Thursday, August 11, 2016

Starting Your Adventure in Shackles

Recently I found the Gaming and BS RPG Podcast.  They just released their 100th episode.  So I am a little late to the game.  I was listening to episode 98 OK to Fail, and they briefly discussed the decision whether to start an adventure or campaign with the party imprisoned.  I thought about the times I used this element in a game.

First off, I think it's a valid situation in a role-playing game.  Some folks dislike it, but I think it provides an interesting element to the normal fully armored, fully geared hero.  Improvisation is key to success.  Escape plans hardly ever work as planned.  For me, that's the fun in it.  And really, the only requirement for any game is to keep it fun and interesting...or is that two requirements?

The first time is a bit blurry.  We are talking late 80's.  I was one of a DMing tag team with +Rob Conley.  The party was captured by slavers.  I don't remember the details of their capture, but I'm sure it was due to some meathead plan they concocted.  They ended up on a slaver ship and that's where the session ended.

The next week was my turn to DM.  I was asking myself, how the hell do I make being shackled in one place, on a boat, interesting?  I've never been a fan of waterborne adventures.

My answer was to create a micro-culture on the ship.  I wrote about it a few years ago, Sea Adventures and Micro-Cultures.  Basically it boils down to making the situation interesting.  Even though it was a confined setting there was a lot of mental exploration for the players trying to understand how life worked on a slave ship.

The second time, I started the campaign with the party shackled to a wall, prisoners of a vampire medusa.  Counter productive, I know, but there it was none the less.  The party did a wonderful job of coming up with a plan to escape.  For this adventure the players had no idea who their kidnappers were.  I kept the identity of the big bad monster hidden.  I hinted at what it might be, but because of the dual nature of the creature the signals were difficult to interpret and scared the shit out of the players.  So in this case I used more of an old time horror element where the monster is always just off screen until the climax.

And the last one where imprisonment started the adventure was for something I wrote of Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day a few years back.  Screams Without Faces (you can click on the link to get a free copy) starts with...

- You're naked
- Shackled to a dead guy
- On the other side of the room is a guy cutting the face off a corpse
- Your foot bumps a severed arm
- Go!

So the entire adventure is breaking out a prison with some weirdness thrown in. My intent was to make the adventure surreal, not filled with nameless guards, keys or a place of punishment.  This imprisonment is twisted and bizarre.  It keeps the player off balance a bit because the expectations of a prison are not within at all.

So in the few instances where I've imprisoned players they've been fun because I did a little extra work to make the experience interesting.  But I also had the players that were willing to go for the ride.


  1. I agree with you that beginning a campaign in chains can be a lot of fun. As a player, I enjoyed bashing my way out of jail. I could see how some people might feel constrained, but they just need to watch Midnight Express to see how much fun prison can be. Wait, what?

    1. lol, I actually spit out a little ice tea about Midnight Express. Thanks Christian.