply different details and different dynamics.
As the MC, look for ways to make these situations further unstable; throw in a wrench, a threat, or an asymmetrical opportunity for each. How can this connection create a threat to another PC? A threat to the holding? An opportunity for someone who does not have the other’s best interests at heart?
An interesting situation will result quite quickly and effortlessly.