Games with Macguffins

Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion

I was reading some threads today, and I realized something about my play history. To the best of my knowledge, I've played almost no games with magical macguffins. I'm not sure if my GMs just chose to go a different way, or if the macguffin was hidden well enough that i didn't realize it, but that leads me to my question. Do you have any memorable experiences to share involving campaigns or adventures that had a macguffin of some kind as a central plot element?
For those in need of an explanation, a macguffin is an object that is important mostly because the plot says so. If you could swap it for a different object with no more effort than a find-replace on the text of the story in question, and have exactly zero impact on that story, then you have a macguffin. The macguffin can have powers, but they should have no relevance to the plot. (Note: the one ring from LotR is not a macguffin, because the ring's corrupting influence is central to its nature and important to the plot. The arkenstone from the Hobbit is a macguffin, because we could have replaced it with a necklace or crown or statuette and had the same plot.)
So with that out of the way, who's up for story time?

A lot of PFS Adventures revolve around recovery of MacGuffins. A lot of the adventures revolve around finding the mystic bark of this or that, or the missing diary of a dead Pathfinder, or somesuch thing. The item in question is rarely one that any of the party members would want for themselves. It's just the object of our mission to recover the thing and give it to the NPC questgiver to claim our reward.

One time, in a homespun game, we recovered a magic bottle that was the prized possession of a ridiculously powerful evil Sorceress. Eventually, it turned out to be important to the story, but for a long time, we had no idea what to do with it or what it could do.

A MacGuffin has to be valuable. In Pathfinder, value is in usefulness. If it is useful, then the party will use it in the next part of the adventure. Once its use affects the plot, it proves that it never was merely a MacGuffin.

Scott Wilhelm's Pathfinder Society example gives way for a MacGuffin to fit into an campaign without losing its MacGuffin status. If the MacGuffin is sold off or given away soon after the party acquires it, then it does not affect the plot, especially if giving the MacGuffin to the Pathfinder Society or another employer was always the goal.

Another exception that created a real MacGuffin was the Iron Gods adventure path. The 3rd module, The Choking Tower, is mostly the search for the android Casandalee. She is so important that the adventure path often calls her an Iron God (and I was amused that she had a role in the Starfinder Core Rulebook, too). The party sought her because she could help against the final Iron God, the lawful evil Unity. However, she is merely an android with useful information, not terribly plot significant. She remained a MacGuffin because her usefulness was over-estimated. Of course, since the PCs earned the usual treasure and experience points from the module, they were nevertheless rewarded well in their search for Casandalee. The players probably expected this, but the player characters did not.

Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

TVTropes sez:"...a motivating element in a story that is used to drive the plot. It serves no further purpose."

Having played in a number of games with one and (poorly) written a few storys and campaign threads (one awesome due to players running wild), I see anything 'active' as a 'NOT-MacGuffin'. The Ring is the malignant cancer, always acting unseen, that drives LotR. A 'NOT-MacGuffin'. Technically, we never even SEE the real Maltese Falcon, making it the classic 'MacGuffin'. In the way some games play out, a MacGuffin might create itself. The same GM may 'NOT-MacGuffin' an actual MacGuffin to torque the plot. This was done to our little group to put the kibosh on over reliance on Divination magics (The future can only be writ in the moment.).

The MacGuffin comes in many forms:
A defiant gesture
A futile gesture of last resort for honor, loyalty, etc. Read Japanese history for a number of deaths that were brought about in service to MacGuffins.
A bejeweled statue
An owned farm
A child born, that changes things (no, I'm thinking Willow!)
A final vow fulfilled.
Free Range
and for my grand finale!:
The Pacific Ocean {Central American history geeks will appreciate that one.)

Jade regent has these keys or seals that will make someone a king and i guess those keys could be anything.
Reign of winter has you chase down keys or totems to open or close a portal or something.
Shattered star might as well be called scattered star because you're trying to round up all of the pieces of the "shattered star."
I don't know if these count.

Thunderlord wrote:
Jade regent has these keys or seals that will make someone a king and i guess those keys could be anything.

When I ran Jade Regent, the half-sisters Ameiko and Amaya were curious about their forgotten heritage, and Amaya went with the party to research it. The Amatatsu Seal was one item among many heirlooms that declared that heritage. Amaya sent it home with some party members (the players moved out of state) to her sister before she continued north. I guess it failed as a MacGuffin in my campaign.

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