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I'm considering (first time) DM'ing "The Silvyr Tower" for a group. However I am not sure how to sell the starting situation to my players.

Summarizing the starting situation: the group is sent on a quest to retrieve a powerful staff. This staff can make the one that holds it wealthy and powerful. Upon completion of this quest, the party will be paid... 200GP.

200GP to stop yourself from becoming wealthy and powerful is not a good trade for even lawfully good adventures. (Consider how much good you could spread with that power!!!)

What stops the party from just taking the staff and becoming wealthy and powerful, essentially backstabbing the entity that sent them on the quest? Also in the context of the party being level 3, so not particularly noteworthy nor trustworthy. I can think of three reasons but I'm not very convinced by them:

  1. The information the quest giver has about the possible location of the artefact is very untrustworthy, unlikely, possibly a trap, etc. So they dispatch a low-level team to investigate, with a very small chance that they will actually bring the artefact back. Low cost, high reward. Makes some sense, however if this really an all-powerful artefact, this might still be too high a risk: even if there's only a 1% chance of finding the artefact, you still don't want it to end up in some random adventurer's hands anyway.

  2. One of the party members is somehow guaranteed to be honourable, e.g. the quest giver is a secret society of honourable wizards, and one of the party members is such a wizards. Feels unbelievable for a random adventurer to be in league with a secret society of wizards, but as unbelievable as fantasy stories can get, I guess this isn't too bad?

  3. Family connection: one of the party members is a family member of the quest giver. E.g. the quest giver is a king or high-level wizard, and one of the party members is a sibling/niece/nephew/bastard/etc. Given that the relation between the two is not too sour (which could be a nice angle to shape the story anyhow) this could work well. But again it just feels a bit too unlikely.

  4. Leave it unaddressed, and have the party running of with the artefact and wreaking havoc open as an actual direction for the story to go? I like this one the most, but then the quest giver looks a bit stupid. Surely they have thought about this?

  5. The staff is not actually that powerful? Then why retrieve it?

  6. My current favourite: the legends say the staff is not that powerful, but sufficiently powerful that a quest giver should dispatch a low-level team to try and acquire it. Then when the party finds it, it turns out to be (far?) more powerful. This makes it fun for the party, while also saving the quest giver's face for letting something so powerful fall in the hands of the adventurers.

So, while I see some solutions, 1 & 4 feels like a decision a smart & large organization wouldn't make, 2 & 3 feel too unlikely for me for a random adventuring party, and 5 is maybe a tad disappointing. Probably 5 & 6 are the way to go? Are there any reasons that I'm missing that feel less artificial and still provide an in-world reason for the party not to run off with the artefact?

FWIW, we're playing DND 5e in a vanilla fantasy world, but I'm happy to make big adjustments to that if it makes it more believable/consistent.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Without knowing the adventure, is it stated explicitly that the party knows possession of the staff will make them wealthy and powerful, and/or that the quest giver has provided them that information? Or that mere possession of the staff is enough for them to determine that? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Feb 5 at 15:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ This question has currently 4 big problems: on one hand, we know nothing about the player types (-> lacking details), there are hundreds of valid ways to get players to buy into your adventure and we know nothing about how you pitched it (-> needs focus), There are hundreds of adventure writing schools that follow different methods and tropes of storytelling and we don't know what school you subscribe to (-> needs focus) and we know nothing about your adventure or world (-> needs details). There's also a 5th problem in that this is getting awfully close to a shopping/recommendation question. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Feb 5 at 18:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ You should read the adventure before asking questions like this. From the staff's description: "Upon discovery of the artifact, it was found that all it could do was summon a pseudodragon familiar. But he's really, really hecking cute." \$\endgroup\$
    – samuei
    Feb 9 at 14:49

2 Answers 2

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General comments

I think you're making a questionable assumption: that the quest-giver is hiring a 'random' group of adventurers. This looks like a terrible misapplication of statistical thinking to me.

I certainly agree with you that no competent person would hire an untrustworthy stranger to perform an important task. However, your starting assumption is that the party have been hired. Therefore, there are three possibilities:

  1. The party is trustworthy
  2. The quest-giver is incompetent (e.g. secretly an enemy agent)
  3. The task is not what it appears to be

One of these possibilities must be true. Saying it's unlikely is like saying it's unlikely that Microsoft hired OpenAI to develop AI technologies for them; they hired OpenAI because (1) they were the experts in the field and (2) they were willing to commit to a very substantial partnership. They didn't just hire a random company beginning with O!*

* I just picked something off the top of my head here, please don't waste your energy commenting on the details of the example.

Actionable advice

You're running a pre-written adventure (which I haven't read), so options (2) and (3) might well conflict with the material you've already got. Also, Occam's Razor suggests that the answer to 'Why were these people hired for the job?' is 'Because the hirer intends them to complete it'. Unless you specifically want to make the plot more convoluted (which is a perfectly valid choice, but might undermine the point of running a pre-written adventure for beginner GMs), I would therefore suggest making sure the party is for some reason trustworthy. Your ideas 2 and 3 fit with that, but don't in my opinion go far enough. You are the GM, the game hasn't started yet, and the PCs (I presume) haven't been created yet. Just tell the players to make characters that fit the theme: they should all be connected to the quest-giver, or to one another. Tell them to all be members of the secret society, or social club, or temple, or whatever organisation is handing out quests. Or, as you suggested, have one member be a minor prince or something (prince sent out to prove himself is a classic!) and the others his hopefully-loyal recruits - recruiting trustworthy companions is part of his test.

Alternately, and ignoring most of my logic above, consider your option 5. Perhaps it isn't that the staff is weak; maybe the PCs can't use it? Maybe it needs to be commanded in the Black Tongue of Mordor. Maybe it can only be used by a virgin gnome standing on her head. Of course, if the plot as written requires the staff to actually be used this isn't a useful idea.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @bobismijnnaam thanks for accepting my answer, but you might want to wait for a day or two for more answers - it's quite possible somebody else will have a better answer that could be unfairly buried by mine. \$\endgroup\$
    – aantia
    Feb 5 at 13:47
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A mechanical way to resolve this: a curse is involved.

The item is indeed powerful, as stated in the adventure, but the catch that you can introduce is that it has a curse on it that requires the casting of a level 6 or higher Remove Curse spell in order to unlock it.

Your party is at level 3, and thus unable to cast that spell at that level1.

The quest giver is, to make this a better fit, up to their ears in a problem involving much higher level threats; as but one example, some cult is summoning demons, undead, aberrations and messing up the area where the quest giver owns land/property 50 miles away. This staff will give him more power to deal with that 'once and for all' but for the moment he needs to mitigate his current problems while, in parallel, he sends this group off to get this staff.

You could boost the pay a bit if you think it's too low; maybe 100 GP each instead of 200 GP total? Up to you, but it's an option.


1 Leave open the option for the party to stumble across a scroll of remove curse (it will take an ability check to successfully cast the spell). As the adventure unfolds, if the PCs/players decide that they want to keep the staff, and risk using the scroll to uncurse it, it may be worth the reward. FAFO would apply here. And, they now have a long standing opponent: the quest giver who they didn't quite serve as requested.


Have I done this before?

Many, many times. In just this edition, it's been standard form for me as a DM.
Published adventures have a lot of material, some of which is great (pre-prepared) and some of which isn't as great since it doesn't fit a given campaign. Tailoring the adventure to your game world is both expected, and beneficial. For examples based on one campaign I run:

Each one of the Tales From the Yawning Portal adventures had differences when I ran them.

  1. Sunless Citadel resulted in a DMG based chase/flee scene as the destruction of the tree led to an earthquake/volcanic disturbance;
  2. Forge of Fury had the succubus (in disguise) actively working in the town and deceiving the party into going there in the first place;
  3. Hidden Shrine had the problem of rescuing a djinn's nephew embedded in it
  4. White Plume Mountain took place on a caldera which blew once they left with the three items ... which they had to deliver to a certain place to close an extraplanar gate. Along the way they met an Emerald dragon who nearly killed them all, but after they escaped (and she calmed down) she decided ally with them for her own reasons related to White Plume Mountain.
  5. The Giants adventures included a back door entry into the Hill Giant Steading that involved being allied to a goliath clan, and fighting a drow priestess, who was commanding two stone golems, in an underground river. It also included a captive gnome Transmuter (Volo's) working for the Fire Giant smiths in the basement.

Tailor the adventure to your table and your campaign.

It's a best practice as a DM. May as well start doing that right off.

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