Starting a Campaign

For the Game Master

Advance Planning

As a Prisymera game master, you are the guide for your players through a world of high fantasy, magic, and a living, breathing mythos. There are many possible directions for your game, so it may be helpful for you to do a little advance planning before a Session Zero with players.

Mechanically-speaking, Prisymera is designed to allow for the campaign to grow out of the backstories and choices of the player characters. While you can take the time to plan out a guided campaign with a big boss at the end for characters to defeat, that isn’t strictly necessary. You can keep your initial planning light and spend your first two or three adventuring sessions running quests where the party can interact with a few factions and create their own allies and enemies within the setting.

At the least, before you run your session zero, familiarize yourself with:

  • The basics of SHIFT mechanics for dice rolls, determining success and failure, and running encounters.
  • A plan for discussing player interests, expectations, and boundaries.
  • At least 1 starting location to propose to your party. Having one focused starting location can narrow down the factions involved and the goings-on in the world at the start of your campaign. (Parties can travel to different locations and world-spanning adventures, of course!)
    • Starting Location articles will be grouped in the Locations category. All starting locations will also be tagged with Starting Location for your convenience. (ADD LINK once the tag exists)
  • At least 1-2 factions with varying motivations that operate in the starting location. This can provide you with an opening quest for your party, as well as ideas for potential allies and adversaries.
    • Faction articles will be grouped in the Faction category and tagged with locations where the faction typically operates.
  • The Party Types you expect will most appeal to your players. Party Types help to define the types of quests the party is most interested in and skilled with, which will further fuel your future planning for the ongoing campaign.
    • Party Type Articles will be grouped in the Party Types category.

The most important thing to remember throughout the whole creation process is that you are a player, too. Contribute your vision and desires throughout session zero planning.

For the Players

Session Zero is your opportunity as players to establish your interests, expectations, and boundaries. Your game master will provide you with background information and lead you through activities to set the tone for the table, at the game master’s discretion.

As a group, you will make some decisions about your party as a whole group

Choose Your Party Type

Your party type is an expression of the type of quests your party most wants to engage in. Your party type also determines your party’s starting technique options. As a quick overview, the party types are:

  • Divinely Destined: Carrying out the will of a god or gods, whether they like it or not
  • Elusive Outlaws: Thieves, rebels, and smugglers, operating outside of the law for good or ill
  • Errant Blades: Soldiers of fortune, adventure-seekers, defenders, and assassins for hire
  • Folk Heroes: Saving people from monsters and other evils, becoming local legends whose stories will be sung for generations
  • Knowledge Seekers: Exploring ancient ruins, searching for lost knowledge, striving for understanding
  • Shadow Manipulators: Spies and masterminds, engaging in social espionage and court intrigue to turn the tides

The party type determines the party’s main focus, and a party’s starting Core Traits (Resources, Connection, Security) and Party Technique will be related to that primary interest. Choose a party type that reflects the type of adventure your group wants to embark upon, with the understanding that your interests may evolve over time.

All party types can participate in any sort of quest. Sometimes Folk Heroes have to do a little thieving. Sometimes the Divinely Destined must secretly manipulate the machinations of political figures to fulfill their quest. Your party may begin to acquire Traits and Techniques to help with a wide variety of quests as time progresses.

Party Core Traits

When you choose your Party Type, you will assign Shift dice to the party’s three Core Traits: Resources, Connection, and Security

  • Resources: This represents the party’s access to physical resources, knowledge, and skills that can help them be successful.
  • Connection: This represents the party’s ability to connect with other people and organizations
  • Security: This represents the party’s ability to protect themselves and others, conceal secrets, and cover their tracks

One trait will be assigned a D6 to represent the party’s greatest strength

One trait will be assigned a D8 to represent the Core Trait that the party is more average with to start

One trait will be assigned a D10 to represent the party’s starting weakness.

Your Party’s Starting Technique

Party Techniques (Techs) represent the party’s skilled collaboration techniques, centered around their core purpose. Each party type begins with one Tech, a special ability that can be used during group or individual actions while the party is on a quest, typically once per session. Visit the individual party pages to view your options for a starting tech.

As the party levels up in experience, they can gain additional techniques.

Your Party’s Haven

The party’s haven is their most secure location for a safe rest, hidden or otherwise protected from their enemies. The haven type determines the starting traits available to crew members from their haven. Haven traits are typically used during downtime or preparation for quests.

  • Tavern: A small tavern where your party can bump elbows with others in the community, either owned by the party or a party contact who is sympathetic to the party (perhaps as long as the party pays). An excellent haven for folk heroes, thieves and smugglers, and mercenaries and assassins, and any who want to keep a pulse on the happenings in their community
  • Manor: A manor home of a minor noble or merchant that has seen better days. Perhaps the minor noble is an eccentric who simply enjoys providing a home for guests as long as the guests provide some entertainment and enjoyable dinner conversations in return. The noble could be a family member or contact, or even one of the party members. A party member could be acting as a regent, supervising the manor while its owner is away on business. Or, it could be an empty manor, and your party chose to settle inside and potentially forge paperwork of ownership. This haven is especially fitting for shadow manipulators, divinely destined, and any party that would value having a foot in the door with the upper echelons of society.
  • Library: A library, perhaps related to a guild, school, or temple, that has been neglected over time. Many shelves stand empty, and those books that remain have not been indexed or properly cared for in some time. Your party may have chosen to occupy the library simply because it’s an abandoned building, or they may be appointed by a guild, noble, patron, or family member to revitalize the library. This haven is an excellent choice for knowledge seekers, divinely destined, and any who seek a haven for the preservation of knowledge and magical research.
  • Temple: A small, plain temple or shrine dedicated to one or more of the Gods of Prisymera. The party may be welcomed there by its priests and priestesses and given shelter. They may be tasked with restoring the temple to its former glory. One or more members may be members of a sect with a particular purpose or have family within the religious order. This haven is an excellent choice for divinely destined, folk heroes, and those who strive to understand the workings and desires of the Gods.
  • Warehouse: A large warehouse building, perhaps close to docks or the major trade center of the city. It may be abandoned, a new business venture, or operated by a party contact or patron of the party. The party may be employees of the merchant or guild that operates the warehouse, perhaps hired as security. The warehouse provides the party with ample storage space, a certain degree of privacy and anonymity, and close access to trade resources. Ideal for thieves and rebels, mercenaries and assassins, and other parties that may want the possibility of moving around resources without garnering too much suspicion.
  • Caravan: A wagon and tents, a sailing ship, or magical traveling structure–whatever it is, it is typically on the outskirts of the city. The caravan provides a haven that can move with the party, from city to city, across the country, with the resources of home all right there. It could be a troupe of traveling entertainers. It could be (at least on paper) a merchant vessel, shipping goods and people between coastal locations. An excellent choice for folk heroes who want to spread their name far and wide; thieves, rebels, and smugglers who want to operate in other places when the heat gets a bit too high; or other parties with wandering feet.

Haven Traits

Haven traits represent the rooms, supplies, and resources available to the party while spending downtime in their Haven. These traits may help with rest, recovery, training, improving character traits, completing projects, earning coin passively, etc.

Each haven begins with two default haven traits.

The party selects one additional haven trait to customize their haven to suit their initial needs, desires, or story. This additional haven trait may either be of the same haven type or a universal haven trait.

Parties can add new haven traits by spending coin or Party XP earned through quests. At the GM’s discretion, the party can also engage in long-term downtime projects or quests to work toward the improvement of current traits or acquisition of new traits.

Parties can acquire additional havens within their own city or in other locales, as the story progresses. The GM can make those opportunities available via quests or set appropriate coin prices for the acquisition of additional havens. The deed to a small property is typically around 10 coin of wealth.

Additional Party Sheet Details

Starting Contacts

When you first create your party, choose or create two contacts: One contact with a negative relationship and one with a positive relationship. Place one checkmark in the corresponding box.

Each party type and each haven type has a list of potential contacts you can draw from. You may choose one contact related to the party type and one contact related to the haven type. You may also develop your own contacts.

Your contact with a negative relationship may be someone who the party has crossed, offended, or owes a debt to. The contact with the positive relationship may be someone the party has helped in the past, a patron, or a host of their haven.

These contacts may be used by you or the GM to provide plot hooks, access to resources, consequences for actions, etc.

New contacts are developed over time, in sessions or downtime. Spending coin can help improve or establish a relationship with a contact.

Starting Faction Status

Your party’s status with each faction indicates how well you are liked or hated. Status is rated from -3 to +3, with zero (neutral) being the default starting status.

When you create your party, you assign one positive and one negative status rating to reflect recent history in the city.

The faction with a positive status may be a faction that a party member has been part of in the past, or a faction related to your positive contact.

The faction with a negative status may be a faction your party owes a debt to, or a faction that the party or a party member has crossed or betrayed in the past.

The ratings will then change over time based on your actions in play.

Narrative Traits

The party sheet also displays your party’s Narrative Traits: Prestige, Heat, and Heroism

  • Prestige: Prestige represents how influential your party is within the larger society where they live. Prestige also reflects your party’s access to resources, as well as how well-known they are within their community. Higher prestige typically reflects more wealth. Their overall prestige shifts and changes based on the outcome of adventures.
  • Heat: When your party performs illegal or extralegal activities, they gain Heat. Heat typically leads to being held in suspicion by factions that uphold and enforce the law.
  • Heroism: When your party saves lives, thwarts evil-doers, and generally upholds the ideals of an orderly society in their quests, they gain heroism. Heroism generally leads to the party being held in suspicion by factions that operate in the shadows and in opposition of the lawful factions in a region.

Your GM will use the narrative traits to make decisions about access to resources, roll for random outcomes in situations, and plan for future sessions. For example, after a quest is completed, the GM will roll your party’s Heat or Heroism (whichever is most applicable to the quest) and use a roll table to determine entanglements for your party that occur as a consequence of the party’s actions. These entanglements may be publicly discussed or kept secret, depending on the table’s preferences. (See Entanglements ADD LINK)

Wealth and Cohorts

A cohort is a group or expert who works for your party. Your party begins with 0 cohorts (unless the GM says otherwise). Details on creating and using Cohorts will be found in the “Cohort Mechanics” article. ADD LINK

Your party starts with no wealth to their name. The narrative may be that your party just expended all of its wealth to obtain its first haven, or maybe the party begins as a group of individuals who are altogether down on their luck.

Your party may gain up to two wealth by taking up to two debt at the start of the game. Work with your GM to determine who is owed this debt. Add the faction that gave the party the loan to the faction status list with a -1 (interfering). This faction has an interest in making sure your party repays its debt.

Creating Your Character

Once you have an idea of party’s overall interests as a whole, it’s time to consider where your character fits into that picture. For your character, you will choose:


Your character most likely has a given name and a family name. Different cultures and communities may have different naming schemes, including family names from both the paternal and maternal sides, honorifics earned, middle names that represent community values, and so forth. Embrace the naming style and form of address that best creates inspiration for your character

Core Traits

In SHIFT, the fundamental abilities of all player characters are represented by three Core Traits: Mind, Body, and Soul. Like all Traits in SHIFT, these Core Traits are assigned a die to represent how capable a character is when using that Trait. The outcome of each action taken in the game is determined by rolling one of these three Core Traits. Exhausting a Core Trait can be dire; it could result in the character falling unconscious or even dying, depending on how perilous the situation is. When creating your character, choose one core trait to start with a D6 as your strongest core trait, one core trait to start with a D8 as your average core trait, and one core trait to start with a D10 as your weakest core trait. Here is how each of the Core Traits translates into gameplay:

  • MIND: The Mind Core Trait relates to a character’s ability to focus, think through, and process information. When a character suffers an attack on their mind, or when a roll involving their Mind Core Trait results in a Critical Failure, the Trait’s die shifts down. Narratively, this can be described as mental fatigue, fear, or loss of focus.
  • BODY: The Body Core Trait is a character’s ability to act physically in any given situation, whether that is climbing, swimming, throwing a punch, or using brute force to overcome an obstacle. The Body Trait’s die shifts down when the character takes physical damage or rolls a Critical Failure that leaves them physically drained or injured.
  • SOUL: The Soul Core Trait represents a character’s ability to interact and connect with others, whether that’s another PC, an NPC or an Adversary. The Soul Core Trait governs actions such as intimidating bandits, befriending an animal, or persuading a skeptical noble. When a Soul Trait’s die shifts down, it could represent shaken confidence, a reluctance to connect with others, or a shortfall of conviction.


Your character’s lineage represents their ancestry, as well as innate magic abilities that your character possesses.

Lineage articles, which contain suggested Focus Traits, Keywords, and Drawbacks for character design, are found in the Lineages category.


Your character’s homeland determines their basic knowledge of current events and history and determines whether rolls related to such information will be standard or tricky. Your character’s homeland may be in line with the starting location of the campaign, or any of the lands far and wide across Prisymera.

Homeland articles, which contain suggested Focus Traits, Keywords, and Drawbacks for character design, are found in the Locations category and tagged Homeland (ADD LINK)

Magic Element

If your character is a magic user, their magic element determines the nature and appearance of their spells, as well as magic sources to recharge when their spell trait is shifted down or fully exhausted.

Magic Element articles, which contain suggested Focus Traits, Keywords, and Drawbacks for character design, are found in the Magic Elements category.

Spell Trait

A character’s spell trait represents their available magical energy and resources. As a character grows in their understanding of their element, they can spend XP to add additional keywords related to their element and further expand their magic capabilities.

A character may choose to shift their spell trait down once to create a temporary Focus Trait, a spell that they intend to use repeatedly without risking exhausting their all their magic resources.

A temporary Focus Trait created in this way begins with the same die that the spell trait’s die was set to before shifting it down. It possesses two keywords and one drawback.

Spell traits begin with a d8 (novice) maximum dice.

If your character does not work spells, they may start with one additional Focus Trait. For example, if your character is a Deni shapeshifter who is not a spellcaster, you can choose an additional shapeshifting or animal bond Focus Trait. If your character is a Mokha handler, you can choose a Focus Trait that represents one of the Mokha that travels with you. If your character is Zarrakan, you can choose an Focus Trait that reflects special equipment the character carries.) The starting dice for this Focus Trait is a d8.


Your character’s background is one word that captures their focal training, resources, and life experience up to this point. Your character’s initial pack type relates to their background (because we carry the supplies we’re used to needing for work). Your character also gains one Technique related to their background.

Background articles, which contain suggested Techniques, Keywords, and Drawbacks for character design, are found in the Character Backgrounds category

Starting Focus Traits

Your character begins with a Primary Focus Trait at a D4 that represents the main way that the character interacts with the world around them. Their Primary Focus Trait may draw from their lineage, homeland, magic element, or background (or it may combine these aspects of your character, pulling keywords from different sources).

Your character also begins with a secondary Focus Trait at a D6. This allows the player to further round out the character. It may represent a piece of equipment the character always brings with them or a traveling companion or animal familiar who is always at their side. The secondary Focus Trait might be used to provide a little compensation for a weak Core Trait. (A character with a low Body Core Trait may always have a Shielding Ring that protects them from physical danger, for example.)


Coin is an abstract measure of cash and liquid assets.

The few bits PCs use in their daily lives are not tracked. If a character wants to spend to achieve a small goal (bribe a doorman), use the PC’s lifestyle quality for a fortune roll.

Monetary values

  • 1 coin: A full purse of silver pieces. A week’s wages.
  • 2 coin: A fine weapon. A weekly income for a small business. A fine piece of art. A set of luxury clothes.
  • 4 coin: A satchel full of silver. A month’s wages.
  • 6 coin: An exquisite jewel. A heavy burden of silver pieces.
  • 8 coin: A good monthly take for a small business. A small safe full of coins and valuables. A very rare luxury commodity.
  • 10 coin: Liquidating a significant asset—a carriage and goats, a horse, a deed to a small property.

Your GM will tell you the amount of wealth your character begins with. In most campaigns, characters will begin with no wealth. Maybe something has happened that has distanced them from their access to any wealth or comfort they had in the past. Maybe they just invested all their wealth in helping to purchase the party’s haven. Maybe your character just made a large charitable donation. You can work this into your character’s background and contacts.

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