Players following story


Pathfinder Adventure Path General Discussion


How well do you think players follow what's going on in an adventure path? Running games, I feel like most players are clueless to why their characters are there and what they are suppose to be doing. No matter what I do. Session logs, "previously on" right before the session, etc. I am also a player in two other games and I am part of the "lost players" group. That is with two different GMs. So 3 game masters, 3 different styles of running a game. 3 different groups of players all lost as to what is going on for the most part.

How common of a problem is this and how do you fix it?


Well, if the players are happy just slaughtering monsters that appear in front of them, and you are too, there's no problem.

Otherwise you need new players.


Some players remember the game like an avid reader savoring a mystery novel. Others need regular reminders of the events in the previous week's game session. Nevertheless, my players like to piece together clues about what awaits them in the future--even if the other players have to recap for them--and plan their character development accordingly.

Part of remembering the long-term plot is that at low levels, the player characters see only a local piece of the overall story. The big picture is often reserved to 7th level, the end of the 2nd module, because by then the players are awfully powerful for ordinary local adventures.

In Burnt Offerings, the 1st module of the Rise of the Runelords adventure path, the characters explore two ancient bases built by Runelords, but no Runelord activity, so only the title of the adventure path hints that Runelords are rising. The story in Burnt Offerings is about goblins and their leaders. In Fires of Creation, the 1st module of Iron Gods, not a single Iron God is seen or mentioned, unless the final boss explains her backstory. The story in Fires of Creation is about crashed alien spaceships.

In contrast, in Jade Regent and Ironfang Invasion the players do see the main issue in the first module. However, they have to deal with local issues instead, such as surviving an invasion. They cannot deal with a regent nor an invasion until they have acquired allies, and they have plenty of distracting encounters before that stage.


2 people marked this as a favorite.

You don't fix; you adapt, or leave it behind.

I think (some) of the people who like best to know everything, glean all the details, and just be in on all the knowledge...turn to DMing.

Some players stick to the moment-'We going to kill the hydra that's threatening the northern trade route? Will do!'

Some players plan ahead- 'Keeping that route open means the deals I've made with the spice merchant benefits my clan's movement to larger lands. Are there competitors I should be aware of?'

Some players just like the roll of dice - 'Cool, dead hydra! What can we kill next?'

I feel sometimes the best way to get a player involved with a large story-like an impersonal AP plan- is that you have to make it personal. Give the player something to latch onto so THEY come back to that story element. Otherwise, it is just a video game, and the lot of you just sit around rolling random numbers of chance. That's boring too.

So, find out if you can get the players invested in something important to them, or just live with the game you're playing.


Slidebright wrote:
How well do you think players follow what's going on in an adventure path?

I've run three different APs so far for one group of players and all of them have known what's going on during the session and have all had short- and long-term goals that align with the AP.

They might not know the long-term blockades to those goals, but after at least book 1 they've had them in sight.

If the players don't know what their goals are, then aren't they just being lead along by the GM to the next encounter?
That sounds super boring! I'd want to know what we were trying to do in order to make decisions on how to best achieve that goal. Otherwise it's just fight after fight after fight.

Examples:
Kingmaker, short-term: go explore this area; long-term: build an awesome kingdom. OoC, they knew right away; IC, they knew at the beginning of book 2.
Hell's Rebels, short-term: save these people; long-term: get rid of the lord-mayor. Both OoC and IC, they knew during the opening scene of the campaign.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

I think this is really the Gm's job to use the PC's personal backstory, and most importantly their interactions with people in the 1st book of the AP to set the stage for the rest of the AP. Recurring antagonist/allies adding tidbits of a PC's past and weaving it to the adventure storyline is the best way to integrate. Make sure you get a blurb on a PC backstory dont let them just materialize a bunch a numbers and add a name to make a PC.


Shivok wrote:
I think this is really the Gm's job to use the PC's personal backstory, and most importantly their interactions with people in the 1st book of the AP to set the stage for the rest of the AP. Recurring antagonist/allies adding tidbits of a PC's past and weaving it to the adventure storyline is the best way to integrate. Make sure you get a blurb on a PC backstory dont let them just materialize a bunch a numbers and add a name to make a PC.

Agreed. Make it personal for the PCs and the players will pay attention, since it's not just an adventure but it's about them. Diving deep into their backstories and making sure it stays relevant throughout the AP is one of the first things I do, when preparing an Adventure Path. And my players know, the more story give me to work with, the better the experience will be for them in the end. And if you have players that like to plan ahead with their characters and have various goals they want to achieve with them it usually doesn't hurt to know that before you start the campaign and plan accordingly to weave those threads into the existing narrative too.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

I was thinking about this some more and realized that the amount of knowledge the players have about the plot does depend on the adventure.

For example, I played through the first 4 books (minus the last 2 or 3 rooms of the dungeon at the end of book 4) of Rise of the Runelords. We had NO IDEA what the end goal was.
A book would start, there would be a place to go and when we got there we'd learn what we were up against once we encountered the enemy, then we'd kill them and search for something that would point us to the next thing.
That was it. That was the AP as it was run for us.
It seems like it was supposed to be a mystery of sorts, but there was no foreshadowing, no clues, just a trail of crumbs to be followed without having any hints as to where it was leading us to.


Warped Savant wrote:

I was thinking about this some more and realized that the amount of knowledge the players have about the plot does depend on the adventure.

For example, I played through the first 4 books (minus the last 2 or 3 rooms of the dungeon at the end of book 4) of Rise of the Runelords. We had NO IDEA what the end goal was.
A book would start, there would be a place to go and when we got there we'd learn what we were up against once we encountered the enemy, then we'd kill them and search for something that would point us to the next thing.
That was it. That was the AP as it was run for us.
It seems like it was supposed to be a mystery of sorts, but there was no foreshadowing, no clues, just a trail of crumbs to be followed without having any hints as to where it was leading us to.

And funny enough, my players began to ask the right questions halfway through book 1 and knew about Karzoug very early on. It's not the AP, but how it is presented and what the PCs do with the clues they are given


Hythlodeus wrote:
And funny enough, my players began to ask the right questions halfway through book 1 and knew about Karzoug very early on. It's not the AP, but how it is presented and what the PCs do with the clues they are given

Sadly, the GM was very much against NPCs being helpful so they wouldn't provide answers to any questions, most were outright aggressive, so I'm guessing the lack of information was an issue with the GM rather than the AP.

(GM would go so far as to say things like "it's no fun if NPCs tell you what's going on rather than you figuring it out yourselves.")

My experience with that particular AP has made me completely uninterested in running it, which is unfortunate because I always hear such wonderful things about it.

WAIT!! There are clues to things?!?


2 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Maps, Starfinder Maps Subscriber

Rise of the Runelords received a reasonable amount of criticism on release regarding the fact the villain and overall plot were hidden, pretty much until the end of book four. I believe this was one of the things addressed in the anniversary edition, though it’s been a while since I read either - differing experiences/impressions may well be explained by which version was being run.


I think this definitely depends on the AP.

I have been looking at the AE of Rise of the Runelords recently. I could not see much that would allow any character to understand what was going on till very late book 3 or more likely book 4.

I am running Jade Regent and The characters know quite quickly what is going on.

I am in Kingmaker, starting book 5. We have a running bet between the player about who/what is at the end as we no idea.

Iron Gods starts slow but you have good clues by book 2.

Serpent Skull is a quick reveal by the end of book 1.

War for the Crown has a late reveal (but not as late as Kingmaker)

So there is a lot of variety


In Extinction Curse, I would think things start to clear up by the end of book 2. In book 1, expect players to still feel like they've stumbled upon a random dungeon while enjoying their circus.

Scarab Sages

I would say that as long as the GM makes the story as the players currently know it engaging for the players and specific to the characters to some degree, then it doesn't matter how long it takes for the metaplot reveal to happen.


Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

Depends. Some of the early and other side plots in APs feel very small. Especially if the players have characters tailored for the adventure, where sometimes they feel really disconnected while it's fetch quests and things.

Sovereign Court

1 person marked this as a favorite.

The challenge is that the AP needs an epic ending but if your characters rush to Death Mountain then they will be killed by the CR16 gatekeeper.

RotRL has ‘protect Sandpoint’ for two adventures because ‘defeat a runelord’ is a dumb mission for level 2 PCs.

Dark Archive

GeraintElberion wrote:

The challenge is that the AP needs an epic ending but if your characters rush to Death Mountain then they will be killed by the CR16 gatekeeper.

RotRL has ‘protect Sandpoint’ for two adventures because ‘defeat a runelord’ is a dumb mission for level 2 PCs.

When we played Rise of the Runelords my character was very happy to take on any and all Runelords at 2nd level. Everybody knows they all died centuries ago, right?


1 person marked this as a favorite.

This can be solved by the GM very easily. As others have said, just get info about the PCs’ backstories, and integrate it. If the players spent time coming up with a cool history for their character, and see it integrated into the story, they will be more invested.

The module for the Beginner Box can lead straight into Rise of the Runelords, and in it, my character got a tooth of the Black Dragon stuck in her arm as he was retreating. She wanted to kill him ever since. Eventually, the GM replaced a dragon encounter in the AP with that Black Dragon. It was the happiest I’d been in awhile playing Rise.

Scarab Sages

1 person marked this as a favorite.
Sporkedup wrote:
Depends. Some of the early and other side plots in APs feel very small. Especially if the players have characters tailored for the adventure, where sometimes they feel really disconnected while it's fetch quests and things.

Sure, if all the GM does is present them as fetch quests and unnecessary side things just to get folks experience or to fill out an adventure, its no wonder why players might feel disconnected. While I would prefer the authors/developers/editors to ensure that these side quests are tied more closely to the story either as a red herring or a foreshadowing of things to come, that's not always realistic to expect. And a GM who makes the NPCs behind these quests interesting and even recurring characters (even if they are just throw-away shop keepers within the AP), then the players can feel engaged and have fun regardless of how closely tied they are to the adventure itself. Why? Because you are directly creating fun character relationships that the players get to explore and have fun with throughout the story.

I'm not going to say that all APs are flawless. They clearly aren't. But even a bad adventure can be made fun if the GM puts in the effort to do so. If the GM just runs the script, then even the most engaging and fun adventure can be a slog though.


2 people marked this as a favorite.

I think Paizo's AP-writers are generally excellent at coming up with interesting plot lines and great back stories for NPCs, but often suck when it comes to inventing set pieces where that information is presented to the PCs.

Usually it goes like this: at the start of a chapter, a storyline or an NPC is presented, or expanded upon, in high detail. Then the encounter with whatever was presented consists of said NPC attacking the PCs, or at least is encountered in a very threatening manner begging for an initiative roll. NPC gets killed and the players go to the next combat, none the wiser, and the detail behind the encounter becomes pointless. Backstory is often presented to the players, usually extremely condensed, in written form, like a letter, along with a breadcrumb to the next highly detailed NPC up for slaughter - seldom in a conversation (or other means) since the author presumes the NPC will get killed before they can open their mouth anyway.

I think this is because of two reasons. First, I think adventure writers very much enjoy inventing interesting NPCs, and plot developments (although I suppose this is more rigid due to the longer AP arcs invented by Paizo's AP main developer), but then it sadly stops there. They are not as interested in providing an inventive way of presenting the information to the PCs, because they already had their fun in coming up with it. They don't care enough how (or if) it is presented to the players. So this falls on Paizo. Ask your writers for good ways to present backstory to the party.

Secondly, Paizo seems to have very, very low exceptions about the players. (So much text gets wasted on presenting alternatives to the GM for the totally insane murderhobo actions they AP assumes will take place. "A kindly old woman steps up the PCs in the street, holding a letter. If the PCs kill the woman in broad daylight and then eat the letter, you can instead present the contained information in the following ways...". It has happened that I had to check when reading an AP if it was made especially for evil PCs.) It often seems to assume the players are not interested in plot or backstory at all. I don't know, I guess that they have to know their playerbase, which then is just kinda sad. Or maybe they think they do since the data they get is from "open" play like PFS and seldom from home games. It's such a waste of AP word count nonetheless. (If the players behave like that an AP is wasted on them. Just present waves of enemies in arena-style combat instead, or look for other players.) I just think Paizo needs to trust their audience a little more and not cater as much to the lowest common denominator in this regard.

So what to do? You have to amend it yourself, even though I think Paizo has gotten better lately. I did this heavily in our playthrough of Rise of the Runelords. There's loads of ways to present the cool background without monologueing. One of the best I have found to be flashbacks, because you can involve the players, either in their PC roles or, even better but more work, playing others. Or a "meanwhile, in the lair of the villain.." scene. You don't have to present it all. Just a few bits of the puzzle that makes it all fit together when they confront the encounter in "real time". Present the AP more like a film than a Gygaxian dungeon romp. Trust your players to be presented with small bits of information their PC don't have (yet) - they already do when it comes to game mechanics, and if they don't meta game there, they can be trusted to not do the same with plot/backgrounds.

As for keeping the players in the loop, we always start each session with a recap. I usually ask players questions during this, to jog their memories and involve them. And I am often quite generous during these recaps, sometimes presenting more information than the players actually found, or tying things together more thoroughly then they have done. This "gift" is to keep their interest, and to give them a narrative push in to the coming session.

Then, as others has said, making an AP personal for the PCs is imperative. The best campaigns, in my experience, tends to be the ones were the players get so invested that they drive the plot forwards, instead of the GM.


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Razcar wrote:
So much text gets wasted on presenting alternatives to the GM for the totally insane murderhobo actions they AP assumes will take place. "A kindly old woman steps up the PCs in the street, holding a letter. If the PCs kill the woman in broad daylight and then eat the letter, you can instead present the contained information in the following ways...". It has happened that I had to check when reading an AP if it was made especially for evil PCs.

That is a charming parody, funny because it's true. The Paizo adventure-path writers do not rely on any NPC staying alive to talk. I also have played The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim video game, where attacking the boss while he or she monologues is so easy that it is almost inevitable, "You cannot stop my ritual without the key of Schlage, which I have hidden in--GACK" Therefore, every vulnerable NPC writes their thoughts and plans down in indestructible journals. If if that fails, then the main character can follow the quest arrows.

An adventure path has plenty of opportunities to belatedly pass information to the players about the overarching plot. To keep plot hooks and side quests meaningful, the information has to be timely.

I recently had to tweak Trail of the Hunted in my Ironfang Invasion campaign to give a side-quest explanation soon enough that the party would care.

Trail of the Hunted, Cradled in Stone:
In Trail of the Hunted, Part 2 "Beneath the Hemlock Banner," the party has been protecting and supplying a band of refugees hidden in the Fangwood forest from the hobgoblin invaders. Part 3, Cradled in Stone, says,
Trail of the Hunted, Part 3, Cradled in Stone wrote:
The refugees can’t wander alone in the forest forever. ... They need a place to call home, however temporarily, and it needs to be somewhere secure. ... Aubrin recalls the [xulgaths]—and their secure [set of caves]—and asks the party to investigate the location as a possible long-term home.

This so-called investigation means massacring these xulgath, also known as troglodytes, in their home to claim it for the refugees.

The players whose characters kill strange NPCs without justification would have no problem with battling the unknown xulgath. The players whose characters try to be morally justified by Good alignment can discover beforehand that the xulgath are considering an alliance with the hobgoblin invaders by finding notes and a map to the caves on some hobgoblins, and discover afterwards that the xulgath are evil cultists who engage in human/elven/dwarven sacrifice. The party will have to kill 5 xulgath before they can investigate evidence of an elven sacrifice. The party could have encountered two hostile xulgath hunters in Part 2. Since those two xulgath speak only Draconic, the PCs are unlikely to have an explanation of why the xulgath attacked.

Discussion in the Ironfang Invasion subforum said this is a weak point of story in the module.

Therefore, I changed it. (1) The hobgoblins have not encountered the xulgath and have no idea that the caves exist. My players would not think the caves secure if the hobgoblins know about the place. (2) I added a friendly NPC, a deep gnome (svirfneblin) named Gahree, who escaped from the xulgath and knows their evil ways. My party has two gnomes, so they can speak Gnomish with Gahree. Gahree escaped to the unfamiliar, alien forest on the surface and wants to return to his tribe in the Darklands. (3) I strengthened the xulgath to make up for Gahree's support.

Thus, I followed Razcar's advice, "So what to do? You have to amend it yourself." I know my party and know what information and characters they would care about. I remove material designed for the murderhobo parties and replace it with materials tailored to my party. It does not always work as I expected--sometimes the seams are visible--but my players prefer a story where the personalities of their characters matter.


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Tallow wrote:


While I would prefer the authors/developers/editors to ensure that these side quests are tied more closely to the story either as a red herring or a foreshadowing of things to come, that's not always realistic to expect.

For what it may be worth, having everything you encounter in the course of an AP be about that AP's plot would break my suspension of disbelief; one of the things that keeps me coming back to Pathfinder APs is the sense of them being in a big world where a lot of stuff is going on and any given bunch of PCs are dealing with some particular threads of it but not by any means all of it.


2 people marked this as a favorite.
Mathmuse wrote:


In Burnt Offerings, the 1st module of the Rise of the Runelords adventure path, the characters explore two ancient bases built by Runelords, but no Runelord activity, so only the title of the adventure path hints that Runelords are rising.

This would be why I give players brief descriptions of candidate APs/scenarios and specifically do not mention them by title. Serpent's Skull is probably the most egregious example there; the significance of an actual skull doesn't show up until really quite late on, so as a title that is quite a bit more spoilery than I want to go.


the nerve-eater of Zur-en-Aarh wrote:
Tallow wrote:
While I would prefer the authors/developers/editors to ensure that these side quests are tied more closely to the story either as a red herring or a foreshadowing of things to come, that's not always realistic to expect.
For what it may be worth, having everything you encounter in the course of an AP be about that AP's plot would break my suspension of disbelief; one of the things that keeps me coming back to Pathfinder APs is the sense of them being in a big world where a lot of stuff is going on and any given bunch of PCs are dealing with some particular threads of it but not by any means all of it.

What I have seen working well in the Paizo adventure paths is that although some quests are not part of the main plot--that is why I call them side quests--nevertheless, they strongly relate to the flavor of the adventure path.

For example, the main plot of the Jade Regent adventure path is to take the true heir from Varisia on the Avastian continent to Minkai on the Tian Xia continent to overthrow the corrupt oni-controlled government of Minkai. Three modules cover traveling from Varisia to Minkai. Technically, everything in those modules that is not travel is a side quest. But the side quest in Night of Frozen Shadows is defeating ninjas, so it still has the oriental flavor. The side quest in the first half of Forest of Spirits is an introduction to Tian Xia in the northern nation Hongal, so it has the oriental flavor. The module inbetween, The Hungry Storm, was about the polar ice cap with no oriental flavor, so I added a little by emphasizing that the heir's ancestor had explored and established the trade route over the ice cap.

The main plot of the Iron Gods adventure path is defeating the evil Iron Gods. The flavor, in contrast, is about meeting aliens and playing with and fighting against high technology. The 4th module, Valley of the Brain Collectors, is mostly a side quest, but it is loaded with aliens, so it fits the flavor.

Scarab Sages

the nerve-eater of Zur-en-Aarh wrote:
Tallow wrote:


While I would prefer the authors/developers/editors to ensure that these side quests are tied more closely to the story either as a red herring or a foreshadowing of things to come, that's not always realistic to expect.
For what it may be worth, having everything you encounter in the course of an AP be about that AP's plot would break my suspension of disbelief; one of the things that keeps me coming back to Pathfinder APs is the sense of them being in a big world where a lot of stuff is going on and any given bunch of PCs are dealing with some particular threads of it but not by any means all of it.

But encounters specifically written into the AP is kinda wasted wordcount if you don't at least try to tie it to the main plot. If you are going to have a mcguffin hunt, then there has to be reason the PCs actually care about doing that hunt for that NPC within the context of the AP. You can write up an article at the end that details the "world" information for the GM to add in non-plot specific things if they want to. Otherwise, why spend 1,000 words or more to write some quest or mcguffin hunt that doesn't at least indirectly work towards the end goals of the plot.

Even Kingmaker, which has a bunch of seemingly meaningless side quests, but in the context of Kingmaker, which exploring the world and claiming things for your Kingdom, that's actually quite fine. In the context of say Skulls and Shackles, if the side quest doesn't A) allow me to gain more influence toward or as being a Pirate Lord or B) directly tie into the meta plot, then it shouldn't be detailed at all in the book itself. Those sorts of side quests can be generated by the GM from the region or area article at the end of the AP. And if a GM doesn't want to design some of those things themselves, then that's on them.

Scarab Sages

Mathmuse wrote:
the nerve-eater of Zur-en-Aarh wrote:
Tallow wrote:
While I would prefer the authors/developers/editors to ensure that these side quests are tied more closely to the story either as a red herring or a foreshadowing of things to come, that's not always realistic to expect.
For what it may be worth, having everything you encounter in the course of an AP be about that AP's plot would break my suspension of disbelief; one of the things that keeps me coming back to Pathfinder APs is the sense of them being in a big world where a lot of stuff is going on and any given bunch of PCs are dealing with some particular threads of it but not by any means all of it.

What I have seen working well in the Paizo adventure paths is that although some quests are not part of the main plot--that is why I call them side quests--nevertheless, they strongly relate to the flavor of the adventure path.

For example, the main plot of the Jade Regent adventure path is to take the true heir from Varisia on the Avastian continent to Minkai on the Tian Xia continent to overthrow the corrupt oni-controlled government of Minkai. Three modules cover traveling from Varisia to Minkai. Technically, everything in those modules that is not travel is a side quest. But the side quest in Night of Frozen Shadows is defeating ninjas, so it still has the oriental flavor. The side quest in the first half of Forest of Spirits is an introduction to Tian Xia in the northern nation Hongal, so it has the oriental flavor. The module inbetween, The Hungry Storm, was about the polar ice cap with no oriental flavor, so I added a little by emphasizing that the heir's ancestor had explored and established the trade route over the ice cap.

The main plot of the Iron Gods adventure path is defeating the evil Iron Gods. The flavor, in contrast, is about meeting aliens and playing with and fighting against high technology. The 4th module, Valley of the Brain Collectors, is mostly a side quest, but it is...

Book 3 of Kingmaker is largely a side quest insofar as the metaplot goes (which doesn't really get revealed until the end of book 5 or beginning of book 6. But it still deals with what's there when exploring new areas and claiming them for your kingdom.


2 people marked this as a favorite.
Tallow wrote:


But encounters specifically written into the AP is kinda wasted wordcount if you don't at least try to tie it to the main plot.

Why ?

I mean, ideally, every encounter should do as much as possible, but if you pack too much implied information into one encounter it makes it harder to rely on the PCs getting the information you want from it - if this is the first time any of them have met an individual of new humanoid creature type X, for example, you can have a heck of a time clearly distinguishing "this is what X are like generally" from "this is what this individual is like" so if you want to set up plot-significant things leaning on what that individual is like as a person it helps a lot to throw non-plot-related other members of humanoid creature-type X in.

Quote:


If you are going to have a mcguffin hunt, then there has to be reason the PCs actually care about doing that hunt for that NPC within the context of the AP.

Predicting what PCs will care about, or even be interested in, is not an easy thing, and I have yet to meet any PC ever who can be 100% relied upon to only be interested in the expected plot and nothing else; part of keeping them interested in the game in the first place, IME, is a continuing array of cool things and the opportunity to pick those up and run with them.

Quote:


Otherwise, why spend 1,000 words or more to write some quest or mcguffin hunt that doesn't at least indirectly work towards the end goals of the plot.

Verisimilitude.

Plot is about one third of that, for me. The other two-thirds are character and world. You want them to care about an NPC, you need to give them some interaction with that NPC. You want them to feel they are interacting with a plausible setting, where things have meaningful consequences, there has to be more in the world than what they are primarily focused on right now; Golarion's layers of history and wide geography and range of tones are extremely good at that. A world where you never bump into anything that isn't directly about you and your main quest on some plot or thematic level tends to feel claustrophobically small and way too focused on the PCs to actually convince them enough to engage with it, IME.

Talking about this in terms of "side quests" and "mcguffin hunts" sounds a bit like your PCs are passively sitting there waiting to be offered something to do, without agendas of their own, which is not how the tables I have made lasting campaigns work with have worked. My lasting campaigns have had characters with interests of their own, who will press the DM for detailed descriptions of options, and where the principal concern of the DM is to find ways for whatever they engage in to be rewarding and to build logical consequence from there that will eventually connect to plot.


the nerve-eater of Zur-en-Aarh wrote:

Verisimilitude.

Plot is about one third of that, for me. The other two-thirds are character and world. You want them to care about an NPC, you need to give them some interaction with that NPC. You want them to feel they are interacting with a plausible setting, where things have meaningful consequences, there has to be more in the world than what they are primarily focused on right now; Golarion's layers of history and wide geography and range of tones are extremely good at that. A world where you never bump into anything that isn't directly about you and your main quest on some plot or thematic level tends to feel claustrophobically small and way too focused on the PCs to actually convince them enough to engage with it, IME.

Talking about this in terms of "side quests" and "mcguffin hunts" sounds a bit like your PCs are passively sitting there waiting to be offered something to do, without agendas of their own, which is not how the tables I have made lasting campaigns work with have worked. My lasting campaigns have had characters with interests of their own, who will press the DM for detailed descriptions of options, and where the principal concern of the DM is to find ways for whatever they engage in to be rewarding and to build logical consequence from there that will eventually connect to plot.

My players are very self-motivated, so I asked them. My wife explained that characters have a source point and a vector. The vector is an intended character development arc (she chose the word "vector"). This gives the character momentum in the intended direction. She said, "If the characters have no momentum, then the GM has to do the heavy lifting of moving the characters along."

She used her character Sam in our Ironfang Invasion campaign to illustrate. Sam's source was that he was an escaped halfling slave from Nidal who had been working as a goatherder in the rural town of Phaendar for a year. His class is scoundrel rogue, earned through ruses to stay on his master's good graces. Sam's vector is to grow from living on the fringes, scared of people, to becoming a leader, protecting people.

Of the other characters, Zinfandel wants to become a Chernesardo ranger and is training under retired ranger Aubrin the Green. As an elf Zinfandel was born before the nation of Nirmathas was founded, so he sees it as something too young to let fail. Stormdancer the gnome druid is a protector of nature and needs to see how to do that without isolating herself deep in the forest. Binny the gnome rogue is a former criminal gone straight and doesn't have a character arc vector yet. Tikti the goblin champion is a stranger even to her own people and wanders randomly to seek a purpose. I will probably have her god, Grandmother Spider, give her a few nudges.

The plot of Trail of the Hunted is to protect and babysit refugees from Phaendar after the Ironfang Legion invaded. My players would get annoyed at incompetent villagers, so I minimized the babysit role and made them the scouts for their refugee group. They work directly with Aubrin the Green, the crippled leader of the refugees, and thus are seen as leaders, too. I have to make sure the vector of the campaign does not conflict with the vectors of the player characters, and offer the resources the characters need for their own arcs.

MacGuffin is a movie term used by director Alfred Hitchcock and Side Quest is a video roleplaying game term, but they are convenient names for tabletop roleplaying games, too. Without a main quest, a side quest is just a quest, but I run adventure paths so I have a main quest. To me, a side quest is a quest that can be skipped without imperiling the main quest.

The players have already rejected several side quests. One refugee spotted a giant boar, it could provide food for the refugees. The players decided that the danger of hunting it was not worth the food. Aubrin wants to contact other Chernesardo rangers (which will be the point of the next module), but that could take days and the party does not want to leave the refugees for that long before finding permanent shelter. Though these quests support the main quest, they are not yet essential to it, so they are side quests. The refugee bard Edran has mysterious motives, but the party's job is scouting, not investigation, so dealing with Edran was a rejected side quest. I made it their problem when Edran and several other refugees went off on their own. The party tracked them to save them, since they did not have the skills to avoid the Ironfang Legion's patrols.

I don't care for useless MacGuffins, but I can make a MacGuffin out of something meaningful. Zinfandel and Tikti's players want to develop crafting skills in their charactes, but the forest does not have provide tools. Who has tools? The Chernesardo rangers, who they ought to seek in the next module, have tools.

Sovereign Court

1 person marked this as a favorite.

I think Paizo often use something close to the three clue rule.
An NPC might provide the clue but so might a mysterious object and so might the lost diary.

It’s a safety net for any information which is key to the story.

That’s not assuming murder-hobos, it’s covering all bases.


GeraintElberion wrote:

I think Paizo often use something close to the three clue rule.

An NPC might provide the clue but so might a mysterious object and so might the lost diary.

It’s a safety net for any information which is key to the story.

That’s not assuming murder-hobos, it’s covering all bases.

I like The Alexandrian's description of the three-clue rule, available at Three Clue Rule.

Which brings us back to the original topic of the players following the story. The three-clue rule is about providing enough clues for the player characters to solve a mystery, even if they overlook or misinterpret a few clues. The overarching story is bigger and more obvious than the solution to a mystery. However, the trail is muddled by extra details for versmiltude and player-motivated side quests.

However, without the extra details and extra quests, the campaign would be too focused. "I came, I saw, I conquered," said Julius Caesar; nevertheless, he wrote a whole book, The Gallic Wars, about it. We, both players and GM, don't want just one story from our campaign. We want the main story, the side stories, and the stories of each player character.

When the story threads are woven together, we do have opportunities to create scenes that advance all the stories that intersect. For example, Sam tracking down Edran and persuading people to return was both the Edran story written in the module and Sam's story of learning to lead. Finding the other Chernesardo rangers will be part of Zinfandel's story of becoming a Chernesardo ranger himself. This is a lot like following a breadcrumb trail of clues.

Community / Forums / Pathfinder / Pathfinder Adventure Path / General Discussion / Players following story All Messageboards

Want to post a reply? Sign in.
Recent threads in General Discussion