Tying Character Backstories into Main Quest

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I'm taking a big step in my campaign in this next session on Sunday. The party, having just ransacked a bandit hideout in the ruins of Llork, are about to uncover six kidnapped children in the anitchamber. They've killed all the bandits, and now will be left to bring the six children back to the town that they are currently stationed in. As it turns out, each of the six children are from influential families all across the bordering nations and provinces that surround Netheril.

<-- how are they going to protect her in battle?

I've decided that each of the children is from a city/town that one of the players is also from. At this time, they believe that they can drop off the children with the local authorities, and be done with them. But they're also about to discover that the patrol guards are corrupt, and were involved with a shadow gang in the town (the one that they recently dismantled). After a battle with the leader of the patrol, they will be designated as the new patrol in the town. That is, they are now in charge of returning the children to their respective homelands.

I'm doing this as a way to incorporate character backstory into the main questline. How often do you feel like delving into sidequests about one specific character's backstory feels painful for the others? I think this way, the players can return to their homelands as a function of the main quest (returning the kidnapped child) while at the same time being able to encounter old foes, old friends, and dust the cobwebs off of old issues, so to speak.

But other issues arise from this projected idea. They'll be travelling, A LOT. And not specifically to one place or the other. That is, there are six children, from six different cities sprawling all across the bordering nations of Netheril. They have to return each child one at a time, but where will they go first? Am I going to have to plan out ALL the adventures in each city, come up with the city descriptions, NPCs, etc... all at once? Because that's a lot of work, but it seems like the sandbox style that I'm running will require that sort of work. Now, I'm not one to complain about prepping, in fact I really enjoy it, but it is daunting.

So, here are some questions...

  • Any suggestions on how to prep for such a large scale undertaking?

  • Any suggestions as to how to determine which city they will travel to 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc... so that I only have to prep one at a time?

  • What about travelling with a child, and keeping them alive. This entire quest should take about 10 levels of play I'm estimating. That's a long time to constantly have a child with you in battle. How will they keep them alive?

Anything else that I haven't thought of that you think would be important? Thanks! Wink

That is an awfull long time for them to be dragging children along through battles, even if they survive they will probably be mentally traumatized.

As an alternative, perhaps the children are being targeted as a revenge plot, and are thus in danger. Until the players can complete their quest and stop the conspirators then the children must be kept safe. The players could leave them in the care of a trusted person, then after they have stopped the conspiracy and the children are now safe, they can go and get them and return them home.

How to only prep 1 city at a time? Easy answer is to only prep one city at a time, how would the players know otherwise until they went to the next city? You can simply attach the name of the city they chose to the one you have prepped.

If that can't be done, then perhaps make a reason for them to travel to one city before the rest. A good example being the vicinity of the first city, if it is nearby they will likely goto it first. from there you can use terain to get them to go to the next city you wish, they will likely travel to the next nearest city, you can place the 3rd city beyond a difficult mountain path that they need proper maps, guides and suplies for, so they have to goto the 2nd city first to get ready. From there the 4th city is a port city they travel to, and the 5th city is on an island and the 6th city across the ocean. The players are then forced to a path. Although they could deviat from this path it would be inconveneint for them so they will likly stick to it.

To make it less like railroading you could place 2 cities that are both accessable and simply swap names with what you have prepared, this gives them the illusion of choice  
Keeping the kids alive is no problem. Simply plan for the enemies you use to ALSO want the kids to stay alive. Slightly less obvious is instituting a mechanic whereby the PCs can always choose to take damage meant for one of the children. The children might still get banged up, but never seriously hurt. This mechanic would mean that the PCs might sometimes take double damage (even double criticals) from an attack. Think of it as a "power" the children have, but which the PCs utilize. Allow yourself and the players to be narratively creative with this, and don't require exact tactical placement for it to work. If a kid gets separated, the PC appears almost out of nowhere to their rescue. Or, maybe getting to a non-adjacent target increases the damage the PC takes. Also, maybe the PC gets to take the ATTACK, and so has the chance to prevent damage entirely.

In short, the kids basically can't die until all the PCs do.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

Both very thought provoking responses, thanks guys. Laughing

There was something I hadn't mentioned, which may or may not work. The children, unbeknownst to them and also unbeknownst to the party (so basically, no one except me knows) have been "necromantically dripped". Basically, while they were kidnapped, they were administered a necromantic ooze into their bloodstream that allows an evil bad (one of the main bads of the campaign) to control their minds from any distance, on any plane. However, the children still have all their past memories before this happened, and the majority of the time, their minds are free to do their own bidding.

Basically the bad guy kidnapped children from influential families across the regions, in an attempt to gain control of their minds, and wait until they gain positions of power. Once they gain positions of power, the bad guy can "flick a switch", persay, and they instantly morph into Krinth (look up Krinth if you're not sure). In this way he hopes to wreak terror throughout the lands and cripple governments from their interior, simultaneously.

So the irony is that the players will be basically delivering the children home, which was part of the bad guys plan anyway. They will be unknowingly contributing to the regions downfall. (Unless they figure out the plot and thwart it, which they probably will).

So my next set of questions is:

1) What about the children morphing into Krinth when provoked in an attack, to the parties surprise? They'd be able to aptly defend themselves, but then the "Aha!" moment I was planning later on would be diminished.

2) When should the party learn about the big plot? (At this point they think they are merely returning kidnapped children held for ransom)
1) What about the children morphing into Krinth when provoked in an attack, to the parties surprise? They'd be able to aptly defend themselves, but then the "Aha!" moment I was planning later on would be diminished. 

I don't think it would be apporiate to do that. The Necromanchers would not want to give away the game by advertently triggering the child off when prevoked and would rather have one die then have all the children comprimised.  It could even serve as a plot point where one or two didn't make it, and ironically the region is completely free of the discord that the surviours are wreaking.

2) When should the party learn about the big plot? (At this point they think they are merely returning kidnapped children held for ransom)

If they chose to investigate it really. Or have it suddenly happen to one in their presence of the last town, then finding out the mess which the others are unleashing.
two words, campfire stories, . . . or campfire confessions. . .  . .a stereotypical and dramatic way to reveal background stories.
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