TorinReborn, I agree that the RPG should be free roaming with an interesting story and strong characters.
In fact, I would like to see the PCs choices influence the path of the game.
Example 1: Two quests - Clear the Spider forest and the Dungeons of Stone.
1. If the PCs visit the Spider Forest first the Dungeons of Stone adventure becomes more difficult to complete as Hobgoblins have moved in to take over the caverns of the Goblins while the PCs were busy clearing the Spider Forest of its vermin.
2. If they clear the Dungeons of Stone first the creatures in the spider forest grow in number and attack the neighboring village. Perhaps another group of NPC adventurer's has a % chance to complete a quest if the PCs fail to address it by a specific game date.
This would a) increase replayability, 2) add a bit of strategy to the players choice of which quests to undertake, and 3) give your decisions major consequences.
Example 2: Barony - PC Actions Affect the Future!
When the players reach level 6 the Barony will be attacked by an army of Orcs. Before then the player has an option to complete quests that will affect the battle.
Quest 1: Clear the road of Lizardmen raiders. Doing so will open up the barony to more trade, attract new NPCs to the barony and cause local merchants to offer a greater variery of goods to purchase. Increased tax revenue will allow the baron to hire a skilled Commander of the Guard (i.e. NPC Ftr3 is replaced by a new NPC Ftr6).
Solution A. Brute Force Approach – Slay the lizardmen. PCs enter the swamp, find the lair of the lizardmen and eradicate them.
Designer’s Note: If the PCs leave the lizardmen lair to rest before dealing with the chief, they find that the lizardmen Chief has recalled his raiding parties to strengthen the lair’s defenses.
Solution B. Diplomatic Approach – The PCs can redirect the lizardmen’s attacks elsewhere if the baron will agree to provide them with weapons. With the approval of the baron Lizardmen will be allowed to visit his barony markets to trade.
Designer’s Note: This result causes the Lizardmen to raid another neighboring realm. If the lord of the neighboring realm discovers that the baron is providing arms to the Lizardmen he will attack the barony.
Designer's Note - Skill Challenge - Pass 2 of 3 skill checks to convince the baron to provide weapons to lizardmen
- Diplomacy (DC 10 - Fail #1) - If I provide the lizardment weapons, the neighboring barons will attack me.
- Diplomacy (DC 10 - Fail #2) - What you ask is too risky, I will not provide the lizardmen with weapons.
- Diplomacy (DC 10 - Success #1) - I provide the weapons and they attack my enemies, good idea.
- Diplomacy (DC 10 - Success #2) - Tell the lizardmen I will provide them weapons if they direct their raids elsewhere.
- Knowledge-History (DC 10 - Sucess #1) - Yes, during my grandfather's reign we traded with the lizard folk.
- Intimidate (Automatic - Failure #1) - Do not threaten me, I am the Baron.
- Intimidate (Automatic - Failure #2) - Guards, remove these insolent guests from my presence. I never wish to see them again.
Designer’s Note: If the baron allows Lizardmen to visit his village, the PCs will encounter Lizardmen in the barony’s marketplace. The PC may recruit a lizardmen to join their party (Diplomacy Check)
Solution C. Intimidate Approach – After losing most of their tribe to the PCs the Lizardmen promise not to raid travelers on the road to the barony, if the PCs will let them live in peace.
Designer's Note: With this approach the Lizardmen will slowly replinish their numbers and PCs may consult with them in the future.
Quest 2: Explore long forgotten temple ruins for the Baron and give him a 50% share of the treasure. Doing so allows the baron to hire 20 experienced guards and purchase a catapult.
Quest 3: Convince an armorer to move to the barony. Doing so will improve the armor of the baron's men from Leather to Studded Leather and Shield.
Quest 4: The baron needs 100 long swords to equip his men at arms. If the PCs complete this quest the Baron's men at arms will find their weapons upgraded from short swords (d6 damage) to long swords (d8 damage). There are several ways to complete this mission - each of which has consequences for the PCs and the Baron that hired them.
- Solution A: Openly purchase the weapons from a local realm and have their lord find out that the baron is preparing for war. This will lead this lord to mobilize his men to attack the baron unless the PCs convince him that the baron is not preparing to attack his realm.
- Designer's Note - Skill Challenge - Pass 3 of 5 skill checks to convince the local lord your baron is not preparing to attack him. Fail, and 1) you will not be allowed to purchaser the weapons and 2) after you return to the barony it will be attacked by this lord's men at arms. A most dramatic consequence - failure = war! 100 men at arms attack the barony. Will the PCs defend the Barony or will they flee?
- Solution B: Pay 50% more and use a middleman to purchase the weapons from a local realm to hide the destination of these weapons.
- Designer's Note - There are three middle men - one will honor the contract, the second will abscond with the money and the third will inform the local lord that your baron is arming his men to attack his realm. If the PC's select the third middleman; the informer, they will need to complete a skill challenge - pass 4 of 5 checks to convince the lord and his advisors of their Baron's honest intentions. If they fail, the lord will lead an attack on the Barony. A dramatic consequence that uses the same adventure path code as failure for Solution A.
- Solution C: Steal the weapons from a warehouse or an armory in a neigboring realm.
- Designer's Note: The PCs must avoid or distract the armory guards, break into the armory, gather 100 swords, and leave the city without being searched. If they are caught they will be arrested and imprisoned - their equipment and coin confiscated by the crown unless they convince the Sheriff of their innocence (unlikely, but possible).
- Designer's Note: The PCs can leave the city via the main gate or via the sewers. Via the main gate and they must get past the guards without being searched (Skills: Diplomacy, Bluff, Intimidate, Magic: Charm, Suggestion). Via the sewers they must deal with the creatures that reside there - while heavily encumbered with 100 swords.
- Solution D: Purchase the weapons in a distant city.
- Designer's Note: One week to travel to this city and another week to return. If the PCs dally in the city; take longer than 16 days, they return to find that the barony fell to an Orcish army while they were away with many buildings in ruins and Orcs controlling the Castle.
- Solution E: Attack Bandit Camp - The most straight forward solution. Find the lair of the bandits and attack. Kill the bandits and take their weapons. The downside is that it will allow the Baron to upgrade only 50 of his men's weapons. This also means that you need only purchase 50 weapons and the reduced purchase size less likely to arouse the suspicions of the neighboring Baronies.
When the Orcs attack the actions of the PCs can tilt the balance from defeat to victory for the baron and save the lives of the baron's subjects if the PCs fight alongside a well armed and trained fighting force instead of an ill equipped and poorly trained militia.
PS: If the Baron loses this battle the village outside his keep will be burnt to the ground and most of its resident NPCs slain. No longer will the PCs be able to visit merchants here or gaze upon the beauty of what was this village. All they will see are its ruins.
Likewise, as game time passes some of the major NPCs should grow in power to reflect the fact they they too are completing adventures and gaining in experiencem, influence or power - if the PCs have not foiled their "evil" plans.
RE: Pathfinder/d20/D&D4th edition ruleset. Some may say that this ruleset is broken (I disagree for I like the many options it offers); however, for the last 20 years it has outsold all its competitors by a very very large margin (my guess would be on the order of 10,000+ to 1). You can see the recent sales numbers via Neilsen BookScan or get a relative view of a ruleset's popularity by looking at its Amazon Besteller Rank; Pathfinder Players Core Rulebook (Amazon Rank: 2,328), Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Player's Handbook (Amazon Rank: 11,705), Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 Edition Players Handbook (Amazon Rank 9,582). You could use the ruleset for a campaign in the Elemental universe and add spells unique to Elemental.
As Supremen Shogun said "I would adapt the D&D ruleset.....IF you were trying to market to a wider audience.....Having the ruleset is a badge of honor. People would buy it and even pre-order it based on that fact alone."