Newbie 4e GM in need of some creative & mechanics advice (wall of textish)

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Hey,
So I've decided to incur my so far untested DMing skills onto a group of friends. I have played a few campaigns, but I haven't been DM yet, and I could probably use some pointers for my planned campaign.

First of all, I know that using a premade campaign would be a lot less work and probably be easier for a newbie, but I don't think I'd be nearly as enthusiastic about it. Fortunately there's quite a bit of time between the individual sessions so I should be fine. What concerns me more is that I fear I might end up trying to push my players to go down specific paths too much. I'll also probably have shortcomings in knowledge about game mechanics and the general d&d world.

I'll try to structure this post in a way that people can skip parts if they only want to give input on mechanics or creative advice. I'll also try and number my questions. And of course I'll keep as brief as I can.

The setting first. 4th edition, homebrew world, I'll probably allow just about any race/class combination. The only limitations are 1) no evil characters and 2) no items that emit light, or light spells (the latter just won't work, but they can pick them if they want to) but more to that later. Let me start off with saying that i've already realized it's all going to be a little trashy and silly, though I'll go ahead regardless.

The starting point for each character is (in their backstory, even before session one) is finding a magical artifact, whether they happen upon it while dungeon crawling, or steal it from a museum, or buy it in an auction doesn't matter. The important part is, as soon as they touch it, they black out.
Cue first session.
Everyone comes to in the middle of road. It is lined with thick forest on either side, and a faint fog lies in the air. Everything seems slightly desaturated. The fog seems to become thicker in one direction of the road. No one knows how they got there or where "there" is, naturally.
If the players decide to go into the thickening fog, they will eventually end up where they went in. They're trapped.
If they follow the road, they come to a fork in the road. Now my intention is to let them choose the path, but changing that path to lead to the same place either way (unbeknownst to them of course).
1) Are fake choices like that frowned upon and a bad idea, or is that an acceptable tool to occasionally guide players? 
 
After a while, with light slowly starting to fade, they will come to crossroads at the entrance to a large, open area. Straight ahead, a good distance away, they see a village. To the left and right the road seems to just go on straight, then take a corner and lead along the edges of the area.
The intention is naturally for players to go straight ahead into the village, though that isn't a necessity. If they do, they'll arrive in a small village, populated by a bunch of people from all kinds of races that seem friendly enough, but something's a little off (oh gosh!). If they look well enough, players will notice no lanterns or torches or lamps of any kind. Of course no one can tell the party anything about the area, the lights, or the fog, they're just living in their village, yessir.

Now if the party decides to stay in the village one way or another, as soon as the last bit of light has faded, the villagers will just stop...they'll stand around without doing anything. Meanwhile, our party encounters the main villain of the plot. Who will absolutely crush them.
If at this point the players decide to run, or if they left the village, as soon as they are in the dark outside of the village, shadowy creatures will come out and keep attacking until, you guessed it, the party dies.
2) Any ideas as to what kind of creatures I could use for the ones that come out of the darkness? I was thinking about using undead as the mechanic base and building my own descriptions of shade creatures onto them, but if anyone has better ideas, I'd appreciate them.

Of course the party doesn't stay dead. They will come to exactly where they first did, middle of the road in the forest.
Naturally I'd like them to this time take the other fork in the road, which would lead them to a small cottage with a demented old man, but also a book that gives some explanations, a whole stack of maps of the area with a marked location, and a few torches.
3) If my party doesn't decide to take the other fork, they'd naturally relive their previous fate, which I think would probably get old really quick. Not sure how to handle that.

Now, the more elaborate setting and backstory, a lot of which will be revealed to my characters through the book (which is basically an old tale).
The area they are in right now is home to a "race" of shadowy creatures, led by their matriarch (the villain). They have a serious case of light-allergy, so they came up with a plan to overcome that: They would distribute artifacts all across the world. Whomever touched one of them would be transported to their realm, where they would be either immediately posessed by one of the creatures or if their willpower was strong enough killed until they are broken and unable to resist the possession any longer - that's the villagers. At night they don't need their hulls, so they just leave them behind idle, still under their control, and go out hunting. They try to avoid fighting in villager "form", as it feels alien and uncomfortable to them - they just wouldn't be any good in a fight. They plan on amassing enough host bodies to be able to expand (i.e. conquer) the material plane. They are of course pretty similar to vampires - in fact, killing the matriarch would effectively wipe out all his "children" as well.
Though to do this, our party will have gather, wait for it - five magic amulets with different themes: The Jester (laughter), the knight (loyalty), the scholar (honesty), the monk (generosity) and the healer (kindness). Also known as the elements of harmony (to me. Not my group. Though they don't watch that show so they'll have no idea). Although...
4) I'm not sure about the monk and scholar as representations of their character traits. Anyone got a better idea?

The amulets are distributed in the 5 corners of the big area in the middle, each in their own dungeon/tower/whatnot. Of course I'd want to have somewhat of a theme going in each of those areas, such as illusions and traps in the jester one, but I'm still working on the other four, so
5) I'd be happy for any (however small) idea on how to add some of the amulet's theme to the different dungeons

There will also be a small camp of survivors (the marked place on the map) that have barricaded themselves in. That's the place for the party to trade, stock up on supplies, get some more backstory, and find some sidequest (such as securing food or rescuing a patrol, the usual).

I'll also put in some more sidequest locations, like a camp of goblins that ended up in the area through an artifact but were deemed unworthy as hosts by the shadow creatures and so just kind of set up along the edges.

Now, in order to defeat the "boss", ideally the party would have to:
a) Find the amulets
b) "activate" the amulets by doing a deed associated with the character trait while wearing it (like telling a joke, or helping someone for no reward)
c) optional: Organize some sources of light that'll work in the village (like ghoul candles?)
d) optional: rally some of the resistance to assist them in their final fight
e) kick some butt and go home with the artifact the matriarch carries.
While doing this they would of course have to organize a steady supply of torches or other sources of light (light-magic won't work in this plane) to prevent them being overrun at night

Now, some more mechanical questions, oh boy.
6) Not sure what i'd do if the party decided to just start cutting down the villagers during the day. That's a big concern.
7) Unsure how to implement the whole amulet-boss relationship in actual mechanics. I was thinking of giving the amulets just a whole bunch of necrotic resistance (seems lazy to me and I'd have to destroy them after the campaign, or at least alter them). Trying to figure out a better way that prevents the players from engaging the boss successfully until they have all amulets combined without sounding stupid.

Finally, if I've forgotten anything, you find some major flaws, gaping plotholes or just generally think I'm a crazy fool and this won't turn out well, let me know as well. I'm grateful for any reply.
 
Just wanted to add some additional info:
The matriarch herself will not leave the town and roam the map even at night. However, to make things more challenging I'll have to give him the ability to extinguish lights that could cause him harm - namely light that he can see - which is what optional goal c) is intended for. That means that if our party goes to face him without securing help of the other survivors, the fight will be made significantly more challenging by forcing them to deal with his minions simultaneously - if they tag along, they will focus on holding off the cannon fodder. That begs the quesstion
8) How to implement a mechanic that extinquishes lightsources inside the central village. Magic light won't work in the plane regardless, but other sources of light would have to be suppressed somehow. 

Additionally, if a player should die, I will roll a dice and determine their fate based on the outcome: After their first death (which should happen in any case) they will just come to back at the beginning. After their second death, they have a 1 in 3 chance to just "respawn", and a 2 in 3 chance to be posessed. If they *are* possessed, they will end up as one of the villagers, and the party can try to free them through a sidequest (difficult enough to make dying not trivial). Third death, those odds go down to 1 in 6 and 5 in 6, and so on. Is there a major flaw in that idea?

Generally, this campaign will be pretty challenging (my friends prefer it that way) with a focus on combat, riddles, dungeons and survival. There will be NPC interaction as well of course, but the world in general is pretty apocalyptic and bleak, so finding a friendly face will be rare. 
Alright.  General Overview:
First off, if you are a newbie DM, making houserules is not a good idea.  Play with the stock rules for a bit and then branch off.
Stop trying to kill the players.  The DM who makes it DM vs Players gets to play by himself.  Especially the guarenteed dying stuff all over the place.

Alignment That's fine.  People like to argue about alignment, but by saying no evil creatures, you are saying you want a hero type of game to run.
Trapped?  If you are forcing them to the same place no matter which path, then let them come through the forest if they want to.
Bolded 1 Completely misleading your players for the purpose of shoving them some place is not a good idea.  But it's your first game.  Just don't do it again.
Adventure Time! Stick with the premade adventure at first.  The village thing seems really hokey.  The whole thing about light still makes no sense anyways.  So far, it has no contribution to plot.
Why would the main villain bother with such a rabble?  That's what minions are for.  Don't make them run or anything.  Just let them fight his lackeys while he goes about his business and leaves.
Light or the party dies?  This is a very bad idea.  Even if they figure it out, you didn't allow anything for light.  That makes no sense.  The whole thing about light being a weakness is like the wicked witch of the west dying from a bucket of water that just happened to be nearby.  It was a bad plot device then, and it still is.
Bolded 2 Shadow elementals.  Just pick a fire elemental, and rename fire to shadow.
Bolded 3 Of course it would get old fast.  It's an outdated mechanic based on assuming the players want to keep dying.
Plot Hook  Light-Allergy is not a good hook.  And bringing people to a lightless realm does not overcome getting rid of the light.  It just opens up things for a deus ex machina.  And you want to avoid those.
Possession  You never had anything try to possess the players, so why were they the exception?  The strong willed thing is a solid enough proof of that.  Give the players a chance to beat the possessors.  The characters are already a cut above the rest.  Make the possessors strong enough that a commoner couldn't win in a fight without lots of luck.
Kill the host and everyone is happy?  Load bearing bosses should be used sparingly.  And not in your first adventure...."window.parent.tinyMCE.get('post_content').onLoad.dispatch();" contenteditable="true" />Amulets Please no.  For one thing, monks aren't generous in the D&D world.  Healing items are sold for profit, so kindness doesn't make much sense.  If you want to really do this kind of them, give them rings instead of amulets.  The neck area gives defenses and is one of the three most important slots on a character.  Go with signet rings, and each one bearing a symbol.  Then have each ring have a small power that reflects it's symbol.
Bolded 4  Elements of Harmony.  I looked it up just in case and found My Little Pony.  Of all the things to emulate, maybe not the best.  Anyways, how about something a little more mystic, but keeping with what you want?  The Fool(Cleverness), The Emperor(Loyalty), The Chariot(Honor), The Star(Generosity), Strength(Kindness).  Yeah, tarot cards, but they fit well.  If you could change the laughter one, I would suggest The Empress(Delight), or even The Magician(Creativity).
Bolded 5 If you went with the tarot cards, each card has it's inversion.  For example, Honor->Dishonor.  Have a mirror showing the illusion of a player backstabbing the other in the next room.  When the players reach that room, refer back to the vision.  Make sure you dragged the person picked for backstabbing aside and talk to him about what he thinks about the mirror.  Then tell him not to discuss what you said with the others.  If it's an online game, mention that you are going to whisper the guy instead.  Polar opposites is pretty basic though.  Make sure to have twists, and involve the players in them.
c) Why couldn't they just light a fire?  Does fire not work in your world?  You mentioned there's a forest.  Seems like plenty of wood there.
e) The artifact seems to be doing all the work.  If you are dead set on it, have the artifact burn away the shadows to reveal the bbeg's true form and will negate his darkness abilities(like teleport to any darkened area or the ability to create globes of darkness on light sources).  A character who can't see isn't going to be hitting things very well.
Bolded 6 Killing non-combatants is an evil act.  You already pointed out you don't want evil characters.  But if they kill the villagers, I don't see what the problem is.  The shadows could inhabit the goblins you mentioned earlier.
Bolded 7 See e).  They would also need to get through his minions.
Alright, thanks for the honest reply first of all. Yes, I know going with a houseruled game for my first is not the smartest idea, that's why I've been asking for help to see if I can make it work at all. If after deliberation I'm not confident enough I'd pull it off, I can still go and do some premade.

Anyways, I will try and address every point best I can. I'll leave out the few I can't really add anything to.

Dying: Not trying to kill the players after the intial encounter, but you're right in that it's probably better if I at least make it possible for them to avoid even the first time. The intention is not to make the campaign artificially harder by trying to kill of my players all the time but to give them a bit of a scare.

 Trapped: Not entirely sure what you mean here. They are welcome to try and go through the forest left or right if they want (provided they don't get themselves lost). They just aren't supposed to be able to leave the "map". If they went into the fog on the opposite site of the map, they'd come back out there, not at the beginning.

 Bolded 1: I admit it's a lazy mechanic to keep them in the dark on the nature of that place for longer. I may do away with it.

 Adventure Time!: I figured it might be a bit cheesy. I'll think about it some more.

 Why would the main villain bother with such a rabble?: Leave whereto, though - he doesn't feel the need to leave the village, but it is his home, and the players are intruding on it.

Light or the party dies?
: Not entirely convinced on that one. The wicked witch analogy is wobbly because that was a coincidental deus ex machina. The light wouldn't work like that - it's more of a means to keep some sense of scarcity into the campaign because the players would have to make sure not to run out of torches.

Plot HookI don't think I completely understand you there. Are you saying that bringing people to their realm to serve as hosts to protect the creatures during light won't work somehow? Though it did make me wonder how they would survive without hosts during daytime. I should give that some more thought, admittedly.

 Possession: This should theoretically occur only when they are dying, which hopefully they will not, however you make a good point in that I should make the whole process more involved for the players instead of rolling a dice. Maybe give them a chance at mentally fighting off their possesser.

Kill the host and everyone is happy?Well enough. In that case, I'll have to come up with something smarter.

Amulets: I chose amulets exactly because they are important magic items. They would be actual magical amulets of course, with proper stats and a properly challenging task to aquire them. I didn't intend to make players go through an elaborate dungeon to have them end up with a fancy McGuffin.

 Bolded 4I like the tarot card idea. Maybe I'll do a blend. Creativity/Cleverness/Delight might not work as "virtues", but I figure the fool could represent the same as the jester. The only issue I'd have would be players not figuring out what each symbol represents.

Bolded 5:  That actually addresses my concerns over Bolded 4, with it basically showing the players what each symbol represents (more or less). I was thinking more about the general theme of the dungeons though, to keep with the amulet held within (as before, the jester one would contain a bunch of traps and illusions, the scholar one would have riddles, etc.)

c) Very good question. I had actually forgotten to address that. I was considering that since this world is pretty much static, the trees won't burn, plants won't grow, and people won't age. However that would mean that all torches and other light sources the party could get, but also food and drink, would necessarily come from the outside world, which in turn would mean that they would have to be brought in somehow, so I'd have to either allow my party to bring as many of them as they please (and have all other supplies be brought in by other people carelessly touching artifacts), or decide they can't for some reason.

e) Assuming that by artifact you mean the amulets then they would do the majority of the work indeed, making the fight fair. I like the idea of it's workings quite a lot.
 
Bolded 6: They could easily justify their killing of their villagers after their first encounter with them, should they conclude that the villagers are working with the enemy / are the enemy. Taking over the goblins is a very interesting suggestion however. I'd have to have a contingency should the goblins get killed too, though, which brings me back to the latter part of the plot hook.


Alright, thanks for the honest reply first of all. Yes, I know going with a houseruled game for my first is not the smartest idea, that's why I've been asking for help to see if I can make it work at all. If after deliberation I'm not confident enough I'd pull it off, I can still go and do some premade.






Just start with the premade, seriously.
It's generally considered wise to not muck with the rules until you know them well enough to know how changing them will impact the game. If you seriously beleive its a bad idea, why are you doing it anyway? 


As for the 1st post, i tried to read it all, but stopped after the 2nd point.
As to your first question, yes putting in forking roads that leads the same place is lame. I'd recommend that you describe the roads in such a way that they have a clue where they go. Ya know, the road they are on continues towards the town, but a small footpath branches off.

As for your second question (if they try to leave early i'll have them attacked blah blah blah and the boss guy is also totally unbeatable), it's also lame. If you insist on them staying, then it'd jsut be best to ham up the townsfolk saying that it's not safe to go out at night and they need to wait until dawn. Some pc's will take the hint, but if they don't, at least you warned them....  
As for the boss guy, it's entirely possible that the pc's will be scared dookieless of this guy and never want to see him again. But you stuck them in a Groundshog's day adventure... 
 
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
Thanks for the reply.

To answer your question why I try to do a custom campaign rather than stick with something premade: Because so far I've yet to find a premade campaign that a) neither of the players has done yet and b) sounds particularly interesting. Being able to create your own world, fights and NPCs is simply more engaging than running a generic storyline.

I also appreciate you took the time to address at least the first two points, unfortunately, even though I said I'd try to keep it modular, you would probably have had to read the exposition part further down, so they are somewhat missing the points. Sorry about that.
No prob, and sorry if i seemed a bit cranky, i really shouldn't be reading posts at 3am.

I'll give it a solid read and better response tonight.  
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
1) Are fake choices like that frowned upon and a bad idea, or is that an acceptable tool to occasionally guide players?

Not that it's an unplayable idea -- JRPGs are famous for that play style -- but the whole concept of Western tabletop RPGs in particular revolve around freedom of expression.  By giving players fake or no choices, you can seriously cause disengagement and disassociation, especially if you don't take into consideration any of their input.

2) Any ideas as to what kind of creatures I could use for the ones that come out of the darkness? I was thinking about using undead as the mechanic base and building my own descriptions of shade creatures onto them, but if anyone has better ideas, I'd appreciate them.

Ask your players, or keep them guessing.  True horror genre hinges on the unknown, because no one can scare you better than yourself.  See: Blair Witch Project, the Ring (Japanese version, not American version).

3) If my party doesn't decide to take the other fork, they'd naturally relive their previous fate, which I think would probably get old really quick. Not sure how to handle that.

That's because you're insisting on using railroad galore for your story.

4) I'm not sure about the monk and scholar as representations of their character traits. Anyone got a better idea?

Not sure how or why I should answer this bit.

5) I'd be happy for any (however small) idea on how to add some of the amulet's theme to the different dungeons

Tried asking your players for suggestions?

6) Not sure what i'd do if the party decided to just start cutting down the villagers during the day. That's a big concern.

It really depends on the how and why they start cutting down the villagers.  You might have to improv on this.

7) Unsure how to implement the whole amulet-boss relationship in actual mechanics. I was thinking of giving the amulets just a whole bunch of necrotic resistance (seems lazy to me and I'd have to destroy them after the campaign, or at least alter them). Trying to figure out a better way that prevents the players from engaging the boss successfully until they have all amulets combined without sounding stupid.

Since you're apparently going through the whole railroad bit, might I suggest that you describe how the "boss" is surrounded by an aura that prevents any sort of harm from befelling him.  Perhaps any attack literally goes through him, and the texts would describe how all five amulets must be used together so they could shift to the plane between planes where he can be harmed.

8) How to implement a mechanic that extinquishes lightsources inside the central village. Magic light won't work in the plane regardless, but other sources of light would have to be suppressed somehow.

You don't need a mechanic.  Just say, "as you approach the village, even the light from the sun seems to dim." Then when someone brings out a light, tell them that magical lights fizzle out, and torches that are lit seem to give nothing more than candle light even when fully ablaze.

- - - - - -
Simple suggestions, given how you're going homebrew:
1. Talk to your players
2. Keep it simple for now, since you can always build up stuff as you go along (honestly, don't overthink it; even the X-Files and Star Wars were basically make-it-up-as-you-go)
3. Don't plan for more than one session (seriously, players can easily screw up anything past that next session)
4. Talk to your players 
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