Home » How to link the player-character story to the main plot? – Shadows in the Fog

How to link the player-character story to the main plot? – Shadows in the Fog

Shadows of the past haunting the player-character may be a perfect way to link their story to the main lot of your RPG campaign.

Three strangers arrived that afternoon at the hamlet of Limesplice. Shortly after, the whole settlement was waiting in tension for the bandit raiders to assault them. Weapons ready, torches lit and choking silence hanging in the air. The evening draggingly passed into the night. Then, suddenly, a heavy fog raised from the creek flowing nearby. Every soul in the village shivered at this sight. Something uncanny was happening. Do you want to see how in all that I weave and link story of each player-character together to form the main plot?

The characters stories and how I linked them to the main plot

Bruni, the Dwarven Scholar

The News from Afar and similar features implemented in the AiME system can seem like a bit of a challenge for the GM. Through them, players are able to easily access information – and acquiring some of it is a goal on its own in many adventures. It may also, however, become a link of the player-character story to the main plot. But what, in this particular campaign set in the barren Noman-lands, could even be a source of news for a dwarf travelling so far from home?

I decided to make this feat more fun for the player. Since his character is a scholar, I made him have an old chronicle of a dwarven explorer Farin. Farin was roaming the Middle-earth almost 1500 years earlier, when the dwarven kingdom was still there and when the Brown Lands were bordering the dominion of Éotheod, ancestors to the Rohirrim. Every session, I handed to Bruni’s player a sheet of paper with the next chapter his character was reading. One twist though was that the text was written using Angerthas Moria font. It was emulating a strange dialect the ancient dwarf was using while also posing a bit of a riddle to the player. It also required from my player to find time every session to sit back quietly and study the text to read the next piece of information about the land. Just like his scholar would do. It worked quite well, sometimes providing an useful tips for the player – and sometimes a bit of a misinformation.

Eradom, Dúnadan Wanderer

One of the weathered strangers who arrived at the “inn” of the Limesplice. An orphaned child found by the Rangers hiding at the Prancing Pony’s stable who possessed an ability to intuitively communicate with animals. His player said that Eradom has heard some rumours about his mother being lost on the other side of the Misty Mountains so that was how he ended up in the Brown Lands. But to add a little something from myself, I’ve also made him travel with his old friend, Althain the Noldor.

It was a very straightforward adding a plot hook to link the player-character story to thy main narrative. I wrote a short story on how Althain rescued Eradom once and how then they became friends. And since I wanted the elf to play a bit of an unobvious part in the story, emphasizing the connection between the two characters was needed. Althain also wanted to find someone in the Brown Lands or beyond, but I’ll leave it there. Or maybe you could guess who and where an elf may seek in this parts of Middle-earth?

the Rook, Woodman Warden

I have to admit that I was left speechless when I had first read the Rook’s backstory. His player was an RPG first-timer and also not very well acquainted with Tolkien’s works. Hence, he assumed that it would be best if he played a character that also doesn’t know a lot about the world he lives in. So he wrote a story on how he was found half-dead in a boat among the Long Marshes. Then his road led to a small settlement of the Woodmen where our story began. He had no memory of his past though. Only a black crow, his namesake, following him everywhere seemed to hide a clue.

It was a perfect story material to link the player-character to the main plot. I don’t want to reveal too much here, but such an unknown past character leaves the most room for adjusting to the story you as GM are about to tell. Also, when a player creates some plot hooks like the rook or his unusual looks (pale skin and white hair), it gives you something to begin with. I’d like to remark here that the Rook’s player told me that he honestly had no idea what the crow or the albino look may indicate in Middle-earth but he added them because they seemed fun for him. Doesn’t sound like a clumsy first-time he thought himself, does he?

On a side note, while starting this series I looked for a suitable translation of Rook’s name. I’ve come up with “Gauche” first as it reflected the character’s (and player’s) lack of knowledge. Just as the Rook’s player intended it, naming his character Gapa in Polish. This word means a dull-witted person as well as a species of Corvus. At last, I’ve found that in English the same wordplay is possible, connecting the word “rook” and “rookie”. So, if you’ve remembered Gauche from the previous posts, I’ve updated it to fit the translation better.

Back in the Brown Lands

The whole hamlet hold its breath. Women and children hidden in the stone cellar under Tugor’s “inn”. The Rook’s crow was circling above as an ominous shade contrasting the pale moonlit clouds. Late summer’s nightsounds were both unbearingly sharp and muffled at the same time. Then, something moved along the creek’s bank to the east.

Single shambling silhouette approached the gate. He or she did not respond to the Woodmen asking their name. Ignoring the threats, the person closed in and stood still before the palisade. Suddenly, he spoke with a hollow voice:

A pale head in the shallow water
Clutching candle gleam
Although nothing brighter it make seem
Words can still it utter
Shallow, chilly water

Needless to say, Bruni’s, Rook’s and Eradom’s players were confused when they heard the fourth player speaking the above riddle. Thus, the final player-character joined the company:

Ingolf, Barding Treasure Hunter

Travelling with a trading caravan to meet the Gondorian merchant on the other side of Anduin, Ingolf was not your typical Tolkienian protagonist. Quite the contrary – a scoundrel who made his living by helping fraudulent merchants in Esgaroth’s docks. They were on their way to outrun the other caravan who actually set up the meeting with Gondorians and thus unfairly close the deal first. But the shortcut through the Brown Lands turned out to be a bad luck.

Ingolf was a second character that had a feature allowing him to gain an insight into the events happening around. This time, it was Woeful Foresight. Again, I wanted to link this character’s story somehow to the game’s main plot to make it more fun for the player than just giving out information. So I made it a recurring dream that Ingolf had. I’ve described it in broad strokes in an introductory narrative for the player and referred to its elements throughout the campaign. It thus became a personal goal for the character and the player – to figure out what the unsettling dream of ravens, fog and a feeling of a danger coming from it, meant. Later into the campaign, I fleshed it out more, but let’s leave the characters here until the next Middle-earth Monday on the blog.

So, how do I link the story of a player-character to my main plot?

As you’ve just read, there are many ways to do so. Sometimes, you can take a fact from the character’s past – a lost relative, a blank space in their memory, a treasure they seek – and place it in the direction you want your plot to go. But you can also make the character’s previous knowledge somehow accessible to them through handouts or short stories. That’s one of my favourites! In a one-shot I’m preparing to release through DrivethruRPG.com, one of the characters is a herbalist with a short handbook of healing herbs by his grandfather. Elaborating such details of the character’s story or mechanical features makes them feel much more immersive and easier to roleplay. Finally, it’s best to talk to the player a bit about what they’d like their character to be like. A recurring riddles or too emotional connections with the NPCs may not be fun for everybody.

Let me know how you liked this peek behind the story of Ghosts of the Noman-lands! How do you usually link your players’ characters’ stories to the main plot of your games? Or maybe you leave it to them? You may also like to read the counterpart of this post, describing how my players generated their company randomly in our Forbidden Lands sandbox campaign. There, the other method may inspire you. Either way, have fun developing your plot!

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  1. Pingback: Players ignore plot hook - Untold story of my campaign - Dramatist of Mind

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