New GM, need advice for my campaign

Demagod

New member
Hello everyone, I'm a GM on my first campaign and I need some advice because I think my campaign got kind of stale.

So here's the problem: when first starting the campaign the party was composed of a rogue, a technomancer (basically a mage that used technology instead of magic) and a bard.
The obvious problem was that the team lacked both a tank and a healer, so I gave them a NPC that followed them, with the ability to turn into a bear and to give a moderate heal.
I took the occasion to make the NPC a crucial part of the plotline: he is a misterious old adventurer that asked the party to follow him towards a forgotten land, where it is rumored an ancient civilization survived extincion. In reality, the NPC is lying and he just wanted to find a party that could help him get to a desecrated temple where there's a cursed relic that could let him destroy an otherwise invincible eldritch monstrosity that killed one of his old party members of when he was young. So the first part of the story would be about travelling and exploration, while the second one (after they get to the temple) would be a more grim and dark adventure.

So, at the start this looked a good idea to me, because I had found a way to give a tank/healer to my team, a main plot line with a reason to travel and explore the world, and even some "puzzle" action as the party would slowly get new clues of what the true intentions of the NPC are, and maybe confront him if they think that vengeance is not worth such a risk, or decide to help him anyway if they think that his cause is righteous, but now I've realized that this was a flawed design for a plot as player choice is very limited until we get to the point where the NPC's intentions are revealed: up until that point the story is very much railroaded as "let's follow this old man until we get to this place".
So now I'd like some advice about how to change this situation. I would like to keep the final part of the story, but give more freedom to the players in the first half, so I thought that maybe I could kill off/make the NPC leave the party, but I need to make it in a way that isn't too forced into the story, while keeping an incentive for the players to get to that temple in the end, but through their means and not just by following a NPC.

I thought about maybe unleashing this eldritch monstrosity on the world, so that the NPC and his old team mates would try to slow it down (since they already fought it once), while revealing the truth to the PCs and asking them to retrieve this relic, though I don't like this solutions for two reasons:
1) the fact that the monstrosity starts wrecking havoc would make it a world-ending threat, basically forcing the team to pick up the relic even if it is cursed, removing the dilemma about revenge
2) the fact that it would put a time limit to the plot, as being too slow would mean that the monstrosity would eventually destroy most of the world, putting the players on a clock and not leaving them the freedom to explore as they please.

What would be a good way to fix this problem in your opinion? Thanks to everyone who will read.
 

Starry Daze

Member
Validated User
Assuming the PCs are still reasonably fond of the quest giver at this point, you could keep things relatively personal. The monstrosity learns of his attempt to locate the artifact and somehow it takes action to destroy him. However, he leaves behind some kind of journal about the necessary Macguffin. Then the players might decide to take up the quest on behalf of their friend, or if they initially aren’t interested you could make it a more direct threat later once they’ve had more time to wander.
Alternately, the monstrosity itself could be holding some treasure they want or need at some point, giving them a reason for pursuing the cursed relic, but without the direct time pressure.
 

Tricksy and False

Social Justice Murderhobo
RPGnet Member
Validated User
So now I'd like some advice about how to change this situation. I would like to keep the final part of the story, but give more freedom to the players in the first half, so I thought that maybe I could kill off/make the NPC leave the party, but I need to make it in a way that isn't too forced into the story, while keeping an incentive for the players to get to that temple in the end, but through their means and not just by following a NPC.
I'd suggest moving up the timetable on the revelation of the NPC's true intentions. Once his deception is revealed, the PCs are no longer on rails. They can choose to help him recover the relic, or go do something else.

Two ideas come to my mind:
1) The NPC tells the party himself. Through their adventures, he's come to like the party and feels guilty about his lies. He comes clean, and appeals to them directly for help rather than continue to manipulate them.
2) The eldritch monstrosity has a cult following. One of the servitors of the monstrosity knows the truth. They tell the truth to the PCs, hoping the PCs will desert the NPC and thus undermine the attempt to recover the relic. When confronted, the NPC admits to the truth, apologizes for lying, and appeals to the PCs directly for help.

The scary part for many GMs is the PCs-free-to-go-do-something-else part. Many GMs are not comfortable with improvising on the fly in response to PC actions. This can also be true for players. There are many players who prefer light rails to a full sandbox experience. The freedom can lead to paralysis. Do you actually know that your players are unhappy with the light rails you're currently providing?

(I assume they're on light rails because I assume you're not punishing them/insta-failing them if they try plans other than what the NPC wants nor for doing things other than what you planned for)
 

Demagod

New member
Hi everyone, thanks for the advice.
So, about the extent of the railroading, I'd say it's not too hard. For example, their last stop to a city has given everyone the chance to do something on their own that fitted their lore. The bard has met a sage that gave him some information as well as a new instrument, the technomancer has bought a special horse that can be enhanced by tech to become some sort of cyborg mount, and the rogue had a little adventure stealing a rare book to sell it to some criminal organization that wanted it for reasons that I'm supposed to reveal later, if everything continues according to plan. The interesting thing is that the rogue tried to cheat the deal, but got caught and destroyed the book after that, so I plan on having the bandits trying to punish the party on a later moment.
So I'd say that the situation is not too critical, though I still think that the NPC was a mistake and maybe leaving a map or a diary would have been a better plot hook.
About the cult, I actually already thought about giving the monstrosity a cult (their leader is supposed to be the boss fight at the end of part one, as she is guarding the relic herself), but the idea to make it more active in the world and not just a final encounter is really good, thanks.

So, right now I think that my options for this problem that prove less world-breaking than the inital plans would be:
- Having the cultists interfere as suggested and then see how my PC react
- Have the criminals make an ambush and get a mortal strike to the NPC, then have him reveal the truth before dying and give them a map with the location of the temple. But this may feel a bit cheap and a bit too obvious.

Thank you for the suggestions, I'll return on this thread to let you know how the situation has evolved.
 

Wonderwill

Registered User
Validated User
Your plot line is not far off of Tomb of Annihilation from D&D 5e. I try not to reinvent the wheel as a DM. You might refer to that for some inspiration and assistance in how to set everything up. In that, the PCs need to collect several parts of a key to open a final temple and save the world, but are competing against another crew of evil people who want to stop them. This would require the players to have to compete or lose in a race, rather than a hurry or the world ends general doom. Perhaps too the bad guys who are competing have kidnapped the bear druid, and so they have to do collect the prize in a time to free their friend.
 
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