View Full Version : When do you like to start introducing major narrative arcs?

2017-09-18, 04:07 PM
Pretty much what it says on the tin. I've seen a lot of different opinions among my RL friends, so I'm interested to see what the GitP opinions are. As of right now, I've found roughly the following four general classifications:

1) Early Campaign: The campaign's major arc is introduced either in session 0, or anywhere up to roughly level 5 (in D&D) from a lvl1 start, or within the first five to ten sessions, depending on the speed of progression of the system. This is probably the second-most common answer I've heard so far.

2) Mid Campaign: The campaign's major arc is introduced after the players have made a name for themselves, with regard to the system and setting. That could mean they are now known to corporations in Shadowrun or have begun taking audience with the King or whatnot. This ranges from around level 6 to 11 in 5E D&D. (Heroes of the Land or something like that?) This is what I usually use and the most common among my RL networks.

3) High-Level/Late Campaign: The campaign's major arc is revealed as the players are becoming legendary heroes. I don't see this one run very often, as BBEGs usually start either at epic level from the early stages of the campaign and lord over the players throughout, or build up over time and become more powerful as the players do as well. Might be more common in other systems than D&D, though.

4) Epic/Max-Level: Probably the least common among campaigns that don't start at high levels, these have the major arc begin once the players have reached their full potential and are either no longer leveling up or are using epic tier supplements. I've heard of these, but I've never seen one.

How about you all? What do you like to run or play in?

2017-09-18, 04:24 PM
Generally speaking I take one of two routes:

1) Introduce the main plot at the end of the first quest. The main plot hits them as they return home, or they discover that the starter villain was some minor pawn of/ineffectual desperate guardian against the real threat. This works to hit them hard with the stakes, as it both catches them off-footing and sets itself up as the underlying narrative of everything they ever do in the campaign.

2) Slowly bleed the main plot in over the course of several adventures. Start off in a sort of sandboxy mode to let them get to know the world and care about what's going on in it, to provide some context when everything starts getting wrecked. Can work better because you have a better idea about what the party cares about (besides the universal threat of "the villain wants to burn all our stuff and we'd rather they didn't"), but is a bit more difficult because you essentially have no plot for the first few arcs, just a series of random events tied together by the presence of the heroes. The "Monster of the Week" half of a TV season before the main plot overshadows most of it, you could say.

2017-09-18, 04:26 PM
Think layers and threads. They might not pull on a thread but it is there. It could start as something as simple as a image on a wall somewhere or a family heirloom. I wish I could say I never put HERE IS THE BIG PLOT FOR THE "CAMPAIGN" but sometimes there is something world affecting so it could be viewed that way. Ex: One time starting out a new group, I was introducing my Elementalist class and had something involving the elemental plane of ice entering into the world. Results were longer winters, colder temperatures near the event, etc. After 5 or 6 levels, they decided to pull on the thread...

Also, something I often do with the threads concept, is to avoid writing it in stone. For one, if they don't pull on the thread, it is a waste of resources to produce. Secondly, as players do things in the game, I might want to add layers, more threads, or just make changes on the fly. Players talking about situations can often inspire something interesting. Plus I like to drop magic items when they head in a certain direction.

The idea for me is flexibility of certain features. I love to run off the top of my head, but that doesn't mean there isn't something more than that going on.

2017-09-18, 04:37 PM
For ones that I play in I have no firm preference since it's based on execution.

For ones that I run I tend not to have a central narrative arc for the campaign. And indeed I doubt that it is even possible for some of the later options and have it be considered the central arc like the Epic/Max Level option. I mean sure it could be a "You thought your adventures were a series of unrelated events but it was me Dio!" but that is years of setup you are looking at. Now I may have central thematic arcs in which case I generally establish that as soon as I am comfortable with the group (around the equivalent of level 3 or so) or possibly right from the start at session 0. Part of this is due to years upon years of things like players moving away, people drifting apart, etc... Thanks to that I'd much rather have the group engaged in separate adventures and have the narrative arc be character specific, more similar to a TV show like Buffy than a movie.