If you are going to run a tabletop game, you should plan to link one gaming session to the next. Tabletop games are not some ordinary board game where the storyboard is basically reset and each get-together occurs in a vacuum. The choices you make during one adventure should subsequently impact future adventures. This means that a game master should create hooks throughout the session to hopefully tie into the next great adventure.
Considering how difficult it would be to play a tabletop game without creating alliances or enemies, connecting sessions should not be too difficult. Just like life, our behaviors have logical consequences, and the men and women we encounter always seem to cross our metaphorical path again, no matter how far we venture. Let’s revisit the primary example from last week to explore this concept.
Second Tier Play
Let us say the party chose to avoid killing the Orc Party last week for a large sum of gold, which was decidedly greater than what they would have been paid to kill them off for the local magistrate. Over a couple of weeks, the magistrate learns that another band of orcs is raiding a nearby village and sends the party to wipe out the nuisance once again. Upon arrival, the party may discover the same Orc Party they let loose the last time. How will they respond? An evil, adventuring party may agree to create a market from not killing the creatures, regularly lying to the district government about their mission. We can all see the benefit of being paid twice over for something they are, in fact, not doing.
How far could you take this little scheme as a DM and what challenges would you offer to the party? You may have the magistrate to request proof of their heroics, which could result in them delivering a mutilated, burnt corpse of some other being or having to further negotiations with the Orc Party. Perchance, you could have multiple groups of orcs enter the region, and the party now begins a wide campaign of banding together these multiple groups and creating warbands or raiding parties. The challenge of playing both sides and collecting coin, or even power, would not only be lucrative but highly entertaining for the adventurers. Not only would this set up a unique storyline, but this would give a wide variety of social encounters, utilizing skill checks and player wit to survive instead of relying solely on muscle.
We also shared a concept of having a father hire the party to save his daughter, while a rival duke countered the offer and asked the party to kill the damsel instead to advance his own goals. No matter what choice the players make, they are likely going to inherit friends and foes alike. This decision can effectively follow the characters for some time, no matter how far they roam in your gaming world.
For example, let us imagine they do the Duke’s bidding and mercilessly kill one daughter so he can marry another. The method the party uses to see the deed done is not immediately important in second-tier although it could expand the world and opportunities for the party in future sessions. Once they have done the duke’s task, do they become his lackeys and continue serving him. Perhaps the duke has the party kill the father, too, to protect his inheritance once he is married. A second option may be that the party decides to blackmail the duke with the information they hold, keeping the father alive, and receive compensation for keeping his secret. Or the party may do some mishmash of the two options, to possibly gain an advantage in reaching their own nefarious goals. They may begin to gain holdings or titles if power is their aim, or they may use servants and soldiers to do the bidding of the party. The possibilities are endless.
Regardless, second-tier gameplay is when we begin to see the consequences of previous choices unfolding for our heroes, no matter if we think them heroic or not. You will find an excellent opportunity to introduce NPCs, new and old, to expand the world and the opportunities available for the adventurers. While one option could seem more Good than another, an Evil Party can manipulate any scenario into something self-serving. As a game master, you cannot ignore your players and their agenda unless it simply does not work in the world you have created. The path the players choose through the plot adds to the storyline, strengthening the second-tier of gameplay. Moreover, it can leave you with something worth talking about for years to come. When they killed the daughter, did they make it look like a suicide, or hire an assassin group? How did the coroner respond? Did the assassin group come back around in another adventure and did they remain allies with the adventurers?
As the influence and popularity of the players spread, rumors will follow. For an evil party, especially, they will need to be wary of who catches wind of their true motives and deeds. They may have to investigate, or even confront others, based on what information is leaked to the masses, or their own schemes could very well fall to ruin.