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I'm trying my hand at writing my own RPG campaign, but I've run into a potentially fatal flaw in my story idea in that it's dependent upon a rather specific kind of character being a member of the party.

First, some background: the story involves an ongoing game of Xorvinthaal between a red dragon and a gold dragon, and each of the party members has had their lives impacted by the events of this game in one way or another. One character in particular would actually turn out to be a piece in this game- someone of enough interest to both the dragons in this game and other minor parties that all want this person dead or captured simply for who/what they are.

Thing is, I want all this to be a secret from the party as a whole, mcguffin character included, at first. As far as they're all concerned, there's nothing unusual about their human caster (spoilers: not actually human) until dragons start freaking out at the sight of him/her and they've got bandits, bounty hunters, and Exarchs on their tail all looking for the party mage. What kicks off the plot is that everyone would recognize one or more of the Exarchs as people responsible for something in their backgrounds, which would over time lead them to learn how their stories all connect, who these people are, what the game is, what their mcguffin party member is, what they all have to do with the Game, and why this game needs to freaking END.

By now you probably see a few more problems with this idea: it's meant to appeal more toward a particular player audience- one that's more role-play than roll-play, could potentially run the spectrum of putting too much focus on the mcguffin character or making said mcguffin character feel like a dead weight to the party, falls completely apart early on if I can't keep the PCs invested enough not to just hand this character over to the antagonist in hopes they'll get some peace (though should that happen I suppose I could work with that after all), and of course is completely moot if I can't ensure at least one of the players makes a character with the necessary race and class type to fit this role. Making this story work is going to be a daunting task, but I have considered some of my options:

  • Make this character a GMPC: I really don't want to resort to this because I don't think I could play the role genuinely enough to make the rest of the party care about, let alone not dislike, the character.

  • Co-DM in PC's Clothing: have an insider in the party that's in on things enough that I could have them play the role right and get me feedback on how to keep the rest of the party in the spotlight while maintaining their trust, but not in on things enough that I could still keep secrets from them and they wouldn't know anything that would give them too much of an advantage, e.g. story spoilers.

  • Pre-generated character seeds: basically, come up with a set of "archetypes"- simple character concepts and/or background ideas for the players to build off of, and have each of them either choose one from the list or draw them at random. The deal would be that they can make whatever they want within the parameters set by their archetype, but with the understanding that I may add additional details for them to work into their character i.e. bonus abilities, feats, or gear, and that I may require them to keep certain details of their characters secret from each other. This way whoever plays the Mcguffin is a matter of drawing the short straw, as it were, and I can hopefully trick them into thinking there's nothing that abnormal about their character having these unusual abilities and avert the sense of "one of these characters is not like the other" until the plot would call for it.

  • Retcon into single-player: I have considered the possibility of making this a single-player campaign, borrowing influence from JRPGs in that the player would have control over one "main" character, while being able to hire/recruit NPC party members they could have partial control over.

  • Give up making this into a tabletop campaign and hand the story idea over to my writer friend to see what she does with it: Self-explanatory, last resort.

So in summary, what I'm asking is less about where to find a group of players for this sort of thing and more about how to at least temporarily make one of my PCs into a mcguffin without screwing over the rest of the party. Any of my options sound viable? Any other options I haven't considered? Any advice from one experienced in these sort of matters?

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If you already know how the story's going to end, and have a clear character arc and intentional dramatic tension, and require specific choices from the protagonist to keep the story moving, this sounds like it could be a decent novel.

Otherwise, you're stuck with a DM of the rings where you're dumping exposition at the non-central players and expecting them to ride your amusement park ride until you get to the final payoff.

Instead, start with a world where you know the preconditions: who the BBEG is, the nature and state of the world, etc. When players make their characters simply ask them which one of them wants to be the MacGuffin. Then you have player buyin. Then figure out PC motivations with what they know (rather than who they are.) Each character should have a reason to defeat the BBEG and a reason for trusting the rest of the team baked into their backstory. Specific thematic elements (for macguffinhood) are much easier to tease out of submitted and jointly created PC backstories than enforced beforehand. Be a fan of your PCs!

With everyone having a reason to defeat the BBEG, whichever player turns out to be the MacGuffin isn't important, especially if the villain reacts to the PCs, rather than following a scripted arc. Have the group come to consensus on the rules for death and betrayal, as nothing sucks more than ending a narrative campaign on a TPK or backstab when everyone wasn't expecting it.

You all (the players and GM) should also conspire against the characters. The best way to keep a secret from a character is to ask the player nicely, as that way it ensures the information stays a known unknown. (It's also very very hard to keep secrets for any length of time from your players, but that is for a different question.)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for letting the players in on the plan beforehand, so they can prepare specifically for such an arc, instead of dumping it on them and expecting them to play along. - What's the relevance of the DM of the rings link though? (I'm unfamiliar with the blog, the link leads to a huge list of posts - which one contains what's worth reading?) \$\endgroup\$ – G0BLiN Nov 4 '14 at 9:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ DM of the rings is a webcomic where the DM is guilty of exactly this behaviour, and the whole thing is thus used as a reference. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Nov 4 '14 at 11:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ In hindsight I think I can give all characters a reason for the antagonists to be interested in them, it's just this one in particular I wanted to keep secret from the character in question and use to kick off rather sudden introductions to a few GOI's. \$\endgroup\$ – Cobalt Nov 4 '14 at 15:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ An important thing to consider when a PC is a MacGuffin is that this PC suddenly become less expendable than other PCs. This could lead to some fantastic heroic opportunities for the companions of the MacGuffin. Think the Fellowship drawing the attention of the Uruk-hai so Frodo can escape. \$\endgroup\$ – TookyG Apr 19 at 23:08

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