Recently the persistent world I play on has seen the return of an old DM. Many As One (MaO) was a popular DM with some players. Now he’s back and I have mixed feelings. Like all DMs on FRC he has strong and weak points. If there’s one thing you can count on when MaO runs a plot, it’s that failure to stop the bad guy will result in the end of the world as we know it.
To be completely fair, he’s not the only one. Several other DMs are firmly in the epic end of the world plot corner. “Why is this a problem anyway?” you may ask. Who doesn’t like a nice high stakes adventure? It gets the blood pumping, right?
Well… not after the fourth time in a row, no it doesn’t. For several reasons.
First, it overshadows every other DM plot that doesn’t involve the end of the world/galaxy/universe/plane of existence as we know it. I have personal experience with this. I came up with a plot in which political intrigue played a big role. The plot didn’t involve the end of the world, just some minor but important local changes. The plot was dropped and/or put on permanent hold because….
A VAST ARMY OF DEMONS AND ORCS WERE INVADING WITH THE GOAL OF DESTROYING THE WORLD!!
Suddenly, a minor political intrigue centered around one small country wasn’t all that important, and players blew off the plot to join this other one. The main features of the world ending plot were wave after wave of monsters, treasure, magic items, and wave after wave of monsters. Note that this was not one of MaO’s plots.
Second, if the PCs fail, someone else (an NPC) will have to step in and save the world, because you can’t really let the universe be destroyed. Nor can you allow the kind of sweeping changes that failure might entail even if the world doesn’t explode. Guess what? The players know this, too.
Third, if you save the universe and all you get is a lousy T-shirt, there’s a big let down. Seriously, if the PCs win and save the universe, what reward can you give that fits what they did and still allows them to play? They just saved the freaking universe and you’re giving them a magic cloak? Really? No kingdom of their own? No entire planet or demi-plane full of nubile, grateful, semi-clad and horny members of the appropriate gender? No elevation to demi-god status complete with worshippers and temple bureaucracy in place? Dude… they saved the world/universe/plane of existence/whatever.
Fourth, during these plots, the local starting village is usually overrun by units of the mad halfling’s evil teddy bear/vampire army. Now, characters can’t go there and adventure, and nowhere else has areas appropriate to their level. Not everyone will have the opportunity to get involved in these plots, especially lower level characters, but they have to deal with the bad side of it. In three of four world ending plots I can think of off the top of my head (which actually occurred in this world) the starting area was overrun by the bad guys and effectively became off limits to certain PCs who were in no way involved in the plot.
What’s the lesson here? Quit trying to end the world! Your plots can be interesting and draw in players without threatening everything they know and love. In fact, you should probably not do them at all unless you involve the whole DM team. We’ve had no less than four major, server wide, world ending plots in a row on FRC and I’ve heard PCs literally yawn and say “Again?” when a major bad guy surfaces and threatens to destroy the world. There’s a major loss of suspension of disbelief.
My advice? Find a way to scale it down. If you want to challenge a group of adventurers, have another group move in and start supplanting them, for example. Have a small local bad guy do something a group can oppose. Alternatively, have a small group of good guys move in and start to make things difficult for the local Team Evil.
You can keep it small scale and still keep it interesting. Just make sure something is at stake that a particular group of player characters value.