Approximate time to read: 3 minutes.
You should remember one thing every time you read an adventure or pick up a campaign book—the writers did not write this book for your group.
Before I kick off a series of articles digging into a complete re-read of all the Symbaroum books, I consider it essential to keep that statement in mind. A game designer can only write a generic adventure aiming for encounters and experiences at a default challenge level.
This generic approach is why you will often see folk question how to engage their characters in the campaign. They struggle because the designer didn’t specifically write the material for their characters.
Only you, the GM, and your group can achieve that level of customisation. So half of what I want to consider on The Iron Pact is taking the goals of the Chronicle and sandboxing the adventure—making the campaign more flexible.
I come to this line of thinking off of the back of a very demanding Impossible Landscapes campaign (for Delta Green) that has put me in this mindset. As a table, you can derive genuine thrills, enjoyment and investment, from tweaking published material like tailoring a suit. Without changes, the adventure will run too loose or too tight, stifling the awesome potential of a game well played.
For the gaming group to achieve this is not without effort. I want to write about how you can do it without giving you all the information. I want to offer you the tools, not the finished article. I plan to provide you with the fishing rod and a tutorial on fishing, rather than catching, gutting and plating up the fish.
Why? Well, because as a blog writer, I’m in no better position than the game designer—I cannot know your group of characters; therefore, you need to apply the advice I offer to suit you. For some, that might mean tweaking scenes, others a wholesale refurb of each adventure from the bottom up.
While as GM, you care about the story and tooling it to maximise value and entertainment, the players care most about the characters they create. So you need to ensure that each character has a chance to shine and do the stuff they’re best at without losing track of the challenge.
From the start, that means reading each adventure with your characters in mind—that might mean having a session well in advance to discuss the game and generate the characters, then taking a break to get your notes and changes in place. You want to take the time to consider the opportunities in each adventure for action, investigation and social engagement, then craft them to mirror character interests.
Interests are not the only concern. As a group and as individuals, connections exist that tie everything into the rich backdrop of the setting. The Throne of Thorns Chronicle contains a mass of personalities, organisations and plots; if you play them cold and without consideration, the players may struggle to find a common cause. A prevalent query about adventures is how to get the characters hooked; my answer is to weave them into the tapestry from the outset. Work with the players to create characters with the raw potential to participate, and then develop associations and background details as the sessions progress.
Re-write the adventure for your group. It sounds like a big ask, but if you plan to spend weeks, months or even years investing time into running adventures for these characters, doesn’t it justify the effort? Of course, you have the flexibility to determine how deep down the rabbit hole you chose to go, but the most significant payback will come from the table where the campaign tells the characters’ stories rather than struggle along a fixed path.
Endnote: On page 166 of the Core Book and page 5 of Book II: Settings & Adventures in the Starter Box, Before the Session mirrors the comments I make above. If, like me, you have no recollection of ever reading that short section of advice, that’s worth consideration. In more than five years, I have never read a question from anyone about taking the “collection of ideas and possible challenges” in one of Symbaroum’s many adventures and creating something truly focused upon their gaming table. Never.