5E Concerned that Geas will Railroad my players

akr71

Explorer
TL/DR If my players find an artifact that put a Geas on the character to perform a quest, will it feel too railroad-y?

There is a chance my players will find an ancient artifact, but it (and its former owner) has a mission to defeat its ancient enemy. It may deem the players worthy and grant them the artifact so that they can finish what it could not. However, one of the properties of the artifact is that when attuned, the wielder of the artifact is under a Geas until the ancient foe is defeated.That foe is clear across the other side of the country and takes them out of the way of their immediate goals. I worry that the players will feel I'm railroading them and taking away their choice.

Can I water down the effects of Geas so that they can pursue their goals but still feel that they need to take care of the other thing? How would you approach it?
 
Geas is the definition of railroad.

But, there's ways to make it FEEL not bad. Geas comes from some pretty ancient Irish mythologies, so if you were to spin this artifact + ensorcering of the players with a strong mythological context, really hamming up how myth-heroic it is and all that other stuff, they might be good with it.

Or they might not care and be down to go with it anyway.

Idk your players, so all advice is pretty much impossible to give.

A watered down Geas is still a Geas too, there's no real difference because they're still forced to do something at the end of the day.
 

Sadras

Adventurer
Can I water down the effects of Geas so that they can pursue their goals but still feel that they need to take care of the other thing? How would you approach it?
Yes. An ongoing effect which could be a gradually worsening condition (exhaustion or madness), restless sleep, or loss of HD or Ability...etc is attributed to the character for a particular period of time where no progress towards completing the Geas is made - where such period of time is a day, a week or if you are extremely nice - a month.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I agree that a lot of it is in presentation. Start with disturbing dreams and a feeling that there's something they have to accomplish. If they disagree the dreams start to become more real, they start hallucinating during the day and so on. If they take steps towards achieving the goal, give them small reward such as inspiration.

At this point they have two options, complete the quest or remove the geas (if they even realize it's a geas).

The question to me would not necessarily be "is this a railroad" as much as "does it make sense for the story I'm telling"? What's the motivation for you, as a DM to place a geas? Does it make sense in the world and can I foreshadow that this might be a possibility? If it feels like I'm doing it because I want my players to do something specific I don't use it. But if it makes sense that this artifact would exist, that the ancient spellcaster would use this method to force their will on someone else? Sounds like a good story.

Bonus points if I can see a way to have the players a chance to turn the tables on the source of the geas.
 

akr71

Explorer
Geas is the definition of railroad.

... snip ...

A watered down Geas is still a Geas too, there's no real difference because they're still forced to do something at the end of the day.
I was thinking watered down as in less than the listed 5d10 psychic damage - something that is more of an inconvenience than a punishment. Though "each time it acts in a manner directly counter to your instructions, but no more than once a day." leaves me a bit of wiggle room as to what is directly counter.

Also, how I word the command gives me a lot of leeway too. "Eliminate my ancient foe before the full moon of midwinter. Before he comes into his full power" or something.
 
I was thinking watered down as in less than the listed 5d10 psychic damage - something that is more of an inconvenience than a punishment. Though "each time it acts in a manner directly counter to your instructions, but no more than once a day." leaves me a bit of wiggle room as to what is directly counter.

Also, how I word the command gives me a lot of leeway too. "Eliminate my ancient foe before the full moon of midwinter. Before he comes into his full power" or something.
Aaah I see. In that case, I agree! Maybe make it scale/ramp up too? So that the 1st day they ignore the Geas its 1d6, then 1d8, 1d10, 2d10, etc etc with every passing day. Resets when they do something for the geas.
 

akr71

Explorer
I agree that a lot of it is in presentation. Start with disturbing dreams and a feeling that there's something they have to accomplish. If they disagree the dreams start to become more real, they start hallucinating during the day and so on. If they take steps towards achieving the goal, give them small reward such as inspiration.
Ow wow - I like this a lot! There is a corruption on the land surrounding the final resting place of an ancient archdruid. If they eliminate the corruption they may be gifted the artifact by the archdruid's ghost. It is his ancient foe that placed the corruption, so if they do not pursue the foe's destruction they might start hallucinating the same blight and corruption over and over until they do something about it.

The question to me would not necessarily be "is this a railroad" as much as "does it make sense for the story I'm telling"? What's the motivation for you, as a DM to place a geas? Does it make sense in the world and can I foreshadow that this might be a possibility? If it feels like I'm doing it because I want my players to do something specific I don't use it. But if it makes sense that this artifact would exist, that the ancient spellcaster would use this method to force their will on someone else? Sounds like a good story.

Bonus points if I can see a way to have the players a chance to turn the tables on the source of the geas.
The artifact ties in to one of my player's backstory, so I'm pretty sure he'll be all over it. There is another pretty strong adventure hook already luring them in the direction the geas would take them. They just want to tidy up some loose ends before heading that way.
 

NotAYakk

Adventurer
Give them a choice if they want to accept the artifact and geas. Let them walk in with eyes open.

Exhastion seems like a good mechanic here; it starts out gradual, then ramps up seriously. Their min exhastion level reaches 1 after ~2 days, 2 after ~4 days, 3 after ~8 days, 4 after ~16 days, 5 after ~32 days and 6 (dead) after ~64 days.

Serious progress towards the geas ramps it down at a rate of 1 per day.

Narratively, this is caused by endless nightmares and dreams as they sleep; they are unable to rest. These dreams can include information from the druid about how to go about the quest etc.

Note that this will make the character cursed incompetent after only a few days on side quests. So a clock is ticking.

If you have time, having the cursed character do solo "dream quests" outside of the main sessions could keep that player engaged (as their player gets more and more incompetent in the regular sessions, the "dream quest" sessions can make them feel some spotlight).
 

aco175

Adventurer
You could have a NPC henchman/sidekick type under the Geas. This way the players are still free to help or blow it off. You can play up the NPC taking damage or wracked with visions or whatever. It would be better if the party knows the NPC rather than a guy walking down the street. Combine this with moving the location closer to where the PCs are would help motive them to help out. Of course, the reward should be less as well.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
Only use Geas is you are going to railroad your players with YOUR plot. It is a huge PLOT Hammer.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
On a side note, even if I were to do the psychic damage, I think there are a lot of ways to fluff it to be more evocative. The PC affected is affected in a dream, attacked or surrounded by a caustic fog that eats away their skin for example.

The important thing to me is to treat something like this as more than just a spell. Find a way to weave it into your world and it's theme. I have some borderline gothic horror in my campaigns so the psychic damage could come from a waking hallucination of being swarmed by rats that no one else can see.

Which gives me an idea for my own campaign. The group is investigating a mysterious death; the npc started screaming one day and then dropped dead. A ghost spellcaster wants someone to find their murderer and the geas is going to be passed on until someone solves it (or destroys the ghost). I think my group would really have a lot of fun with this but it's definitely not something for every group. I'd also want to have alternative solutions instead of seeking vengeance for the ghost.
 
I think if you use the dreams and visions like others have said, the players will buy into it. If not, then they will want to try to find a way to remove the geas, which you absolutely let them do. Although with the side effect of crippling the sword's power. (Can't have your cake and eat it too).
I would also focus on the wording "each time it acts in a manner directly counter to your instructions". This doesn't have to mean that if it doesn't move that goal forward, that you are punished. But rather make it so if they actively and knowingly make a choice that will move them away from the goal or make it harder is what punishes them.
Killing a monster that is terrorizing a village while on there way isn't working against the goal. Knowing that taking time to kill the monster will mean they miss the only boat to the other side of the world for the next 6 months which might mean they miss their chance to complete the goal on time, would result in the damage.
 

Ralif Redhammer

Adventurer
I agree with this. Let them make the choice to pick up the magic item and accept the quest, or not, knowing the consequences. Essentially, this magic item will be setting the tone of the campaign for a while, and this enables them to buy into that, or not, as they wish.

Give them a choice if they want to accept the artifact and geas. Let them walk in with eyes open.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
A geas can be fun - in certain circumstances. Picking up an artifact and attuning it isn't one of them.

Geas is a stick, used to whomp characters who aren't making progress toward a goal or who violate the terms of the goal. Great for relatively short missions, not long goals. Use carrots instead. Let the PC know that the artifact is devoted to a particular quest, one that was important to its previous, heroic owner... and that its power will wax as progress is made, wane as other goals are pursued. If the PC wants the power, they'll get on the quest, if satisfied with low power, fine, they can pick up the quest later.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Give them a choice if they want to accept the artifact and geas. Let them walk in with eyes open.
^This.

Telegraph the cost of accepting the artifact and let the player make a meaningful choice. Otherwise, it may be perceived as a "gotcha" and thus seen as unfair. If a player makes the choice to accept the artifact knowing that it may force his or her character to perform a quest, then the player is not being "railroaded."
 

Quartz

Explorer
You are the DM. If you don't like it, change it! Even if you keep the Geas, the artifact might recognise that the PCs aren't capable of achieving its goals so the Geas may be quiescent until they are. It may even see the PCs' current quest as more important.

Umm.. this isn't the Sword of Kas?
 

Mort

Community Supporter
^This.

Telegraph the cost of accepting the artifact and let the player make a meaningful choice. Otherwise, it may be perceived as a "gotcha" and thus seen as unfair. If a player makes the choice to accept the artifact knowing that it may force his or her character to perform a quest, then the player is not being "railroaded."
Right.

The players need to understand (assuming they don't already) that an artifact is not a typical magic item. Artifacts come with big strings attached. Merely coming into the orbit of an artifact will have consequences; attuning to one - well that's going to have a big, big effect on the campaign and by doing so (attuning) the players need to accept that fact.
 

Mort

Community Supporter
Give them a choice if they want to accept the artifact and geas. Let them walk in with eyes open.

Exhastion seems like a good mechanic here; it starts out gradual, then ramps up seriously. Their min exhastion level reaches 1 after ~2 days, 2 after ~4 days, 3 after ~8 days, 4 after ~16 days, 5 after ~32 days and 6 (dead) after ~64 days.

Serious progress towards the geas ramps it down at a rate of 1 per day.

Narratively, this is caused by endless nightmares and dreams as they sleep; they are unable to rest. These dreams can include information from the druid about how to go about the quest etc.

Note that this will make the character cursed incompetent after only a few days on side quests. So a clock is ticking.

If you have time, having the cursed character do solo "dream quests" outside of the main sessions could keep that player engaged (as their player gets more and more incompetent in the regular sessions, the "dream quest" sessions can make them feel some spotlight).
I like this, but maybe pair it with a carrot approach as well as a stick?

Namely, the more the character aligns with the artifacts goals the better it functions for the character (eg. spell DCs from the artifact could increase by +1 or even +2, 1 extra use of some of its powers, a minor detrimental effect is suppressed, etc. - whatever is most thematic for the artifact).

This was the way 4e presented artifacts - and I think it was a great way to do it.
 

akr71

Explorer
There are a lot of great ideas here, thanks folks. I really like the psychic damage (if applicable) through dreams and visions. Yes, I will definitely telegraph the consequences of accepting/attuning to the artifact. Many of the magic items I create have powers that unlock over time, so I think I will implement that strategy here. Yes, removing the Geas will be a possibility.

This is the players' first sandbox so they are occasionally a little lost for what to do. I'm learning on how better to drop hints and hooks for them and they are learning how to do the social pillar. If I play it right, I think they will really enjoy it.

I will also have to make the Geas a slow burn since the ancient foe of the archdruid is lich, but no @Quartz it isn't the Sword of Kas :) It is a benevolent weapon, with some detrimental properties.
 

akr71

Explorer
You are the DM. If you don't like it, change it! Even if you keep the Geas, the artifact might recognise that the PCs aren't capable of achieving its goals so the Geas may be quiescent until they are. It may even see the PCs' current quest as more important.

Umm.. this isn't the Sword of Kas?
Excellent point! Ties in with my slow burn comment above nicely.
 

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