As a brief context, I decided to DM “Curse of Strahd” to my group a while back, once we finished the other campaign we were playing. I didn’t tell them that we would play CoS though, but one of my players suggested to run a Session 0, which we didn’t use to do back then. I liked the idea but I thought a bit unfeasible to DM a Session 0 with all players, since this is a bit individual. I also ran the the Prelude for another homebrew campaign, which was built as a module.
So based on this idea, I decided to run individual preludes to each player via WhatsApp. But before going into the topic, let’s check the “prelude” definition:
“an action or event serving as an introduction to something more important.”
I will explain what it involved in terms of RPG, and how to execute them, but first I will list its benefits:
- Players get to deeply know their Characters
- Players reate a strong connection with thei Characters before the campaign starts
- The DM gets to better know the Characters before the Campaign
- The DM gets to better know the players, how they think and act
- The DM can easily involve the Characters in the story
- Improves the DM’s improvisation skills
- The DM can easily create a whole campaign around the Characters
- You can have fun before the campaign starts
- Generates hype
- Improves the background and plot and increases immersion
Some of the cons I have noticed after running 10 individuals Preludes so far:
- It requires some effort mainly from the DM (weeks to months)
- The DM needs to create/improvise a “mini-campaign” for each Character
- Depending on the players and their Characters, internal conflicts may occur if the players really get into their Character’s skin (it has happened)
- May bring the current campaign hype down, and folks may want to start the new campaign ASAP
Without further due, what’s a prelude in RPG terms, and how to run it. I will bring examples from my experience with thse 10 preludes I have ran so far, including the examples of “crossovers”.
What is a Prelude?
In short, it is you, the DM, building the background from the Characters with them, individually, through a text app (WhatsApp, Telegram, Discord). They are a pre-campaign with each player, where they are put in different situations, reflect on them, and slowly, the Character starts to get imprinted in the player’s mind.
How to execute a prelude?
To run a prelude, you and your players will need a text app, and preferably, a dice roller for text apps (e.g. Dice Bot). Telegram and Discord have integrate dice bots, while WhatsApp can be used with Dragon Dice. With this app, you roll the dice and send it over to a group or contact. The DM tem check the roll logs if needed.
You will start the prelude with one player, or with all of them simultaneously if you want, but this is very time consuming and tiring. I did both. It’s better to do it progressively, having at most 2 players at the same time running preludes. If one of these players is slow to interact, start with a third one.
Ask the player one or two paragraphs about their summarized background story. This is going to be the base to the prelude.
Create a group or channel with you and your players. Use some formatting to facilitate the narrative, like italic for dialog to easily identify someone speaking, for instance. Use bold to questions that will require an action from the player.
Based on the story provided by the player, come up and narrate the beginning of the Character’s life, with birth, parents and so on. It is good to ask if the player agrees with things you come up to make sure if the player is comfortable with that. In my case, I asked the player if he would be fine being an orphan. He said yes. Narrate the events from the Character’s life until childhood, preferably to a point where it can remember, so let’s say five or six year. Put it in a simple situation and ask how it feels in that moment. At the end of the post, there will be a small list of real situations and the questions I asked the players.
Then, advance a bit in time, detail some more events from the Character’s life, including important NPCs from its life, like parents or friends. At some point, place the Character in a moral or ethical situation to help it define its personality and alignment. For instance, the Character can come up with a bullying situation at school, or witness a violent act. Ask the player the reaction, the action and how the Character felt towards that situation. This will help the player to get to know the Character.
After teenage time, start guiding the story to what will lead the Character to its adventuring life. Is it going to be a Fighter? So put it training. When becoming a young adult, the Character will already have some of the skills to execute minor but relevant missions, where the player can continue defining the Character’s personality and motivation.
At this point, start thinking about missions or situations that are related with your campaign and its hooks. In CoS, for instance, one of the hooks relates to werewolf attacks close to Daggerford. Some of the preludes happened around that hook. I placed two Characters (see more in Crossovers) to investigate these attacks.
From there, follow the logic to connect the narrative with certain situations or missions, leading the Character closer to its destination: the beginning of the campaign. Always remember to ask how the Character feels, what emotions are involved, etc.
In these situations/missions, you have two options:
1 – Narrative:
You do not use dice rolls and you define the results of actions based on their description provided by the player. This makes sense if you consider that this is the Character’s past and past actions already happened. However, it may look like you may manipulate the story how you see fit, and some players may not like this. In battles, it gets much more involving and fun! Forget the rules! Use your imagination and let the player use it too.
2 – Rolling:
Use dice roller apps to define the results, as usual. This way, it will look like the player may impact the Character’s destiny, but it gets a bit more boring with all the dice rolling via text.
A crossover is when two Characters or their story get together and merge their storylines, like in the TV shows “Arrow” and “The Flash“. Use them only when you want the group to start start the campaign as a group that knows each other already.
The crossover is basically gathering the Characters during the prelude. It can be done direct or indirectly. Remember the werewolf attack investigation mission I mentioned? I narrated the exact same mission to each player in their individual preludes, without them knowing that the NPCs from their missions were actually their future adventure mates! This was an indirect crossover.
In all remaining cases, I did it directly I wanted to gather the barbarian and the cleric that both had a Succubbus NPC in their backgrounds. The cleric went into a cave and faced a bear, and fell, screaming before falling. The barbarian was passing by and followed the sound. He killed the bear and helped the fallen dwarf. At that point, I created a new group with both players and their reaction was “WTF!”. From there on, I started to DM their prelude to both of them, as a duo, going back to the individual group when a private scene was needed.
Examples of situations and questions
Raghar and other two friends, o Layzzy and Teruath, go towards the man. He wears very nice clothes, with golden details and from below, you can see a very fat purse that looks to be filled with coin. When he sees you coming closer, he stares at you with a look that Raghar later found to be indifference and disgust. He starts to walk in the opposite direction, moving farther away from you.
How did Raghar felt with all this and what will he do?
Gannhor says: “There are some reports of werewolf attacks in some villages at the south. You need to go to Masthof and investigate the situation. An apprentice from the wizard school will help you with the investigation. The Watch will provide spears with silvered points, in case the worst happens. We don’t know if the information is accurate, but better be safe than sorry. You must leave now”.
How do you feel faced with your first mission outside town?
During the morning, when Yeghel was seven years old, his father threw him over a cliff to forced him to survive. Yeghel could see his mother’s horrified, pale face wide eye before falling, but she stood quiet, like a statue.
How did Yeghel feel when thrown by his own father, even knowing it is part of the training to strengthen him?
Below are some examples of situations the Characters went through even before the campaign started.
- The barbarian was locked by his father and had to face two wolves bare handed
- The cleric was dominated by a Succubbus and was forced to open a passage so duergars could invade Mithral Hall
- The warlock explorer the Misty Forest with two guards while searching for his parents (who got taken by the Barovian Mist), where they faced five wolves
- The paladin, a bounty hunter, hunt down several criminals with prices for their heads
- The wizards listen to a lecture from Elminster himself at his wizard school where he studied. The owner was an old friend from Mystra’s Chosen
- The barbarian and the cleric investigated and a gambling house that used magic to cheat their customers, and with that, they obtained a book as a reward that let them inside Candlekeep
- The paladin receive his power and also life mission from Lendys himself, to execute his justice among men, since he judged that Tyr was lacking in his
- He also received a brass dragon egg, and the female dragon became his “daughter”
- The warlock joined the Harpists, where he learned to use information and connect dots to finally get a bit closer from his parents disappearance
- The whole group was gathered and mapped the whole Misty Forest in order to find the children that were taken by the werewolves
These are preludes, I recommend them a lot, it’s quite fun and the end result is great! Any questions, you can contact me!