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I recently finished a campaign that worked out pretty well, and was considering writing it down in order to share it.

However, I realized that a lot of the plot points and twists are extremely relevant to my players' characters (their backgrounds, traits, personalities, relationships), and wouldn't mean much for other characters.

For example, let's say it is revealed at some point that "the mysterious shadow aliens" are made of the same energy that what the "shadow energy user" character is using. It is kind of moot if there is no "shadow energy user" character in the group.

On the other hand, I don't like forcing pregenerated characters, and would rather be able to write it so that other groups can play it with their own characters.

What are the options (and their good/bad points) when writing a heavily character-oriented adventure for characters you don't know?

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2 Answers 2

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As you've already figured out, character focal adventures cannot be set up in the same way like a dungeon crawl or an event path - all you can do is provide some starting point material that makes it easy for the GM to improvise and fit to their own group.

A Common Situation

You can start with a general situation that the adventure/scenario is about. This puts a loose requirement on the unnamed PCs but usually a fairly easy one - "There is a struggle for the throne - you have to have a vested interest one side or the other winning.", "You are all generals or high officials of the daimyo... who just died the night before battle. His heir is 3 years old." etc.

This sets up some general problems while leaving the individual characters open.

Leading Questions

Ideally, you're playing with an RPG that already has good Flag mechanics built in. Either way, you should make part of the set up for the adventure, a few questions that define the characters in relation to the situation.

For example, with the daimyo example, I had players answer these 3 questions: - What are you most renowned for? - What is your ambition? - You failed the lord in some way. How?

Even though you may not know who the characters will be, a good set of leading questions allows the group to focus their characters to the situation and gives the GM a good set of handles by which to grab onto appropriate conflicts.

Open NPCs

You can create a set of NPCs that have whatever stats you need, a basic motivation or general personality for the situation. The GM then takes the PCs the players made as their inspiration to alter the NPCs to better create interesting conflict. This can be as simple as just having NPCs who directly oppose the PCs flags/established motivations, but it can also be based on the answers the players gave to the leading questions. NPCs with their own goals may align or conflict with the players pretty easily - my Seven Types of Antagonists give good options.

Alternatively, you could also choose to have a sizeable Conflict Web of NPCs in conflict to which the PCs, being involved in any way, will probably be opposing someone or another.

Nailing it down a bit more

You can, also put additional requirements on PCs while leaving 80-90% up to the player's preference as far as character creation. Good options might include requiring a motivation or Flag of your choice (the game Tenra Bansho Zero has the GM give a Destiny to each character after their intro scene, for example) or putting in required NPC relationships ("Someone here has the Prince as their lover.").

Now Writing It

Obviously, this depends on who you're writing for. If you're writing for yourself, you can simply use the ideas outlined above and run the scenario/campaign - this is what I usually do - prep, players make PCs, minor tweaks (often during play) and go. If you're writing for others, this isn't so bad if the game already gives a lot of structure or advice for focusing on the PCs as the point of play (usually, Flag mechanics, narrativist game designs, etc.). If the game doesn't, I've found often people don't recognize the material as an actual scenario/adventure, because they're either looking for a map or a list of events to be included.

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As a system-specific example which demonstrates Flagging and additional requirements: Pathfinder's adventure paths generally require each PC to take a AP specific trait, which then ties in to the content of the AP. In Skull & Shackles, it explains how you end up on the pirate ship. In Wrath of the Righteous, it sets up your mythic powers. And so on. –  Bobson Feb 4 at 12:45

Don't. Instead, include the characters you do know at the start.

There's nothing wrong with writing a campaign around a group of characters. See the historic Dragonlance saga, for example.

Instead, if it is character focused, start with a discussion of the characters and their primary themes. Then you can say, "Here are the bits of the characters that need to be included in your campaign (if you choose to not simply run with the pre-gens) for this campaign to make sense."

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