Session One Ideas: Deshi’s Challenge
~ A fun way to bring players together ~
Everyone has been there at least once as a DM. You and your players sit down to the very first session and as the curtains rise you describe the blandest tavern in existence, complete with a bartender, a few barmaids and more than likely at least one shady character. You see that there are several people who look interesting, perhaps you guys should all just talk to each other. BLAH! How droll…
Deshi’s Challenge – a Session One Idea
Instead of a boring tavern as your first session, I present Deshi’s Challenge, an idea I use to help bring players together and mix up the monotony of introductions and people struggling to get into character. I present the scenario to the players before we meet for the first session. Each player is currently on their own with no idea who the other characters are, unless, of course, you have a duo/team that are together for backstory purposes.
They are going about their lives, chasing their dreams, or wasting their potential – it really doesn’t matter. Each character receives a mysterious missive, a rolled parchment emblazoned with a solid gold seal. Featured prominently are the words:
Upon opening the letter, the players read the text, written in bold metallic ink is the following introduction.
Hello (character name),
Very rarely do incredbile opportunities randomly appear in ones pocket, but today is your lucky day. Or I suppose unlucky, depending on how you feel regarding my offer. My name is Deshi, a purveyor of possibility, a seneschal of sensationalism, a true curator of curiosity and I have chosen you to be a part of my next show.
I know, I know, you are not an actor nor a trained monkey, but I do believe you have the skills and abilities to be a part of my attraction. Do not think I offer simple employment: neigh, I offer you true opportunity. A single night is all I require and the rewards, they are substantial, this I swear.
If you desire to be a part of something particularly unique, then all you must do is sign the contract with a small dab of blood. Once sealed with a fingerprint in red, the show will begin immediately. Do not tarry, for my offer soon expires.
At the bottom of the parchment is an arcane rune surrounding an illustration of a single drop of blood, indicating where the player should sign. Ensure the players this is no game breaking rigamarole that will haunt them the entire campaign. If they are truly hesitant, you can provide a small legend of Deshi’s Challenge and that many of the greatest Heroes and Villains have been rumored to have taken part in Deshi’s Challenge.
Once everyone signs the contract, they are immediately pulled through a dimensional gate and knocked unconscious.
Chain Gang – A lesson in working together.
The players awaken simultaneously, chained together at the wrists like a human centipede (terrible film, don’t watch it) stripped of all armor and weapons. Magic users still have their spells prepared, but are otherwise in the underclothes, unarmored and unarmed. They have a few minutes to gather their senses, talk to each other and try to remove the shackles, which if anyone can beat DC 10 Arcana check will know they are locked with strong magic. No getting untied that easily.
The room they start in is bare of any outstanding features, lit by some recessed glowing orbs. It’s dim, but you dont need low-light vision to see. The single door in the chamber will open after a few minutes have passed, leading to a fairly open space. This area is roughly 50 feet in every direction, a square room with grates at different intervals. As the players approach the center, a booming voice comes from above.
“Together you have been bound and together you will survive, or not, your choice.”
The grates slide open and shambling forms emerge from the dark recesses. Zombies begin moving toward the players as they scramble to come up with defenses. Every single round, a new set of zombies emerge from the tunnels, quickly overwhelming the players if they cant work together. A light appears far above them, and the clanking sound of a chain driven contraption comes to life.
A player with a Perception check of 12 or higher can see that the light is slowly descending, though what that light means no one knows. The players now must work together to fight the zombies for as many rounds as it takes for the light to descend. Each player can only shift 5 feet to the space that was previously left by the last player. The players must all succeed a DC 10 Dexterity check for them all to move together, in any formation that keeps them in adjacent to each other. They can only move as far as the slowest movement speed of the group.
The number of rounds should be around 5-7 before the light stops moving about 10 feet off the ground, where a key dangles from a thin gossamer strand. At least one player will need to succeed on a DC 15 Acrobatics check to retrieve the key and then it will take one full round for each player to unlock themselves from the group.
When the last shackle falls away, the platform emits a blinding light, turning any remaining zombies to dust.
A hidden door slides open at the far end of the room, with a warm inviting light. The players should make their way through the opening into the next chamber. Inside this room is a weapons rack, holding the player’s weapons and ammunition. Once they have rearmed, another door opens into a chamber identical to the last.
The same voice from before speaks ominous words.
“You have survived together, but now you must thrive together, only tactics and teamwork may win the day”
Once inside the room, the doors slam shut leaving the players without an exit. Using one of my favorite encounter designs from Runehammer Games – Egg Hunt, the next room is all about teamwork. A giant armored spider clambers down one of the walls, its metallic fangs dripping with a hot green toxin. The spider is completely impervious to physical and magical damage EXCEPT for a small weak point where its spinneret (webbing ejection point located at the end of the thorax) is exposed so it can still use webbing.
After a single round, a small platform raises from the center of the arena with a large, glowing spider egg. The spider will move to protect the egg, ignoring the players while the egg is exposed. The players have a single round to snatch the egg before it retreats into the ground again. This pattern alternates, up and down, until the players successfully grab the egg.
The player with the egg can run away, and the spider will ignore anyone not holding the egg, leaving its backside exposed while frantically chasing the egg carrier. Sometimes players will come up with the ingenious idea of playing keep away with the egg, or someone will run like a lunatic with the egg. Either way, the other players can freely attack the spider until the egg is destroyed or the spider is dead.
If the egg is destroyed, the spider becomes paralyzed for one round, keening in sorrow, before resuming its normal attack pattern. In the next round a new egg will appear and the process can start over again. Once the spider is dead, the hidden doors open again with the same warm, inviting light.
Once inside the chamber, the players will see mannequins wearing the armor and gear of the players. They can retrieve their belongings and are now fully armed and armored. A small fountain in the room is filled with a glowing silver liquid which is an endless font of healing. If a player tries to bottle the liquid, it goes sour and begins to bubble and roil with an acrid, rotten egg smell. No free lunch today! The doors eventually open, and the players enter the same featureless space. The voice speaks again to the players.
“Dire Bears call for drastic measures! Truly a challenge deserving of challengers, don’t you think?”
This time a powerful, monstrous dire bear emerges from a far portcullis, roaring and standing on its hind legs, which is hopefully a terrifying sight for low-level players. Obviously, a dire bear should (and will!) wreck these PC’s, but fear not, for Deshi isn’t one to leave the players hopeless.
Four cannons emerge from the ground, all pointing outward. In the center of the room, a platform raises with plenty of cannon balls. This can be exchanged for ballistae and bolts if your world doesn’t feature gunpowder. A player can grab a cannonball/bolt from the stack, but it is awkward to carry, reducing the movement speed of the player by half.
Any character can grab the ammo and load it into the device, but upon loading notice that the devices cannot be moved or aimed in any way. A selfless, daring player will need to lure the dire bear into the line of fire. This process will repeat at least three times unless the players are doing a good amount of damage themselves. The dire bear should have around 90 HP, and the ballista/cannons do 30 damage each time they hit the target.
Once this challenge is complete, the secret doors open and the players enter a treasure room filled with gold and items. Depending on your desires as DM, you can award a strong item or lots of gold to maintain the theme of your campaign. I recommend two random rolls on the minor magic items table for each player. This should be a pretty good prize no matter what comes up, though some may be *randomly* better than others. Additionally, the players should earn enough experience to hit level 2 or 3 depending on how your campaign is designed.
Once the treasure has been awarded, Deshi will speak to the players once again, this time from a magic mirror. Deshi is an extremely handsome/beautiful person (no genders here) whatever is appropriate for your style. Deshi will recite the following.
“Your efforts this day were magnificient, truly the spectators who observed your challenge were awed by your determination, cunning and above all Gorgeous looks! I hope you have found your time here rewarding. Once you step through the portal, you will arrive where you were when you signed the contract, so I hope you all decide to meet up in the future. A powerful group like yours could change the world, or at the very least, you personal fortunes. Deshi thanks you.”
Wrapping up – a bond forged in blood.
At this point, you can (hopefully) convince the players to join forces and meet up in a destination that is important to the start of your campaign. They will now know a great deal about each other and have a bond of spilled blood to forge them into a party. Deshi’s challenge is a simple dungeon, but it offers great complexity and mechanics to keep players working together. If you still have reticent players at this point, then I feel sorry for you.
Nothing is worse than a player who won’t take the layup to assemble a party of powerful heroes.
Let me know what you think of Deshi’s Challenge in the comments below. I would love to get some honest feedback! So far, it has been a great success, leading to a lot of silly laughs and tense combat encounters. It gives each player a chance to do something heroic and will hopefully lead to a fun story they can tell at their next stop at a tavern!
Background unknown - it's a secret!
I am The Skree – One of the most visionary wizards in Vathis! Also, the drunkest. I have been called “A serious threat to people of Average Intelligence” by the authorities from Osept to Leyathar. A man of many talents, most of which are magic. Except for the one involving -EXPLETIVES DELETED- which is always popular.