I am the DM for a group of a few guys and I'm currently running a 5e campaign set in the jungle where the players are from an isolated group of people who have gone into the wilderness and uncovered the ruins of a collapsed civilization. We've had a few sessions of the characters exploring, encountering new ruins, and dealing with the issues of jungle travel. Last session they found and explored the ruins of a wizard's tower where a permanent illusion captured the resident wizard's final moments, including a foreboding feeling of something big stirring in the distance.

This is all well and good, my group is having a good time exploring, but I'm getting the feeling that it's time to really push them to move and become movers and shakers in the world now that they have exposure. Now that the session is over, I look back and realize that a perfect way to do this would be to supply them with powerful magical objects which would change the nature of their lives, or perhaps have pushed the inclement threat towards them a little harder. One option I have considered is using some of the predatory creatures living in the tower stalk the party and lead them into a hidden lair where they could uncover hidden details, but this adds significant time both in and out of character. (Time being a resource that my group is always lacking in)

Thus, I come to the question as hand. How can a GM who has thought of a way to improve upon the events of another session implement said improvements?

This is not necessarily a question of how best to approach this exact circumstance, but demonstration of a proposed method would make a more complete response. Proposed methods must include explanation for how they improve the game and meet the desired specifications. Minimal retconning of events would be best to avoid taking away the impact of choice.


closed as too broad by KorvinStarmast, Oblivious Sage, Tritium21, KRyan, Thomas Jacobs Nov 28 '16 at 18:53

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Reminder for answerers: good answers will focus on a teachable technique, providing examples mostly to help illustrate the technique — as opposed to simply suggesting yet another random idea with no explanation of the technique used to think it up. In other words, good answers teach how to fish instead of merely give away a fish. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 28 '16 at 5:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure I understand the question: Introducing new material without retconning means.... introducing new material in subsequent sessions, almost by definition. So, what is the actual problem being experienced? \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Nov 28 '16 at 17:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Even with the last edit, I'm still super-unclear on what answers are supposed to accomplish. How can you change the events of a past session without retconning? What does “minimal” retconning even mean, when all changes to past events are going to be 100% retconning? To put the confusion another way: Why don't you just retcon past events, and be done with it? What are you hoping to do that's different than a typical retcon? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 1 '16 at 19:59

You don't need to change any of the established events. You just need to change what those events will mean to the story going forward.

The experience has changed them.

D&D generally focuses on magic objects and level progression as the only forms of mechanical character change, but experiences change people in other, more subtle ways. Experiences in magical places doubly so. They've already had the experience in your previous sessions, so now it's just a matter of figuring out what effect those experiences have going forward: pick something that happened, and use future sessions to reveal that it was more important than anyone ever suspected.

If you want to give PCs something which changes their lives and shifts the world around them, don't give 'em items which can be taken away. Give them information, insight, experience, and/or influence instead.

Their time in the jungle may have attracted the respect or ire of primal powers; poking around the wizard's tower could have revealed something they don't understand the importance of yet, but which others do; the rotting magic of an ancient civilisation may have touched them in subtle ways not yet manifested.

These are things which don't require any change to what's been played out in the existing sessions: you're just expanding on the implications of what happened. The primal power watched them secretly during the previous sessions, and in future sessions makes its will known; the party is suddenly beset by people who want to know details about the wizard's tower; new powers begin to manifest as the ancient magic settles in.

Give the PCs something cool they can't lose, sell, or break: an ally, an enemy, a power, a responsibility. Something which forces them to act because of responsibility or debt or threat or devotion. The best tools for pushing plot to wrap itself around the PCs will incorporate more than one of these elements.


Magic Items "Waking up" or "Unlocking"

a perfect way to do this would be to supply them with powerful magical objects

So, one of your stated goals was to give them magic items from an already passed encounter. One way to do this without rewriting the events that have already happened, is to have a item they got from one of those encounters "wake up" -- in a critical moment, when the player does something epic, or in respnse to a new type of threat. For example, say "that normal sword you never use but always keep on your belt, suddenly it starts to feel warmer. You notice a faint glow of light coming from the inside the opening of the sheath..."

My current game's Mcguffin are already planned to get more magical when they are "unlocked". You can also see this at work with important items on the Geek and Sundry show Critical Role. In both of these cases the item is already magic, and they become stronger/more important -- but the concept could be carried over to currently mundane items being only "seemingly" mundane.

Hindsight or Dreams

From experience, is there a strong method of introducing new material into existing events without retconning a session?

Likewise, to make something in the past more important without completely changing the story, you can have a party member(s) experience a dream about that moment. In that dream, they realize something that was always there that they missed at the time. This typically feels more natural than simply saying, "You guys remember when X happened? Well, Y happened also."

Since we experience hindsight ourselves, it isn't hard to imagine our characters having similar hindsight. Now, this can really only work for subtle changes. The more changes made in this way the less realistic the injection seems.

For example:

(DM narration) As you sleep the previous days battle looms in your head, and you realize that there was a huge frost giant lurking in the background

is way less viable than

(DM narration)As you sleep, your mind plays over the events of yesterdays battle, and begin to focus on the details that were to quick to notice consciously in combat. Now, in the quiet moment of slumber you realize the bandits all had a matching tattoo on their left hand. The tattoo was in a language you can't read, but somehow, you still get the impression of extreme evil from the mark.

I occasionally use dreams with Warlocks (messages from their patron), Paladins and Clerics (messages from their gods), and/or Divination Wizards (it makes sense that they might occasionally see something that was/is/may be because of their close association with divination).

What the Players Don't Know

One option I have considered is using some of the predatory creatures living in the tower stalk the party and lead them into a hidden lair, but this adds significant time both in and out of character.

What the players don't know can help you. They need to leave these ruins through the way they came in. They likely looked for traps, making perception rolls, but they don't know if those rolls were good enough to catch everything. They could have missed something -- especially in an archwizard's tower. You could easily have some members (maybe more fun if it isn't all of them -- if you can switch between the groups well -- because then you have party member on one side trying to figure out how/where the others went and the others trying to figure out how to get out of this wizards private store room) accidentally set off a glyph spell that holds a teleportation spell to the secret chamber. It could even add an extra puzzle if you want it to. The overhead wouldn't simply be tracking a beast but instead a puzzle with the extra pressure of needing to get back before that terror they felt gets to the tower and kills their friends.

The "what the players" don't know concepts can apply to other things, too. Maybe a note or book they already have contains a secret message. Or maybe an item they have has writing on it in a place the players wouldn't have thought to look. Maybe a trinket they took/stole on whim has special importance in a ritual even if it is mundane item. Maybe someone really wants that teapot (they threw into the bag holding to sell later without a second thought) back because it is a family heirloom. The details weren't in your original plans, but since they weren't important to the party at the time, they didn't care about/know about details. Those details can be anything you need them to be, without having to rewrite the parts of events the players know about.

A good example I've seen of this getting a bit out of hand was in Heroes of Awesome: A War in Scarlet's first simple quest. The DM accidentally made the first McGuffin seem more important than he meant. The party didn't want to give it to the quest giver, because they were led to believe there was more to it than there was. The DM chose to roll with it, and make it more than it was. When this led to the party getting stuck trying to figure out what to do with it instead, the DM wrote it out of the story in way that opens up even more questions about it.

If you do this right, the players will think it was intention from the beginning.


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