Should I flout the rules to guarantee this plot hook? (D&D 5e) - RPG Crossing
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Old Jun 23rd, 2020, 04:18 PM
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Should I flout the rules to guarantee this plot hook? (D&D 5e)

In the 5e D&D game I'm running, I'm unsure whether I should draw on the rules of the game or not when bringing the player's into an adventure using a plot hook I've devised.

This is my original plot hook: the PC’s experience a dream secretly cast on them by an illusionist, in which they are stabbed by a mystery assailant, each waking to find a dagger protruding from his chest. The dagger seems to cause no severe pain or harm unless they attempt to remove it, in which case the agony is so great that they are forced to give up.

A priest (who is actually the illusionist in disguise) tells the party that they are under the influence of a magic dagger called the shard of chaos, a fragment of the slaadi Spawning Stone. The shard seeks to turn them into slaadi, and it is the party's perceived might as heroes and close proximity to the dagger causing this to happen. They must go to the nearby abandoned monastery, around which strange creatures have lately been sighted, retrieve the shard, and deliver it to the priest, who will have it destroyed by a powerful cleric of his order. Needless to say, the illusionist has is own nefarious designs regarding the magic dagger, irrespective of which elements of his story are indeed true.

Now, the story would begin nicely if the dream and the dagger illusions were to occur, with no attempts to resist these magical effects. But I admire the ability of d&d's rules structure to lend verisimilitude to the game, and I want my players to feel that they are part of a magic system which has rules that apply both to them and the rest of the world, so I devised a “real” way in which the illusionist might inflict this plight upon the PC's: After casting invisibility on himself and sneaking into the PC's rooms, he might then cast dream on each PC, bringing about the experience of being stabbed in a dream, followed by major image to create the dagger protruding from their chests, and then in the morning, as he alone approaches them, he casts phantasmal force, under the guise of trying to remove the dagger from the PC's. The daggers have of course been ghost-like up till this point, as per the rules for major image, but now with phantasmal force the daggers become temporarily solid, and can cause damage, put into play as the PC's are told by the priest that they may try to remove the dagger now it is solid. Major image cast at 6th level (I think) lasts indefinitely, and so this would work in maintaining the illusion. Phantasmal force is more limited, hence the reason I didn't just have him cast this in the first place.

Of course the PC's at any number of times might thwart these spells with successful saving throws, or by detecting the illusionist as he sneaks into their rooms. I could chance it and hope that at least one of the three PC's finds himself under the illusion, thus keeping the plot hook mostly in tact.

Or I could abandon this structured approach and just throw the original plot hook at the party without any attempt to disbelieve it, revealing all as illusion when the illusionist inevitably reveals both his true identity and his evil intent.

Thoughts?

EDIT: the title should say “flout”, not “flaunt”!

Last edited by Symbelmynė; Jun 23rd, 2020 at 05:58 PM.
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Old Jun 23rd, 2020, 06:14 PM
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The rules aren't exhaustive; magic effects can exist, and are expected to exist, independently of the list of spells in any given source. That said, there is only a saving throw for Dream if the image is intended to create a nightmare. I don't see why a sleeping PC gets to make any kind of perception check. The PCs are almost certainly going to realize the daggers aren't real if they are ghostly and things can pass through them, but it's unclear why this matters, if they have a compelling in-world explanation of why they've got spectral daggers in their chests.

So a couple of thoughts:

1) If an event has to happen for the plot to advance, then don't give the players the chance to stop it, unless you have an alternative storyline available for the eventuality.
2) Is the "Removal causes pain" part of the plot essential to the functioning of the story? Or would it work equally well if the players simply couldn't remove the daggers because they're not corporeal in the first place? If they don't know the exact nature of the spell, they could imagine all kinds of malign effects that don't rely on the dagger actually physically being there.
3) I feel like the way to sell this is probably to make the Priest character sufficiently convincing the players don't ask to roll Insight.
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Old Jun 23rd, 2020, 08:06 PM
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Moderator note- Thread title edited to accommodate the OP's title note. I added 5e to the title to clarify which rules were being used.
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Old Jun 23rd, 2020, 08:47 PM
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I don't know 5e rules, but...

Should be a large penalty to any perception checks while sleeping. Sure, X may be a light sleeper, but... Illusionist could easily carry a silenced stone or something, right, and be dead quiet?

Is there a way to incorporate the ghostlyness of the dagger into the dream? Like a warning from something in the dream, that the daggers will remain ghostly for 8 hours, or until the cock crows thrice, or something? at that point, they become solid. Maybe even encourage them to seek out the priest before hand, and that he can help... but alas, they are too late.

Then the "priest" can arrange to do his thing, and with ghost sound, meet the requirements of a cow mooing or a baby crying, or whatever the "it becomes non ghostly" thing is.
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Old Jun 24th, 2020, 06:13 AM
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Thanks for the suggestions.

Originally I was planning to have the daggers appear corporeal to the PC's, as waking up with a dagger in your chest is quite alarming. I only went with incorporeal daggers because this is how major image works.

My dilemma when it comes to ignoring the rules for the illusion is mostly this: shouldn't the illusionist be bound by the same magical rules and restrictions as the players? If a player wanted to inflict this illusion upon an NPC, surely they would have to come up with an ingenious way to do so.

I did have an alternative plot hook in the form of a message from a guild two of the PC's are part of. This message encourages them to investigate the abandoned monastery due to rumours of a powerful magic item. But I just think it would be really engaging to begin the adventure with my original hook.

SnakeOilCharmer - You're right, if they're convinced by the "priest", and they would have no obvious reason to doubt him, then they shouldn't think to make insight checks against him. Particularly if they're s*** up about the daggers.

Admin Dirk - yes, an item which silences the illusionist would be a a great help, and I like the idea of preconditions for the dagger becoming corporeal, thanks for that.
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Old Jun 27th, 2020, 11:23 PM
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With things you want to happen, I generally recommend following the written rules but setting DCs very high. In this case, extremely high due to the sequence failing at any point in the series. Then I recommend having at least two back-up plans for getting the PCs involved. Then again, take my advice with a grain of salt; I'm the person who recommends setting up adventures with enough threads it looks like working on the fly when the PCs try to derail things.

The other option is the Mutants and Masterminds ethos: everything you want to happen will happen, but the players should recieve a bonus elsewhere when you're flouting the rules.

Basically, you don't want your players to feel cheated out of the benefits of investing in something.
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Old Jul 5th, 2020, 05:35 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Auron3991 View Post
With things you want to happen, I generally recommend following the written rules but setting DCs very high. In this case, extremely high due to the sequence failing at any point in the series. Then I recommend having at least two back-up plans for getting the PCs involved. Then again, take my advice with a grain of salt; I'm the person who recommends setting up adventures with enough threads it looks like working on the fly when the PCs try to derail things.

The other option is the Mutants and Masterminds ethos: everything you want to happen will happen, but the players should recieve a bonus elsewhere when you're flouting the rules.

Basically, you don't want your players to feel cheated out of the benefits of investing in something.
Thanks for this.

In the end I ran it as an inevitable occurrence; the PC's had the dream and woke up with the dagger in their chest without a roll being made. I did this because I haven't DMed in years, two of the players have rarely played, and I wanted to try and get the whole adventure into a single session without the pace being slowed down too much.

As it happened, we didn't make it all the way through. I think as I run more and more games, I'll go further in depth with the game mechanics when building threads, but for now this served as a good, obvious introductory section to the adventure. Or it would have done, had the PC's not spent the first hour picking fights both with each other and the clientele of the tavern.
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Old Aug 19th, 2020, 09:59 PM
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Imagination and Fantasy are the bread and butter of any game you are running.

You don't actually NEED for the player rules to allow a character to do anything. As DM, you can just have your Illusionist been born with some latent psychic powers to project thoughts into other's dreams.

In order to keep magic mysterious and fantastical, I have major wizards use all manner of magical talents that aren't in the books for the players to use. When the wizard who contracts the heroes to undertake a quest for him talks to them via having his reflection appear in the water of a pond, or the gleaming metal of a shield or even a glass potion bottle....his reflection speaks to them and they can talk directly back to him and be heard. Nothing in the rules for this, if a player wants to gain this power I, as DM advise them to research a unique spell that will allow them to do it....just like the major NPC wizard has obviously done.

Another Arch Sorcerer could speak to players only in their dreams (didn't work when they were awake). Regretably, it was one way, like sending a text. The sorcerer could speak to them, but they couldn't respond.

One of my players, many years ago, had "A Little Voice" that only he could hear inside his head. Basically he could ask the DM up to 3 questions a day about in game issues and the "Little Voice" would give him general advice or vague hints. It was never clear if the voice was an ancient ancestor's ghost, a guardian spirit looking out for him or a mental delusion from some psychosis.

Again, there is nothing in the rule books about any of this, but it is fun to keep it cool and nifty.
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Old Mar 18th, 2021, 10:26 PM
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If you run it again you could have a second illusion of an assailant jumping out of the window with some belonging of theirs to remove the player from any doubt they were stabbed. While separately what ever item was actually also pilfered by the illusionist, which he could “return” later to further gain player trust as an ally priest. It was turned in to the church, and I thought it matched the description you offered when I aided you with that nasty dagger incident!

Just a thought on a secondary hook =)

Last edited by Vanos; Mar 18th, 2021 at 10:28 PM.
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