D&D General Baldur's Gate has great companion character arcs. Are such things possible or even desirable in published adventure paths?


I have two answers here:

1.) For a published adventure - only in very limited circumstances. If you have an NPC that is supposed to spend prolonged time with the PCs, I think it is wise to give the NPC some depth so that they don't get boring or turn into one liners and comic relief. If that is the case, I'd expect the writer to give the DM the materials to give that NPC depth. This would include their own goals, their own personality quirks, and their own storylines that the PCs can facilitate. This is the only situation where I'd expect an author to include these elements within the module ... however...

2.) Either within a published adventure or a homebrew adventure - follow the interests of the players and PCs. If they take a shine to an NPC, you should adapt and work that NPC in further. A famous (infamous?) example here is a kobold named Meepo. IYKYK. Many groups that encountered this little guy took a shine to him in his published adventure. There were lots of shared stories here and elsewhere about how this 'monster' ended up joining the PCs and becoming a party of the party. This was so widely recognized that WotC/Wizkids gave him his own mini reflecting him not as he was originally found - but as a high level adventurer.

When the PCs/players take a shine to an NPC like that, the DM should build around it and give the NPC storylines and traits that drive the game. They should be storylines designed for the PCs to play a starring role in advancing, but they should focus on the NPC to give them depth and a place in the campaign. This is not something a publisher should anticipate and prepare, but is instead something a DM should build organically as the opportunity develops.

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I've never seen it done explicitly in a published adventure. However, there was an implicit bit in Tomb of Annihilation about Artus Cimber and the corruptive powers of the Ring of Winter – I think in the novel he's supposed to be immune or morally above its corruption, but it doesn't say that in the ToA book, so I leaned into it by having the players during their time tracking him down realize that sometimes he's doing good & sometimes he's out of control and there's ice carnage left in his path. And when they met him he was teetering on the edge of madness/evil, afraid to use the Ring lest it be his last time. What was interesting for the players is how they responded as he was – over the course of many sessions – a sort of foil for their own heroism vs dirty-rotten-pragmatism. They were on the cusp of convincing him to turn over the Ring, leading to a party disagreement/discussion, and ultimately to Artus getting betrayed by the batter in the last act, dropped into the molten lava along with the Ring of Winter – a PC decided that its destruction was worth sacrificing Artus.


Having "individual plot hooks" that can be attached to PCs or to NPCs for an adventure seems like a great idea.

You could even map them to the base game backgrounds. Like, "if you have a Urchin in your party" how to connect a personal plothook storyline to that given character.

Then, have NPCs that can be used instead of PCs for each of those storylines.

Unless it is an introductory adventure (or part of a chain), this probably shouldn't be as elaborate as BG3 did. If it is an introductory adventure, then this is all fair game.

In an introductory adventure, you could create a set of bespoke backgrounds that the DM can offer to the PCs to pick between (or use a default one), and have parts of the adventure attached to those backgrounds. And, again, maybe NPCs that can stand in if no PC took the background.

I'd avoid NPCs as active as the companions in BG3 - they really are stand-ins for other PCs at the table, and a DM running that many pseudo-PCs is bad news.

But more passive companions work. A lot of the companion storylines could have worked for relatively non-combatant NPCs, or ones that aren't actively adventuring with the PCs regularly (like the assamar/cleric duo).


Not your screen monkey (he/him)
Paizo has done it at least a couple of times in their adventure paths - Lavinia Vanderboren being an example from Savage Tide, Arueshalae in Wrath of the Righteous. They can be tricky and even in these cases, both of which were reasonably successful, there's a big difference between the character arc of the NPCs in Baldur's Gate 3 and these APs - mainly, in BG3, it's more like cultivating a backup/secondary-PC than an NPC. Helping the NPCs in the Paizo APs might be similar if the NPC tags along the adventuring group as a DM-controlled semi-PC but that's a lot more awkward and indirect.


Trust the Fungus
I think there are a number of reasons why we can't compare Baldur's Gate 3 directly with a published Adventure Path. Most of them (that I can recognize) have been brought up on this thread already, but I think there might be some value in gathering them together:
  1. The Origin Characters, and the other Companions, aren't really Player Characters or Non-Player Characters; they are both and neither and... something in-between, something that doesn't really have a place at the gaming table.
  2. For a major NPC, Larian programmed maybe 4-5 "routes" you can take with them, in addition to (possibly) ignoring and/or murdering them. Most minor NPCs still have 2-3 options, and this is evidence of Larian's breathtaking level of attention to detail.
  3. Even taking the previous two restrictions into consideration, Baldur's Gate 3 is literally the equivalent of thousands and thousands of pages of written material, the equivalent of dozens of published Adventure Paths.
Now... I try to keep track of the State of the Art in our industry, but I don't follow Adventure Path design too closely, because you could say that I'm ideologically or aesthetically indisposed to them, either as an umpire or as an amateur/aspiring game designer. My understanding is that most (the vast majority) of Adventure Paths are written with a single (or 2-3 at best) predetermined ending with maybe a few column inches per adventure or maybe a couple of pages per series of umpire advice if players take the adventure in a different direction.

Correcting this would involve... like Larian has done, to their credit, multiplying the page counts of every module/path by ten or twelve or a hundred for content, like so much of the content of Baldur's Gate 3, the vast majority of consumers (umpires or players) will never experience.

I believe that designing commercial content with that Baldur's Gate 3 kind of depth is possible, but I don't know if it's commercially viable; it would require a radical restructuring of what an Adventure Path is, as a product, and I don't know if that kind of product would appeal to the same people that buy and run Adventure Paths now. Now... to lay my own bias on the table, what I'm describing here would be a more codified and organized version of my own prep process, and I am exploring the matter of refining that process for commercial development. I don't bring predetermined plots to my table, for my players, and I want to encourage other umpires to take my approach: I encourage my players to design characters that have very strong feelings about the world they live in, and I present them with opportunities to change that world, and then play out the world's attempts to push back. Ideally, by the time I've exhausted all of my predetermined content, my vision, the players are invested enough in their world and their vision that nearly 100% of the game from that point onward is me reacting to them.

What I do, what I want to see other umpires do and what I want to sell them the tools to do, is create models-- psychological, political, economic, ecological-- for how all of my game pieces will behave on their own accord, and how they'll respond to the different threats and incentives that the players might present to them. I set a lot of plots in motion at the start of every campaign, and I set up a lot of contingency plans, and I dangle them in front of the players... but all of the actual plot of my campaigns is provided by the players' responses to their initial situation.

That, I think, is the closest that I think a predetermined and pre-packaged "adventure path" can get to the flexibility-- and responsiveness-- of a masterwork Western RPG like Baldur's Gate 3 or any of the others we'd care to hold up as an example here.

AD&D 2E Rogue's Gallery, yep (not the 1E version). Hole punched to easily be added to your monster manual giant binder.

I’m not familiar with the 2e version.

But I have the 1e version, and once upon a time my players crossed paths with Robilar. The fact that these were player characters in the original Greyhawk campaign, DM’d by Gary Gygax and Rob Kuntz makes it extra fun for a Greyhawk DM like myself.

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