Secondary Objectives in D&D

Last year I ran a homebrew campaign set in the Magic: The Gathering/D&D crossover setting: Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica – a ‘magicpunk’ plane that allows players to sign up to one of the world’s ten powerful guilds, and climb their ranks by completing quests.

I set out to make a mission-based adventure, where the players would be given cross-guild quests that seek to keep the uneasy peace between the rival organisations. Each mission would be 3-4 sessions each, and the players would have clear goals that they can achieve to get maximum XP.

The Izzet create some great magical items that can be found in Ravnica

What drew me to the setting was how intriguing the Guilds are. Players could earn ‘Renown’ in their Guilds by serving their causes during their quests. To push this further in case the will of the amorphous entities was taking a backseat to the immediate adventure, I came up with secondary objectives for each player, based on how they could win Renown for their Guild. I also created secondary objectives per mission where I would give extra XP if the players achieved success exceptionally well (e.g. no casualties on a diplomatic mission) or if they went above and beyond (e.g. discovered all clues in an investigation), or even showed great initiative or teamwork (e.g. all agree on the fate of a prisoner).

I found this to be a really great tool for keeping players loyal to their Guild’s needs whilst balancing the mission at hand and trying to do it well. The ‘score screen’ moment at the end of each mission was a great highlight as I read off which secondary objectives were achieved, which were failed and which PC pleased their Guild, and by how much! Regarding this reward structure, I couldn’t help comparing to traditional Alignment. Here are players bending over backwards to stick to their character’s core beliefs, represented by the Guild they belong to, whilst maintaining party unity and carrying out a quest. This is not something Alignment always brings out in a campaign.

So how do you deliver the secondary objectives? The mission-specific ones should be secret, but mission-briefings can be explicit with certain demands. If discretion, secrecy, speed or distraction is key, then extra reward will keep that in players’ minds. In the Ravnica book’s free adventure, Krenko’s Way, it is made clear that the party must recapture a prisoner as quickly as possible, but also to not let other parties know he is on the loose. If the party take too long or are too obvious in their investigation, the militaristic Boros Legion will soon be out in force, and then eventually make open war against the goblin clans.

Need a bad guy quick? ‘Oh look that NPC was a Dimir agent all along!’

For Guild-specific objectives, when creating the missions I took each player’s Guild into account. My party consisted of a law-mage cop, a diplomatic druid, a nature-preserving warrior and a scientifically-minded monk. For each mission I made sure that there was something to cover all or most bases. There needed to be some law-breaking and guild tension to resolve, a corruption of nature that could be fixed but also potentially studied. This flavoured the missions I created and gave me somewhere to start! The book also offers great plot-hooks per Guild. The latter two were part of the same Guild so the tension created there was interesting – the two sides of the same coin could be represented.

(What also makes the setting compelling and plays off Guilds and therefore characters against each other, is the Guilds comprising of two of the Magic: The Gathering colours. Characters in the Simic Combine could find common ground with the Golgari as they both have Green magic in them, but probably not in the same way the Gruul Clan does, who has Green but also Red. The Simic characters see nature as something to improve upon and champion, whereas Golgari prefer life through death and decay, and the Gruul clan see nature as a destructive force. These connections (or opposites) can give great fuel for secondaries).

Having 2 characters from the same guild meant I could at least deliver the objectives through a member of their Guild to them openly. One mission saw them being asked to acquire a staff from a Kraul Death Priest. The nature-preserving character would want to stop any necromancy funny business, and the scientist was told it would further their research into creating more efficient hybrids. The players were so on board with this that they found not one staff, but two; earning extra points for finding two out of the three staffs they could encounter on the mission (one being in a Death Priest’s room in a dungeon, the other in a Golgari mansion as a trophy).

In the Undercity, everything is a bit gross

So how does it work mechanically? This is how I built each mission with their objectives:

  1. Lay out a 3-Act mission structure, where players are briefed, have the opportunity to investigate/travel to location, and then resolve the mission.
  2. Create bonus objectives for the party for Acts 2 and 3 (1 is optional if there is something worth rewarding), this should signify how the party have been told to tackle the mission, and if there are any extras where they can over-achieve (treasure, using the environment, winning over NPCs).
  3. Consider how each player could further the aims of their Guilds, and work out how to inform the players of this if needed.
  4. Work out how many Renown points will be awarded and for what at the end of the mission. I tend to award one for the main objective, one for the Guild-specific secondary, and another if the players service their Guild even further through their actions.
  5. Assign each objective with an XP value, including solving encounters, and Guild, secondary and main objectives (this depends on how fast you want the party progression to be, I aimed for the whole total to equal a bit more than a full level up, to give a little wiggle room).

So let’s take this structure and apply it to our mission! Here is one I did:

  1. 3 Act structure
    • Act 1: The party is briefed on their mission. They are to go sort out a feud between the Golgari and the Kraul (an insectoid race that wants to be a key partner of the Golgari Guild)
    • Act 2: The party arrive at a Golgari mansion and meet a Golgari representative who gives them the details of what they need to do
    • Act 3: The party head to the Kraul cavern to seek an audience with the Kraul leader and negotiate with him
  2. Bonus Objectives
    • Act 2: The Golgari representative likes the party overall (more than half social tests were successful), and the party finds and takes the Kraul Death Priest staff on display in the mansion.
    • Act 3: The party find and take the Kraul Death Priest staff in one of the chambers of the cavern, no Kraul blood was spilled, and the hostages were rescued safely.
  3. Guild objectives
    • Azorius hook: A Kraul rebel leader has taken innocent hostages
    • Gruul hook: The work of a skilled diplomat is needed for this mission
    • Simic hook (delivered in secret when going through the Simic HQ on the way to the Undercity): Recover a Death Priest staff to further Simic research
  4. Renown
    • 1 point for completing the mission
    • 1 point for Guild specific objectives
    • 1 point for Guild specific bonus
  5. XP Rewards
    • For combat encounters I stuck to the XP given for defeating each creature. If encounters were solved without combat, XP was still awarded, unless the encounter was merely circumnavigated and not ‘solved’, then half XP was rewarded.
    • Each main objective will give 500XP*
    • Each secondary objective will give 200XP*
    • Each point of Renown gained will give 100XP*
    • (*This is for each character, not split between)
The Selesnya Conclave love nature and harmony but will wreck your face if needed

And that’s it! Let me know what you think of this system, I thought it worked really well and my players enjoyed it too. Its definitely more game-y than some players would like but to me, that is D&D. If I could I would introduce optional rules for this into the Dungeon Master’s Guide, as well as alignment-specific objectives built into adventures. If the DM knows how to lead players to it, then those mechanics can actually impact the gameplay positively.

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