I'm planning a Dungeons and Dragons campaign set in a province undergoing a separatist insurrection. I want the theme/shtick of the campaign to be the idea of choices and unintended consequences. The characters are all new recruits of a multi-kingdom/empire/national NGO dedicated to humanitarian relief work in war-torn areas.
One such 'hook' is when the party is being given their orientation when a randomly selected individual is asked to fetch something from the library and hears a knock at one of the doors. They open the door and a clearly distraught mother asks them to save her son, who was last seen being dragged into the nearby marsh by several members of the local garrison. The mother offers to pay the player handsomely if they agree to help her. I'd communicate this to the player in notecard form, also informing them that undertaking this quest will not result in any professional repercussions if they succeed in rescuing her son. The rest of what happens next would be in the form of notecards, die rolls, etc.
Of course, undertaking this quest would be a huge mistake on multiple levels, and would end up creating a world of complications for the rest of the players, who'd have to jump through a lot of hoops bailing out their friend.
Going on this quest is a mistake because: doing something in a highly tense war zone for a complete stranger is already badly thought out. First, disappearing without letting anyone know leaves the rest of the party and the program coordinator in the dark, so they don't know whether you're just screwing around or whether the local security service abducted you. Second, your quest necessarily involves engaging the soldiers who took the son, meaning you risk antagonizing their military unit (i.e. the government occupying the region). Third, you just represented the NGO you work for in the process of what the soldiers reported was apprehending a possible suspect. Fourth, it turns out the son is a lot guiltier than it looked, so now the coordinator has to answer for her employee sticking up for a suspected terrorist.
NOT undertaking it comes with its own hazards.
I'd try to guarantee as much gameplay as possible for both the separated party member and the rest of the people trying to catch up with him-so in other words, I'd have him engage the enemies and execute die rolls for him, and have the rest of the party stay in character without any idea of what's happened or happening to him.
- Are 'secret quests' of this sort generally a bad idea?
- If they feasible, what's the best way of implementing them?
Points of Clarification:
The campaign is of a choose-your-own-adventure type situation where the story rolls with the players choices. I have several preferred possible endgames in mind, but I also want the players to feel like they can take the story and campaign where-ever they want, especially if they have a particular outlook on the moral and tactical and strategic questions that come up. So there is a way for the players to completely avert or mitigate the disaster I have in mind-it's just really hard to pull off. But if they do it, I'll roll with that.
The quest as presented to the player will be technically worded: go out, follow the mother to the soldiers and son, handle the situation, retrieve the son. How the player handles that interaction dictates how badly it blows up in the rest of the party's face. Handling it non violently will require a persuasion or intimidation check. The violent approach is a good combat tutorial, but results in a lot of bad things. Walking away is also an option, but not an obvious one. In fact, walking away is an option that is always present for any given conundrum I pose the team.