Game masters, dungeon masters, et. al. - lend me your wisdom and experience in constructing a cohesive and dynamic campaign storyline.
you helped me with some of the technical details, now I need a hand with putting everything together in a cohesive campaign. It's D&D 3.5, but I figure these questions are applicable across the board. For tl;dr purposes, the basic questions are in bold.
Assume all the players have at least two or three full campaigns under their belt (if not more), and at least half have DMed themselves.
So far I have:
- Made a tentative map of the city (if you don't feel like reading the previous question, most of this will take place in and below an isolated city-state) with distinct neighborhoods.
- Identified factions and important NPCs, and their respective loyalties and motives.
- Went through sourcebooks to find beasties and loot specific to their context (e.g. Lovecraftian horrors for the mage academy, automatons for the contractor guild.)
On my to-do list
- Identify specific buildings within each neighborhood.
- [INSERT YOUR IDEAS HERE]
Now, the way I want to run this is the way an actual city runs, but abstracted a bit. Let's say I have a half-dozen individual plotlines (ballparking that number.) The PCs can only participate in so many at once, however time inexorably marches on and their decisions in Plot A will have an impact on Plot F even if they don't encounter Plot F until several sessions in. My plan is to keep six separate Plot logs and, after each session, progress them via the PCs actions and the general outline of the game in my head.
Does this general mode of storytelling (multiple plots progressed in real-time with or without direct PC involvement) work?
I've been RPing for years, but I've never actually asked a DM to see their notes or explain their strategies and I'm afraid that this may become overly complex and I will spend too much time trying to progress the initial idea rather than tell a fun story. How does a GM keep things cohesive but dynamic?
An example of what I want to do is below:
The PCs help the Contractors' Guild Ward Boss unionize the exploited farmers, who strike and screw up the profits of the city's organized crime ring. Three sessions later, a month passes, the mob finally figures out what happened, and there's an assassination attempt on the PCs, to whom this should feel as if it is totally out of the blue until they figure out why they're being attacked. Meanwhile, the Mage Academy -- who laid claim to uniting the farmers for their own devices -- retaliate against the Contractors' Guild and the PCs (again, sessions later) witness an explosion in the factory district that they can choose to investigate or not.
Will that work or is there just too much to keep track of? Meanwhile, how much plot should I write out before the players make characters?
I only have so much time to compose an adventure and I'd like to waste as little of it as possible. In that vein, how much of the whole story should I have done before starting the game?
I know that campaign plans are like battle plans in that large parts will become irrelevant when the boots hit the dirt, but I don't want to be underprepared for the PCs deciding to knock on the door of the secret thieves guild entrance they discovered by accident, just to say hi.
The other issue is that I want to do a murder mystery (i.e. bodies keep turning up in seemingly random but actually linked places, PCs follow clues, slowly uncover a conspiracy which ties in with the other plot threads they are involved in.) How do you integrate a murder mystery without making it the whole of the plot?
I've never actually played a game where detection was a significant aspect, and murder mysteries were never more involved than "Find Dead Body -> Locate Clue -> Follow Clue To Place -> Find Murderer In Place." Meanwhile, I doubt most of my group have watched nearly as much Law and Order and read as many mystery novels I have so how do I make a mystery fun without requiring people to be real detectives?
Experiences and resources would be great.
Finally, many of the monsters the PCs will encounter are horrors. I'm not going to try to integrate sanity in any official stat but what are good ways to drive PCs mad, and what are fun consequences of being mad?
I'm thinking hallucinations and paranoia as exemplified by minuses on certain rolls. More suggestions and gameplay dynamics welcome. Now, I don't want to tell my players what their character did. I know I can depend on them to RP status effects like that, but do I need to do things beyond saying "okay, from now on, you are going to be incredibly wary if not hostile toward any cleric you encounter"? How do I start the ball rolling on having the players RP their PCs' madness without telling them what to do?