Dungeons & Dragons Online

Offering secret or mystery backgrounds to PCs?

I have a feature in my coming campaign of sort of pre-generated story hooks and backgrounds. The idea is that, when players are making their characters, there's a list of these story hooks, they can pick and choose from, which helps them to root their PCs to the location and particulars of the campaign. Establishing pre-existing social relationships, offering them some personal quests, etc.

None of them are really earth shattering or very consequential. It's more stuff like you have relatives in the area campaign is set, or that you are already member of some organization in the area (like the dwarven trading company). I have framework how they work, and if player chooses one of them, then we together tailor them suitable for that particular character.

The idea is players have tools to have more integrated and established characters to the area and events of the campaign, if they wish so. However, they can be strangers in the strange land, without any ties to anything, if they wish. It's all optional. No mechanical stuff or more starting money or special gear anything like that. Kind of things, which might bring some advantages in certain situations, but might give drawbacks in some other. It's more relationships, past events or knowledge, not abilities or concrete items.

E.g. Your relatives might prove useful in certain situations by helping the party out, but in similar manner they might be hindrances, by expecting favors in return, or help from PCs at inconvenient times. Offer contacts, but also draw PCs into their own conflicts.

Some are straight quest leads, like that a player knows a location of dungeon with a possible treasure. The drawback is that he's not the only one, and unfortunately these other treasure hunters know that PC knows about the score, and they might want to sabotage the party or do even worse to get the loot entirely for themselves.

I was toying with the idea, that I have this one particular hook in mind, which is actually quite significant and at some point it will probably define that PC's story and future entirely. My idea is not to deceive them for sake of it, but its going to be a bait-and-switch nevertheless, because I cannot fully disclose all ramifications and consequences without spoiling the whole storyline. Ofc, it's just optional, and I am not trying to force or manipulate anybody into choosing it. Just thinking about putting it out there. But they cannot really make fully informed choice about it. The campaign doesn't need anybody choosing that background for it to work, but it will make certain future events a lot more impactful, personal and devastating.

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This hook is that a player is a part of this cursed and dark lineage. However, I cannot reveal how they are cursed exactly, and what might come of it. The information player has would be that their character comes from a well-established and powerful family, but which seems to be mysteriously cursed. There's wealth and status, and brilliance and innate magical prowess, but shadows haunt this family. At the same time they seem to drawn into all manner accidents, suicides, insanity, disease. Dark magic and occult is drawn to them like a moth towards flame. They seem to be naturally connected to the netherworld, and perceive otherworldly influences and omens other men are blind to. It's highly likely that the curse will lead to their demise eventually, and the character will be consumed by their lineage and the curse. Character with this background will probably not get a happy ending.

The thing is that, this founder of this family and its patriarch is a lich. It's an active participant in the campaign. Although, it's not necessarily going to be an antagonist towards players, because the campaign has a faction system, in which players can choose and play between different sides. This lich is the leader of one of the factions (team undead basically).

Players can side with this faction if they want to, but it's highly unlikely, because who would side with the dead against living? This faction's goals are antithetical with all other factions, so it's all or nothing. Safe to say, that it's almost certain that this faction will be one of the major antagonists of the campaign. Which will culminate with dealing with the said lich somehow.

This lich was a mortal man once. It had a family and children before becoming a lich. The curse is that instead of making a normal phylactery, rather the lich bounded his soul to his descendants. Every member who is born into this family has a part of this lich's soul gushing through their veins. Naturally, if one wants to destroy the lich, these living and walking phylacteries need to be destroyed as well.

Every last one of them. It will be a vexing ethical problem (and logistical and practical too) even without a player being one, because despite their heritage the family are not knowingly or even directly servants of the lich. As far as they know, the paterfamilias died hundreds of years ago, and they are just mysteriously cursed, yet prosperous and living. It's not so much that they are living meatbags with part of lich's essence in their bodies, but their own souls and essence are inseparably mixed with the liche's from their inception. There's no clear distinction of them being separate entities. Removing it is like trying to cut out of part of your mind and soul.

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The lich protects it's phylacteries from shadows, by manipulating events and family, and doing its best to keep the family line going, numerous and prosperous. The problem is that living being shouldn't have a part of soul of lich in them. Such piece of negative energy and void draws and creates corruption for the living. It's an odd balance, in which the curse draws them towards destruction and misery constantly, but this formidable lich does its everything to help them to prosper, by any means necessary (also it gives them certain insight and aptitudes for magic and otherworldly and intellect). There isn't hundreds of descendants (the curse keeps sure of that), but there's always sufficiently safe number, which is always spread out to couple branches. The family are not monsters or even strictly evil, despite few bad apples who become madmen or necromancers or shady landowners.

I don't want to have hokey or gimmicky computer game instant way out of this solutions (like players happen to find a reverse ritual in lich's evil library). This effect can be lifted cleanly by Wish or divine intervention, but that's about it. It's heavily tilted towards the less clean and more consequentialist option. This would an extreme anagnorisis for said player, and there isn't any good or easy ways out of it. Alternatives for destroying phylacteries are either allying with the lich or dealing with it in some other way more complicated and risky way.

It's not supposed to an obstacle to overcome with preplanned win-win solutions, but like a Greek tragedy they have to deal with somehow. However, if the PCs are resourceful and come up with a plausible plan and manage to execute it, I am ready to go along with it (how to surgically split someone's soul without harming them irreversibly, or controllably destroying part of your immaterial essence).

This reveal will likely come about only at quite late stages of the campaign, when players are trying to find out ways to eradicate the lich for good. They probably won't even be aware of it for a long time.

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This family is going to be part of the campaign regardless, but should I give out this option for players? It's certainly different and I would find it fascinating to the roleplay such a story. But the player who chooses might understandably get upset, and feel like they've been deceived and the game was rigged from the start. They wouldn't be wrong, and that's exactly emotions I would be looking for. My players are good sport and interested in experimenting and unconventional stuff. But I am wrestling with this idea, because is this too much?

I am not trying to ask you to predict how my players are going to react. I am rather trying to gauge how some players might feel about something like this. How would you feel if your DM would have something like this available?

Ofc, it would be possible, that this will amount of nothing. Somebody would take it, and then get killed in the first session, and one phylactery is just gone. The lich is protective of its brood, but it has to act in secrecy and it's not omnipotent either. Though, having a guardian angel looking after you would be something, like how inexplicably no undead in the region dears to harm that PC. Ofc, it's entirely possible that nobody finds it interesting and just doesn't pick it, and this dilemma is totally moot.

Source: reddit.com

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