IN THE SHADOW OF THE SPIRE
Before our first proper session of In the Shadow of the Spire, I offered to run prelude sessions for any players who were interested. I had never done this before, but I had several reasons for trying it now:
(1) We had some scheduling problems which meant that there was about a three week gap between creating the PCs and starting the campaign. It wasn’t that people weren’t available to play — it was just that we were never all available to play at the same time.
(2) I knew that the campaign was going to start as the PCs woke up with partial amnesia and a period of lost time. I felt this might have a larger impact if the players had actually spent some time playing their characters — in other words, if they actually lost the time.
Because without that first-hand experience, there isn’t that much difference between a character background that ends with the line “… and then you go to the Adventurers ‘R Us Tavern” and one that ends with “… and then you wake up in a bed you don’t know.”
(3) Because most of us were new to the online tools we were using for our virtual gaming table, I thought it might be advantageous to tackle them with smaller groups and work out the kinks.
This experiment with preludes was something of a mixed success. On the one hand, I was mostly right: The smaller groups let us work out the kinks of using the virtual gaming table, the preludes let us get some gaming into a gap when we would have otherwise been idle, and those who participated did feel the effects of the lost time more personally than those who didn’t. (In fact, when one of the players realized what I was doing at the end of the prelude session, they spontaneously exclaimed, “Son of a bitch!”)
On the other hand, only the prelude featuring Tee and Agnarr actually happened. The scheduling for the others just never worked out. Some of the material from those preludes was worked into the character backgrounds of the other characters, but most of it wasn’t.
The prelude had a few other notable effects:
First, it meant that Tee and Agnarr started the campaign at 3rd-level while the others started at 1st-level.
Second, it created a meaningful chemistry between Tee and Agnarr that the other characters didn’t have at the beginning of the campaign. All of the characters (and players) quickly bonded, but I think the instant Tee-Agnarr alliance helped propell Tee into a stronger leadership position.
The original plan had been for two other characters to similarly share an adventure together. Some of that survived into the character backgrounds and, from there, into the actual campaign, but there really is a difference between something that you write up in a character background and something that you’ve “lived” in play. I suspect that if the other preludes had taken place, there would have been a second strong pairing and the group dynamic would have been very different for the rest of the campaign.
Finally, the content of the preludes wasn’t irrelevant to the larger themes and events of the campaign. Many hints and clues could be gleaned from the events that took place (or would have taken place) during the prelude adventures. Most of the content from the other preludes was not included in their character backgrounds, which meant that this material would emerge in different ways throughout the rest of the campaign.