328 Slow Burn vs The Hot Start

No, it’s not our new tagline, though I think we know who would be which one.

From Brett’s notes…
Slow burn and the Hot Start for a campaign or even a one shot.
Benefits of each,possible issue with each, and so on. Also, do Shawn or I have a default version we like?

I posted it just because…notice how he spelled my name. I think he did the notes when he was looped up after his surgery, so I’m going to give him a pass.

Coming week of 2/12.


Come on Shawn 'ole Buddy, it’s all good Seany boy! I don’t know what I’m saying… gimme some more Tramadol dammit!


Part of the reason I started listening to this show is because you spell your name the correct way Sean.
Lazy phonetic spellers & addicts thinking they can corrupt good Irish names!

Also - looking forward to the topic!


I built the topic idea/note for Sean and me via voice dictation on my iPhone. Apparently, iPhone thinks Sean is Shawn. Bad excuse, so I’m gonna stick with the pain med reason - sounds better :slight_smile:


To pre-empt the show a bit, this depends on genre and mood for me. Action & adventure, pulp stories, high-octane stuff, in media res is a pretty sweet way to blast into a game. Fate is really well suited for this, as there’s a mode you can use where the players only define about 25% of their character, and the rest gets filled in during play. Can be very fun if you start that process with being on a flaming zeppelin trying to save the scientist from the robot pterodactyls with Nazi chimps riding them.

Vs. games where the characters are really the focus – like Delta Green, or various genres where action isn’t the focus. Horror games where you are trying to build tension, investigative games, etc.

But you know, I can see doing either in various types of games, now that I think about it. Will shut up and listen to the episode once it drops.


Were you looking at the cover of Spirit of the Century as you wrote that @Harrigan?

I was not, but I do vaguely remember a gorilla in a biplane.

Stand by, it’s on the shelf right… here.

Heh. Pretty close! Too bad that game is like reading another language. It’s an interesting halfway point between FATE 2.0, a simpler game in which some of the stuff we know and love about Fate today is starting to surface, and Core, where Balsera, Engard, Macklin and company refined the good bits from SotC and Dresden Files and turfed the bad.

I do love pulpy games.

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Like @Harrigan, I think the slow burn and hot start are both great tools to have in my “GM Toolbox.” When I use each depends on the style of the game and the mood I am trying to create at the table.

For games like Vampire the Masquerade, I really prefer the slow burn as I like for all of my players to really get to know their characters in a deep way before I throw the heavy stuff at them.

When I run West End Games d6 Star Wars, I absolutely love and prefer the hot start. I have a lot of nostalgia for the scripts at the beginning of the early Star Wars adventures. The GM would hand out the script and everyone would read a part. The scene set the tone, mood, and setting of the adventure and then jumpstarted the action.

I think the environment of the game is important too. In convention play, I much prefer the hot start. When we’ve only got 4 to 6 hours, let’s get to the good parts. But then again, for games like Call of Cthulhu, you still need some burn to set the story up.

But if I lived in a world where I had to pick only one? That’s tough but I think I would pick the slow burn. I love character development and storytelling and there is usually a lot of that in the slow burn.


You guys recently did a show on lore / exposition and how to keep it from being boring… Hot start could help with keeping exposition from being boring…

“OK, the guy who just nearly killed you is…”
“Now that you’ve had all your stuff stolen, you find yourself in the second largest city in the kingdom of…”
“The attractive lady currently casting the fiery green blast is shouting something about…”


@sean @Fafhrd
Hope you guys haven’t recorded yet because I want to make sure you touch on what Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master says about setting an opening scene. Creating a Strong Start, outlined in chapter 4 consists of four bullet points, suggested to be used for both campaign and session starters:

  1. What’s Happening? (Framing the scene)
  2. What’s the Point? (Hook to draw players in)
  3. Where’s the Action?
  4. When in doubt, start with combat.

Think about it this way, how many of your favorite movies or books start with a group of characters in the stereotypical Inn drinking beer? Now how many books and movies start with a murder or a high-octane car chase?
Some fiction starts slow in order to build the mundane before dropping the main character into the fantastic, but in my opinion players have enough of the mundane in their daily lives.

Which of these opening scenes would pull you in more, as a player:

A group of adventurers is in a bar when they are told of disappearances happening a town over
A group of adventurers is attending the annual summer festival when suddenly a woman bursts through the crowd shrieking “They took my husband!”

Both options tell essentially the same story, but one of them encourages the characters to spring to action and solve an immediate problem.
I don’t think I’ve ever used a “slow burn” to open a campaign, since it’s the first chance I’m going to get to sell them on the story. If they’re already bored at the outset, why are they going to show up to the next session?

For a combat heavy system, you may not necessarily need to open with combat, but those players better damn well be rolling those dice after ten minutes or else they’re going to be scrolling through their phones looking for something more interesting. Even for a game where combat is rare and dangerous, immediately throwing an intriguing mystery at them will make them instantly engaged.

Maybe I have the wrong idea of what a “slow start” entails, so I’m curious to hear your arguments for it.


I’m editing this episode right now. :slight_smile:


I love the Hot Start!

For my student’s game club we were going through Lost Mine of Phandelver last year before the Pandemic ended the school year. This year the student’s decided that they wanted to keep their characters but play through Out of the Abyss so our first session started with “Roll Initiative” as they had been ambushed by Drow in a dungeon they were exploring and they fought a bit before being put to sleep.

I love Hot Starts because it gets the players immediately into action. You can do character introductions during the first round as part of their turns and then “flashback” to why something is happening or what the quest is, etc.

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I became a bit…um…notorious for my hot starts. The players loved it, but I stopped doing it because it was starting to feel cliche. My best was my first one, though. We were playing Rolemaster. Everyone had created 1st level characters and we sat down to play. I said, “Go ahead and take about 10 minutes and do a quick-and-dirty upgrade of your character to 20th level. Any spells, armor or weapons that you want.”

Once everyone, confused, had done so, I said, “Okay, your allied forces have fallen, the Priest and his top minions remain. They’re bringing back the Dark Gods and the ritual is nearly complete. Roll for initiative.” Any questions they had I replied to with, “I’ll tell you after the fight.”

They fought and were brought down one-by-one, but taking out their opponents and delaying completion of the ritual. Finally, the ritual was completed and a rift opened in the sky, allowing gods of Dark entry. At the same time, there was a yell from a messenger at the back, “You did it! You bought enough time!” As the last PC fell, another rent opened in the sky as the gods of Light returned, charging across the heavens to battle the gods of Dark.

As everything faded and the last PC died, Armageddon waged overhead.

Then I told everyone, “You awake. You have no clothes and no belongings. You’re on a hillside that you don’t recognize. You have no memories beyond what has already been described. You know your names and each other’s names. Switch back to the 1st level character sheets. What do you do?”

The phrase, “naked on a hillside” became a running joke for years afterward. Especially any time someone lost consciousness.


That! Is fantastic.

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As you had both said in the episode the system or campaign length can have a lot to how it starts. When starting a longer D&D or OSE game it starts off slow and builds up. In DCC the couple of one shots I have played it starts of hot or warm. Reading through the DCC modules it wants the GM to get it going hot and heavy. And I could be wrong (my wife says that’s my greatest quality :wink:). I liked the episode keep them coming please!

Quick lesson in literature: The “hot start” was pioneered by Homer when he wrote the Iliad. The technical term is “In medias res,” which is a writing technique where the narrative starts partway through the entire story. In other words, the proverbial game has been afoot for a while, and the characters are immediately identified as important participants.
I’ve always wanted to mimic Homer’s formula, starting out literally in the middle of a full scale war. Maybe a fantasy A-team, pre being accused of crimes they didn’t commit.
I would need a fighter (to love it when a plan comes together), a bard/rogue multiclass (to be the face of the operation), an artificer/barbarian multiclass (who pities the fool), and a Trickery Domain Cleric/Artificer multiclass (who can also pilot a helicopter).
Comment below how I can make my hot start Iliad-Team campaign better.

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Take aways from the episode.

Brett is moving to Des Moines.
Brett is leaving the show to do a cooking show.
Phil V. is the new co host.


Conspiracy! Combined with the revelation that Brett has been chipped and brainwashed during his surgery… We now know the Men in Black are dismantling Gaming & BS because Sean mentioned alien life in Antarctica.


The DCC Funnel is a good example of Hot Start. It’s not necessarily a deep fry plunge but pretty darn hot.

It’s my preferred method to start a campaign.

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Ah - but the brainwashing should not work - the ghost-remnants in the lich bone fused to his spine grants protection from mental assaults, and as he comes into his lich-powers the chip will be easily disabled. If they are very lucky he won’t use it as a channel for his “dead man’s bone” curse!