Need some DMing advice - trying to avoid the railroad


First Post
In general terms, I have an idea about the major story arc I want my party to take.

They have to retrieve four stones and have them at the right place at the right time for the conjunction of the elements, and so on and so forth blah blah blah epic heroics go here.

They have one stone, but they don't know what it is or what it does. They know it is magical, and has some strange side-effects, but they haven't (I think) quite twigged to the fact that this is the hinge upon which the plot is hanging.

I have set up a situation in which one of their advisors could reasonably have researched it and found out what it actually is. He has encountered the stone already, and wasn't able to tell them anything. Last time they tried to go talk to him, he was out of town (a plot device from a largely unrelated story), on a 'research trip'. So, the information is now available.

They have been introduced to the lower echelons of the BBEG's organization, but also haven't figured out that it is larger than just the one cell they recently took out.

They are now of level to begin the epic quest of finding the other three stones.

What I want to know is, how do avoid the appearance of railroading them into the plot? Basically, how do I spring their destiny on them and make it look like their idea?

I am open to anything. Some ideas I have include having their advisor give them some sort of obscure semi-related poetry fragment / prophecy, or point them to another sage in some off-the-beaten-path location, or even having their mentor-dwarf disappear for asking 'too many questions' and having them go and try to find him, or, the obvious, he just hands them the plot on a platter.


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Clockwork Golem
Attack them with evil people who want the stone, are obviously going to use it for nasty reasons (otherwise some smart PC will just hand over the mysterious stone), and who are quite willing to try negotiation or theft before moving onto outright assault.

Nothing motivates PC's the find out what something does faster than the knowledge that someone else wants it for something.


Roll for Initiative!
Well, if it's a set of four, have them figure this out. Once they realize that what they have is special, and that they have one of four, then they will naturally seek the remaining three. As the campaign progresses, and as they gain the remaining three, you can slowly reveal what the purpose of the items is.

RC Hagy

Similar to what Arwink said, just have some thief steal the stone.

They could have been hired by Arwink's bad guys or just a regular petty baddy... who later, themselves, is robbed or rubbed out by the bad guys.

Nothing gets players interested in an item then when they are robbed.

Having them constantly tailed is another... keep with the research that says there is more than one stone. Have a definable 'presence' lurking wherever they go as it relates to the stones.

Or just get plain old, nastily mean.
Each stone is linked to an individual PC.
It slowly weakens/kills/corrupts/has a different effect on each PC.

As more stones are found the more powerful the effects get... and the faster it happens. Good way to keep the pressure on story wise also. If this interests you make sure that distance from the stones helps to slow things down... yet does not stop it.

I could go on... but I would just end up rambling.



Sage of the Scarred Lands
Throw out little demons to get the stone. That should alert the party there's something going on with that stone they have. ;)


First Post
You could set them on a seemingly unrelated adventure. Then somehow tie it in to the stones. For example, one of the locations they have to go on that adventure just so happens to be the home of the second stone. If they find a second one, they may naturally assume there are more, and they'll try to find them. If you want to be a bit more obvious about it, some of the BBEG's underlings get there just before the PCs, and they assume the PCs are also after the second stone. After revealing some information they assume the PCs already knew, they attack.


First Post
there are lots of good ideas here, and you don't have to pick just one line of thought. you mentioned that BBEG is after them. well, why does there only have to be one group after them? then you can use many of these story lines. the groups can alternately follow, negotiate, steal, fight, offer to buy, etc. And stones can be found and lost. Not all the groups looking for them have to be equally powerful or even evil.

Imagine another group of good characters (perhaps a bit paranoid and inept), a group of LN, and two groups of evils (one which is the ultimate BBEG at the end) all vying for the characters attention. The groups are competing with the characters and themselves. Imagine multiway fights! imagine the tremedous work to set this up!

I did this once. it was great. lot of work though.
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You want to avoid the 'patron sends the PCs on a mission' trope, right? You want to leave the PCs with the illusion that they are taking the initiative.

Try this: the researcher comes to the PCs and asks them about the stone: "Where did they find it? Were there others like it there? Maybe four of different colours? No? Ah well, false alarm." If the PCs ask, he gives a brief description of the set of four stones he's interested in and describes why they are important.

The whole thing reminds me off a Call of Cthulhu campaign I played in once. In early adventures we PCs obtained two fragments of the R'lyeh Disk, and had a lot of trouble from cultists &c. trying to steal our pieces back. We discovered by one means and another that they wanted to disk so that they could raise R'lyeh and awaken Great Cthulhu. So I melted down our two pieces, mingled the gold with other gold, cast the mixture into small ingots and sold them to as wide a group of bullion dealers as I could manage. Then it turned out that the cultists didn't need the disk to raise R'lyeh, but that if we had had it we could have stopped them. Total World Destruction. The GM never did explain why he had put that misleading information in, nor why the cultists were so desperate to get our pieces of the disk given that they always had at least one, which was all it took to stop us. But that's one of the dangers with big-stakes occult adventures: if you give the players false information, and if they are imaginative and bright, they may well do unexpected things that seem ingenious but that turn into disaster.




First Post
I think the best soultion is the one I used in my game. Its only railroading if the players don't want to follow the plot. What this means Is I approached the party pregame (no reason it couldn't be done now for you though) and told them I have a big plot I want to run... Do you want to follow it?. Worked out quite well. The Big plot isn't everything in my game so side plots character backgrounds whtever the players want I work in but they agreed the big plot would always rear its ugly head and lead them somewhere.

I say approach your group and say this exact thing. Let them know hey I have a big plot can't tell you what it is but trust me you'll have fun if you just give mme some leway and play along. My group so far has been very happy with my game as far as trying this and it eases the pressure off me and the guilt that I am railroading them. Important thing is knowledge of the existence of a big plot does not prevent red herrings and clues that tell you little.

My group wandered in the dark for a while before they knew what they had to do. Now they do know and the fun is figuring out how to do those things.

I think the thought of railroading should be such a scary one. Being open is the easiest way that still leaves you being creative and them being creative back without anyone being able to cry foul later on.

Just my thoughts.


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