As GMs, we’ve all spent countless hours trying to devise clever ways to bring the party together at the start of the game. Characters are individuals by nature, and even if you foist some story framework onto them — they’re all from the same village, for example, or they’re the children of a well-known noble — there’s still a good chance the first session will revolve around the characters sizing each other up, forging alliances and generally exchanging basic game information. Sometimes this is a great avenue for storytelling, but other times you just want to the get the story moving!
I had an idea recently that I’ll call the “Odd Man Out” model. In this scenario, all the characters are connected in a simple, convenient way — except for one PC, an outsider who sticks out like a sore thumb. With this setup, it’s possible to co-opt players’ suspicious tendencies by casting one particular character as an obvious interloper.
For that one outsider character (who should be [a] a volunteer and [b] one of the more experienced roleplayers in the group) the first session will be spent explaining himself, integrating himself into the group and leaking important game information (via the GM) to the players. For the other players, they’ll instantly be able to bond over this outsider. They are on one side of the story; he is on the other. Oh sure, they’ll probably be suspicious — but not of each other. What’s more, as they introduce themselves to the new character, they’ll inevitably divulge important details about their own characters — info the players themselves almost certainly don’t know, but must needs share to kick-start the game’s common narrative.
Granted, there’s no guarantee that the game will go down this way, but it’s certainly an interesting thought experiment for GMs to mull over.