This blog is going to be a little more relaxed than my last couple of blog posts. I wanted to share some of my ideas about how creators (and GMs!) can make flexible plots for different alignments. This is something I’m trying to work into my “The Evil Party: A Primer” PDF for the community, but it’s also really important for those campaigns that have more of a moral gray zone to them.
As a creator or a GM, it can be easy to fall into certain assumptions when making an story or plot for adventurers. An NPC might ask the party to “save Timmy from danger!” As the story teller, we’re assuming the players want to save Timmy. *Spoiler alert: If Timmy is annoying, they don’t.*
At first glance, the easiest way to combat this as a DM is to allow different paths of action in your story.
The party saves Timmy
The party doesn’t save Timmy
That kind of works, and allows for at least some branching narrative, but it’s not exactly the most satisfying. You could further flesh out the options based on the party’s intent:
The party wanted to save Timmy but failed
The party doesn’t want to save Timmy so they didn’t
The party wanted to save Timmy and succeeded
The party didn’t want to save Timmy but they did
Some of these options get a little silly, but it can help explore some of the narrative outcomes. Now that you’ve allowed adventurers to roleplay a bit and come up with their decision, the story can evolve naturally around those choices. For example, the NPCs might approach the players differently, or share certain things based on their actions (We all thought Timmy was a jerk too)!
As a creator or DM, it’s important to realize the adventure may not go the way you intended. And you know what, that’s entirely OK! Be flexible enough that you can handle different narrative paths. The DM’s inability to be flexible with the narrative leads to railroading (which means you’re forcing players down your version of the story with no input from them). I’ve never heard of a player that enjoys railroading.
To summarize, it’s important to understand plots can have different outcomes.
The next part we need to discuss is the hook- this is how we pull adventurers in and tell them there’s a problem that needs solving. If you’re planning an adventure with non-heroic characters, the hook is the area where creators boff up the most. The underlying issue is most hooks are only provided in a heroic adventurer way:
The mayor needs help solving a crime!
The orcs are killing the townsfolk!
My chickens have escaped! Bring them back to me!
You might not see it at first, but each of these hooks is biased towards the adventuring party committing positive actions. Well, if your party tends to be more neutral or evil aligned, these hooks aren’t really going to be satisfying.
Currently, my best way of solving this issue (and opening up neutral and evil party gameplay), is again, to provide different choices for the adventuring party upon introducing the problem. Give them a choice of what sub-quest they want to follow.
The mayor needs help solving a crime! After talking to the mayor, you’re approached by another council member who is fed up with the mayor’s ineptitude and wants your help in replacing him!
The orcs regularly attack a town. Late at night a message is slipped under your door to meet an orc envoy. You learn the town has been stealing orc babies!
The villager’s chickens have escaped. You can capture them, or someone offers you a higher price to bring them the chickens! (Maybe they’re a competitor). OR! There’s a different quest where you need to feed a monster, and so now you can conveniently use the free roaming chickens to feed it!
As you can see, the main focus is to provide diverging moral options to the players, even when introducing the plot hooks. This is great because it gives different types of parties different options. It also makes the adventure more alignment agnostic, and thus, more replayable. The trick is working in the different options so they look seemless to the adventurer.
Those are my current thoughts, let me know if you found any of this interesting! I’ve been digging into neutral and evil party alignments and exploring what strong adventures look like for these types of characters, so I will have plenty more to share down the road!
Until the next adventure!