The Merchant’s Machination of Relic Reagents

RPT GM Jabmist shared this cool plot with me yesterday:

In a campaign I was running, the party had to go to the elemental plane of fire and kill a demon lord who was causing mischief. To get there, they had to trade with a merchant who collected rare and expensive things (to buy necklaces of plane shifting).

In the elemental plane of fire, they stole a tapestry made of bronze and later sold it to the merchant. After they washed the heart of the demon lord in the waters on the plane of water, it turned into a crystal, which they then sold to the same merchant to get the items they needed for air, where they found an item they sold to get stuff for earth.

What they will find out soon is that each of these items they sell is part of a machine the BBG is making to take over the material plane. The merchant is actually an agent of the BBG and helping the party gather the items the BBG needs.

The party likes to just take things, so whatever it is they take, is what is needed for the next stage of the machine. The story flows, they make free choices, and I look like a genius for my loopy planning.

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It’s All About Having the Right Structure in Place

Thank you for giving me permission to share this, Jabmist. What I especially like about your campaign seed is this part:

“whatever it is they take, is what is needed for the next stage of the machine”

Structure is what gives a GM flexibility. And you’ve built a fantastic structure:

Structure Piece 1

You’ve got MacGuffins helping you drive the plot forward.

Structure Piece 2

You’re also prepared to improvise because the players are, in effect, deciding what each MacGuffin is, giving you freedom to focus on the moment instead of desperately trying to steer the PCs to some future state.

Structure Piece 3

You control each place in each stage. That guides your prep so you can do so with confidence. You don’t have to detail every plane, just the ones the party must go to. Yet, I assume no one feels railroaded in your game, because they must go to a specific place but then have plenty of choice within it.

Structure Piece 4

You’ve got a consistent theme to guide design and immerse players. The party can start to pattern match and puzzle solve because of your consistency.

Structure Piece 5

If you take detailed session notes, then you don’t have to create a lot of stuff in advance due to all four Structure Pieces. You simply follow the party and note what they do and what happens.

Further, you can reference past session logs as you GM to improvise foreshadowing, clues, and callbacks.

For example, you create the base details for the merchant and let gameplay flesh him out. As new details emerge, you make rapid notes. In future sessions and encounters with him, you refer to your notes, roleplay him again with even greater depth, and add more notes as play goes on. Repeat.

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The Structure in Action

I like your twist about about a machine being assembled from the McGuffins retrieved by the party. This also cleverly follows all five structure pieces you’ve got in play:

Structure Piece 1: It doesn’t matter what piece is collected, it advances your machine progress clock.

Structure Piece 2: The players always find an object that helps the villain, giving you total freedom to stock encounters as you like and enjoy the game.

Structure Piece 3: The pieces have a home base you control: the merchant (and wherever the machine is being assembled, which you can decide when the time is right).

Structure Piece 4: You’re on theme with the machine! Each piece, regardless of whether it’s a magic ring or a banana, builds a single, thematic game element.

Structure Piece 5: You track what items turn out to be machine pieces for future consistency. Perhaps players will start to find a pattern of what they’ve chosen to collect, or you do so, and you use that for clues, foreshadowing, and callbacks.

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RPT GM, I hope you enjoyed this plot idea and how its structured to make a GM’s life easier.

Have a game-full weekend!

I run Basilica on Sunday and can’t wait.

Have more fun at every game!

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