Burst of Insight—Five In Media Res Prompts

Recently, I’ve been experimenting with various GM techniques. One I particularly enjoy is starting right in the middle of the action. This is a common trope of cinema, we see it in every James Bond Film the Indiana Jones movies, the Star Wars movies, and many more. For RPGs I prefer something akin to the Raiders of the Lost Ark / Bond approach, the players are nearing the objective of an already in-progress mission and we start with action.

At GenCon this past year I ran an adventure that started with the heroes “retrieving” a legendary jewel from a lost temple. As the PCs claimed their prize the temple began to collapse and they had to fight their way through skeletal guardians who only just awoke and avoid falling rocks and debris. It was my homage to Raiders without resorting to a giant rolling boulder.

As I’ve been running more and more often, I’ve been thinking about more ways to start in the middle of the action and I thought I’d share a few as a part of my ongoing weird prompts series.

  1. Captured? Inspired by the Natasha Romanov introduction in the original Avengers (https://youtu.be/1HAydBEyvio) although in a larger party it may look more like the Prison break in Guardians of the Galaxy. The PCs begin captured but somehow they still have the upper hand. Set the scene but as the encounter begins give the players plenty of latitude in what they may have prepared in advance that gives them the advantage. Also, don’t make the PCs captors too tough the purpose of this sort of opening is to make the PCs look cool as they make their escape.
  2. Distress Signal and Escape Pod: In a Starfinder or other Sci-fi game the PCs begin responding to a distress signal. A light freighter has been beset by pirates. The Pirates have the upper hand until the PCs arrive. A single escape pod escapes the crippled freighter. The pirates are interested in claiming the PCs ship and capturing or destroying the escape pod. What is the pirate’s interest in the freighter and the escape pod? The answer to that question could lead to further adventures.
  3. The villain in their Sanctum: The PCs begin the session in the middle of an infiltration into a villain’s home or lair. The PCs are either performing a heist or are stopping the villain from accomplishing something terrible, such as summoning a powerful demon or poisoning a group of diplomats at a fancy dress party. Once the villain is defeated the item retrieved, the heroes are recognized by the local authorities for this service. Which may draw the attention of another party in need of adventurers.
  4. Salvage and Rescue: An NPC vessel is badly damaged and in danger of being swept into a vast whirlpool. For the moment, the vessel is holding its own against the natural forces but the won’t hold for long. You begin the game with the PCs already involved in a daring rescue of either the ship or its cargo. (In a sci-fi game this can be accomplished with a damaged and disabled ship falling into a decaying orbit around a planet or other stellar body. A survivor aboard the ship knows the resting place of a vast treasure and they offer the map to the PCs by way of thanks.
  5. A Bar Fight: Whether your Browncoat PCs are in an Alliance friendly bar on Unification Day (https://youtu.be/zxnA0BWxbKk), or you just want to turn the PCs meet in a bar trope on its ear a little a barroom brawl can be a fun action-filled way to begin a session. It is especially rewarding if you can tie it to the campaign’s important events either in the PCs’ pasts or in their immediate futures.Burst of Insight

Andrew Marlowe

placed in the Top 16 of RPG Superstar in 2012 and 2014, one of the few contestants to get that far in the competition twice. Since then, he has contributed to many Paizo and third party Pathfinder products, including one of the network’s favourite releases in the Pathfinder Player Companion line, the Dirty Tactics Toolbox. Every other Tuesday, he will be sharing his Burst of Insight, with design tips for would-be game designers from a decorated freelancer.