5 Things I Learned From Pandemic

Pandemic the board game has become quite the go-to for my group when we just don’t feel like doing D&D. It’s an awesome game, and one of the few  games where it’s fun when you loose as well as when you win. It’s especially fun when you’ve almost won but then suddenly loose… it makes you want to try again to beat the damn thing. I highly recommend it. But this is not supposed to be a review post, but rather some observations I’ve made while playing the game that I can apply to D&D.

  1. Strictly speaking you can get by without a Cleric, but the game is a lot easier if you have one. In Pandemic, the Medic gets to clear all the cubes in a city with 1 action (0 if the cure is discovered). While all the characters are useful, the medic is the one that gives the most breathing room,  allowing your team to survive that one more turn needed to win. The cleric does the same in party, supplying important healing and buffs that often turn the tide of battle. As the difficulty of an encounter goes up, the party’s survival is increasingly dependent on healing.
  2. Troubles are exponential. In Pandemic, when things start to go bad, they spiral out of control. One outbreak can spark another, and each time there’s an epidemic the infection rate goes up. It’s no different in D&D. Things may start out fine in a battle, and then all-of-a-sudden, your character is immobilized, and then monsters start ganging up on him. Soon he’s taking 15 ongoing, bloodying him, thereby triggering blood rage on the opponents, causing them to do more damage…. Well you get the picture. Things can be just as bad on RP side. One blown Diplomacy check and suddenly the duke no longer trusts the party, making it harder to pry information out of his servants, making your information less reliable to your patron, and so on.
  3. You’re not going to get there until its too late. In Pandemic you can be busy fixing things in Asia, and just when you feel like you’ve got the red disease under control, the yellow explodes all over South America, and there’s no way the team can get there in time. For every damsel we’ve saved, there’s been twelve townspeople slaughtered on the far side of the encounter. We justify this as collateral damage or calculated losses, but it really burns to know that maybe if we were just a little luckier or planned better we could have saved those villagers from being eaten, enslaved, or sacrificed.
  4. Teamwork is the key to success. The only way to win is to work together as a team, make the most of each others special abilities, and sometimes using powers in a way that helps your team mate out more than you. This is true in D&D, especially when abilities allow you to grant each other moves, attacks, and bonuses; you can wind up doing more damage by setting up a party member’s attack than your own.
  5. It’s not about winning, its about having fun playing. For every time I’ve won at Pandemic, I’ve lost 3 times, which I think is a pretty good ratio. The best part is that no matter if we win or loose, everyone has fun. That’s true in D&D as well. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter how many orcs were killed, how much treasure was accumulated, or realms saved from invasion…what’s important is that friends got together for an evening and had fun.

So remember to have fun and play games!

Bard, Cleric, Fighter, Battlemind

I love the show Leverage; I love it almost as much as I love talking about it on my D&D blog. The show’s writers (or maybe marketers) are really into the character’s clearly defined roles. In the first season, they made the characters play to their roles (Hacker, Hitter, Grifter, Thief, Mastermind/Brain) and then sometimes mixed up those roles to great effect. The Leverage analogy works so well for D&D because our characters have specific roles (Defender, Controller, Leader, Striker), and that these D&D roles are also quite compatible with the Leverage roles. In the second season, I guess they decided to make those roles into one of the defining characteristics of the show by including then in the opening sequence and making them a plot point of many episodes. Now that the third season is here, I guess they figured the audience hasn’t gotten it and they’re now hitting everyone over the head with the five roles. In particular at least once an episode each person is referred to by another character by their technical term (“hitter”, “hacker”, etc).

I find this blatant working of the role names into the dialog annoying. In fact nobody would ever do this in D&D… or would they? Out of game it feels awkward when one character says to another “oh, you must be the Hitter,” but I find this to be common case in D&D! (e.g. “Oh you’re the Paladin?”) In my game, as often as we refer to the characters’ names, we also refer to them by their class. For instance in a recent game we had dialog like: “send the Thief in first”, “does the Bard have any majestic words left”, “I pass a healing potion to the Fighter.”

I hope I’m not making a false comparison because we rarely use the role names (defender, controller, etc), just the class names, but I think the idea is the same. On the show, the characters don’t have classes and there’s only one person in each role, which doesn’t often happen in D&D.

Realistically speaking, the characters’ jobs are probably not commonly called by the class names either. Fighters might be soldiers, mercenaries, warriors, knights, dragoons, lancers, pikemen, hoplites, etc. Bards could be troubadours or minstrels, and there must be hundreds of names for Clerics. In fantasy novels (and even D&D) sometimes distinctions are made between wizardly titles: sorceror, conjurer, witch, warlock, adept, magician, etc. Characters’ titles might also vary by region and religion. Use of a creative titles can help add flavor to a campaign, and also change the feel of a character. Imagine that instead of “Warden”, your character’s title was “Forest Patrol.” The flavored name gives the class a sense of regulation, authority, and probably some sort of paramilitary organization backed up by a government.

Maybe this sort of thing doesn’t bother anybody else. Or maybe you’ve already come up with cleverer names for your character’s job.

In related Leverage news, looks like there is an official Leverage RPG.

Remembering Stuff

My current campaign has a lot going on. A couple of characters have backstories tied into the campaign. In addition we have some traveling companions that are loose threads that need tying. There’s an an ever-evolving mythology and history of the realm with a new ancient character that needs to be kept track of each week. On top of that, there’s a whole cabal of villains working in concert to bring back a shadow army from the past. Each town has a main villain involved and there are a few agents that are always traveling around, staying one step ahead of us. To add depth to the story our DM has created a series of legends, books, and past heroes to help us figure out what’s going on now. It’s much appreciated and helps with the immersion but it’s also harder to make sure all the facts stay straight. Also some of the players are really into it and its for keeping them engaged.

One of my fellow players has a great system for keeping everything straight: he writes stuff down. Harry keeps a journal and records the names and places of all the interesting facts our GM provides. Being the record-keeper is a good fit for him: he’s naturally curious about history and literature, he sits right next to the GM and he’s playing a Bard, a character well versed in lore. The upside of this is system is that I don’t have to worry about remembering anything, because I can always count on Harry having the NPC’s name on hand. The downside is that it’s hard enough for me to keep all of this straight that having crutch allows me to worry less about it, and I don’t as good a job as a player.

So what I am I to do? I don’t want to be the player that is always asking “what just happened? who are we talking to?” It was particularly embarrassing for me last week because I had mixed up two evil dwarves and everyone around the table looked at me like I was stupid for thirty minutes before someone was brave enough to tell me the that they were two different guys. At the same I don’t have the patience to make detailed notes and charts. Next week I’m going I’m going to try something different, I just don’t know what. Maybe I’ll print out a blank org chart and fill it in like a lawyer rounding up the mob.

At another game I was at recently, the GM had a regular gaming space set up with a big corkboard. On that board he was able to pin up the important parts of the cosmology so we had a persistent visual representation of the different factions that were involved in our game. This was nice for me because I was able to quickly refer to it to understand where our characters were with respect to those groups. It was also nice for me to have someone else take care of tracking the different factions… I could just reap the benefits without the work. I don’t think it would be fair to hijack our hosts’ dining room to this on a regular basis, but if any of you are GMs out there and have the room, you or a player could have an area for charting NPCs and organizations.

What other techniques are out there for keeping track of all the plot points and NPCs that doesn’t involve a lot of writing or remembering?

Ferris Dragonborn’s Day Off

I thought that I had heard just about every kind of source for a D&D Adventure, but then I read Ameron’s (of Dungeon Mastering) post about doing an adventure in the style of an 80’s Teen Comedy. There’s a lot of great iconic moments from the various nerd, teen, and screwball comedies of that era: the delivering of comeuppance, getting the girl or boy, the outsmarting of the bad guys, learning to accept your friends’ differences, etc. These themes fit well in D&D, but I’ll leave it up to the Dungeon Masters to figure out how to wrap an adventure around it: I’m thinking lots of skill challenges and mob combats.

The aspect that I want to address is how to play your character when you find yourself in one of these games. For the sake of argument, I’m going to assume that you’re playing a normal, legal character that can be either younger or a normal adventuring age, but the adventure has these teen movie themes. To illustrate the different ways to play a character, I’m going to steal the archetypes from The Breakfast Club: brain, athlete, basket case, princess, and criminal.

Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. What we did was wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us… In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete,  and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club.

  • The Brain. Generally when we think of a “The Brain” in a psuedo-military setting, we envision a tactical leader, such as Warlord or Bard. However in the 80s comedy movie sense, “the brain” is usually a nerd. Build-wise a nerd is likely to have low Strength, Constitution, and Charisma, and very high Intelligence. Races that make good brains are ones that grant bonuses to Int or are considered shy: Humans, Teiflings, Dwarves, Shardminds, Gnomes, etc, but any race can produce an introspective study-aholic. Good classes for nerds are non-charismy builds of characters that tend to stay in the back of the fight or bolster allies: Wizards, Psions, Archer Rangers, Assassin, Artificer, Invoker, etc. A brainy Bard might be a fun character to play as well. The Brain is going to specialize in knowledge skills: History, Arcana, Religion, Nature, Dungeoneering, but may also have good Insight and Bluff that he developed to avoid getting beat in the schoolyard.

    Playing a Brain is pretty easy, just imagine your favorite movie nerd. I’ll pick Egon from Ghostbusters: he’s got a serious mold collection and talks about it right off when meeting ladies, he knows esoteric knowledge from rare tomes, and when encountering a ghost-monster wants to study it without considering his own safety first. Brains are likely to be shy and introspective, but can also be rash and prone to anger when bottled-up feelings explode. The Brain might go first to knowledge skill in a challenge, and should whip out random facts during RP or encounters. If your DM shares the world-building it might be fun to create these facts on the fly and have them become part of the adventure’s canon. The Brain is a great archetype for rules lawyers or the shy guy.

  • The Athlete. This one is easy, he’s the guy that’s going to run up in the middle of the fight and start pounding away. An Athlete is likely to have high physical scores: Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution. Good races for athletes are ones that give bonuses to Str or Con: Humans, Dwarves, Dragonborn, Goliaths, Half-Orcs, Minotaurs, Warforged, etc; basically something that’s big and strong, although all races produce fine athletes. Athlete classes are pretty much any defender and most strikers and leaders. Athletes should be skilled in Athletics (duh!), Endurance, and Acrobatics. Heal, Insight, and Intimidate are also useful skills to an athlete. Any feat that allows for extra movements, greater range of attack, or the ability to shrug off status conditions or keep fighting when lesser heroes would fall are great to take.

    There are lots of way to play an athlete. He can be macho and bull-headed, or introspective and looking to constantly improve his or her game. Atheletes are likely to be quite competitive, so its important to know how your character handles victory or defeat. Is he a sore looser, a gracious winner; does he look to blame himself for failure or look towards others. Athletes can view their party mates as lesser mortals along for the ride to fill out roles, or equal members where the team comes first. For a movie example, take Daniel Larusso from The Karate Kid. He’s a bit of underdog but uses karate as way of elevating his status and standing up for what he believe in. Not every Athlete has a Mr. Miyagi, but it is good to think about who any character’s coaches and heroes are.

  • The Basket Case. The Basket Case is a bit weird and generally lives outside societal norms, but doesn’t have to be unstable. The Basket Case isn’t too limited by stats or races, but I’d suggest having a low Charisma. Races that I can see with their adventurers having issues: Humans, Half-Elves, Deva, Warforged, Tieflings, Half-Orcs, Halflings (really Half-anythings). Good classes are ones that can channel an offbeat personality into a power: Warlocks, Sorcerers, Shaman, Druid, Bard, Rogue, Psion, etc. The basket case is likely to surprise his or her friends by really good in just about anything, so I think any skill would be fair game.

    The Basket Case manifests himself more in personality than in any physical trait. He uses his weirdness as a defense mechanism against rejection which is unfortunate because he’s really seeking social acceptance. The basket case will take pride in his or her nonconformity, and may act seemingly randomly. The Basket Case is a great archetype for a player that likes to get an adventure going through action. You can start a fight or talk to a random NPC or basically do any and all things, which is a great way to break an analysis paralysis. Just make sure you don’t do with too much flourish… the basket case isn’t a show-off or a spotlight hog. Lloyd from Say Anything is a good basket case… he’s an underachiever relentlessly in pursuit of a woman out of his league. His actions are crazy and unexpected, but he has a grand plan inside his head.

  • The Princess. A Princess is looked up to and respected. He or she can be bossy but is in that position for a reason. The princess is likely to have a high Charisma, and a low to average Wisdom. Good races for princesses are ones that naturally garner respect from the common folk: Eladrin, Elf, Dragonborn, Deva. A Princess is a natural Leader, but any class that attracts a lot of attention is good: Ranger, Monk, Paladin, Swordmage, etc. A Princess is used to getting his or her way so skills like Bluff, Insight, and Diplomacy are good choices. Other good attention getters: Acrobatics, Intimidate, Perception. A Princess should also have expensive and flashy gear.

    The princess is generally high maintenance and bossy, but has a good heart. The princess may also be more likely to want to please others than the other archetypes, and may be impatient. This is a good match for players that like to be in charge or show off at the table. The character himself could be descended from nobility or just act like he is. A good character arc would be to realize that even the low-born people have something to teach you. Ferris Bueller is a definite princess; he’s overconfident, every screw-up garners him fans, and doesn’t consider who his actions might hurt.

  • The Criminal. The criminal archetype is your chance to play a shady character. Criminals can come in all types, so his ability scores should make the character good at what he does. Every race has their criminals but I tend to picture them mostly coming from Humans, Half-Elves, Halflings, Dwarves, and Teiflings. Rogue is an obvious choice for class, but anyone can be an outlaw: e.g. renegade druids, wizards, and warlocks. Streetwise and Theivery are the skills of a Criminal, use them well.

    A good-guy Criminal could have taken to a life of  a crime as a matter of desperation, or is now repentant. One can also have a criminal mindset without breaking any laws; he or should could a be a renegade with a healthy disrespect of the rules, e.g. Axel Foley from Beverly Hills Cop. The criminal presents a great RP challenege, because you should still work with the party members and move the story forward in a heroic manner, but you have to seem not to care. This is a good role for anyone who’s naturally a misfit.

So that’s my Breakfast Club list. There are lots of other archetypes or way to define them: you can have your loner, underdog, bully, valedictorian, etc. These archetypes aren’t meant as a way to define a character or how you play one, or box one into a particular role, but a starting point and ideas for shaping a character. I often use aspects from several different fictional characters to help me identify what kind of character I want to play and get ideas for his background, but then at some point he becomes his own character from there.

Has anyone played in a 80s Comedy D&D game? I think it would be fun.

You’re Playing Your Character Wrong

Today’s Dork Tower illustrates a session recap where one of the heroes wound up doing tons of cool things the previous week , when the character was played  by different player.  I found great humor in this, as I have experienced this situation myself. It happens to all gaming groups: one guy can’t make it the table and so his character is picked up by someone else.  The big fear in this situation is that the character will die at the hands of someone else’s mismanagement or at least without the owning player to have a chance to make that death save himself. But what really ends up happening many times is that the character performs the same or better under the temporary player.

Does this mean the original player is playing wrong? Maybe.

It’s really hard to answer if someone else is playing your character better with only one or two data points over a few years. But assuming that’s enough data, let’s explore what I mean by “the character performs the same or better.” Firstly  I am referring to the character’s effectiveness in terms of usefulness in battle and influence among NPCS (as expressed by charisma checks, participation in interactions, etc). What I am not referring to is how “true to type” you think the character should be role-played (e.g. your dwarf is dour enough or your paladin isn’t preachy). Like any other art, role-playing is highly subjective and can be interpreted in many different fashions, including how well the artist (i.e. player) portrays a character. Like other arts, you can also apply “objective” measures of technical proficiency and use of the medium, but those are also a topic for another day.

At the risk of offending someone, I’m going to continue this article written from perspective that your character is being played by someone else. In this scenario you’re out sick for the week and your buddy picks up your character and proceeds to use him to kick ass and take loot on level that you never acheived. Why might this be?

  1. He’s got loaded dice, the DM likes him better, or it was just a lucky day. There are so many variables from week to week that it’s hard to say. Perhaps if you were present, the numbers would have come up in your favor as well. Either way, this is the least useful assement because there’s not much to learn from it. And without you missing multiple sessions with your character being picked up by the same player, and performing glorious exploits each time while being a dud with you, it’s impossible to rule out. This means you can stop here and go check out you tube, but if you are willing to entertain other possibilities:
  2. He’s got extra attention. When a player volunteers to run someone else’s character, odds are that he’s the one with the most extra energy that night to put into a second character. Especially if you game at night, it’s to be expect that some to everybody is pretty tired. It’s not anything you’re doing wrong, so much as that night your buddy was able to manage all that was going on. In fact, maybe it’s good exercise for everyone to take a turn at hosting two PCs. The extra burden of two characters might force you to be more efficient in terms of managing powers and choosing actions since you have to do it twice as often per round. With two characters, there’s no time to fumble through rule-books because your turn will always be next. In fact you’d have to spend more of the battle paying attention if you have to strategize for two different characters, meaning you might make better decisions for one.
  3. He can build synergies. Unless your friend is a role-playing superstar, he’s going to be tempted to play the two characters like they were of one mind, basically giving the player twice as many actions in a round. Because 4e is really built around PC combos, he can be really effective using movement and attacks. In the 8 ways your character can die, we joked about launching a fireball into melee, but when you have two characters you can have one hold back until after your other’s fireball explodes and then rush the first into battle. I find Hold Actionis not used optimally since everyone is vying for the glory of the kill. So it’s not that he’s playing your character better, but just being more effective with two independent weapons. The same synergy and holding action can be used in skill challenges with equal ruthlessness. If you’ve ever played in a party where another player has a Shaman with a spirit companion, you know what I’m talking about.
  4. He’s got more experience than you. For example, you recently started playing an elf ranger, but your buddy’s been playing elf rangers for the past two years and has a better feel for how they’re effective on the battlefield. Or even if your character is a new type to him, he might have a system for tracking conditions, using powers, or taking advantage of enemy weaknesses that might have escaped your notice. If this is the case, don’t get defensive or upset, but instead ask details of specific exploits so you can learn from him; watch what he does with his character and see if any of his style is applicable to yours.

This assumes you want your character to do be doing the types of things he did under the control of your teammate. Perhaps you’re playing a shy peacenik who would never charge into the middle of a battlefield, no matter how “cool” a scene it was. This should hold true for when you’re playing someone else’s character: you should try to be faithful as you can to how the character normally acts. Even if he has a +4 broadsword of smiting, if the character always hangs out in back and shoots crossbow, try to stick to that gameplan; you’ll be thanked by having your character portrayed accurately in your absence.

More on splitting the party: The Expert

The TV show Numb3rs is about a FBI team that occasionally gets helped out by a math professor. The five FBI agents form the group that goes on missions, hunts down bad guys, and gets into gun fights. Each member of the team fills a different specialty, and yet at the same time are pretty much interchangeable. What makes them work is their effort and teamwork, this is a different model from a team where each person contributes specific skills skills (e.g. the Leverage team). If the show were Star Trek TNG, the FBI guys would be the “away team,” and in d&d they would just be “the party.”  They are the ones going on adventures.

But Charlie the math professor is the main character of the show. He very rarely goes into gunfights with the FBI team. Instead he stays behind in one of the headquaters and hunts down murders through math. In a fantasy setting he would be protrayed by the beyond-wise sage or wizard (but more involved with the world than the stereotypical mystic). But as the main character, he is the cool character that I imagine most people would want to play if the show were a campaign.

I wonder if it is possible to play d&d where one of the party members takes on the role of the Sage that hangs out at HQ and crunches the numbers? In this hypothetical scenario the only the other players would go into the dungeon and get into fights.

I came up with three sticking points that I think would make it hard to play out this setup at the table:

  1. Combat balance. Let’s say the combats are designed for 5 characters; with one behind, then the battle will be more difficult than expected. If we assume the sage will want some XP as well, a fight  balanced for 4 will make the party advance slower.The party members also depend on each other’s support in combat. The Sage can provide great out-of-combat support (intel, participate in skill checks, etc) but not so much in combat. For this to work, “Sage” would have to be a specialized class (probably a Leader) that can supply bonuses that act like single-use magical items. It might have a ton of dailies instead of at-wills and encounter powers, and those powers can provide party members with one-time buffs, saving throws, healing surge uses, etc.  To me, this doesn’t sound appealing as a character choice.
  2. Split parties. There’s going to be a lot of game time where your expert is in a different location, which means the DM has to divide her attention between two different scenes. I don’t know if there is a good way around this, other than some magic items or rituals that connect the sage to the rest of the party. For suggestions cell the comments on my cell phone post.
  3. Information Access. In order to make it worthwhile for the rest of the party to need a Sage, the Sage needs access to information beyond the regular means of the party. He should have an abnormally high knowledge check or a direct line to the Gods, Demons, etc. If there were a specialized class for this role, it could be a class power or feature. Maybe a Sage could cast divination rituals with reduced time or cost. Either way, he needs to get info from the DM beyond what is normal for the party’s level.

RPG Blog II had some good ideas for “low-magic wizards.” In that post he describes magic users as having a limited set of powers and are balanced out with fighting skills (perhaps even all the PCs have some limited magic). To get powerful magics, you have to find ancient temples, artifacts, extra-planar wizards, etc. In that world, I image that the Sage character would be one of the ones that had power well beyond the common magic-user. This would be a fun way to stand out and make a mark in world, but then you have the opposite problem with balance.

I like the idea of Sage character, but due to the team nature of D&D, he’s best suited to be a NPC that the PCs can consult with. It might be a good role for a retired PC though, if you play in a setting that spans multiple campaigns. Have people seen examples of classes or player characters that fill this role and overcome those enumerated concerns?

Getting the party inside your character’s head

I just had a fun idea for an occasional flipping of table roles in a way that lets a player GM for awhile but keeps the campaign continuity. The idea is to  let the other players play parts in a story narrated by your character.  Two scenarios where this might happen in an existing campaign are:

  1. Through evil magic the party is trapped inside the nightmare of one of the characters.  In this scenario there are real-campaign consequences (death or madness) and the other players can use their regular characters.
  2. Your character narrates a vivid story from either his own past or from a legend and the other players temporarily play characters in that narrative.  For ideas here, see any Simpsons episode where they play out some myth or Shakespearean play. Also definitely see the Family Guy star wars spoof. The other players can either play temporary characters, or their regular characters performing the role of a character in the narrative.

What does this buy the group? Well, you give the GM a break on the story telling for awhile (he or she can play another character in the story or the NPCs). It also allows you to do character development in a shared way with everyone else at the table.  Fr example, if you go with option 1, you can play out the character’s darkest fears , and option 2 allows you to share a meaningful story with the rest of the party.  This might be a good way to get one’s feet wet GMing, as pulling this off requires a lot of structure and support from the regular GM.

When developing the adventure, work on the story with the GM. She’ll need to make sure she has something to do during the session, and she should have the final say on anything that lasts beyond the mini-adventure. For instance, if the story involves the regular party characters, they should receive XP for the obstacles overcome; the GM makes sure the rewards are balanced and fit into the overall game arc. If the back-story is how you got that magical frost sword, and the reward for successfully completing the adventure is actually having the sword (you had it the whole time but just forgot!). This is a good way to introduce some of the group items or lair items from Adventurer’s Vault 2, since the whole party can share them. Another way to share past rewards is to make them pay out in the present. For example, if the adventure saves a local church from a demon’s attack, and your character hasn’t seen the deacon until the present, then he can hand over 400gp reward, which you graciously share with your adventuring friends. If your character and the party is trapped inside your mind’s imaginings explaining XP is pretty easy, but the treasure is a little more difficult. A tangible, shared reward here is remembering a clue you once overheard to the location for a fantastic treasure.

When actually running the adventure, there are a few ways to play it. If the DM comes up with the plot just using the ideas you’ve given her, and she runs the adventure then there’s not much more for you to do.  If you wind up running the adventure or at least write the bulk of the plot, then you have to play your character as a GM-PC. I’m giving the okay for this one despite my long standing rule against GM PCs, because (a) this is only a side adventure and (b) the regular GM still has veto power. The most important advice is to let your friends at the table do the role playing, figure out the puzzles, and slay the monsters with at most gentle guidance from you. Don’t run their characters, please. Also be sure that the story gives every character a chance to shine; don’t put them in the background because it’s your character’s story. Narrating a legend works well here since you all can take on roles not directly related to the PC.

If the adventure is successful, the DM can extend any of the plot elements that come out as adventure hooks for the main campaign. If you want to try this out, I recommend reading the tons of DM guidance out there like www.newbiedm.com, www.dungeonmastering.com, www.gnomestew.com, etc (see the blog-roll to the right), and find articles on writing and running adventurers for first timers. Running a mini-adventure might give you appreciation for all the hard work put in by the GM.

Let me know if you have any corollary ideas. This just sprung to mind on my drive home, so I haven’t had time to really bake it yet.