RPGaDay2020 Day 3: Thread – struggling to keep the thread of the campaign going

RPGaDay2020 graphic

Yesterday in RPGaDay2020 I looked at Change – the small change in your pocket and what happens in Darokin and Akorros when you need to handle larger amounts of money.

The prompt for today is Thread. So how do you keep the thread of the story going? This is something I feel I’ve been struggling with since lockdown.

Admittedly, I’ve been trying to establish a complete new storyline in a new setting. So I don’t have an established thread for the characters. I’ve been trying to introduce them to the setting (while developing the setting in the process) and also bring in different threads which may or may not become relevant in future while giving them a sufficient storyline so the sessions actually go somewhere. But I think over the past few months it’s been a bit mushy. The sessions haven’t really gone the way I expected, and have gone off-thread.

You may remember I brought them into instant combat in the world and then had them arrested. That was about the point where lockdown happened and we had to go online, wrestling with different tools while trying to run a session. I’ll talk about the different tools I tried later – probably under Day 18 – Meet, but not being face-to-face added a whole load of problems, not least with the technology and our familiarity with it.

The session in the guardpost and then having Gianluca du Malbec of Panache sponsor their freedom in return for their help in retrieving a couple of items from the building went fine, and I think the exploration of the building itself also went okay. They’ve found some odd things and some things which might be relevant in future:

  • the building seems to be a junk shop, with a whole load of random items on shelves for sale – see Carlotta’s Curios for more detail on these
  • there are shelves and shelves of boxes on the first floor filled with more random items, a couple of which have a faint emanation of magic to Detect Magic
  • the inhabitants of the building had a load of fire-proof gear and leather outfits with a logo on
  • there’s a room on the first floor which contains a black iron furnace with locked doors on the front and the same logo on top; something cried in pain when they tried directing a ray of frost at the furnace
  • there was a sheet of paper with various boat names and times listed on it
  • on the second floor*, as well as assorted living quarters and bedrooms is a room with heavy leather curtains shutting out the light, long torch-holders, and an arcane symbol drawn on the floor
  • when they arrived, the first item they were looking for – actually a whisper jar (see Acquisitions Incorporated) was in the centre of the arcane symbol, surrounded by strange snake-like creatures who attacked
  • once the snake-creatures were defeated (they didn’t seem to be able to leave the symbol until the group’s actions damaged it), a deep voice called from the whisper jar a few times, then stopped when they responded
  • the attic contained old woman’s clothes

Next session they handed over the whisper jar to Gianluca, received a partial payment, and were told he would be back next day to check on their progress looking for the second item – a blue gemstone carved with the Panache logo.

This was nowhere to be found in the building, but I had placed footprints in the muddy scene of devastation after their battle in the basement, leading to the wall, through a secret door and passage and out into the sewers. They took the trail out into the sewers…and it was here that things all seemed to become a bit unfocused.

It was probably partly my fault. I had signed up to playtest the forthcoming Tome of Beasts 2 from Kobold Press, and this seemed like a good opportunity to try out some of the new monsters, and in the process establish the sewers as unsafe places to be.

They were met when they came out with a Grimmlet. Since the book isn’t published yet I won’t go into any details, but Sergi tried to hold it, it objected and attacked him, so they got into a full-blown battle…which all became a bit much for them to handle and took up the remainder of the session.

I started next session by deciding the Grimmlets had got bored and fed up of fighting so they headed off (it seemed the easiest way for me to bring this unhelpful battle to a close). The footsteps led to another room infested with a fungus which threw out clouds of spores and tried to infest the party. They stood and fought, getting badly hurt in some cases, and stood and fought, some of them getting infested, and stood and fought…despite the fact they were just looking for the gem. They also opened a door to the next room where there was another monster from the play-test, pretty fearsome; some of them tried to engage it as well, even after it pretty much took out one character in a single round.

The Dark Sewers by Heroic Maps

That was the whole session. Next session I asked “what are you trying to achieve here?” which did at least prompt them to try to get past the fungus rather than just standing and attacking continuously; they went through another door into another room, which (since I was using a stock battlemap from Heroic Maps) had ladders leading up and a grille over a manhole leading down. I had to just say “sorry – the ladder doesn’t lead anywhere, and the grille won’t move”. (I’ve since worked out where the grille leads to (in abstract at least), but don’t tell my players…). And that was a dead end. So those who had gone there had to return, but the group seemed to need a lot of encouragement to abandon the unnecessary battles with the fungus and the fearsome monster and regroup. A good night’s sleep (in some cases, others had bad dreams…) and they headed back into the sewers, and after more confusion in the mists of the sewers, eventually the following session they found the kobold who had taken the gemstone swallowed by a gelatinous cube.

So I think we’re back on track now, but it took 4 sessions to search the sewers for this kobold and gemstone when I was expecting only a couple. Given we meet once a fortnight for 2 hours, that’s 2 months in the sewers. Maybe it’s the way I tell it…

Any suggestions how I encourage the players not to assume everything needs attacking? Please respond in the comments.

Come back tomorrow for some Vision.

* Note, in the UK floors are numbered above ground level, so you have the ground floor at ground level, then the first floor above it and the second floor above that.

8 thoughts on “RPGaDay2020 Day 3: Thread – struggling to keep the thread of the campaign going

  1. Regarding your query “Any suggestions how I encourage the players not to assume everything needs attacking?”
    Your overview reads well, interesting things happening. A quick thought, having many encounters prepared can lead to the feeling that they should be used, maybe because you were in playtest mode, you changed things up a bit more than normal?

    As for why the PCs are attacking everything, I think the advice would depend upon their motivation to do so.
    a) Is it mechanical based, players obsessing about XP, loot tables? This could be made more likely if the PCs assume a fair fight due to CR, or similar?
    b) Do you think it is to do with world setting issues, from rewards to ‘cleanse’ the world of different creatures, primarily socio-economic in basis?
    c) combination of a + b?
    d) PCs that tend for follow/obsess the next shiny thing? Abandoning things that go social and/or cerebral?
    e) Motivated by a particular thing: divine callings, social opportunities if they prove to be heroes, dangers, thrills, etc?
    f) Other?

    Plus, do they normally fight a lot, always move forward, etc.? Or was it just these recent sessions? Weirdly, many years ago, I knew some good tabletop RPers who act crazy when playing via computers, treating a TTRPG done virtually more like an ARPG (Diablo or MMO).

    1. For some reason the instinct of these players seems to be “attack and fight to the death”.
      Definitely not XP or loot – I only give XP for meaningful achievements, and there hasn’t been a huge amount of monster loot
      World-setting: they haven’t been in this world long enough and I don’t think Averoigne encouraged it
      Maybe the fact Foundry puts fight mechanics most obviously at their disposal encourages that sort of thinking.
      They just seem to have one tool in their box which they always reach for.

      1. Seems like you have covered all the common problems.  It does sound a bit weird, that they are just using violence.
        I’d be inclined to do something like:

        a) For the next session, maybe going with a situation that does not involve fighting, maybe several ideas in case they move on to another topic quickly. Maybe a negotiation with somebody important, this way a lengthy chat could be pushed via social pressure, or the PCs pursuing an opportunity important to them. Depends on the preferences of your players, maybe a puzzle, or discussing a plan for the future.

        b) If they skip through the above, seemingly in a rush to get back to combat. Either they’ve got some RP reason for it, or maybe they want to blow off steam OOC? I’d have a chat with them, initially double-checking their preferences for game events; I do this every few sessions as standard, usually only takes a minute, but sometimes reveals a change in preferences.

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