Tying PCs to Published Adventures

by Mike Shea on 16 July 2012

A while back on Twitter, HeverOfMarikest asked about best ways to tie PCs to published adventures. While published adventures give us a great deal of pre-built encounters, a hand-full of NPCs, some good story seeds, and ties it together with a story; they don't always give us much to tie PCs to the story it builds. Today we'll look at a few ways to better tie PCs to the story outlined in published adventures.

How are your PCs entering the adventure?

How your PCs enter the adventure impacts how you tie it to their stories. If your PCs already established themselves in the game world and enter the adventure mid-stream through the campaign, you'll have to use different techniques to tie them to the adventure. If you are running the adventure as a mini-campaign, it becomes easier to tie the PC's origin histories to that of the adventure. We'll look at both ways throughout this article.

The Fiasco-style character background list

The story-focused RPG Fiasco gives us wonderful ideas for creating backgrounds that not only fill out individual PCs but tie PCs together. We've discussed this before in Fiasco-Style Relationships and shown how they can work for the Caves of Chaos Playtest. These relationships tie PCs directly into the threads of the adventure. Like Fiasco, these relationships represent not only the connections to the NPCs but also to each other. The following relationships, for example, tie PCs to the NPCs of the Ennie-nominated D&D super-adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. Each player rolls on this list to determine the relationship between his or her PC and the PC of the player on his or her left. It goes around the table, eliminating duplicate rolls, until every PC has two relationships. The Gardmore relationships include:

  1. Guards of Winterhaven
  2. Apprentices of Berrian Velfarren
  3. Squires of Sir Oakley
  4. Apprentices to Valthrun the Prescient
  5. Sibling ancestors of Knight-Captain Havarr
  6. Ex-mercenaries of the Vile Rune orcs
  7. Inheritors of a card from the Deck of Many Things
  8. Seekers from Fallcrest in search of the Markelhay heirloom sword
  9. Champions of Bahamut drawn to the Abbey
  10. Share the same re-occurring nightmare of the Gardmore tower

These are just a few examples and many of them tie the PCs to specific NPCs. You might also tie the PCs to specific orders or situations as well.

When reading through a pre-published adventure, jot down any potential relationships that will tie the PCs to the story. Then use this list as your random list of Fiasco-style relationships.

Tying themes to the adventure

Likewise, if you are beginning a pre-published adventure with fresh PCs, select a list of applicable themes that tie the PCs to the setting. For example, you might use randomly determined themes from the Neverwinter setting to tie PCs to that area and the adventures that lay within.

The relationships of NPCs

Tying PCs to adventures often means tying PCs to the NPCs within that adventure. This works for both established campaigns and new campaigns. When you first open up a published adventure, keep track of the notable NPCs, both good and evil, and think of ways to tie them to the PCs. If you're in the middle of a campaign but planning to run a published adventure in the future, spend the time now to introduce key NPCs early that tie in to the published adventure.

Intelligent items and artifacts can also tie PCs to an adventure. If you're planning on running Gardmore Abbey, introduce one of the cards of the Deck of Many Things in an earlier adventure to begin that seed.

This can potentially work the other way as well. Replacing key NPCs in a published adventure with NPCs already established in your campaign may simply work better than trying to insert a new NPC into your existing campaign. Published adventures are meant to be modular components &emdash; never worry about changing up the adventure to fit your group, your style, and your campaign.

A little work early on reaps great benefits

The earlier you plan out the integration of a published module into your campaign, whether just beginning or already established, the better the result will be. Spend the time early on to read through the published adventure and tie in quests, items, story hooks, and NPCs to the character development process through Fiasco-style relationships, pre-arranged themes, or through the insertion of key components into your existing campaign. The results will be an interwoven campaign world that's easy to run and fun to play.

If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy the Lazy Dungeon Master. You can also support this site by using these links to purchase the D&D Starter Set, Players Handbook, Monster Manual, or Dungeon Master's Guide. Send feedback to @slyflourish on Twitter or email mike@mikeshea.net.