Every adventure has to start somewhere. For fantasy stories we all know the tropes – children on the cusp of adulthood touched by fate, fresh faced adventurers going to the tavern for the first time in the hopes of finding a quest or even just a job, and so on. This is all ground well trod, so much so that it is a pleasant surprise when a new take is presented.
Less clearly spelled out is the opening act of sci-fantasy. Yes, we have Star Wars, but those story hew far closer to the ‘fantasy’ part of ‘sci-fantasy’ than the science fiction side, and as such, tend to have first acts all too similar to sword and sorcery, albiet with some different costumes and the occasional laser blast. So how, then, to begin?
From the old Aliens quote (an adventure that turned out to decidedly not be just a bug hunt) the idea here is the sci-fantasy take on the old “we’ve got a goblin problem at the town dump” adventure hook. It’s basically the PCs as investigators/exterminators, but it works, especially if a character can have a family connection along the lines of “My uncle Fex has a repair shop down at the docks and they’ve been having some weird thefts and strange stuff lying around. He likes to keep costs down, so he offered to hire us instead of a professional to check it out…” The magic here is that the ‘bug’ in this scenario can be just about anything you can imagine. Alien stow away, interplanar interloper, rogue emergent AI, First World incursion, or even semi-sentient space rats. What ever seems fun. Nor do the players need to be exterminators, maybe they can find some other solution through clever gameplay and skill checks. Maybe the opening to the First World can be solved by a weekly offering of cinnamon buns, or the AI can become a valuable employee. Don’t feel bound to the kill monsters, gain xp trope. Thinking outside the box can be fun for everyone.
This one covers a lot of ground, and is a long time favorite of SciFi. The players are passengers on a ship and something goes wrong – maybe someone smuggled something onboard that got out of control, or there is a terrorist incident, or a Drift accident, or maybe the ship is haunted. There are all kinds of ways you can go, but the important element is that the ship is cut off from help and the PCs have to rise to the occasion and deal with the problem. This is a great way to bring a disparate party together, and have them emerge as a capable team with a burgeoning reputation that can lead to further adventure.
Taking space accident a bit further, either the players are passengers on a vessel that crashes on a strange alien planet, or locals in a small town setting when a strange crash occures nearby. Regardless, the crash is the call to adventure, and the PCs go to investigate it (or if they crashed, want to survive and return to known space). You can get your ‘Expedition to the Barrier Peaks’ on and throw veggie-pygmies and robots at them, or some other alien menace, or maybe even just some escaped criminals looking to salvage what they can and make good an escape. Mix and match as desired, and feel free to combine ideas, as there is no reason it has to be just one thing.
An early plot element in the lastest season of Westworld is a darkweb gig app that offers petty crime to aspiring criminals. It’s not really a new idea, but a nice take on story elements that the Cyberpunk genre has been playing with for a long time. And if your players are a bunch of jackals looking to score off the books UPBs and maybe give a finger to the the mega-corporations, that’s all the story hook you need. All the players have the app, and they get drawn into the same caper. Maybe the job goes south and they have to improvise, maybe the opporator who hired them is using them as a proxy for another scheme, or maybe they stumble on something bigger than they intended in the process, or some mix of all of that. Regardless, once the crime has brought the group together they must cooperate if they want to survive, much less get out with a pay day. Start off small, street gang level thugs, low level security robots, small time magic using hustlers, but eventually the group is going to attract the attention of higher powered and funded groups…
Take a page from Robert Louis Stevenson. There is a map (or map file, or data crystal, or holo-disk, or whatever serves best here) that the PCs stumble upon. Maybe they find the body of the last holder of the map in a derelict escape pod, or it’s sent to them by a long lost relative, or they find it at the junk heap. Once they have it though, the rollercoaster has started and there is no getting off until this adventure is over, because there are other groups after that map. Space pirates, corporate interests, cultists, criminal gangs, drow arms dealers, or anything else you can imagine, once word gets out that the map is found everyone wants it. Feel free to throw all kinds of foes at the PCs, and hound them the whole way through securing a method of transport, traveling to the location on the map, and so on.
Feel free to mix and match any of these, to craft whatever adventure feels right for your game. It never hurts to ask your players what kind of story they are looking for too, or simply look at their backstories as those will give you a good feel for what they are imagining as well. The important thing is to involve them in the story, as the more they are invested, the better game it is going to be for everyone.
As always, if you like this or any of my other posts, I’d welcome a little coffee money.
Until next time Starfinders!
Artist and Writer