My First "Real" Campaign

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I’m a relatively inexperienced DM, and this is my first effort at making a real campaign, so I thought I’d get some help here.


This campaign will by a Play-By-Post that’s focused largely on role-playing with some combat in a homebrew world (albeit a fairly generic one). The basic plot involves the princess of a mixed-race kingdom (who is secretly a warlock with a star pact) who wants to open a portal to the Far Realms. Unfortunately for her, the most convenient location for the portal is heavily guarded under a Dwarf kingdom, and since she can’t just ask to borrow it for a bit, she plans to start a war between her father’s kingdom and the dwarves. To that end, she secretly spreads rumors that the dwarves are planning a war and gets the local goblinoids to unite and attack her city, making it look like the dwarves paid them off. In order to unite the goblins, she has to find an artifact sword called the Hand of Bane, which marks the divinely appointed hobgoblin to unite the tribes and reestablish the empire.


So looking at the plan backwards, the princess finds the Hand, gives it to a hobgoblin warlord who unites the goblins to attack the city, making the city think the dwarves hired the goblins, making the city attack the dwarves, allowing her to access the portal.


 


At this point, I’m wondering if this plan would be totally hair-brained. If so, how can I make it work?


 


The first adventure will be loosely based on WotC’s 3.5 adventure, A Dark and Stormy Knight. It involves the party taking shelter from a storm in a recently-opened tomb which shows signs of a grave-robber recently coming through, although he didn’t touch any of the treasure. The path he took lead to the actual sarcophagus, which is empty, save for a clue to where the “real treasure” is hidden.


As I’m typing this, I’m realizing that I could just have them all be hired by a mysterious figure who wants to avert the union of goblinoids by taking the Hand before they can. This figure would be an agent of the princess who plans to turn the sword over to the goblins as soon as the PCs find it. Would this be a better first adventure?


 


A side-plot that I was thinking of including is a search for a legendary secret to making warforged. A wizard discovered the means of making them and used them with great success, but the secret to making them, as well as the entire army, disappeared when he did. This offers a side quest for a player who requested a secret villain quest as well as a player who would be interested in mechanical things.


 


Any thoughts on this as a basic plot line?

hey, I like this idea, you seem to know your players and have thought of the main basic plot lines. I advise you add another major plot line as well, for example what are the dwarves doing at this point? have they heard the about rumors them? if so what are they doing about it. it might add some more player depth and enable the players to pick sides dependant on who they trust.

The secret Villan quest could be the real threat and the PC's might be tasked to unite the world to overthrow this threat. have it indroduced as the side plot idea and don't draw attension too it unless the PC's activly try. just keep throwing bits of infromation/rumors at the PC's and see if they can pick it up. mabey have them recover a worforged and fix it and have it become an ally.

 It seems as though you are jsut having trouble introducing the players to the world. i do like the stromy night idea, why not mix the two. i always find a bit of a dungeon crawl is always best to start an adventure it allows you to show the PC's subtle clues about ther story, as well as let them get used to their party's cohesion.

All in all, its your groups campain, you know what they will enjoy. no one will critisise you for a generic world. it probably makes it better as it will be easier to grasp. all i can say is know as much about your world as possible this way you will be prepared for anything the PC's do.

good luck with the game, i can tell it will be good. hope this helped.

Tom

That sounds cool, but the risk with a secret plot, no matter how cool, is that the PCs won't catch on or won't really care about it, or will misunderstand it. I've also seen situations in which the DM is in the position of having to block player choices in order to preserve the surprise, or the DM gives away the surprise to early, or the players just figure it out. On the occassions when the secret has be preserved until the reveal, the players have been nonplussed or actually angered at having been tricked (usually when the revelation involves them being deprotagonized, such as learning that they had been working for a villain.)

This could just be a result of the way I and every DM I've seen run such games, but I think it's also go something to do with the nature of the game, and players in general. I think you'd have just as much fun if the players were in on the entire secret, because they'd know what they were trying to accomplish. Some of them would probably deliberately have their characters misunderstand the situation and go off on red herrings, because it would be in-character for their characters not to know or believe any of the real evidence; allow that choice, but make it clear that no one is obligated to bend over backwards not to believe anything and that teamwork and coherence is the watchword.

Basically, be open to the players and get their buy-in, because if you have it then they will help make the plot happen. If you don't have their buy-in, whether they don't like the plot or don't know about it, they will be working against it coming to an interesting conclusion, directly or indirectly.

At the very least, ask yourself what exactly success looks like throughout this campaign. Can the players actually stop any of the events on that timeline? If they can, what if they do? If they can't, what are they supposed to be doing? Just spectating?

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

Based on what I know of my players, I think they would enjoy figuring out the plot irl along with the characters.

For the first few quests, success looks like achieving their objectives. The first few levels will be self-employed, and the next few adventures are directed by the benevolent king, who is himself being unwittingly maniputaled.

I suppose that if they figure out that it's the princess behind everything, they can attempt to expose her, the king won't believe them, but the ever suspicious vizier might be willing to help them prove it, so there's a backup plan that I can flesh out if the need arises.

Here is how I think I'll set up the first adventures:

The first part will play out as I described above. The main draw will be the treasure which is left untouched, but by having a clear path to a specific object, I'm hoping there will be an air of mystery, since the tomb robber clearly knew what was their objective. In the sarcaphogus is a text etched in the old goblin language, saying that "the Hand of Bane is hidden in the altar of the demon conqueror", or something like that. The PCs can either make history checks and interpret it themselves, or one of the PCs might know of a historian in the city who can help them. If they go to the historian, he'll send a rival band of adventurers to get to it first.

The clue directs them to Deshterach, the ruined capitol of the aforementioned demon conqueror, which will be a much more extensive dungeon crawl through the kobold-infested city. I recall an adventure called The Slaying Stones that I might draw some inspiration from. I think I would end the adventure with the princess (and possibly a few aberrant minions) taking the sword and sending it away via the Leomund’s Secret Chest ritual. If there's a rival group, they could be involved in the last fight. Here's where I can see a problem: I don't want to make success impossible, but I also need to get the sword into the hands of the goblins. I suppose I could have someone steal it when they get back to the city, but there might be a better way to handle it.
Based on what I know of my players, I think they would enjoy figuring out the plot irl along with the characters.

Ok. Just giving a friendly warning.

Here is how I think I'll set up the first adventures:

The first part will play out as I described above. The main draw will be the treasure which is left untouched, but by having a clear path to a specific object, I'm hoping there will be an air of mystery, since the tomb robber clearly knew what was their objective.

What if the players don't find anything mysterious about it?

In the sarcaphogus is a text etched in the old goblin language, saying that "the Hand of Bane is hidden in the altar of the demon conqueror", or something like that.

What if no one speaks Goblin?

The PCs can either make history checks and interpret it themselves,

What if they don't, or they fail their checks?

or one of the PCs might know of a historian in the city who can help them.

What if they don't?

If they go to the historian, he'll send a rival band of adventurers to get to it first.

What if the band succeeds? What if the band fails?

The clue directs them to Deshterach, the ruined capitol of the aforementioned demon conqueror, which will be a much more extensive dungeon crawl through the kobold-infested city.

What if they don't follow that clue?

I recall an adventure called The Slaying Stones that I might draw some inspiration from. I think I would end the adventure with the princess (and possibly a few aberrant minions) taking the sword and sending it away via the Leomund’s Secret Chest ritual. If there's a rival group, they could be involved in the last fight. Here's where I can see a problem: I don't want to make success impossible, but I also need to get the sword into the hands of the goblins. I suppose I could have someone steal it when they get back to the city, but there might be a better way to handle it.

Yes, any time a DM "needs" something to happen, there's a problem. There is way to handle this, though. I've tried it and it can work.

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

To be clear, all of your ideas sound good, but it's important to be ready for them not to play out the way you expect.

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

To be clear, all of your ideas sound good, but it's important to be ready for them not to play out the way you expect.



Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

What in the Hell is your problem with taking risks in games? 
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
What if the players don't find anything mysterious about it?



Well, if they don't, it shouldn't be a big deal; it's really just foreshadowing. The main thing I'm looking for is to pique their curiosity.

What if no one speaks Goblin? What if they don't, or they fail their checks?



I'm going to arrainge for a PC to know the historian, so that much is certain; they will have a path regardless of the results of their rolls. If they don't take the historian path, it would be because they just don't care anyway.

What if the band succeeds? What if the band fails?



I think I'd just see how it would play out. The worst thing would be if they killed the PCs, but I can do something to make sure that doesn't happen. If things look bad, I can send some kobolds to distract them.

 Yes, any time a DM "needs" something to happen, there's a problem. There is way to handle this, though. I've tried it and it can work.



I'd love to hear any suggestions you have.

And thanks for all of the questions. This is exactly the kind of thought process that I'm not used to, and why I'm looking for help here.

To be clear, all of your ideas sound good, but it's important to be ready for them not to play out the way you expect.



Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

What in the Hell is your problem with taking risks in games? 


Simple economics.

What is being risked?  What is the reward?

From Centauri's POV, the potential risk of players not enjoying the surprise outweighs the potential reward of them enjoying the surprise.

From Centauri's POV, the reward of having the players actively participate in the storytelling and enjoying themselves far outweighs any risk of them doing so.

Why take a risk on something that may or may not happen, when you can greatly increase the odds of the reward happening and minimizing the risk involved?

Again, simple economics.  Just like CharOps.
I think Centauri is saying prepare to be prepared. remember that your players tell the story not the DM. I would recoment reading the DM experience by chris perkins, its helped me alot, (www.wizards.com/dnd/files/DM_Experience_...) read page 75 about the invisible railroad. It wil help ensure that your players drive the story.

Take a risk if your are prepared for any ramifications, mostly this will be making things up on the fly. but it always halps to have something ready just in case. this is why i sugest knowing as much about your world as possible. what are your NPC's likley to do as these are the only things you can control.

This is turning more into a "DM style" thread, your story is great you seem to have prepared enough to run it and you know your players. there is always room for improvement no matter what you do. only experience will give you that.
Real life story:

We have signs hanging at my work that have the names of departments and arrows pointing to the correct doors. Almost every day someone pokes their head in the door and asks "Where can I find X department?"

We hung the sign lower and people ducked as they came in to ask "Where is X department?"

There are two main styles of running games and the difference between them is where the story is created. In the Hickman style, the DM creates the plot or story for the characters to experience through the lens of their characters. In the Gygax style, there is no plot and the story is created as you play, being a tale of what the characters do. (Based on the original post, you are clearly running the former.) Neither style is superior, but they do require you to run the game in different ways. Most games are on a spectrum somewhere between these two styles. The dividing line is in whether the DM writes a plot or not.

All styles require you to get player buy-in if you want to avoid problems. If your players sit down expecting to have unlimited choices and you're running in the Hickman style with your story above, there will be a mismatch of expectations that could lead to a problem. Thus, be transparent. Tell your players you have a story for them to experience and that action and adventure will be found along that plotline and nowhere else. If that's the kind of game they want to play, they'll actively help you make it work well by sticking to the plot and not wandering off, leading to all those "What if's" that Centauri rightly asked.

To that end, I cannot recommend invisible railroad or illusion of choice tactics. This is the opposite of buy-in - you're actively engaged in trying to pull the wool over the eyes of your players by giving them choices that don't actually matter while saying that they do. This is a big waste of time and effort and has the potential to blow up in your face. Thus, be transparent. Tell them you have a great story to tell and they're going along for the ride. Many players are perfectly happy to play the game in this fashion if you are upfront with them.
Real life story:

We have signs hanging at my work that have the names of departments and arrows pointing to the correct doors. Almost every day someone pokes their head in the door and asks "Where can I find X department?"

We hung the sign lower and people ducked as they came in to ask "Where is X department?"




Ha!

To that end, I cannot recommend invisible railroad or illusion of choice tactics. This is the opposite of buy-in - you're actively engaged in trying to pull the wool over the eyes of your players by giving them choices that don't actually matter while saying that they do. This is a big waste of time and effort and has the potential to blow up in your face. Thus, be transparent. Tell them you have a great story to tell and they're going along for the ride. Many players are perfectly happy to play the game in this fashion if you are upfront with them.



Thank you for the advice! I'm reading the articles in your signature, and they're helpful too.


Yes, any time a DM "needs" something to happen, there's a problem. There is way to handle this, though. I've tried it and it can work.

I'd love to hear any suggestions you have.

In my game, the players are after a McGuffin, that's currently held by a drow corporate family. They infiltrated the family in order to find the item and heist it. We worked up the encounter in which they had gained access to the item, and were in a position to take it, when another interested party would break in. I suggested that it would be more interesting if the party failed to obtain the item at this point, and asked what other way they might achieve a "win" in this scene. They decided that if they won then they'd learn who the third party really was. If they lost, they'd have a lead but not the full story. The scene played out and the PCs won, which forced the third party to reveal itself in the process of making off with the item.

So, basically, I told the players what I thought would be interesting, and they went with it, helping me decide how they could still be heroic, despite not achieving their overall goal in this scene. You could do the same in this case, offering that you'd really like it if the PCs could lose the sword, and then working with them on a way that this loss could both make sense to them, and still leave them feeling heroic. I think there's a good chance that they'd go along with it, and help you come up with an interesting scenario that you would not have been able to devise and impose unilaterally.

What you're up against here is the issue of "deprotagonization." Players like their characters to be heroic, and heroic people are the ones who solve problems, not the ones that cause problems or allow them to happen. If you take something that was in their control, then I think you'd be risking an argument about whether the method you used was something the PCs could have done anything about. If it is, then you risk them preventing the event you need. If it's not, then they'll feel disempowered and deprotagonized. But, if you're upfront about it, and give them a way to perform as good as possible, then you can have what you "need" for the scene, and they can still "win."

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

To be clear, all of your ideas sound good, but it's important to be ready for them not to play out the way you expect.



Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

What in the Hell is your problem with taking risks in games? 


Simple economics.

What is being risked?  What is the reward?

From Centauri's POV, the potential risk of players not enjoying the surprise outweighs the potential reward of them enjoying the surprise.

From Centauri's POV, the reward of having the players actively participate in the storytelling and enjoying themselves far outweighs any risk of them doing so.

Why take a risk on something that may or may not happen, when you can greatly increase the odds of the reward happening and minimizing the risk involved?

Again, simple economics.  Just like CharOps.



IMO, the risk of players not enjoying the surprise is just a learning experience that will help improve future games. Thus roundabout rewarding.

As for increasing the odds of reward and minimizing risk, I find that to be utter bs. The greater the risk, the greater the reward, IMO. And the lower the risk, the more minimal the reward. And for the record, I've never met anyone that gives up after a single session of gaming because the DM made a mistake. Anyone who does give up on you because you had one bad night, isn't worth the time to DM.
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
Well this is perfect. One of my characters included in her backstory a childhood friend who became (unbeknownst to her) an evil paladin of Bane. Now her friend can be trying to get ahold of the artifact too.
Well this is perfect. One of my characters included in her backstory a childhood friend who became (unbeknownst to her) an evil paladin of Bane. Now her friend can be trying to get ahold of the artifact too.



That's an epic plot twist. Run with it.
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
As for increasing the odds of reward and minimizing risk, I find that to be utter bs. The greater the risk, the greater the reward, IMO. And the lower the risk, the more minimal the reward. And for the record, I've never met anyone that gives up after a single session of gaming because the DM made a mistake. Anyone who does give up on you because you had one bad night, isn't worth the time to DM.


Firstly, "the greater the risk, the greater the reward" is most true in Gambling.  It isn't actually true in Business or Economics.  In fact, it's usally a Bad Idea.  Running a business like you're playing roulette is a sure way to bankrupt yourself.

And why is it true in Gambling?  Because the odds are against you; and everyone else betting on the other options is hopefully enough to cover whichever side actually wins.   The "greater risk" in Gambling is taking a long shot and hoping that the odds are in your favor.   But remember: a 1:1 bet has 50% chance of failure; that's even odds.   9:1 odds are 10% chance of success, 90% chance of failure;  19:1 are about 5% chance of success, 95% chance of failure.  Due to the diminishing returns, it's not much more of a risk to take 19:1 than to take 9:1.  But it's still half as likely to happen, and even 9:1 odds are likely to happen only 1 out of 10 times.

So, which is better?  A 96% chance of "a learning experience?"  Or a game with much higher probability of the players enjoying themselves by actively participating in the storytelling?

Secondly, where did I say anything about people leaving a game after "one bad night?"  I didn't say any such thing.  So please don't create a straw man.

I did say that the one school of thought believes that players would be more likely to get more enjoyment from the narrative style.  Clearly, it's not true of every game.  Also clearly, a lot of DMs are too afraid to give up that sort of control to even bother trying it, prefering to believe that the way that they do it is Best Possible, and that their players clearly enjoy it or else they wouldn't be playing with them.

Here's a question I have for you, Lunar:  Do you believe that you players wouldn't enjoy the Narrative style?  And if so, why?
As for increasing the odds of reward and minimizing risk, I find that to be utter bs. The greater the risk, the greater the reward, IMO. And the lower the risk, the more minimal the reward. And for the record, I've never met anyone that gives up after a single session of gaming because the DM made a mistake. Anyone who does give up on you because you had one bad night, isn't worth the time to DM.


Firstly, "the greater the risk, the greater the reward" is most true in Gambling.  It isn't actually true in Business or Economics.  In fact, it's usally a Bad Idea.  Running a business like you're playing roulette is a sure way to bankrupt yourself.

And why is it true in Gambling?  Because the odds are against you; and everyone else betting on the other options is hopefully enough to cover whichever side actually wins.   The "greater risk" in Gambling is taking a long shot and hoping that the odds are in your favor.   But remember: a 1:1 bet has 50% chance of failure; that's even odds.   9:1 odds are 10% chance of success, 90% chance of failure;  19:1 are about 5% chance of success, 95% chance of failure.  Due to the diminishing returns, it's not much more of a risk to take 19:1 than to take 9:1.  But it's still half as likely to happen, and even 9:1 odds are likely to happen only 1 out of 10 times.

So, which is better?  A 96% chance of "a learning experience?"  Or a game with much higher probability of the players enjoying themselves by actively participating in the storytelling?

Secondly, where did I say anything about people leaving a game after "one bad night?"  I didn't say any such thing.  So please don't create a straw man.

I did say that the one school of thought believes that players would be more likely to get more enjoyment from the narrative style.  Clearly, it's not true of every game.  Also clearly, a lot of DMs are too afraid to give up that sort of control to even bother trying it, prefering to believe that the way that they do it is Best Possible, and that their players clearly enjoy it or else they wouldn't be playing with them.

Here's a question I have for you, Lunar:  Do you believe that you players wouldn't enjoy the Narrative style?  And if so, why?



Haha, my players have already told me exactly what they enjoy. "Killing s*** dead". Those were their exact words. Now, you tell me, what would they enoy? xD

Now, they do enjoy a narrative. But I absolutely can not put everything in their hands. If I do that, they complain. I have introduced them to the methods prescribed by both iserith and centauri. They both deemed it as horrible. So, tell me again how their methods are applicable and I'm afraid to give up my powers as DM.

I often find that gambling and gaming are about one and the same. 
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/

Dammit, I had a long post and it got eaten.


 


Leg two of the adventure leads the PCs to Deshterach, the aforementioned “throne of the Demon Conqueror.” On the way, they will pass St. Durral’s Abbey, home to worshippers of Pelor and Avandra. If the PCs stop, they can receive shelter, food, and inside information about what to expect in the city, as well as a side quest to find some stolen religious texts. The order’s champion will be gone fighting goblins, causing one friar to mention that “it’s a good thing the goblins are in disunion, else no decent creature would be safe.”


 


The city is ruined and a virtual warzone between three factions: kobolds, orcs, and halflings. The orcs have been fighting the kobolds for a while, and while they are the strongest toe-to-toe. The kobolds’ guerilla tactics frustrate the orcs, and their chief has sworn not to leave until every kobold is dead. The kobolds protect themselves with lots of unsophisticated traps and exploiting the difficult terrain. The halflings are smarter than the kobolds, and are not outright hostile to the PCs, though they’re only friendly if the PCs prove to be a help. It just so happens that the orcs have recently captured several halfling children, and the halfling patriarch is desperate to get them back before they are eaten.


 


The next thing I have to figure out is how the princess (or her minions) get to the sword, as well as how the rival party (if they exist) get there.

..."window.parent.tinyMCE.get('post_content').onLoad.dispatch();" contenteditable="true" />Haha, my players have already told me exactly what they enjoy. "Killing s*** dead". Those were their exact words. Now, you tell me, what would they enoy? xD

Now, they do enjoy a narrative. But I absolutely can not put everything in their hands. If I do that, they complain. I have introduced them to the methods prescribed by both iserith and centauri. They both deemed it as horrible. So, tell me again how their methods are applicable and I'm afraid to give up my powers as DM.


Firstly, I didn't outright say that you were afraid to do so.  I said that some DMs were.

If anything, the fact that you did ask means that (a) you likely weren't afraid to do so (given that you did do so), and (b) you considered it a viable option as opposed to something not worth considering.

Centauri and others have never made the claim that it would work for everyone.  They've never said that their way is the only way.  So why do you feel the need to tear them down for promoting it as an option (but not the only option)?

I often find that gambling and gaming are about one and the same. 


And the best way to actually win at gambling is to minimize the risk while still keeping some reward.  If you're playing Texas Hold'em, you shouldn't bet on 7-2 unsuited.  The closest thing to a winning system (which still isn't perfect) I've seen in Roulette involves laying small amounts on the either/or bets (Black or Red, Odd or Even, etc), and increasing only to cover the previous bet.  Counting cards in Blackjack serves to help narrow down whether hitting is more or less likely to bust.  Successful gamblers reduce the odds, reduce the risk, which serves to increase the rewards.

If Centauri et al find that using their narrative systems reduces those risks and increases the rewards, then why shouldn't they use it instead?  I never made a claim, either, that it was universal to do so; only that they did so.

At this point, I'm simply trying to figure out why you've taken such pains to make disparaging (and, to a degree, inaccurate) remarks regarding them.

Because my tabletop group?  They're like yours.  They don't care much for RP; they tend toward the absurd and silly, when they do.  They mostly just want to go around and kill stuff.  So that's what we do.  That doesn't mean, however, that I don't see the value in what they suggest, and that for people who actually do want to Roleplay their Characters outside of Combats, as opposed to simply "killing **** dead."  If anything, actually, by giving them what they want — stuff to kill — we're effectively doing the same narrative thing, just with far more leeway given to us by the players than might otherwise be done.

Would I like to have a group — tabletop or PbP — where the players were heavily invested in the narrative?   Hel yes.  I'd love to DM that, or even be a player in one, if only for the unique experience.  Maybe someday I will.  In the meantime, it's always an option, and if I can start getting people to invest that way, then I'm going to try.  Because I agree with Centauri and Iserith, to an extent.  I think it would make a much better experience.  Not because of any risk/reward, but because of Investment/Reward.  And if the players invest a little bit, and then a little more, and then a little more, and so on?  I think in that case the returns will be far more than the investment.  And that is good economics and good business.