I started a new campaign yesterday for a smaller group of players that are new to pen and paper roll playing games. Before we started actually playing the players and I were talking about how P&PRPGs work. It became clear that a lot of them had this negative preconception about it that they were all like old school 1970s D&D campaigns (as in, the adventurers meet at a tavern, hear about a dungeon that needs a lootin’ or a dragon that needs a slayin’ and… that’s about it for nuanced narrative).
In response I tried to set up a good narrative hook that would start them exactly where they thought it would — in a tavern (actually a Mexican dive bar/motel, but same premise) but then moving ahead with a more tightly wound mystery narrative.
And it worked great!
Players met up, had some drinks, got drunk, talked to some NPCs and did some skill checks to get them used to the system. They woke up the next morning with a killer hangover… and in the process of being arrested for the murder of the good natured NPC they spent most of the night hanging out with.
Long story short, the session ended with them breaking out of their jail cells, finding a mysterious locked box that the murdered NPC was trying to hide and finding video that gave them a clue to the whereabouts of someone who might know more about who framed them.
My players loved it. They all exclaimed loudly that it was way more fun than they thought it would be and that they really liked how strong the narrative came through. They high fived. It was awesome.
Except, as I listened to them all talk about the game afterwards I realized I had missed something. Terribly. I hadn’t considered my PCs’ alignments. The PCs are all anarchist-type alignments. Part of this hook was that while they weren’t “bad guys” (they didn’t hurt good people) they were career criminals (an art thief, a con-man and a memory hacker). All of the players seemed to agree after the game that the logical thing for them all to do was… just leave. Get out of town and disappear into the post-apocalyptic setting.
Which is a problem because I had the whole narrative setup for them to try and go prove their innocence. Or at least try and find out who framed them. But… they looked at the situation and just kind of decided “screw it, I’m out!”
Now, this isn’t their problem. Clearly this was my fault as the GM for not realizing the hole I was leaving for them. But now here we are.
Obviously I want to leave the agency with the players. If they really want to just go off then… okay. That’s their choice and I’m not going to take it away from them. But if I can find a way to incentivize them to follow the plot a bit it would make my life a lot easier. And, frankly, they would probably enjoy it more since they specifically wanted a game with a tighter plot rather than just a sandbox.
How do I steer my players back towards the central plot, which they've said they wanted, when they wander this far off course?