I am GM for a group of (mostly) new Pathfinder players who are extremely off-the-rails in their approach. This is fun, but made it nearly impossible to prepare for a session — they are as likely to accept a great quest opportunity as they are to wander off and pillage a small farmhouse. Linear quests simply don't work with them.
So, in order to match their desire for freedom while still keeping things directed enough to actually GM, I've introduced an absurdly powerful NPC (creates dimensional portals within a city undetected, time-travels, etc.) who interferes with the world in order to get the players to follow a certain path. This NPC is more or less my avatar, allowing me to adjust the world, trimming some opportunities, and opening other, more suitable ones. I do this once every 2–5 sessions.
I've become worried that I might take away one of the key elements of RPG games like D&D, the ability of the players to shape the world. This leads to my question:
How much interference by this NPC/GM-avatar is too much? Assuming you think the question requires more nuance, what kinds of interference should be fine, and which ones should I avoid with this NPC in order to preserve player sovereignty?
Some examples of this NPC's interference:
- He invited them to a different, more interesting city in order to help them join a chaotic-demon cult.
- He teleported one player to a meeting and requested that they 'cause chaos'.
- He started a drug war while also summoning an invasion of unnatural creatures to trigger a 3-faction war. I know that sounds huge, but the players are still very low-level, the players haven't yet done much with any faction, and there are 16 major factions in this game world.