I need to keep my players sidelined in a major city for a few weeks while story events unfold enough to actually move the plot forward. My only hard rule is NO TIMESKIP.
So I'm soliciting you for ideas. Things I can keep my players occupied with in a big, fantasy city in a completely generic fantasy setting.
No dungeon crawling, no adventures to the mountains, no chasing down an evil cult, just stuff to pass some time.
There's not much to know about them. There's a young Cleric who's family is gonna feature later in the chapter, there's the Swashbuckler who has no real connections to anyone, the Barbarian who's only friends are a drug dealer they just rescued and a Guard who hates him, a Fighter who doesn't know what he wants other than to make his own armor, and an Occultist who has no major connections to the city at all.
The city is barely stable after huge riots and civil unrest. There are no festivals or parties to be had. And if I could keep them occupied for multiple weeks with shopping trips, I wouldn't have anything to worry about.
They're gonna have some downtime to spend as they want, but I know they don't have anything to spend it on, and after that I still need time to set up the next events, since they start rolling in slowly.
Also, I'm having trouble writing a murderer villain I want to set up. I pictured him as sort of like The Joker, in that he went completely insane after being publicly humiliated (in his mind), and I think it might be fun to have him seek revenge on the nobles and stuff he thinks ruined him.
But whereas The Joker has a specific gimmick to him that colors how he kills people, I can't make up one for this guy. It would have to be something brutal and horrific, easily identifiable as to serve as a calling-card of sorts, but indicative of an extremely intelligent, organized and methodical killer (former detective, basically).
>My only hard rule is NO TIMESKIP.
You know there's nothing wrong with time skips, right? I mean, it's not like you play through every moment of every day as it is. I say this because I've played in games before where, for example, we were set to start a mission the next day and had to waste an entire session dicking around because of an inability to make time progress so we could just get on with shit. I really want a "get the fuck on with shit" button I can press whenever our GM forgets about pacing. And I say this as a generally proactive person, who is perfectly capable of creating of occupying himself in a solo adventure, but when you have a group full of characters with differing interests, things are different. And a session where everybody does their own thing tends to be boring, because you're only actually participating 1/5 of the time.
What about a run in with the local thieves guild? A cutpurse swipes something from a party-member leading to a chase through back alleys and a standoff when the thief leads them into guild territory and gets the assistance of his peers. Hi-jinx ensue, and the party maybe starts a war with the guild, which doesn't like having its members hacked and slashed.
>You know there's nothing wrong with time skips, right?
I don't like them. They ruin the way I tell a narrative, specifically this part of one because I need the players to actually experience what's going on in the city around them. I'm not going to just say "Ok, fast forwards a week and WHOOPS guess the whole city has gone to shit around you!" I need them to be there, to see it happening around them, and most specifically I need them to be occupied during that time so that they have something that's keeping them from just diving into the downward spiral of the city around them.
And I mean this in the nicest way I can, but I don't run my game for a group of people who are constantly wishing they could mash the "Get to the action already" button.
They've been dealing with a lot of criminals for a while now, I was hoping to get away from the drug dealing/organized crime stuff for a bit, only because it's such an easy well to tap. I certainly could get them tied up with some Thieves Guild vs. Merchant shit, because it might be nice to have them make contacts in the city that actually have legitimate business resources, but like I said, it's easy. So if anything, it would probably be my fall-back if nothing else came up.
>And I mean this in the nicest way I can, but I don't run my game for a group of people who are constantly wishing they could mash the "Get to the action already" button.
Yeah man asking them to come to a session so they can twiddle their thumbs and play tea parties as imagined characters so you can slip one or two lines of foreshadowing into the game over and over for half a month before actually getting to the point is so much better.
>No dungeon crawling, no adventures to the mountains, no chasing down an evil cult, just stuff to pass some time.
>Just stuff to pass the time
>Yeah let's focus entire sessions on "stuff to pass the time." That is worth focusing on, because I can't write my shitty would-be novel ANY OTHER WAY.
No, that would be you.
Dude, they're in a fucking city and I specifically said that I'm passing some time while the actual plot sets itself up.
Why would I want to send them out of the city, where they can't see what's going on around them? Why would I want to send them into a dungeon chasing nothing, when there will be plenty of plot-relevant dungeon shit later on?
Do you really not understand the basic structure of a narrative? That sometimes, a campaign doesn't have to be foot-on-the-gas action for a little while, especially immediately after they defeated a boss and stopped some pretty major shit and are lying low?
Is it completely impossible in your mind that maybe, just for a little bit, there aren't any dragons to slay or a clock ticking until the world blows up?
Hey, if you want to build up their experience with the city through play, that's great--there's an actual reason not to time-skip. Just don't make people waste time doing bullshit because you have a philosophical obsession with playing out every day, even the unimportant, uninteresting ones.
A nasty beast of some sort is loose in the sewers and comes up every now and again and attacks. It's mostly killed pets so far, but maybe it's gotten somebody's kid. Obviously the town guard got involved, but it's a pauper's kid, and it's not a straightforward task to track the creature down (plus, nobody wants to go crawling through the muck). But the people are starting to get restless, and the priest of a small church in the area has taken up a collection and is offering to pay the party to solve the problem. The party can rely on some of the locals of the parish to help them out, if they desire it. They won't be much help in actual combat, but they can hold torches, yell, bang on stuff, and do simple tasks the party gives them.
>The city is barely stable after huge riots and civil unrest.
Somebody hires the party for protection. Shit goes down and the party ends up with a trickier than usual fight. They have to protect whoever or whatever they were hired to protect, handle whoever is causing the problem and probably using violence, and not just turn shit into a complete bloodbath, because the town guard tends to frown on that kind of thing.
>Just don't make people waste time doing bullshit because you have a philosophical obsession with playing out every day, even the unimportant, uninteresting ones.
Usually, it's my players that find a way to roleplay throught the unimportant, uninteresting days. Last time, they wanted to dedicate a large chunk of the session to shopping for furniture for their new base.
>A nasty beast of some sort is loose in the sewers and comes up every now and again and attacks.
Unfortunately, I did that one already, even though technically they weren't present for most of it. But I just used an Otyugh, and I don't want to use another one, and I've got a sewer dungeon a bit later on when the players are gonna get involved with the politics of Wererates and Vampires.
I was considering something escaping from Wizard College, but "Monster escapes and runs amok" didn't have much depth for my taste.
Whatever helps you sleep, I guess.
I haven't had them protect anyone yet. Could be interesting, provided there was an interesting encounter to go with it, not just normal thugs on the street or something.
>provided there was an interesting encounter to go with it, not just normal thugs on the street or something.
Have it tied up in some way with the unrest. Whatever long-simmering tensions are coming to boil and factions / folks who wouldn't normally do something as brazen as [whatever the fuck it is exactly that they're doing] now feel emboldened, or angry / desperate / scared enough to do it now. Or maybe it's just somebody who is using the unrest as a smokescreen or opportunity (knowing that the authorities have other concerns right now, etc.).
Hell, maybe it's all staged, and the guy who hired the party has misjudged their abilities, and is actually robbing himself with the party intended to be there as witnesses. Why rob himself? Who knows? Maybe he's holding valuable shit for other people. Maybe he has some kind of insurance policy. Maybe it's a joint venture and he's only entitled to a small share of the profits from selling the goods.
They don't have that much money, and they're not exactly on the good side of the law/government, or they won't be shortly. Not really a time to be starting construction projects and setting up businesses, especially not with more shit coming to shake everything up on the horizon.
So they have to stay in the city, crime plots are out as well as dungeons, loose monsters, civil revolt, and base exspantion. Other than doing goody- two shoes stuff around town and perhaps working on trades I cant think of anything. I know your determined to avoid a timeskip, but at this point a TINY one wouldnt hurt.
A few weeks?
Go the way of female DMs and make it into a romance arc, make the PCs meet three or four interesting NPCs of different social circles (maid a maid, a noble, a soldier and/or criminal) and get some of them introduced to the local society, engulf them in the petty dramas of a medieval fantasy city inhabitants. Just pretend you're playing something like vampire and instead of hit points and bullshit like that keep track of the characters influence and relationship to each other, change it with every interaction, come up with a way to emulate background interactions and make relationships naturally deteriorate over time without maintenance.
You'll have your hands full in no time and if your players enjoy this kind of shit they might even not want to leave the city later.