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View Full Version : DM Help Starting an open world campaign at a feast with three hooks



Yora
2019-01-13, 03:07 PM
I have created a setting that has something of a bronze age style and now started preparing for a player driven open world campaign. At the start players don't know anything about the world and its culture (because players never want to read it when you write it for them) and also have not yet decided what motivates their characters, so at the beginning they need easy to spot and follow hooks to grab and get the campaign rolling.

I got this idea to present them with three hooks. The one they chose to follow will lead to a small adventure and things will turn out fine. The two they don't follow won't turn out fine. These will start ongoing conflicts that provide potential for future asventures chosen by the players. I would like to know what you think of this so far.

To begin the campaign, I want the players to make characters. It is encouraged to make members of the lower aristocracy, or are in some way connected to it. Once that is done, they are introduced to the starting location:
They are in the hall of a palace on a hill overlooking a harbor town, and their king has just performed a great sacrifice at the temple to thank the gods for the birth of his third son. For the occasion, he also invited the noble warriors of his small kingdom to a feast where he will present gifts to those who served him the best in recent years. The PCs are not among those, but it's still expected that they show up to witness it.
One of the players will introduce his character to the others and what he's currently doing in the hall. Then he will be asked questions about his background, where he lives, and other details that might be interesting. After that, the king will call forward one of his warriors, proclaim his great deeds, and present him with a gift. Then the second player introduces the next player and the king calls forward another warrior. This repeats until all PCs are introduced and the players get opportunities to connect their backstories and build on each other's ideas.
The short interruptions by the king are meant to give the players quick impressions of what kinds of deeds heroes can achieve in this setting, what kinds of rewarda they can expect, and that gifts are an important part of this culture. It also introduces some NPCs that could become important later in the campaign.

Once character creation is completed and introductions wrap up, the players get introduced to the hooks:
First, they spot some shifty people looking suspicious in the corner who are planning to lure a nobleman down into the town and then kidnap him and escape on a ship in the harbor.
Unless the players immediately interrupt to jump on it, they get approached by one of the king's nieces who has seen a foreign ambassador steal a key while the guards were distracted by the warriors being presented with gifts. She doesn't want to alert the guards, because then the ambasador will know he's being watched, and she also can't accuse an honored guest to the king. And the PCs are the only ones she can find on such short notice who could find out what he plans to do with the key.
And to make things more complicated, after a while some warriors rush out the hall, grab their spears, and get on their horses because there's a glow of fire in the diatance.

The idea is that they can either prevent the kidnapping, catch the spy, or catch a gang of bandits before they disappear in the forests with theie loot.
I guess the biggest risk is that the players immediately decid to split the party to pursue all three hooks at once. :smallbiggrin: But I think the solution to this is to simply tell them that someone else is going to look after the other two things. It's just that those other groups will fail. And the party might fail as well, success isn't guaranteed.

I feel that after that first session, the players should probably have developed a couple of connections and got to know the surface details of various different things in and around the starting area. And it also makes them familiar with there being many things going on in the world that they can chose to get involved with, but none of which are required of them.
I quite like the idea, but I wonder if this might still already be way too complex and complicated for a campaign start.

Whiskeyjack8044
2019-01-13, 03:28 PM
A bronze age setting is super cool, it gives off Iliad/Jason and the Argonauts vibes.
I caution you not to get too invested in your setting though. It's a lesson I had to learn the hard way.

Players will never invest in it like you will, and they will never understand it as well as you hope. I loooooove to world build, it's my favorite thing, but your players will have assumptions about how things work that may not be compatible with that you've built in. Just don't get frustrated when your players don't treat your Persian flavored King differently than your Greek flavored Kings.

I like the idea of the 3 hooks, it really makes the setting feel lived in when the world evolves without the direct influence of the players.

Sounds like a fun campaign to me!

poolio
2019-01-13, 10:13 PM
Sounds awesome, but I'll have to echo what
Whiskeyjack8044 said, don't get overly attached, I've been running a group in their own sandbox world for around 6 months now, and when we started i had all sorts of stuff planned, after the first session it all went up in smoke lol, they're a family of carnies, they even asked if they could all have one of their bonus languages be "carnie" (kinda like their own version of thieves cant)

And I've just been adjusting and throwing in little things and NPCs where appropriate, which is difficult at times cause they actively avoid plot hooks lol,

That being said though, they have sort of joind the mafia, performed in several scetchy night clubs as "exotic" dancers, one married Van Halen, one of them then got wasted and killed Van Halen with her bare fits, to which the group spent almost everything to bring him back to life,

And a whole lot else has happened and is currently going on,

So again, don't get to attached to your world or plans, and be willing to just enjoy the ride.

Good luck and keep us posted on how the initial games go, I'd love to hear it :)

Beleriphon
2019-01-16, 02:12 PM
I feel that after that first session, the players should probably have developed a couple of connections and got to know the surface details of various different things in and around the starting area. And it also makes them familiar with there being many things going on in the world that they can chose to get involved with, but none of which are required of them.
I quite like the idea, but I wonder if this might still already be way too complex and complicated for a campaign start.

Not a such, but I'd make it clear that the characters are supposed to be attached to, or members of the lower aristocracy in some capacity. I'd lay out some examples for them up front, say one is the fourth son/daughter of a distantly related member of the King's family, a retainer/warrior for a member of the aristocracy who due to their position is given a relatively free latitude in where they are, a freed slave who chose to stay with the family, a hired mercenary ,whatever you want that you think is appropriate. Regardless make it clear that the King is the ruler of the city and surrounding area, he isn't like the Emperor Augustus, or Charlemenge who ruled rather substantial regions. We're talking more like direct rulership of the area around Megara, not the entire Persian Empire.

Three starting quests is a good idea, and then follow through with what happens to the ones the players don't pursue is a nice setup.

Group character creation is also a good idea, and I like the creative way you've tied it to the setting.

Rogan
2019-01-17, 08:58 AM
I guess the biggest risk is that the players immediately decid to split the party to pursue all three hooks at once. :smallbiggrin: But I think the solution to this is to simply tell them that someone else is going to look after the other two things. It's just that those other groups will fail. And the party might fail as well, success isn't guaranteed.

[...]And it also makes them familiar with there being many things going on in the world that they can chose to get involved with, but none of which are required of them.
I quite like the idea, but I wonder if this might still already be way too complex and complicated for a campaign start.

I'm not sure it would be a good idea to let both other quests fail. You want to show your players they do not need to do everything on their own? That's great. But if they see the other guys (who were supposed to deal with the situation) simply fail to succeed... it could make them sceptical if 'let someone else do the job' really is an option.

Maybe have one task fail, one task succeed (or at least end without causing havoc) and the last one depends on player actions?

Or at last give your players another option instead of 'yes' or 'no'

They see this kidnappers?
They do nothing? Task fails.
They inform the guard but don't get involved themselves? Part-success (the kidnappers get away and might try again later?)

Good luck for your campaign and please let us know how things turned out in the end.

Yora
2019-01-17, 10:27 AM
Thanks. Though I still really have no clue what I'll actually be doing. Getting a good start for a campaign is really hard.

Mark Hall
2019-01-17, 11:29 AM
For opening with attachments, how about writing some relatively basic backgrounds, and letting them pick them, or get them randomly?

So, background 1 might say "You are the fourth child of the Archaemos family. As such, you have only a small allowance and no real influence on family business, but are expected to stay out of trouble that the family would have to pay for. As a minor noble, you have a +2 on reaction rolls with other nobles."

Background 2 is "Your family is social climbers; your grandfather parlayed business acumen into a sizable trade empire, of which you have no real part, since your mother did not take a role, and your uncles' children are now firmly ensconced in the business. Still, you have contacts around the region, and have a 20% chance of finding a contact at any city you visit, moreso if you family is actively involved there, and a smaller chance at smaller towns and villages."

Background 3 is "Your family has always been military, from private citizen-soldiers up to a great-great uncle who was a famous strategos. Your family name, Acamemnon, carries weight with military men in the region, even if you aren't particularly martial yourself. You have a bodyguard who is loyal to your family, and nominally loyal to you."

Basically, give them each a two-sentence background that establishes them within the setting, without requiring a lot of them, and gives them a special ability of nominal use that further cements them within society. Background 1 guy is going to talk to a lot of nobles, even if he doesn't have a great Charisma or social skills. Background 2 guy is going to talk to a lot of merchants, simply because they're his cousin.

You might also craft it so each of them will be interested in different hooks... your minor noble might be interested in the "chase the ambassador" hook, your merchant might be interested in stopping the thieves.

Yora
2019-01-17, 01:21 PM
The main issue I am struggling with is "how can we play after character creation without a two week delay while I create content tailored to the PCs?"

Mark Hall
2019-01-17, 06:56 PM
The main issue I am struggling with is "how can we play after character creation without a two week delay while I create content tailored to the PCs?"

Build the backgrounds very generically... a last name and a place in society. Unless the society you wrote requires specific mage, cleric, or other backgrounds, let them just be whoever.

Beleriphon
2019-01-18, 01:24 PM
The main issue I am struggling with is "how can we play after character creation without a two week delay while I create content tailored to the PCs?"

First couple of goes, generic is key. You want enough planned to go and run with it, but keep things generic enough you can apply any resulting group. So that's going to mean you have to assume they wont have access to any particular abilities based on the rules you choose to play with. Assuming D&D 5E build multiple paths to each solution/resolution so if they have no rogue, no wizard, no cleric, etc. they aren't road blocked by not having a particular ability. If they as a group have an ability that makes a situation easier, good for them, but it shouldn't be required to move forward. At least not at first.

Yora
2019-01-18, 03:02 PM
All I can think of that is generic is bandits in a cave. And that also is really boring. That's the problem.

DavidSh
2019-01-18, 03:51 PM
Maybe you could crib from the myth of Theseus (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theseus). They wouldn't be just generic bandits, but Cercyon, Procrustes, and the Crommyonian Sow.

Mark Hall
2019-01-18, 04:59 PM
All I can think of that is generic is bandits in a cave. And that also is really boring. That's the problem.

Or generic bandits in a cave with a special leader. Someone important from a nearby city-state? Some sort of monster?