3 Rules for Plot Lines in a Long Term Campaign
This blog post is my latest in my 3 Rules series. Check out the others here.
During COVID-19, I’ve been running two D&D 5e games over Fantasy Grounds: one is for my daughter and her cousins, the other is for my wife and a group of adults. Through it all, I have a number of rules that help me tie plot lines together, even when weaving several different modules into a single campaign. These are not exclusive to Dungeons and Dragons or even fantasy games. These work no matter what your game.
1) Don’t Define Everything
When I started off the adult campaign, I had two PCs deliver messages to various NPCs. While the idea for them was to simply get them to go to the location I wanted them, I had absolutely no idea what was in those notes. I’m glad they didn’t look because I would have had to make it up on the spot. In my younger days as a GM, I would have had those notes detailed out; when the PCs didn’t look at them, that would have been work saved for a different day at best or at worst forgotten about when I needed it or simply no longer relevant.
Fast forward several sessions, I needed a way to get the PCs to investigate some orcs as I was transitioning from the Lost Mines of Phandelver to the Forge of Fury from Tales of the Yawning Portal. To help with this, I created a secret love affair between the one of those NPCs sending the note and its recipient, saying their love child (now an adult) that they sent away was coming to visit, and that their child was now missing so the recipient asked the adventurers to find the missing person. That got them to the orcs and worked great, until …
2) Turn Dropped Plot Threads into Plot Hooks
… Until the players got distracted and left that plot thread by the wayside. Part of this was my fault; I failed to leave them enough clues to lead them to their target. By the time I realized this, they were literally heading in the wrong direction to save this person.
In my younger days as a GM, I would have made it impossible for them to proceed until they turned back and saved the person. As a more mature GM, I know to turn this into an opportunity. I left the players an old journal from someone long dead, hoping that some superweapon never gets repaired and turned on again, citing a hope about how one born under a certain sign with various rare characteristics (that just happens to match the missing person) is never born. When they read the note I could hear them all collectively swallow hard, as they realized that the plot line they missed suddenly became very important.
And that is now the catalyst for the new adventure.
3) Leave Some Threads Unresolved
One of my characters in my adult game is seeking the sword of their fallen family member. So I gave him the detail that one vaguely like it was reportedly in a dragon’s treasure pile. Tonight they defeated the dragon, and it wasn’t his family’s sword but one similar. I did that so I could deal with the sword at a future point in time, but leave it for now as we transition from the Forge of Fury to the Tomb of Annihilation. The players raised the questions of why these swords are popping up, and are they being targeted. All of those are perfect to work into a future adventure down the line when the Tomb of Annihilation is in the rear view mirror. But for now, I left that plot thread unresolved. Picking it up later will help it make a more continuous story while still having different chapters within.