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I'm planning a campaign with a specific backdrop-the characters are employees of a certain organization and this is their first day on the job. The organization and the job will no longer actually exist by the end of that round or the next. However on that first day, I was planning on their taking orders and receiving orientation from a program coordinator (i.e. their manager). What are some ways I can make the orientation/first day engaging enough that it doesn't just come across like a scripted one-man cutscene?

Point of Clarification

In a kingdom that is crumbling, in a province roiling with insurrection, the players are members of an NGO funded by developed, more stable kingdoms, empires, dominions, etc. Their initial posting is at a school in the capital of the province. The program coordinator is a necromancer with administrative powers over the NGO's education program in the capital. She has a limited remit for intervention and has to frequently navigate the NGO's fraught relationship with the King, the provincial military administration, local leaders, and the potential nexus of an insurrection that is one stupid move away from popping off. The players answer to this character in a similar way that the members of the Ring Fellowship did to Gandalf in LoTR. Up to a point, anyways.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by NautArch, Bloodcinder, Mołot, Ladifas, MikeQ Mar 29 at 21:19

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I may be wrong, but I think the close votes are primarily because people are a bit confused by your description of the campaign, probably because it doesn't sound at all like your typical D&D campaign (e.g. 'program coordinator' as opposed to 'King Olaf' or whatever). Could you possibly clarify a bit? \$\endgroup\$ – Ladifas Mar 29 at 21:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Ladifas Added story descriptions. What are close votes? \$\endgroup\$ – Regress.arg Mar 29 at 21:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Regress.arg The close votes indicate that, while the question isn't a bad question, the question is too opinion-based for the site format. You are welcome to ask this in the chat room, which is better suited for opinions and extended discussions. \$\endgroup\$ – MikeQ Mar 29 at 21:23
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Just be frank with them

The easiest way for this to go over well is if you're upfront with them and tell them well ahead of time what that first session will be. My experience has been that players are far more receptive to "scripted" events if they know it's coming, especially if they know the world will open up a bit more afterwards.

Now, that doesn't mean you have to tell what will happen, just that the first session is still setting the scene. You can still surprise them without keeping them completely in the dark. Just, let them know well ahead of time, that certain events in the first session will happen, they can't change that, and that it's all to set up for the rest of the campaign.

Give them freedom in how they follow their orders

Even if the characters are receiving orders that they are expected to follow, that doesn't mean that there's a specific way they have to follow those orders. By offering them different ways (or letting them make their own ways) to complete their tasks, you give them enough freedom that they probably won't feel railroaded. If you can manage to have their choices here impact events in later sessions, then your players will probably be very satisfied that they've been able to shape the world in their first (scripted) session!

I'm a new DM myself and only have a few sessions under my belt, but this is how I have approached the game so far. I have found that my players are very forgiving when I'm honest and upfront with them, and they are much more likely to trust me when I'm obviously hiding something from them. I can't guarantee that your players will act the same, but I can say that it's worked with my group.

To clarify which question I'm answering:

Note that I am answering the question asked in the description rather than in the title. As for what that ratio between gameplay and cut-scene should be, I can't really tell you that. It really depends on what your players like and what your style is, though I would personally shy away from using cut-scene material as much as I can.

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With things like this it is always important to give the players the ability to have some freedom in matters like this. There are some ways to do this.

First, you could simply have the players make all the decisions, with things like instruction being more of recommendations. For example, all of the characters get up in the morning, and you tell them that they are supposed to go and do this thing, but let them choose exactly what their characters do. This can be problematic though, because the players could completely destroy your campaign.

Another option would be to add in some sort of section where the characters have to preform an activity as part of the orientation. For example, as part of the orientation the PCs are taught to do something, and then have to try to do it. This can be hard to fit in to some campaigns however.

One final way to do this, which is sort of similar to the first suggestion, would be to make the orientation more of a conversation, and the players can ask questions and make comments during the orientation. For example, as they are receiving instructions, one of the PCs could as a "What-if" question. This is a bit less possibly world breaking then the first, but still has possibilities to do so, so make sure that you have many options for how the conversation can go.

These things can be used in any combination, and are things that DMs that I have played with have used in the past in similar situations, so I hope that they can help you make this work

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