on May 16, 2006
For this session, let’s look at the proceedings from the DM’s point of view.
Each week I try to throw some challenge their way and see how they handle it. Ideally, the challenge should arise from the ongoing campaign. It should offer a chance to impact the country or local town in a small way, and reveal the effects of the larger conflict on the local population. I also try to force them into various ethical challenges, just because I’m that kind of guy.
For example, in our first campaign, the land was failing to produce crops due to a curse. One week they were guarding a shipment of food headed north into the blighted area. They were warned ahead of time the robbers were along the road, and might try to steal the food. However, when they encountered these “robbers” they saw that they were simple farmers who were more or less starving to death. These men had lived the furthest north (and thus their farms were the first to fail) and had taken to the hills to try and steal from the food shipments. They were clearly terrified of what they were doing, but they were also malnourished and desperate. Combat-wise they were only a minimal threat, although the correct course of action was not obvious. The robbers really were stealing food headed for the town. It didn’t seem right to kill them, it didn’t seem right to let the men go to free to rob again, and it didn’t seem right to give away the food the party had been hired to protect. This wasn’t a clear-cut good / evil decision. A good-aligned character could make the case for or against any of these options.
But that was two campaigns ago. This week, I had a different challenge.
The party is headed for the town of Della Minera, a mining village along the road to their destination. I’m pretty sure they will stop there, and I have an NPC that will gently steer them in that direction. They might skip the town and stick to the main campaign, but probably not. So, I have a little sidequest waiting for them…
Some grave walkers have moved into the mining shafts and have begun preying on the miners as they went in. For some context on how the mines work, refer to this entry. As far as the miners knew, they were going in to mine and lots of them weren’t coming out. Nobody on the outside had any idea what was going on or why people weren’t coming back out. They were just vanishing. About a third of the miners never come back out.
After a few days of this the miners flat-out refused to go back in. The slavedrivers were faced with a nasty problem. They were under clear orders to keep the gold coming as fast as possible. There is a war on (two actually, at this point) and the Queen needs her gold to fund the war machine. The slavedrivers were backed into a corner now, and were faced with a tough choice: Kill the miners or let them sit in the mining camp. Neither choice will lead to any mining getting done. The only way to get the miners back to work is to kill some of them. If the miners see that their odds of survival are better inside the mines working as opposed to staying outside and rioting, they might give in and go back to work. However, the last thing the slavedrivers want to do is add to the growing casualty list.
What they really need to do is figure out what is killing the miners and put a stop to it, if they can. However, their men are already occupied with the increasingly difficult job of keeping the miners under control. These soldiers are the dregs of the Alidian army (if they were any good they would be taking part in the war, not stuck in the mining camp, whipping slaves) and so they don’t have the guts to face the problem themselves, even if they had the manpower.
A sidequest is no good if the players don’t get involved. I never force them, and in fact they do skip sidequests from time to time. However, I need to grab their attention and give them the opportunity to get involved if they choose.
The players are on their way back to Fol Thron and stay at Della Minera for the night. In the morning they hear the rioting, which gets their attention. They come downstairs and run into one-leg, who fills them in with the basic facts: Miners disappearing, the riots. Once they have this conversation, they have a good idea of the setup and can go about trying to solve the problem, if they choose.
So what should the players do? It goes without saying that they really, really hate the idea of a slave camp. The slaves are mostly Northerners (the Lormanites, who started the war) who were captured and sent here to work. So, this is also a sort of POW camp. That’s not quite as bad as more general enslavement of civilians, but it’s still slavery and they still don’t like it, even if the slaves are probably jerks.
The challenge I present here is that the players can ignore the problem, which will lead to the deaths of the miners at the hands of the guards and / or the yet unknown danger within the mines. Or, the players can get involved and help solve the problem, which puts them in the position of helping to keep the slave camp going. So, do you let them die or help the slavedrivers? A tough choice.
I usually have a few possible outcomes in mind when I make a sidequest. In this case, I had the following:
- The players choose not to get involved: The miners would have been killed off over the next week or so by both grave walkers and slavedravers. Since people slain by gravewalkers rise again as gravewalkers themselves, this would have created a nasty problem. It might have led to another sidequest in the future.
- The players kill the gravewalkers: The miners are saved, and the players leave town with some cash and XP, secure in the knowledge that they helped keep the slave camps in business.
- The players negotiate a solution: This would have been the most difficult, and would have required a trip to Fol Thron to pursuade whoever was in charge of the mines (I hadn’t made a character for this yet, and in the end I didn’t need to) that allowing a temporary halt in output was better than losing their workforce. This would have required lots of diplomacy and a few bribes. I would have given a larger XP reward for this.
But as usual, they didn’t do any of the things I expected.
Next post I’ll show how they reacted to the challenge and how it all turned out.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.