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My new campaign has hit DMs Block - help?

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Archade:
Hello all!

I am a long-time DM returning to running a campaign after a long hiatus, and I'm still rusty.

I have been running a once-through campaign that's been light on story, to get the hang of game mechanics and the like, and I'll be winding this down, and starting a proper story-based campaign.

Here's the situation I have worked out thus far

- I want to run a city-based campaign, influenced and inspired by the Jhereg series, Glen Cook's Tower of Fear, Lankhmar, Thieves' World, and the like.

- I want to run a 'byzantine' flavored campaign, with Sinbad-style monsters that would be appropriate to middle-eastern/eastern european culture.

- I do not want to wander too far or too long from the home city if I can help it.

- I would like the campaign to be fairly cinematic, and make the story as important as the players' desire to kill things and overcome villains.  I would also like to motivate the players to take the stand of good and righteousness.

I have a few premises for the campaign that I would like to use:

- the Hub of all activity for this campaign will be the Demon Lord Graz'zt.  He is a demon lord trapped in the Abyss, but fond of influencing mortals through agents and cultists.  His style is one of subtlety and guile.  

- Graz'zt goes by many names, but one of his favored agents are the Eaters of the Dead.  The are a monastic order based on the Egyptian belief of Iubenti, a demon (really Graz'zt) that will weigh the evil in a man's soul, and if their is evil in his heart, it would be consumed.  The Eaters of the Dead in my campaign believe that by eating the hearts of evil men, they will accumulate favor with their Lord, and while they are d**ned to an eternity of torture, they can mollify Iubenti (Graz'zt) and lessen their punishment by consuming and concentrating as much evil as possible within their souls.   Hence, these guys are really, really creepy and inscruitable - are they good guys, or bad guys?  Who knows - not the players!

To start the campaign, I'm issuing an invitation to a party.  The party is for an important architect completing a temple, and many middling to well-to-do members of the city will be present.  All the players will have to generate 1st or 2nd level characters that are appropriate to receive such an invitation.

The very next thing we will do is a cinematic prequel of action.  We're starting off with a combat on the roof of the mansion, fighting the Eaters of the Dead.  When the smoke clears, we'll rewind to entering the party.

I've set up the mansion as a series of rooms that the PCs can explore, and meet various NPCs, or spot interesting clues about what's about to happen (that's worked out).

Anyway, after a demonstration of a troupe of fire-eaters (the Eaters of the Dead that the players have defeated in Combat #1), a toast is called by the lord - and everyone but the PCs falls over dead, of poison.

The leader of the Eaters of the Dead grabs some ancient pottery (coptic jars?) that's on display, and dispatches his goons to attack the party (combat #1, already fought).

So, I've got a combat to start, a basic premise why the players are initially thrust together (survival), but I'm stumped beyond that.

- What will keep the players together in the long run?
- What will motivate the PCs to get the coptic jars back?  I'm not looking for a monetary reward, but a epic, moral reason to motivate the PCs.
- How can I interject a mentor into the story, to push along the PCs and give them a resource to return to, to ask questions?
- What's a good conclusion for the first adventure?  Again, I'm looking to be cinematic in nature, and basically set the first adventure up like a TV Pilot, setting up the premise that the PCs are fighting a dark, mysterious evil - but I don't know why.

If someone could thwack my DMs block with a stick, I'd really appreciate it.

Thanks!

Blair / Archade

MoonHunter:
What will keep the players together in the long run?
  The best way to ensure this is to "story weave" the pcs together.  Have them be part of each other's lives as friends (current or childhood), classmates, apprenticed to the same master, part of the same guild).  If you make sure that every character has connections to two to three other players (figuring five or so players), by motivaing one of the group, you can move all of them.  

I might suggest that one to two member of the PCs have a "secret" like being part of a secret society (this gives them motivations that are not immediately apparent), or part of a spy network, or of a fallen noble line (Malgovians of France for example).  

What will motivate the PCs to get the coptic jars back? I'm not looking for a monetary reward, but a epic, moral reason to motivate the PCs.
(See secret society from above).  It depends what cultural significance the coptic jars have.  Are they from an important person?  Are any of the PCs releated to said important person?  Is the coptic jar from a saint (or equivalent) or of a culturall important person? Religious and Patriotic fever can be used to push the group along.  


How can I interject a mentor into the story, to push along the PCs and give them a resource to return to, to ask questions?
     Put the mentor in some player's back story.  Have a reason for the PC to visit that mentor, perhaps they are visiting the city again and are staying with the mentor.  So they go there to rest and regroup and get the info from the mentor.  
     Of course, members of the secret society can get info from them.
     And why do the player's need a mentor?  All the mentor seems to be is the GM Help Button. A research library could solve this issue.  If the characters and players are properly motivated by personal, professional, and ethical drives, who needs an NPC to keep them going.  The NPC will often end up as being (or worse seeming) more important to the game than the PCs.  It is the Player's stories, let them be the important ones and direct the action.  It should not be the NPC's story with the players in it.  
     
What's a good conclusion for the first adventure? Again, I'm looking to be cinematic in nature, and basically set the first adventure up like a TV Pilot, setting up the premise that the PCs are fighting a dark, mysterious evil - but I don't know why.

Find out why!  If you don't know what the climactic ending of your first seasons is going to be (Who is the Big Bad and What will they be doing at the last episode), you will never be able to plan out how to get there.  Now this is not like setting up a railroaded plot, just an outline of the Big Bad and what their goals are (and the steps they might take to achieve them).  That way you can plan the crisis for each "episode".  

I personally like to mentally set up each campaign as a TV series, 10-16 episodes a season.  That way I can gauge progress and set up a general flow of events.  

As for the first adventure, have the players regrouped and going Hmmmmmm. Then have "The Evil" unleash something against them, just because "The Evil" assumes they know too much. This should be a cool and dramatic fight scene, tailored to the setting and the PCs.  The defeated evil thing should have a clue or serve as a clue that leads them to the next step.  This makes it personal, gives them clues, and gives you a bang up ending scene.  

Check out www.openroleplaying.org/tools/tips/  
Search for " Just a Story ", " Bit Cards", "Role Cards", "Score!" and " Block".  Then just hit F5 alot and search through tips that might be useful.

Erebus:
Some good ideas there.

Re the mentor I'd be tempted to introduce two levels of mentor.  First a high level druid or priest with whom the party can converse sometimes.  Secondly the mentor's own protege - someone of comparable level to the party who can travel with them and be the voice of wisdom, while sharing the incremental struggles.

Ending the session dramatically?  I vote for something powerful and tradgic ... yes and, as Moonhunter suggested, the introduction of a particularly vile villian.

MoonHunter:
Actually it does not have to be a really vile villian... just one of his minions.  

If that minion is powerful enough to give the group pause, they will be shaking in their boots when they think they have to confront the main villian.  

The minion does not have to vile, but does have to be a) bother the players in some way (personal habit, violent, racist, ect) and b) be a dramatic challange to the group.  If the minion is "just another combat" than what is its point to exist?  Either the minion has to be interesting and challanging or the setting where they have to confront the minion must be interesting and challanging. (Ever see Mortal Combat- the Movie?)

nitouken:
A good way to introduce a mentor, if you don't want him to be able to fight alongside the pcs, is to have him be a significantly older character, who wants the pcs to continue his work. Thus, their initial reasoning could be monetary, but after you have built some party unity, you can have the mentor die. Suddenly the pcs are left without a significant motivation other than that which he had already placed. This method can fall apart, though. I once thought I had a party well and truly adhered, when I killed their mentor through a random mishap (another story, for another time), and they promptly flew apart at the seams.

One reason, not particularly good, not particularly bad, to hold the party together, is have a "right place at the right time" feel. If the party members consistently run into each other at fairly important events, then they will eventually begin to work together. This approach is VERY time consuming, but it leads to some of the most cohesive parties you will ever have, especially if you have cooperative players. If you are willing to devote an adventure (or three) to getting the party tied together, you can also get them to go after the jars. Have references to the jars and the Eaters of the Dead cropping up all over the place, then eventually they will go after them. It works, but is VERY slow. You may want to think about running this adventure as a second or third adventure. If the pcs have run into each other before, and have heard about the coptic jars, then when they see the leader steal the jars, they should be motivated to go after them. This relies on some player cooperation, though, so I wouldn't advise it unless you know you have a very good group.

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