When you don’t want to pitch a setting to your group, or you want to nail the group’s motivation from session zero, here is a neat trick.
Start by asking your players to define the motivation behind their group. Don’t discuss characters or the setting at this point. Figuring out the group’s motivation can be a fairly broad question, so prepare some crazy examples to get the creative juices flowing.
- a heavy metal band on a tour
- band of mercenaries looking for trouble
- bounty hunters bringing order to the frontier
- caravan traders going into the unknown
- secret agents protecting the Earth from the Strange
- circus troop stranded on a strange planet
You want something that excites the whole table. Make sure that the group has a goal. It doesn’t have to be overly specific. Once your players get excited, and ideas start pouring, move to the next step.
Ask your players to dream up characters that are part of that group. It doesn’t have to be one character per person, and don’t worry about abilities, types, or foci at this point. Let the shared imagination flow. Make sure each character has a personal goal, a little bit of background, and a few quirks that make them stand out.
The setting is dressing, and that’s why it is the last step. A story can be told in any setting or genre. For example, the Magnificent Seven story works in feudal Japan, the wild west, and the far future. You can leave this step as a surprise for your players, or figure it out together.
We are a circus troupe crashlanded on a planet at the edge of space and time. We are looking to earn our way off the world by doing trade runs and daring adventures. Members of the troupe are Alessandro the illusionist, Pablo the stand-up comedian, Kassandra the fortune teller, and a faquir called Gelatine.
You should end up with something like the above. Your job now is to prepare the setting/genre/world, character builds, and to throw in a few surprises and twists along the way. Start them off with a group mission or adventure, and in the following sessions, begin weaving in character arcs and world-building.
Split the XP rewards between group goals, character arcs, and setting (world) discovery.