Time Line help

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Hi! How are you today?  Good? Good.  I'm fine too.

I'm a brand new DM.  I've run an entire 1 (one!) session.  I know, you're impressed.  Please remain professional.  I have 5 players.  Two have never played before, and the other 3 have varying experience but none of it all that extensive.  We play via roll20.net.  In the one session the PCs were brought together by some nastiness in town.  They'll be dealing with that for the next session or two and at the end they should be Level 2.  This nastiness is unrelated to the rest of the post.  It's mostly just a 'once around the block' type thing to get the new guys introduced to the game and get me more comfertable DMing.

So I have this Lich (as of yet un-named), right.  Liches, man.  You know?  Always....liching.  Anyway, if my PCs decide to just spend all their time in the tavern getting hammered, or galavanting around some evil forest, or whatever; these are the highlights of what the Lich will accomplish.



  • One of his Agents, a Tiefling named Skamos, will locate and secure a sub-teranian monestary.  The monestary is home to a small but ancient order of Runepriests.  I basically took the opening paragraphs of the class description and ran with that.  It was decided that, as is their tradition from time to time, all the members of the order would go out into the world to seek knew knowledge to bring back.  They would all be gone for two years, or until they located something of value to return.  They left one caretaker--He's not a Runepriest in the class sense; lots of knowledge but he's no adventurer.   He will locate the PCs in town when he flees the monestary to escape the Kruthiks (controlled by Skamos because *handwavey motions*).  He hears about the PCs recent heroics in town so he seeks them out.  If the PCs ignore his pleas he will either head to another town, probably to never be heard from again, or more likely go back to the monestary and end up captured by Skamos.  The Lich's goal is the master collection of the monestary's knowledge.  It's an unending book (magic!) full of the secrets of the ancient gods' runes.




  • Prior to the campaign begining, for about a year, the Lich has been acquiring slaves through the hidden slave trade that goes through the town's docks-using an intermediary of course.  He's using these slaves for...you know...lich stuff.  Experiments, ritual testing, gardeners, undead servents...the normal stuff.  Mostly the ritual testing thing.  He's trying to perfect a ritual that pulls the soul from a living person and directs the power of their soul.  This acquisition of slaves will rise, and eventually he'll be unsatisfied with that rate of subjects and he'll send one of his minions (likely the same minion acting as the intermediary with the slavers) to begin outright kidnapping people from the town.




  • He will use his perfected ritual, and some power he learns from the monestary's book, to invade the town, incapacitate the entire population at once, and siphon all their souls into summoning....something? Something concievably defeatable by my level 9-10ish PCs.  So...not Orcus.  Avatar of Orcus? Some other pit fiend?  Huge undead monstrosity?  Dracolich?  Or maybe he empowers himself directly, but then again he needs to be a very formidible enemy if they end up fighting him before the ritual...so I'm really not sure what he's doing with all those souls...yet!  Somethign something evil plan.


The linear plot version would be something like this:


  1. PCs finish the level 1 adventure.  

  2. PCs hear about the slavers directly and check into it.  Alternatively they check into the criminals because of their other shenanigans.  Extortion, racketerring, etc. etc.  Just because they're criminals; that doesn't mean they're not people.  They have to eat too and slaving just doesn't pay what it used to.

  3. After crushing the slave ring they find evidence (at least 3 clues!) leading them to the inermediary.  Doing this nets some subtle but not-so-helpful evidence because #4.

  4. Upon returning to town they're located by the Runepriest Caretaker who pleads for their help in liberating the monestary.  They go help.  This leads to an extensive adventure in the Northdark.  Kruthiks, an Umber Hulk, ancient undiscovered ruins full of other nasty things, etc. etc.  Culminates, or so they think, in the defeat of the Kruthik Hive Lord.

  5. Returning to the monestary they are rewarded by the Caretaker with a Wonderous Item specially crafted for each of them.  Some Runemagic whozawhatsits.

  6. As the handing out of goodies ends Skamos comes in through the Kruthik tunnels all angry about his lovely pets being killed.  He's accompanied by a Dread Archer (bending the rules here to allow the Archer to be the eyes and voice of the Lich), and Targ.  Targ is a hill giant who served the Lich before he was a Lich.  He then willingly accepted undeath to continue his service.  I mish-mashed a hill giant and a death giant and releveled it to be pretty much (but not completely) unstoppable by the PCs at this point.  The dread archer (really the Lich speaking) directs Targ to bring him the book and/or the Caretaker.  He tells Skamos to assist Targ then deliver on his claim that he had secured the Monestary.

  7. Targ ignores attacking the PCs as much as possible to follow his command. He gets the book and/or the Caretaker and makes his get away while the PCs deal with Skamos.  Skamos is a custom solo with various tricksies etc.  During the fight, as he realizes he's losing, Skamos lets the name of the Lich slip.  If the PCs defeat but not kill him he does the old "he'd do worse than kill me for failure, you should be afraid" bit and kills himself.

  8. Using the then too-subtle evidence from #3 and new info from #6 & #7 they track down the Lich through a series of mini adventures.

  9. Upon assaulting his lair the Lich uses Targ'n'Friends to buy time to finish up his ritual prep and port to the town for his Somethign Somethign Evil Plan.

  10. The PCs rush back to town to find it swarming with undead and the Lich at the center of town doing his ritual.  PCs slog through the undead, perhaps skill challenging their way over rooftops or other other cool things.

  11. PCs interupt ritual and defeat the Lich.

  12. PCs save the town, hit level 11, and begin their Paragon lives.  Potentially heading to Menzoberranzan to help the drow PC reclaim his noble house.  Or any number of oher things.



Now.  I think my players are the type that will probably go ahead and follow my plot along almost out of habit (they're all computer RPG and MMO players).  However, as you all well know they could throw me a curve or seven.  As I have no experience playing or DMing really I don't know how long, in game time, their adventures and hijinks might take to kind of craft the Lich's time-table.  If they somehow avoid dealing with the slavers in town the Lich's plans advance faster.  If they prevent the acquisiton of the book or the caretaker the Lich's plans kind of hit a brick wall, but I can behind-the-curtain that and have him able to do his ritual anyway perhaps with the PCs in a more advantageous position etc.  Or maybe things just go terribly and the Lich actually finishes his Ritual.  I have no idea what he'd summon or acquire.

What I want to do is be at least a little prepared and ready to handle them doing things out of order or skipping steps and have the Lich's plan move along so events unfold.  Maybe the PCs spend too long in the Northdark or they miss the Priest entirely because they take too long handling the slavers/kidnappers or head off in some random direction to do something else and they end up back in town as the Lich is doing his thing and they're clueless as to what's going on...Overall I'm not sure how to handle being at least a little ready for them to not follow the plan.  Halp?


P.S. Here's a take on one of the Runemagic whozawhatsists for the Dwarf Guardian Fighter.  Any opinions on what level such an item would be? I need to edit it to specify that the adjacent undead suffer the damage if they start their turn adjacent to him I guess.  I should also spell Adjacent correctly...
 

Frankly, if you're not prepared to handle them diverging from the plot, talk to them about the plot. Lay it out for them in its entirety, as you have for us. Make it clear that they can do other things, but that you'd like their help figuring out how your main timeline moves and changes in such a way that they can rejoin it later, or it comes to pass if they fail to get back to it.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

I could do that but I have a hard time avoiding the idea of spoilers.  Granted, the point in roleplaying is to craft a story as we go via the actions of the party (using the plot as a backdrop rather than the focus), but it still feels odd.  Like I said, I don't think it's going to be much of an issue to keep them on the plot anyway.  More thought required.
I could do that but I have a hard time avoiding the idea of spoilers.  Granted, the point in roleplaying is to craft a story as we go via the actions of the party (using the plot as a backdrop rather than the focus), but it still feels odd.

It takes some getting used to, but getting over giving spoilers to players allows for some possibilities in D&D that would otherwise be improbabilities or impossibilities. Good luck with whatever you decide to do.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

Check out some of the articles in the links in my signature and tell us what you think.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs  |  Re-Imagining Phandelver  |  Three Pillars of Immersion

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

Check out some of the articles in the links in my signature and tell us what you think.

haha, I wouldn't have any idea of using a timeline or really anything had I not already read most or all of those :o
I'm not sure what you mean. Your dilemma, if I'm reading you correctly, is that you don't know what to do if the players go off your plot. The first article in my signature, "Don't Prep the Plot" explains why this is and what to do about it.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs  |  Re-Imagining Phandelver  |  Three Pillars of Immersion

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

I had read that, reading it again was useful.  My main dilema though is I don't know how to time what the Lich is up to.  I mean if the players get off track a while doing something, how much in-game time until the kidnappings start or how long until he just shows up in town ready to do his ritual?  I don't really know how long in game-hours/days it takes to get through stuff typically.
I had read that, reading it again was useful.  My main dilema though is I don't know how to time what the Lich is up to.  I mean if the players get off track a while doing something, how much in-game time until the kidnappings start or how long until he just shows up in town ready to do his ritual?  I don't really know how long in game-hours/days it takes to get through stuff typically.

Events move at the speed of plot. Don't work for the external events, make those external events work for you. No one is going to ask you to explain how the lich accomplished something so quickly, or why it took the lich so long to accomplish something, and if they do steeple your fingers and intone "That is another tale, to be told another time."

I get wanting things to progress realistically outside of what the players are doing, but in a fantasy game "realistically" has a broad definition. If the players do something other than what's on your timeline, flip two coins and cross out a number of items on your timeline equal to the number of heads. When you're down to two or three items, word reaches them of trouble brewing. Or whatever. Maybe you just drop it, because they're into other stuff. The point is not to let your own creation dominate you. You can't not get it right if what you're doing is fun and engaging.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

All of that is fairly mutable. To escalate the time pressure, make it shorter. To de-escalate, make it longer.

If I were to break it up, I'd consider the Lich's ultimate goal to be its Impending Doom - the very bad thing it wants to bring upon the world. Specific, but uncertain events that lead up to that Impending Doom are Grim Portents. Grim Portents happen if the PCs (or other events/forces) do nothing to stop them. When there's a lull or when it's time for something to happen as previously established in the fiction, check off a Grim Portent and show its impact on the world. This will more than likely generate action when you do, so use it to spice things up when the pacing is lagging or to take things up a notch when it's already exciting.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs  |  Re-Imagining Phandelver  |  Three Pillars of Immersion

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith