So work is kind of stressful right now, so we’re going to have to wait on the epic tale of ABitW session 1. Instead, I’ll start you with this:
Sidequests are this thing that I have primarily associated with video games. They exist to break out of the linear story, and make the world feel like it is well developed and exists as more than minor fluff to flavor the main story quest.
So my question is whether they are appropriate in tabletops. On the one hand, we kind of have enough trouble keeping our parties together and focused on one thing at a time, on the other hand, if there are no side plots or hooks for the party members backstories, the world can feel flat and the story railroaded. It is not so bad for parties to go off and do unexpected and even disparate things sometimes. But if it happens too often, a GM can find themselves running as many games as PCs, and no longer one coherent game.
The answer is probably a balance dependent on the players involved, as it so often is. Still, how does a GM strike the right balance between tying the party to the “main story”, letting them pursue “side quests” and letting the party just kind of wander where it will? Again, the answer may be obvious, but I think the best way to do it is up front. Making sure the players know what kind of game they are getting into allows them to choose to participate (or not) and build a character that will play well in the story.
To some extent, I’m still a GM obsessed with “main story”. I satisfy that desire most directly with one-shots, which benefit tremendously from focus on the problem at hand, and are pretty easy to get buy in from the players on. Even in my campaigns though, I tend to throw the party at a massive problem and expect them to care enough to try to fix it. I am learning (slowly, and sometimes painfully) to give my party more and more leeway to do what they want.
In ABitW, I tried very hard to create a world with a distinct tone, and only sketch potential plot very loosely until I knew who the PCs were. Then I built plot around them. So far I’m happy with how it is turning out (although, we’d have to ask my players what they think to know for sure). Still, this has led to the not unforeseeable problem of every plot hook being pursued at once. I’m trying really hard not to have the campaign devolve into each person pursuing their own main quest, which is just a side-quest for each of the other party members, and losing party unity entirely. It seems that the balance between railroading the party and turning them loose in a sand-box world is one I’m going to have to continue to feel for. Wish me luck!