Overplots for Adventure Paths: Is there more than one plot possible?


Dungeon Magazine General Discussion


A recent discussion on the new Adventure Path 3, Savage Tide, promted me to think of what possible overplots could work for an adventure path that spans character levels 1 through 20. So far we've seen two paths and the bare sketch for the third. All three involve saving the world from an evil god/demon/outsider threat, though each may have their own twists as well. For example, to me Shackled City is also the story of Cauldron, its corruption, destruction (possibly) and rebirth.

The big challenge to such an overplot is that it must have an epic feel that culminates in an epic climax, yet must also allow a lot of diversity over its course to keep players and DMs from getting bored over the long course of the path, and must be archetypal enough to engage most of Dungeon's readership. What other possible overplots for adventure paths are there?

Here are the ones I can think of:
1) Invasion/incursion - A conquering force threatens civilized lands (could be an evil human or humanoid empire, aberrations or drow from the Underdark, or creatures from another world like githyanki or outsiders). The heroes must save the Good Lands from being invaded or must roll back the invasion that has already occurred.
2) Stop the end of the world from the Unspeakable Thing - Some evil god/fiend/elder being will be unleashed and wreak havoc and destruction or worse upon the world if not stopped.
3) Restore The Nation to Righteousness - The heroes' kingdom/ city/ nation/ civilization is sinking or has sunk into corruption and decadence. The heroes must somehow restore the people to purity by restoring the true ruler to power, or deposing the evil ruler, or freeing the controlled will of a dominated or possessed ruler, etc.
4) Restore Peace - Nations or races are at war. The heroes must earn the respect or allegiance of all sides, or alleviate the wrong done to one or more sides, or obtain something desired by one or more sides, so they can broker a peace.
5) Heal the Land - Something terrible has corrupted the world itself, so that nature/ the world/ the land is sick or corrupted. The heroes must find out how to heal the land and fulfill a series of quests to restore and heal the land by either destroying the source of the corruption or finding the cure.

Any other overplots?


Trailblazing--the characters have to survey/map/plot a new continent, all the while fighting the natives and discovering a terrible secret.

Campaign success occurs when a stable colony has been established on the new continent and trade routes have been surveyed.

Think Christopher Columbus--the PCs start off as rankers, crewmen, marines & such and end up leading the expedition after all the leadership has been killed or corrupted. Has lots of potential for internal intrigue and PCs having to operate without the support of towns, smiths, magic shops, etc.


farewell2kings wrote:

Trailblazing--the characters have to survey/map/plot a new continent, all the while fighting the natives and discovering a terrible secret.

Campaign success occurs when a stable colony has been established on the new continent and trade routes have been surveyed.

Incursion was done a few years ago, with githyanki, though only the overarcing plot, some adventure hooks, and the final adventure were supplied by Paizo, as well as some nifty posters and downloadable goodies.

Liberty's Edge

I was thinking about riffing on subplots to make the 'formula' seem more unique. I mean, it's all going to boil down to a specific formula in the end, I can't really diss anybody for that.
Let's say Demogorgon has noticed that these winky little 1st level mortal adventurers have a way of pumping up to epic proportion in the span of 1-2 years--a blink of the eye. A puny 4-man-crew put the kybosh on Kyuss, for cryin out loud. So, super genius he is, he puts his crew to work. Okay, death knights, go around Greyhawk and SLAUGHTER ALL OF THESE ADVENTURER TYPES before they get to be a pain in the neck's.
Even that's been done before. Ring Wraiths.
But the whole time the characters get to have the servitors of the death knights following them around and trying to whack them.


farewell2kings wrote:

Trailblazing--the characters have to survey/map/plot a new continent, all the while fighting the natives and discovering a terrible secret.

Campaign success occurs when a stable colony has been established on the new continent and trade routes have been surveyed.

Think Christopher Columbus--the PCs start off as rankers, crewmen, marines & such and end up leading the expedition after all the leadership has been killed or corrupted. Has lots of potential for internal intrigue and PCs having to operate without the support of towns, smiths, magic shops, etc.

I've always thought of doing this with the Mazteca setting. Start the campaign just before the first ship leaves to the new world. There is quite a campaign that can be built around that theme though unlike our own world the story line there was one of learning to work together as each group (the natives and the colonists) had a great character flaw that was somewhat addressed by the other major group. The invaders had base intentions but ultimately worshipped good or at least neutral Gods while the natives intentions where mostly not evil (except for the priest caste) but they worshipped and were in the thrall of evil Gods. Strikes me as an interesting plot line. Some fighting, some negotiating and when it all wraps up there is a decent moral to the tale. Works for me.

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Jeremy Mac Donald wrote:


I've always thought of doing this with the Mazteca setting. Start the campaign just before the first ship leaves to the new world. There is quite a campaign that can be built around that theme though unlike our own world the story line there was one of learning to work together as each group (the natives and the colonists) had a great character flaw that was somewhat addressed by the other major group. The invaders had base intentions but ultimately worshipped good or at least neutral Gods while the natives intentions where mostly not evil (except for the priest caste) but they worshipped and were in the thrall of evil Gods. Strikes me as an interesting plot line. Some fighting, some negotiating and when it all wraps up there is a decent moral to the tale. Works for me.

I've always wanted to run the plotline from the opposite side - have the PC's be the natives. I usually framed it in a Spelljammer context though, with the natives being some variety of goblinoids and the colonists being elves. I wrote up the setting and an outline under 2e, breaking out different areas by goblinoid subraces. There was a large clan of mammoth riding feudal ogres, a relatively advanced goblin society built into cliff cities, and a nasty militaristic hobgoblin group that was into ritual sacrifice.


farewell2kings wrote:

Think Christopher Columbus--the PCs start off as rankers, crewmen, marines & such and end up leading the expedition after all the leadership has been killed or corrupted.

When I think "Christopher Columbus," I think of the players shwoing up, converting, enslaving, raping, and killing the natives, killing them with their viruses, and building Wal-Marts on their land. Sorry, I dinnae like white people.


Great a GUNs, GERMs, and STEEL adventure path! I can hardly wait to add smallpox infected blankets to my equipment list;).

For those that haven't read Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond, you should check it out. Clift notes version= European domanance, was the result of luckly geography and not the result of the "superiority" of the European peoples.


farewell2kings wrote:

Trailblazing--the characters have to survey/map/plot a new continent, all the while fighting the natives and discovering a terrible secret.

Campaign success occurs when a stable colony has been established on the new continent and trade routes have been surveyed.

Think Christopher Columbus--the PCs start off as rankers, crewmen, marines & such and end up leading the expedition after all the leadership has been killed or corrupted. Has lots of potential for internal intrigue and PCs having to operate without the support of towns, smiths, magic shops, etc.

That sounds like a lot of fun.

My campaigns tend to involve the "destroy a great evil" overall plot, with minor plots woven for each PC. The above seems like a nice move from the norm.


Brodie Pomper wrote:
When I think "Christopher Columbus," I think of the players shwoing up, converting, enslaving, raping, and killing the natives, killing them with their viruses, and building Wal-Marts on their land. Sorry, I dinnae like white people.

Hmmm....racial slur? I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. While history's misdeeds are certainly no less wrong when viewed through the lens of "enlightened" 21st century viewpoints, I think the native Americans would have done the same to the Europeans had they developed the technology ahead of the Europeans. Mankind has always slaughtered and enslaved each other and always will. It doesn't make it right, but such is life.

Anyway, sorry for evoking a negative image in your mind, an exploration adventure path's PCs certainly wouldn't be compelled to act in a "historically accurate" fashion. ....plus the natives would probably not be "helpless" if the danger level of the first adventure paths is any indication. D&D, while a medieval type game, features a lot of "modern" morality and ethics built into it to make the players and designers more comfortable in their own skins (there's nothing wrong with that, BTW) Simulations of historically accurate widespread cruelty to other people wouldn't be fun to play anyway.


Sebastian wrote:
[I've always wanted to run the plotline from the opposite side - have the PC's be the natives. I usually framed it in a Spelljammer context though, with the natives being some variety of goblinoids and the colonists being elves. I wrote up the setting and an outline under 2e, breaking out different areas by goblinoid subraces. There was a large clan of mammoth riding feudal ogres, a relatively advanced goblin society built into cliff cities, and a nasty militaristic hobgoblin group that was into ritual sacrifice.

Now, THAT's a cool idea....

Liberty's Edge

Brodie Pomper wrote:
When I think "Christopher Columbus," I think of the players shwoing up, converting, enslaving, raping, and killing the natives, killing them with their viruses, and building Wal-Marts on their land. Sorry, I dinnae like white people.

Columbus. Blackbeard. Miyamoto Musashi. Richard the Lionhearted. Cesare Borgia. Alexander the Great. Genghis Khan. Philip IV. Atilla the Hun. Julius Caesar.

All utter and total vicious bastards.
All celebrated in one way or another by this game we play.
But on this board, I thought p. c. meant player character.


Trailblazing sounds like a fun adventure arc, but I don't think it would hold my players' attention for the entire length of a level 1 through 20 campaign. Though I may be wrong, if it was interspersed with enough major subplots, such as befriending this one civilization, defeating this other civilization, etc. and each subplot was engaging enough in and of itself.


If you want to steal an idea, steal a good'un. That's what I say.

The PC's meet aboard ship whilst travelling to a foreign port. The ship hits a storm and the PC's (and any other survivors) find themselves stranded on a strange beach with no obvious way of getting home. Whilst exploring their location and protecting the other survivors (wild animals, ferocious humanoids, etc.), they find strange secrets, powerful magics and other survivors from previous wrecks, all of whom have to be defeated or befriended. Hidden away in the jungle/ hills/ tundra is the source of their woes, and slowly but surely they piece together the clues to defeat it and return home.

Anyone else been watching Lost recently??

Paizo Employee Creative Director

Lost is awesome.

In fact, one of the early incarnations of Savage Tide was a plot that had the PCs crashing a ship on the shores of an uncharted continent that they have to explore and help establish a colony upon. We decided against going with this plot for several reasons, the twomajor ones being:

1: It's not mainstream D&D enough to take up 1/3 of the magazine for a year.

2: (AKA the Main Reason): Once the PCs get halfway through the Adventure Path, they suddenly have access to spells like teleport, plane shift, sending, shadow walk, wind walk, and the like. Spells that, in one way or another, allow the PCs to easilly re-establish contact with the mainland and take away any sense of isolation. Therefore, a 20-level campaign about being stranded on a strange land either ends at 7th or 9th or 11th level (depending on what kind of spellcasters are in your group), has to be for non-spellcasters only (not an option for the magazine), or has to be set in some strange realm where these spells don't work (too much railroading).

That all said, there's still a strong element of this type of campaign in the Isle of Dread adventures in Savage Tide; it's a cool plot, after all. It's just not one that works fora 20-level core D&D campaign.


James Jacobs wrote:


2: (AKA the Main Reason): Once the PCs get halfway through the Adventure Path, they suddenly have access to spells like teleport, plane shift, sending, shadow walk, wind walk, and the like. Spells that, in one way or another, allow the PCs to easilly re-establish contact with the mainland and take away any sense of isolation. Therefore, a 20-level campaign about being stranded on a strange land either ends at 7th or 9th or 11th level (depending on what kind of spellcasters are in your group), has to be for non-spellcasters only (not an option for the magazine), or has to be set in some strange realm where these spells don't work (too much railroading).

That is a very cool idea.

The first half could lead up to the adventurers opening up the HATCH which was already on the island. Once they do that they have to get the heck off the island and then figure out a way to stop the horrible evil that they brought into the world by opening the hatch in the first place. Sounds pretty sweet.


farewell2kings wrote:

Trailblazing--the characters have to survey/map/plot a new continent, all the while fighting the natives and discovering a terrible secret.

Another option for Trailblazing is that of Lewis and Clark, or the wagon trains in the old west. Perhaps the characters are from a nation that is surrounded by mountains, and the local Druids warn of an eruption that will destroy the valley. So the characters are charged with escorting caravans of civilians out of the destruction to settle in a new area.

Or another option some friends and I have tried before is the merchantile campaign/political campaign. The idea we were working with was one of the characters is from a moderately influential merchant family that an outside group (like the Zhenturm) wants to manipulate to get an in with the government. The characters are thus manipulated by said enemy until the find out what is going on. (kind of simplified from what we were working on.)

Another twist the the merchant campaign that I played in was the characters were hired by a artificer to locate and excavate a very large quantity of admantium which was located in an null magic area in the jungles of Chult. So it was lightly based of the movie "Lions in the Darkness."

There is also the idea of nation building, or the birthwright idea, where instead of a campaign that spans 1-20th for 1 groups of characters you could do a generational campaign that spans across a number of characters.

Salcor


James Jacobs wrote:

[

2: (AKA the Main Reason): Once the PCs get halfway through the Adventure Path, they suddenly have access to spells like teleport, plane shift, sending, shadow walk, wind walk, and the like. Spells that, in one way or another, allow the PCs to easilly re-establish contact with the mainland and take away any sense of isolation. Therefore, a 20-level campaign about being stranded on a strange land either ends at 7th or 9th or 11th level (depending on what kind of spellcasters are in your group), has to be for non-spellcasters only (not an option for the magazine), or has to be set in some strange realm where these spells don't work (too much railroading).

There are ways of setting up the area to curtail this a little bit, like making major parts of the island a wild magic zone, or actually have them pass through a 'Devil's Triangle' and then they end up stranded on an island in like the river styx's. How is that for Lost, I am on the wrong freaking plane!!!!!

I also have to say that I wouldn't mind seeing a few shorter Adventure Paths (like the three aventure arc you did a year or so ago). Allows DMs to fit an adventure path into their existing campaign instead of starting a completely new campaign to particapte.

Salcor


James Jacobs wrote:


2: (AKA the Main Reason): Once the PCs get halfway through the Adventure Path, they suddenly have access to spells like teleport, plane shift, sending, shadow walk, wind walk, and the like. Spells that, in one way or another, allow the PCs to easilly re-establish contact with the mainland and take away any sense of isolation. Therefore, a 20-level campaign about being stranded on a strange land either ends at 7th or 9th or 11th level (depending on what kind of spellcasters are in your group), has to be for non-spellcasters only (not an option for the magazine), or has to be set in some strange realm where these spells don't work (too much railroading).

A conspiracy plot would work great in this instance. The ship gets sabotaged, stranding the PCs in a hostile, uncharted land. The PCs must battle to survive, meanwhile learning the shipwreck was no accident. Once they return to the mainland, they must take action against the party responsible. For example, the BBEG/BBEW has successfully carried out a coup d'etat in the PCs absence, and the PCs must inspire a rebellion to restore the rightful government and defeat the BBEG/BBEW...


Lots of good ideas have been posted for the second half of James Jacobs' "Lost" adventure path, but here's another one. Combine the "Lost" campaign with the "Columbus" campaign. The accidentally discovered continent has something that the folks back home need, and the adventurers have to come back with a shipload of people and supplies, set up a secure base, and then obtain that something. (The something in question might be a valuable magical resource needed to fight the evil enemies back on the home continent, etc.) Of course it's possible the PCs will act like Columbus and Cortez, but if they're good-aligned, there are ways to set it up so they don't have to. There's a BBEG on the new continent who oppresses many of the locals. If the PCs play their cards right, they can gain assistance from the poor oppressed locals to achieve their objective. Or there are no human-types at all in the new land, only strange and dangerous monsters and the undead or otherwise preserved remains of a dead civilization.

Another option is that several years pass, and another expedition goes to explore the land the PCs inadvertently discovered. The expedition does not return, and the king commissions the PCs (who are most familiar with the new land) to go back and rescue them). (This might work well with a Frostfell theme--think the Franklin expedition to find the Northwest Passage, or the other expedition could have a mutiny and maroon their captain, like Henry Hudson in Hudson's Bay, and the PCs have to go back and find him.)


More ideas (plagiarized from history and literature):

1) [Variation on the explorer theme] A journey to a faraway, nearly mythical land. The purpose can be a diplomatic mission, a commercial venture, or a quest to find something and bring it back (saints' relics, holy scriptures, an artifact, etc.), or a religious pilgrimage culminating in a powerful ritual transformation of a PC or an escorted NPC. Along the way many adventures are possible. The PCs have to enter the castle of an evil wizard who has blocked travel on the route. They aren't quite sure how to get where they're going (or even the location of the item they're looking for) so they have to find clues along the way. They are guests at the court of a local ruler and become ensnared in some sort of intrigue. They might even temporarily take service with such a ruler in exchange for his help in achieving their long-term quest. They may have to carry trade goods with them and do business with unscrupulous merchants along the way to support the costs of their journey--this can provide all sorts of adventure hooks. They are captured by a nomad chief and have to escape or talk/bribe their way out of his clutches. A rival religious group seeks to thwart their plans. Etc. The final confrontation could be with the archvillain trying to thwart them on the way home, once his minions have failed to stop them from obtaining the object of their quest. Inspirations: Marco Polo, Monkey (The Journey to the West).

2. A maritime version of the above is also possible--think Sinbad, Magellan, Da Gama, Drake, Cook, Zheng He (but don't read Gavin Menzies' book on the latter except with the idea that it's an interesting fantasy); and as I noted above, it is possible to borrow ideas from our fine fifteenth century Iberian friends but one doesn't have to set it up so that the PCs are channeled into behaving like them. The PCs might be blazing a new trade route, escorting a merchant ship on a dangerous but profitable venture, charting an uncharted coast and clearing it of hazards, or undertaking a diplomatic or military mission, or as above a quest or pilgrimage. Besides the above possibilities, there are many environmental hazards, possibly forced landings on strange islands when they run out of food and water at sea, etc. Besides the historical/literary figures above, the Iliad and the Oddysey are great inspirations

3. (Variation on the invasion theme) The PCs have to thwart the intentions of an evil syndicate (a greedy guild, corrupt nobles and ministers, cruel hunters and loggers, perhaps with an evil cult or a fiend of corruption behind it all) to rape a beautiful wilderness that is home to good creatures. (Alternatively, they can prevent the colonization of a simple, utopian land, or embark on a more subtle adventure that involves to saving something important from a social or political change being engineered by the bad guys). Some or all of the PCs can start out working for the bad guys and gradually discover their evil plans. The campaign can involve sabotage missions, diplomacy and intrigue, a quest to obtain a useful artifact, possibly setting up some sort of powerful magical protection to permanently protect the area. The quest might end in an unforeseen way, e.g. making the sacred wilderness into a sort of demiplane detached from the real world. Inspirations: Edward Abbey's "The Monkey Wrench Gang," Austin Tappan Wright's "Islandia," Marion Zimmer Bradley's "Mists of Avalon".

Both D&D and literature boil down to a few archetypal metaplots, but there's almost endless room for twisting or varying them to create variety.

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Going with the idea of turning cliche plots on their head, I've noticed that a lot of fantasy literature starts off with youngish heroes who discover they have some kind of power/legacy and are guided by a mentor/wizard who they don't trust at first but eventually grow to respect. Even AoW has some aspects of this. My frustration as a reader is that they are still doubting thier mentor way into the book when they should just do what he says.

Well what if their first impression was right? What if Gandalf or Belgarath or the druid guy from Shanara WAS bad and led the party astray? Could you do an adventure path were the BBE dupes the players into setting him free or retrieving some power-item for him that he needs to conquor the world. After maybe the third adventure they "succeed" and screw the world. The campaign could now shift to a shattered land where everyone hates the PCs for what they did and the players have to redeem themselves and fix their mistake. I guess it would be a fairly dark campiagn but there would be more hope that, say, a Midnight campaign. Dragonlance was pretty dark at first. I just like the idea of all the badness being the players fault. Talk about a hook!

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