So Laughing Ogre Comics, my local pulp paper distributor of choice, had a small shelf of d20 game stuff that pretty much stopped moving some time around 2007 or so. One of the things on it was an almost-complete set of the 3.x Eberron books, which I’d always been kinda-sorta interested in but never had a compelling reason to get until my recent campaign started.
Having resolved to go in and ask if they’d give me a package deal, I was very surprised when on the very day I attempted to do so, they’d reorganized the store and the gaming shelf was gone. O.o Luckily, the stuff had all been just shipped off to a warehouse, so when I asked the manager if it was too late to buy them en masse, it was just a matter of logistics. He was more than pleased to get them off the books, too. Expecting something like a 10% discount, I ended up getting all of them for $5 each. Aww, yeah! I now have a big ol’ “Box of Eberron,” which should keep me in reading material during the long winter months.
In the meantime, now that sirfox has safely landed in California, and we’re hopefully just a week out from being able to game again, I need to turn my attention to cleaning up some of the mess made of the campaign in the last session.
I knew going into the last session that there was a bit of a plot problem. “Mark of Prophecy” (the intro scenario from the 4e Eberron Campaign Guide) basically consists of “a great opening, a solid middle act, and then a ball dropped.” After figuring out that Aric Blacktree was menacing them by proxy, of course the PCs are going to want to go after him– but the scenario as written didn’t account for that. It just had him come attack them while they were flying on an airship… somewhere. Because airship fights. The scenario as written didn’t even say where they were supposed to be going. (Ahh, 4e. So unrestricted by things like story structure.)
The airship fight encounter, as nifty as it was, also wasn’t enough to sustain a whole game session. So to fix both of these things, I stitched the beginning of the next scenario on and turned the “you can’t find Blacktree, but he can find you” thing into a plot point.
Looked good on paper. Didn’t work so well in practice. :-`
Basically, that removed all of the agency from the players. They were given a very obvious “Here’s the next plot hook, go get it!” at the beginning, but were understandably reluctant to start a new one before the previous one was resolved. And instead of enabling them to cleverly seek out and confront the villain like a bunch of Big Damn Heroes, I instead found myself giving them a series of “No, that didn’t work. No, that didn’t work either…” responses until they gave up and stepped into the airship fight encounter as presented in the scenario.
Not my best moment as a GM, sadly. I really should have foreseen that the players would have wanted to chase Blacktree down and had something ready for that. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, some cool “scouring the underbelly of Sharn” encounters leading to the eventual airship fight could have filled in the gap, felt a lot less forced, and not robbed the PCs of their roles as the ones driving the story.
Oh well, lesson learned, hopefully. Meanwhile, they’re already off and into the next scenario anyhow, but I’m not giving up on the whole “that’s actually a plot point” thing. There are wheels within wheels of competing factions who are all trying to manipulate the Draconic Prophecy to their own ends and the PCs are currently pawns in the middle of all this with only a vague idea of what’s actually happening. That part is working as intended– Eberron’s all about the intrigue. But I have to keep my focus on making sure that the story is about the players, not about the plots going on around them.
Part of that means remembering to throw out the plot-as-outlined when it doesn’t make sense or isn’t any fun. And having the PCs pound the pavement all day, get nothing, and then be ambushed by the badguy they’ve been searching for the whole time? Not so much fun.