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Campaign Preambles

I think your campaign might benefit from a preamble, read at the beginning of each session.

Rockwell Kent, Moby Dick

At the beginning of each episode of The Haunted City (a Blades in the Dark actual play podcast), GM Jared Logan leads the players through a little light banter, and then signals the beginning of the the session proper by launching into a introductory spiel. It does a great job of summing up the Blades in the Dark vibe. I liked it so well that I stole it for my own Blades in the Dark campaign. 

A thousand years ago, this was a land of beauty and magic—then came the cataclysm that blotted out the sun and tore open the Gates of Death! 
The city of Duskvol is a metropolis of tenements and factories, girded by lightning towers fueled by crackling electroplasm. 
Outside its walls lies a wasteland of vengeful spirits. Inside the walls is a  warren of desperation and villainy, intrigue and corruption. 
Life is cheap in a city ruled by death. 
The sun is gone.
The only thing that shines in Duskvol are the BLADES IN THE DARK! 

 I think this accomplishes the following:

  1. It marks the transition between small talk and snack gathering to character-based play.
  2. It establishes the themes and atmosphere of the game.
  3. It gives everyone at the table permission to be goofy and melodramatic and talk in weird voices.
And then I wanted one of my own when starting up a new campaign, running Operation: Unfathomable!

Most adventures/settings/rulesets have a block of copy that can be used as a preface. Operation: Unfathomable! had this:

BEHOLD!!! ...the Underworld in all its bewildering majesty as titanic Chaos godlings and their unsavory cults make genocidal war upon one another!
EXPLOIT!!! ...a trail of dead horrors supplied by the recent, doomed expedition of powerful heroes!
SEIZE!!! ...eldritch artifacts and treasures far above your lowly station!
PONDER!!! ...the mind-bending riddles and inscrutable anomalies of reality itself in an overwhelming cascade of cosmic secrets!
THRILL!!! you throw the gauntlet of your life into the smug face of the unknowable and embark upon this... OPERATION UNFATHOMABLE!!!

 I wanted a slightly different tone for my Unfathomable! campaign, so I rewrote the above with stylistic inspiration from François Rabelais, author of Gargantua & Pantagruel. This is what I ended up with:

You adventurers, with fire in your bellies and madness in your eyes, behold the Underworld in all its bewildering majesty! 
Here titanic Chaos godlings and their unsavory cults make ceaseless war upon one another! 
Here nightmares stalk the darkness! 
Here the echoes of a doomed expedition still whisper through the caverns, their heroes' bones gnawed clean, their treasures scattered. 
Do your scalps prickle with the thrill of plunder, you scoundrels? 
Can your wits unravel riddles etched upon the silent monuments of aeons past? 
Can your skulls withstand the cosmic conundrums of the Chthonic Deeps? 
Step forward, you dogs of destiny, who would carve your names upon the Devil’s own backside with a broken dagger and a lunatic grin, as you embark up this foray into damnation, this invitation to anomaly, this… OPERATION UNFATHOMABLE!

I read this with all the vigor and bombast of a revival tent preacher. I get loud. By the final few syllables, I'm shouting at god through a hurricane. It scares the livestock. 

Write variations when appropriate. When the PCs are out of the dungeon and visiting the local bastion, I read:

You adventurers with fire in your bellies and madness in your eyes—behold Upper Mastodonia in all its primeval splendor!
Here, wooly neanderthals and saber-toothed apes make ceaseless war upon one another!
Here, the Underworld's ambient Chaos seeps into the day-lit lands!
Here, the Imperial arm of King Syantides reaches from distant Mur, with grasping avarice!
What ill fortune brought you to this barbaric outpost, you scoundrels? What inconstant star thrust you into confrontation with frontier justice, callous wizards, and murder? What dark, secret dreams drive you still further into the jaws of madness?
Step forward, you dogs of destiny, who would carve your names upon the Devil’s own backside with a broken dagger and a lunatic grin! As you embark up this foray into damnation, this invitation to anomaly, this… Operation Unfathomable! 

I expect I'll write another when they start to reach the climax of the campaign.

So, that's my suggestion: write a preamble to read at the start of each session. Not a game-shaking revelation. Maybe something obvious that you've been doing for years. But if you haven't, I suggest giving it a try.


  1. I like this idea a lot. Brings to mind how happy I was to have an opening crawl for the last Star Wars adventure I ran...probably good to always set the tone with something like this!

    1. Star Wars is a perfect example! Let me know if you give it a try.


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