Today I’ll discuss the benefits of running preludes for your campaign. They’re more than worth the time you’ll invest in them! I also touch on why character balance is much more important than party balance in Cypher System games.
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Under the Lens - Preludes
Thanks to the guys from Tales from the Hydian Way podcast for giving me this idea.
Depending how you’re setting up your game, session zero could be character creation, or it could be a brief session with each PC to set up their backstory, like the Prelude adventure in old WoD.
The Road So Far
I always ran preludes when I ran Changeling and Vampire, and I found them indispensable. I’m surprised I kind of forgot about them and never thought to use them in my Cypher games
The connections and Cyphers do a bit to explain why the characters are together, and it’s better than nothing, but using a prelude can really help your game to hit the ground running.
Ideally, you run a prelude for each player individually.
If players are making their characters separately, it works really well to run the prelude immediately after (or even during) character creation. In cypher there’s no need for players to create characters together.
If players create characters together, arrange a prelude with each before the first session.
Preludes can be as long as you like, but an hour usually does it.
Establish what the character’s life has been like up to this point. Establish any important family members, friends, or other people to the character.
Go into abilities the character has. How did she learn them?
Establish connection with the other characters.
Establish the hook into the adventure (preferably ending on a cliff-hanger or button). Storytell a scene that sets the hook.
There should be no dice rolling in the prelude. Instead this is a conversation between the player and GM. Players have even more agency than in the regular game. The GM asks questions, the player gives answers.
Ask questions to help the player establish the character’s personality. Ask “what if” questions that are relevant to the adventure ahead (without giving anything away). Make the questions open ended. This allows the player to think about the character’s personality ahead of time.
“If someone picked a fight with you at a bar, what would you do?”
“You just caught one of the PCs stealing from another PC, what do you do?”
“You discover a dangerous secret about an NPC—a secret that could ruin the NPC or be used to blackmail them. What do you do?”
“In the middle of combat a dangerous NPC surrenders to you. What do you do?”
“You have the opportunity to scavenge some useful and powerful cyphers from an ancient machine, but if you do so, the machine will no longer function. What do you do?”
Set up moral dilemmas, and get answers to questions you’d like to know as well. By thinking through these scenarios, the player gets to know the character, and when something comes up in game, has a better idea of how to handle it.
Set up a scene or two to highlight important events in the PC’s past. If the player has established that the PC lost a loved one in a fire, storytell that scene.
Don’t worry about mechanics in the prelude. Answer questions the player has, but it’s better to go over mechanics in the first session as they come up. That way you only have to do it once.
Goals & Benefits of the Prelude
It often takes a few sessions for a player to “get to know” their character. This seems a bit easier in Cypher than some other games, but it’s still an element that’s there.
The Prelude can greatly speed up this process.
This is especially good for players new to RPGs because it gives them some private, one-on-one time with the GM before put in front of a group.
Each player has time with the GM alone to work out background details, motivations, etc., without taking time from the other players.
Put the character and story in context. Give the player a real background (not just words on a page) to use in roleplaying. A few emotionally charged scenes from the PC’s background will be an invaluable aid in roleplaying.
Preludes make the PCs much more likely to discuss their histories together, and they make the players much more likely to try to bring those histories into the story. The character’s history is much more likely to inform his actions.
Running a prelude with no dice rolling (note, not necessarily no combat) sets a tone for a game more focused on RP. It gets across that the dice aren’t really needed to have a fun session.
It also gets the player “out of the character sheet” and “into the character’s head”.
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