I want to start a Game of Thrones (d20) campaign. My idea is based on the first book of seven (which comprises the whole story).

I don't want to change the course of the novel, but if my PCs are somewhat important to the main plot they might change it.

I can't give them the main characters to play, because as PCs they don't have to follow a pre-written plot, but neither do I want them to feel like nothing they do matters.

What to do then? Should I let the plot deviate according to the PCs' actions, or should I make the PCs' thread unrelated and use the plot as background to the PCs' actions?

Is it better to allow the course of the novel to change during play, or to start the PCs on a different course?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Are the players familiar with the story? \$\endgroup\$ Apr 30 '11 at 16:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not use your players to reenact a book series you like? Your asking should you let the players do what they want to or railroad them through the course of seven books. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 30 '11 at 16:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Akhier: I agree with that, but I think apacay means to say that the whole story is comprehended within the first book. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 30 '11 at 16:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ As you have already stated you do not wish to railroad the players or make them feel unimportant, I think the question should probably be asking about how to create an independent story line for them in the setting of A Song of Ice and Fire. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 30 '11 at 16:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ Remember that what works in a story, doesn't necessarily work in an RPG. RPG settings must have a very strong internal coherence, which is too often overlooked in many stories. For instance, in The Game of Thrones half of the characters behave like completely dumb idiots: if they really were so stupid, their nation would have likely crumbled a lot of time ago. \$\endgroup\$
    – o0'.
    Aug 2 '11 at 12:52

If I were making this decision, and none of the players had read the novel, then I would consider both the issue of railroading, and the issue of spoiling the book for them. If it were me, I would prefer to spark their interest in reading it. That puts me on the side of creating a path for the characters that is unrelated to the story told in the book(s).

When in a situation where I will be running settings tied to films, or books, or that have invasive metaplots (Star Wars, Neverwhere, Serenity, oWoD, etc), I have two approaches:

Approach 1: Normal Workload (Just using the setting) I try to run things the same way I would run a game without a strong primary story: that is, I would put the focus on the story of the PCs as if it were the primary tale. The story from the novel or film is placed in the background as extra detail. The events in the game may or may not ever involve the events or characters of the original source material - and I would work to keep them separate if at all possible.

The goal of this approach is to create unique adventures in an established setting that all or part of the group enjoys, without worrying about existing story lines. This can be done by simply ignoring/deleting the original story, by avoiding it by setting your stories in another time or place within the setting, or by creating unrelated plot threads with no crossover with the original story and making them the focus of the campaign.

Approach 2: High Workload (Creating subtle links to the Original Story) If I have the time, or motivation from the players to allow their characters to get involved in the primary plots from the original source, I like to remember that historical records and memory are very selective. That perspective is the tool that I use to create subplots and important interactions with the main events, which do not threaten or change the continuity of those events.

This sort of thing involves approaches such as providing roles for the PCs which make the tasks of the characters from the original source material possible. Without the PCs' actions, the course of events in the source become impossible.

example: An information gathering quest for beginning characters

An advisor to a character from the books reveals information about the enemy, a prophecy, etc in the original storyline. As I am looking for neglected or glossed over parts of the story to flesh out, this sort of scene might catch my eye as an effective way to introduce starting characters, and enable the players (who may not have any familiarity with the sources) to establish an understanding of the setting and culture being portrayed in the campaign. To make use of it, I would:

  • Create a plot where that advisor had recruited one of my NPCs to uncover information in an earlier time period.
  • That NPC would then select the PCs and send them on a dangerous journey to collect that information
  • Use this to establish the skills and personalities of the characters, connect them in a very tangential way to a peripheral character in the original source, while at the same time making them a vital, but invisible part of the original tale

Doing this for the course of the series, will take a great deal of familiarity with the original work, and a lot of planning to find ways to have the characters support the main plots of the source material without ever being 'deemed by history' to be a major character in the story.

The goal of this approach is that when the players read the books, they can get an extra smile and surprise when they realize their hidden role in the tale that is unfolding before them.

I am the one who brought Sir Fancy-Pants the news that the Dragons had awakened! I almost died that day...


I have successfully done something similar with the Wheel of Time RPG using the Prophecies of the Dragon scenarios. The scenarios cover material from Books 2 - 6 of the Wheel of Time series and have the characters on a quest that is important enough that it could have an impact on major characters from the book if they failed. What was clever in the adventure scenarios was that the PCs met book characters in situations where it was very unlikely that the PC's could kill/disrupt a book character. The PCs ended up in places where major events were happening or had just happened and so felt like they were a part of what was going on without ever really being in a position to change the course of the storyline in the book. There was an element of railroading to the scenarios (to get them to areas at the right time) but there was enough mini adventures etc that the PC's didn't complain.

In your case you could:

  1. Use your knowledge of the book and give them an important task that impacts on the PCs backgrounds but doesn't affect the outcome of the story as written. Then place the items/clues etc that they need to solve their problem in/near places where action occurs in the book, allowing you to give flavour to the campaign without having to run the risk of them upsetting what happens in the novel. As they haven't read the books they won't see it coming and shouldn't feel too railroaded if handled well.
  2. Keep them away from the action in the novel by having them in areas where nothing happens in the novel at the time that they are there. Then they can hear about what is happening elsewhere as interesting gossip with a time lag so that if they do hare off to investigate they get there well after anything is going on. That would give them a higher degree of freedom.
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd love to hear more about this some time--if you ever have time to pop into Role-playing Games Chat please do ping me! \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Mar 11 '17 at 2:08

When I run in an established world, I choose a point in the story as our starting place. I then tell the players this:

If you do nothing, the world will proceed in the same ways as in the books / movies / show. But your actions can have consequences and you cannot predict what the future holds once you begin to take significant action.

I think that one of the main appeals of playing a tabletop RPG is the chance to be one of the most important people in the world. That appeal is diluted if you know that no matter what, it's going to be Luke Skywalker who blows up the Death Star, and not Yon Grakin, the young swamp-miner from Dagobah you just rolled up.

For example, when we played A Game of Thrones with the (excellent, IMHO) Song of Ice and Fire RPG, I chose to start before the novels - in the time leading up to the Blackfyre Rebellion.The world was moving, the Blackfyre Rebellion was coming - there was little the PCs could do about that.

But they changed the course of the history of Westeros. The PCs played members and servants of a minor house that turned out to be a lost branch of the Gardener line. They plotted in the background for a while and then sprang their plan - oustering the upstart Tyrells from Highgarden!

They'd never have been able to do that if I had insisted that the world follow the course of the novels. And they'd have known that they were playing minor characters instead of having the lead roles.


By trying to keep the course of the novel, you'll be essentially rail-roading your players into it. You will have to decide how much rail-roading is too much. As in everything, the point when it starts making the game less fun for your players should be the limit.

If you are really determined to absolutely prevent them from changing the story, just don't run it. Or run the game in a remote location or time period that has little to no effect on the original story.

But if you want them to be closer to the original story, you have to make some allowances. There will be times when you will be able to subtly prevent them from messing with the story. But there may be some times where you won't be able to be do it so subtly. When that time comes, I say, let them change it. You can always try to slowly influence things back into the course of the original story later on.

It could be interesting to imagine what would happen if, say, X didn't actually kill Y. And if your players are familiar with the story, this could make the game more fun, because now they no longer have any idea of what happens.

  • \$\begingroup\$ The thing is, no-one has even started to read the novel, except me. My question is founded primarily on any rpg novel based, how about LOTR GMs, how do they do that? Your last paragraph sounds a bit offensive to me. Perhaps because you are telling me this in case I don't know nothing about gamemastering; I've been mastering D&D where the future weren't written. So it's easy there to let the players do almost whatever they wish to do there... but try not to treat askers as if they don't know what are they talking about. ty for your answer though. \$\endgroup\$
    – apacay
    Apr 30 '11 at 18:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @apacay: It wasn't my intention to come across as offensive. I wasn't saying you are a failed GM. I'll try to rephrase it. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 30 '11 at 18:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ Problem solved, don't worry. ty for the paraphrasing though \$\endgroup\$
    – apacay
    May 3 '11 at 4:28

I did a Game of Thrones game a few years ago. We ended up forking off of the main books. I didn't want the added stress of having to stick 100% to canon, which would have happened if I didn't give myself the freedom to deviate. As it was, I spent way too much time tracking down minor details that could have been made up.


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