Constructive Criticism

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Hello all, I am new to the 4e world and haven't DM'd in many years. I am creating a campaign plot based on the mini-adventure in the red box. I need advice, ideas, crticism on my plot. It is not fully finished and is just a skeleton as I have read to leave it as open ended as possible as players can be un-predictable.

Anyhow here it is:


Plot Summary: The demon prince Orcus (antagonist) is trying to re-open the rifts to his unholy Shadowfell sites where he was imprisoned and release his undead army to enslave the living creatures in the world and have them bow before him as the only god. He needs a magical human skull to accomplish his mission. There is a small band of holy priests who call themselves the Shadow Breakers that are aware of the demon's intentions and have dedicated themselves to stopping Orcus's plan.



Plot World Location: Nentir Vale



Plot Structure:





  1. Act 1




    1. Exposition : While traveling with the Dwarf merchant Traveus, the party is attacked by a band of goblins who steal a small locked wooden box from Traveus. As the goblins retreat, the party notices a cloaked rider in the distance who seems to be in charge of the goblins. Traveus promises gold if the adventurers retrieve it for him and promise not to look inside.




    2. Rising Action: The adventurers learn the contents of the box contains a magical human skull and the threat it poses to the world. They are not fully aware of who the antagonist is but they feel his presence in many happenings and notice his agents show up everywhere. They lose the skull and must decide if they choose to find it to save the world.





  2. Act 2




    1. Conflict: The adventurers discover who Orcus is and what his plan is. They learn the skull is of a powerful wizard that closed the rifts and trapped Orcus. As the last rift was closing, Orcus killed the wizard and imprinted some necromatic magic on the wizards body that would allow Orcus, through his priests, to resurrect the wizard as his undead slave so he can re-open the rifts , as the wizard was the only one who knew how to undo his magic.




    2. Climax: The adventurers track the skull to a clearing in a mountainous region where Orcus's priests are performing a ceremony to raise the wizard. Orcus's minions delay the adventurers long enough for the priest's to raise the wizard who manages to open a rift and release Orcus.






I know the plot is probably old and tired but my players have never played so it will be fresh to them.

Thank you for taking your time to read this post.
The plot seems fine to me, very interesting, but it reads like the plot of a story, in which the writer has full control over events, and doesn't have the feelings and decisions of players to consider. I recommend thinking about the following questions and if the answer to any of them is that the adventure will be ruined, or the players will feel controlled, you might consider revising your approach. Try to be as flexible as possible.

Will the party be given a chance to prevent the theft of the box? What if they do? If they are unable to prevent the theft, how will the players feel??

Will the party be given a chance to prevent the retreat of the goblins? What if they do? If they're not given the chance, how will the players feel?

What if the party is not in a position to notice the cloaked rider?

What if they don't promise not to open the box? What if they don't accept the job offer? After all, they are travelling somewhere, so why wouldn't they continue with their travels? What if they don't trust Traveus?

What if they don't learn about the contents of the box? What if they don't make the connection between the "happenings" and the "antagonist"?

How will they lose the skull? What if they prevent the loss? If they're unable to prevent it, will they feel deprotagonized? What if they don't decide to find it?

What if they are unable to track the skull, or take to long to do it?

What if the minions are unable to delay the adventurers? Can the ritual be stopped? What if it is stopped? Once Orcus is released, what happens?

I just learned about the concept of "trapdoors" which are ways TV writers, like those on Babylon 5, give themselves to keep the story going if a character leaves or dies. You might plan on having the players come up with "trapdoors" for their characters, in case a character dies or a player leaves.

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

Download "Kill the Messengers" - it is a single encounter that takes place as the characters exit the cave/dungeon in the red box.  It revolves around the recovered skull and should give you a great opportunity to move your plot.


Do you play up some other force opposing Orcus?  Pelor is the classic, could also go Raven Queen, maybe invent a new faction that could recruit the good guys into the fight.  


I think you could easily make this stretch more than 2 acts.  They recovered a skull but can they destroy it before the enemy tries to get it back?  How many other skulls are there?  Does losing the skull set back the plans of the bad guys?  What if the good guys can go after other skulls?


I don't think I would play quickly to a final battle.  I would build the conflict over a few levels at least, let the Players have some narrative control in how they go about things.


The other thing is that I would want the PC's to be able to stop the rift (and there should be at least 2 or 3 ways to do it).  I would want them to succeed, to save the world.  You want them to feel like they really accomplished something.  If it is inevitable that they will fail and Orcus will be released on the world... well that just sucks.  But the PC's winning that fight or stopping the Orcus cult doesn't mean the end.  The evil wizard can get away and begin rebuilding.  After all, he was just resurrected and was a bit weak at the time.  The next time it will be different.


Just a few thoughts.


TjD

I knew I posted here for a reason. Excellent advice guys.


So essentially, leave some outs and don't force players to a script. Have a basic framework but let the players tell the story?


And I understand about not having them encouter Orcus until way later. He wouldn't even come into the picture until the players had a LOT of expereince under their belts.     
You have DDI, so look up the adventure called the ghost tower, it has a bit more on traevus and where the skull came from.

It should be super easy to incorporate into campaign! 
FWIW [4e designer] baseline assumption was that roughly 70% of your feats would be put towards combat effectiveness, parties would coordinate, and strikers would do 20/40/60 at-will damage+novas. If your party isn't doing that... well, you are below baseline, so yes, you need to optimize slightly to meet baseline. -Alcestis
You have DDI, so look up the adventure called the ghost tower, it has a bit more on traevus and where the skull came from.

It should be super easy to incorporate into campaign! 

Hey thank you for that! I gave it a quick glance and it looks good.
The plot seems fine to me, very interesting, but it reads like the plot of a story, in which the writer has full control over events, and doesn't have the feelings and decisions of players to consider. I recommend thinking about the following questions and if the answer to any of them is that the adventure will be ruined, or the players will feel controlled, you might consider revising your approach. Try to be as flexible as possible.

Will the party be given a chance to prevent the theft of the box? What if they do? If they are unable to prevent the theft, how will the players feel??

Will the party be given a chance to prevent the retreat of the goblins? What if they do? If they're not given the chance, how will the players feel?

What if the party is not in a position to notice the cloaked rider?

What if they don't promise not to open the box? What if they don't accept the job offer? After all, they are travelling somewhere, so why wouldn't they continue with their travels? What if they don't trust Traveus?

What if they don't learn about the contents of the box? What if they don't make the connection between the "happenings" and the "antagonist"?

How will they lose the skull? What if they prevent the loss? If they're unable to prevent it, will they feel deprotagonized? What if they don't decide to find it?

What if they are unable to track the skull, or take to long to do it?

What if the minions are unable to delay the adventurers? Can the ritual be stopped? What if it is stopped? Once Orcus is released, what happens?

I just learned about the concept of "trapdoors" which are ways TV writers, like those on Babylon 5, give themselves to keep the story going if a character leaves or dies. You might plan on having the players come up with "trapdoors" for their characters, in case a character dies or a player leaves.

I like the concept of trapdoors. I need to read up more on it or look at an example. Thank you.

Download "Kill the Messengers" - it is a single encounter that takes place as the characters exit the cave/dungeon in the red box.  It revolves around the recovered skull and should give you a great opportunity to move your plot.


Do you play up some other force opposing Orcus?  Pelor is the classic, could also go Raven Queen, maybe invent a new faction that could recruit the good guys into the fight.  


I think you could easily make this stretch more than 2 acts.  They recovered a skull but can they destroy it before the enemy tries to get it back?  How many other skulls are there?  Does losing the skull set back the plans of the bad guys?  What if the good guys can go after other skulls?


I don't think I would play quickly to a final battle.  I would build the conflict over a few levels at least, let the Players have some narrative control in how they go about things.


The other thing is that I would want the PC's to be able to stop the rift (and there should be at least 2 or 3 ways to do it).  I would want them to succeed, to save the world.  You want them to feel like they really accomplished something.  If it is inevitable that they will fail and Orcus will be released on the world... well that just sucks.  But the PC's winning that fight or stopping the Orcus cult doesn't mean the end.  The evil wizard can get away and begin rebuilding.  After all, he was just resurrected and was a bit weak at the time.  The next time it will be different.


Just a few thoughts.


TjD


I just downladed this also. It fits perfectly into my plot/theme. I was going to have Traveus killed off at the in in Fallcrest by some hired assasians. That is when Parle Cranewing was going to introduce himeself to the party and he would give them a little more info on the skull and try to entice them to go to the keep on the shadowfell to map it out for him. So this will work perfectly if I just modify it a little.

Thank you
@Krolloc
Welcome to the boards. You will be a great DM... Lots of creativity; the method will come... After a short amount of time visiting these boards, you will learn whose advice you value, and whose you will probably dismiss as not your style. If you can get past the posturing of some of the regulars , there will be things to gleem from both sides of a debate. Take what fits you and your group, look over the rest. Some folks (on both sides) believe that their way is the only way. And oh yeah... 4E is a GREAT edition of D&D to DM... You'll love how easy it is...
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I like the concept of trapdoors. I need to read up more on it or look at an example. Thank you.

Yeah, I'm warming to the concept. It's not as easy in a roleplaying game is it might be in a TV show, because if, say, a player leaves and you bring in a new one, there's little chance the new player will want to play a premade trapdoor character. But you can leave trapdoors without creating an exact character. Organizations are a good way to do this, such as an adventurers guild that dispatches new adventurers, or has some in field, ready to step in. Or whatever. The worst, from my perspective, is just when the PCs are on their own miles or even planes away from any other likely allies, and one of them dies and can't be raised for some reason. That game has painted itself into a corner and has done itself no favors by being lethal.

Some examples:

Babylon 5, from which this concept comes, had lots of ancillary characters who could be easily replaced themselves or who could step in if another actor departed the show for whatever reason. This had to be done on a number of occassions.

Star Trek had a ship full of people who could be field-promoted, if necessary, and there were plenty of semi-regulars who could have been upgraded to regulars. In Deep Space Nine, an actress left and her character was such that a new actress could be brought in to play almost exactly the same character.

Losing a player is always a possibility, and most people keep character death as a possibility, so if either would be ruinous to your campaign, pad things out in advance with trapdoors.

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

I like the concept of trapdoors. I need to read up more on it or look at an example. Thank you.

Yeah, I'm warming to the concept. It's not as easy in a roleplaying game is it might be in a TV show, because if, say, a player leaves and you bring in a new one, there's little chance the new player will want to play a premade trapdoor character. But you can leave trapdoors without creating an exact character. Organizations are a good way to do this, such as an adventurers guild that dispatches new adventurers, or has some in field, ready to step in. Or whatever. The worst, from my perspective, is just when the PCs are on their own miles or even planes away from any other likely allies, and one of them dies and can't be raised for some reason. That game has painted itself into a corner and has done itself no favors by being lethal.

Some examples:

Babylon 5, from which this concept comes, had lots of ancillary characters who could be easily replaced themselves or who could step in if another actor departed the show for whatever reason. This had to be done on a number of occassions.

Star Trek had a ship full of people who could be field-promoted, if necessary, and there were plenty of semi-regulars who could have been upgraded to regulars. In Deep Space Nine, an actress left and her character was such that a new actress could be brought in to play almost exactly the same character.

Losing a player is always a possibility, and most people keep character death as a possibility, so if either would be ruinous to your campaign, pad things out in advance with trapdoors.

I have thought of creating a few guilds in Fallcrest or elswhere where NPCs could be "transformed" to PCs in case one of my players characters were to die. Is that along the lines of what you are describing? Of course I would have to come up with some compelling reason as to why they would want to joing the Journey.
I have thought of creating a few guilds in Fallcrest or elswhere where NPCs could be "transformed" to PCs in case one of my players characters were to die. Is that along the lines of what you are describing?

Basically.

Of course I would have to come up with some compelling reason as to why they would want to joing the Journey.

Two things: One, you don't have to be the one to come up with that reason. You have a tableful of players: collaborate with them.

Two, they don't necessarily have to join the "Journey." Again, build in some wiggle room. What are some reasons other adventurers might be in the area, ready to show up if a character drops? Again, collaborate with your players on this sort of thing, so that the characters they want to play have plausible reasons for showing up.

It baffles me that the game is designed to get itself into a state in which it is difficult to allow players to play what they want. Raise Dead is there, of course, but many DMs reject it for the weak solution it is. But they don't then lay the groundwork to allow players to continue playing what they want to play. It's baffling.

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

I have thought of creating a few guilds in Fallcrest or elswhere where NPCs could be "transformed" to PCs in case one of my players characters were to die. Is that along the lines of what you are describing?

Basically.

Of course I would have to come up with some compelling reason as to why they would want to joing the Journey.

Two things: One, you don't have to be the one to come up with that reason. You have a tableful of players: collaborate with them.

Two, they don't necessarily have to join the "Journey." Again, build in some wiggle room. What are some reasons other adventurers might be in the area, ready to show up if a character drops? Again, collaborate with your players on this sort of thing, so that the characters they want to play have plausible reasons for showing up.

It baffles me that the game is designed to get itself into a state in which it is difficult to allow players to play what they want. Raise Dead is there, of course, but many DMs reject it for the weak solution it is. But they don't then lay the groundwork to allow players to continue playing what they want to play. It's baffling.

Well taken...thank you Centauri.
As for bringing a new character to the table -- and well off the OP's main question though I think your campaign will come along nicely -- we had an experience at my game a few months back where a new player joined bringing along a new PC to the group.  I collaborated with the player on why he would be inserted into the campaign at that time -- he had a vested interest in defeating the antagonist at that point -- and then it was entirely in the player's hand to build a credible reason for him to stick around.  He rose to the occassion admirably.
My players are on the cusp of Paragon, about lvl 9 with a story arc that will take them to 11th level. One part of the current storyline is finding a portal in the Nenlast region to take them to a dragon's lair in the Feywild.

One of the players had asked to play a new character, a dwarf ranger. I txtd him the other day and said "Hey, lets come up with some contacts for your character in that region."

About a dozen messages later we not only had a new and cool contact, but also the seeds for a Paragon-level adventure the PCs can come back to. I never would have come up with it on my own, and my player is super excited and invested because he helped create part of the world.

Collaboration works.
As for bringing a new character to the table -- and well off the OP's main question though I think your campaign will come along nicely -- we had an experience at my game a few months back where a new player joined bringing along a new PC to the group.  I collaborated with the player on why he would be inserted into the campaign at that time -- he had a vested interest in defeating the antagonist at that point -- and then it was entirely in the player's hand to build a credible reason for him to stick around.  He rose to the occassion admirably.

Awesome. In my experience, though, that's only half the battle, because the rest of the group sometimes feels they don't have adequate reason for having the new character join. They don't trust the new character on the basis of class, or race, or some other reason, and bend over backwards to roleplay in a way that excludes the new character. So, be sure to bring the other players in on it too, and ask for them to look for or invent reasons why their characters would be accepting. Tension is fine and makes plenty of sense, and can even be fun, but it can be taken too far.

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

My players are on the cusp of Paragon, about lvl 9 with a story arc that will take them to 11th level. One part of the current storyline is finding a portal in the Nenlast region to take them to a dragon's lair in the Feywild.

One of the players had asked to play a new character, a dwarf ranger. I txtd him the other day and said "Hey, lets come up with some contacts for your character in that region."

About a dozen messages later we not only had a new and cool contact, but also the seeds for a Paragon-level adventure the PCs can come back to. I never would have come up with it on my own, and my player is super excited and invested because he helped create part of the world.

Collaboration works.



No, that's not a tear. I just have something in my eye...

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As for bringing a new character to the table -- and well off the OP's main question though I think your campaign will come along nicely -- we had an experience at my game a few months back where a new player joined bringing along a new PC to the group.  I collaborated with the player on why he would be inserted into the campaign at that time -- he had a vested interest in defeating the antagonist at that point -- and then it was entirely in the player's hand to build a credible reason for him to stick around.  He rose to the occassion admirably.

Awesome. In my experience, though, that's only half the battle, because the rest of the group sometimes feels they don't have adequate reason for having the new character join. They don't trust the new character on the basis of class, or race, or some other reason, and bend over backwards to roleplay in a way that excludes the new character. So, be sure to bring the other players in on it too, and ask for them to look for or invent reasons why their characters would be accepting. Tension is fine and makes plenty of sense, and can even be fun, but it can be taken too far.




Glad you brought that up, as I neglected to mention it.  There was also a discussion at the table about how each character would view the new guy. It was decided from the outset that they would have to agree to work with him, but varying levels of trust and plain old likability made for some interesting RPing.
My players are on the cusp of Paragon, about lvl 9 with a story arc that will take them to 11th level. One part of the current storyline is finding a portal in the Nenlast region to take them to a dragon's lair in the Feywild.

One of the players had asked to play a new character, a dwarf ranger. I txtd him the other day and said "Hey, lets come up with some contacts for your character in that region."

About a dozen messages later we not only had a new and cool contact, but also the seeds for a Paragon-level adventure the PCs can come back to. I never would have come up with it on my own, and my player is super excited and invested because he helped create part of the world.

Collaboration works.



No, that's not a tear. I just have something in my eye...



If I were to hand you a tissue right now, what kind of tissue do you think it should be?
It would have a secret message that I should've read BEFORE melting 20%

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A game is a fictional construct created for the sake of the players, not the other way around. If you have a question "How do I keep X from happening at my table," and you feel that the out-of-game answer "Talk the the other people at your table" won't help, then the in-game answers "Remove mechanics A, B, and/or C, add mechanics L, M, and/or N" will not help either.
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