In Media Res and replicating the feel of a TV show in a role playing session
In Media Res happens in shows or movies where we, the audience, are dropped into the story in the middle of events already in progress. For example, the characters on screen are in the middle of a heist already in progress, but near the end, where the characters are making their getaway from the people they just stole from. In other media, this allows the audience to learn about the world, the main protagonist, etc… without it being done in the boring way of “talking exposition”.
Trying to replicate this same thing in an RPG takes a lot more work than it appears, partly because it depends greatly on where the players left off after their last session. With some effort it can be a good way to start session 1 of a new campaign, getting all the players immediately working with or for each other and skips over the need to have the “one night in a tavern” type of beginning. Or this can be a good way to introduce players to their characters, like in a “One Shot” adventure that might run at a friendly local game store (FLGS).
The big issue is both, how does the GM set up the start and getting players to buy into what is going on. Doing this type of start requires that all parties are good at improvisation and quickly responding to what is being described. A good example of this comes from a reddit post:
Me: Okay. Bernie, you and Funkle Skeleton are driving back from a long night trying to score a gig...
Funkle Skeleton: How'd it go?
Me: Better than its going to be going if Bernie hits that truck veering across the road. Roll Drive. Dice are rolled. Bernie pulls the old sedan out of the way just as the truck barrels by, only to be stopped short by one of the many solid oaks in the forest this road winds through.
Mikhael: What about me? Where am I?
Me: Cursing, you haul on the wheel narrowly avoiding the oncoming sedan as another shotgun blast blares behind you. You wonder which farmer Jones is more upset about; you stealing his truck or finding you halfway to naked with his daughter.
Mikhael: "It was a misunderstanding, I swear!"
In Media Res is also a good way to show that time has passed and other things have occurred to the party, but it isn’t specific to the next adventure. They’re just finishing up something and moving to the next adventure. In some RPGs this can work better than in others. In systems where the players are rewarded for the actions their characters take, In Media Res moments can feel like lost experience. For other systems, where advancement is just based on participating in a game session, this has less of a drawback to the players. But this all requires buy-in by all parties to avoid putting player’s characters into positions that the players don’t think their characters would ever do. Adventures could be set up in advance with the others, maybe with a short email session. But this won’t happen often when one is running a longer running campaign where the action of one session is directly linked to the end of the last session.
“One Shot” - A short adventure that can be completed by a group of players in a single 4-8 hour session. Good for introducing new players to role-playing or to a new system.