Create a Family Tree

by Blackrook

A great way to connect your important NPCs and come up with stories...

I have made numerous campaigns, but there is only one where I created a family tree for the important NPCs, and that was Gordovia. Making a family tree was the first thing I did, and I never regretted that decision. Instantly, I knew who was who in my world, how much power they had, who they loved, who they had reason to hate, and who they had reason to conspire against.

The family tree I made showed four major families: the Reds (royal family), the Beloses (nobles ruling Port Arthur), the Thumes (nobles ruling Seamouth), and the family of the Imperial governor that had previously ruled in Gordovia. These four families consisted of the vast majority of the powerful NPCs in Gordovia, and in the course of the short background story I made up, they had intermarried so that they were all related in one way or another.

Then on other pages I made two more families, the royal family of the neighboring kingdom of Aquila, and the Imperial family. These families were only lightly detailed, showing only the most important members, since the center of the campaign at the time was the kingdom of Gordovia.

Ideas for Adventures

To understand how to use a family tree to create adventure ideas, it is important to know the rules of inheritance, which in the Middle Ages, was all that mattered. First, there is primogeniture, which means that the oldest son inherits all the property and the title of his father, and the other children get very little in comparison, though a younger son might get some property if his father is wealthy, and a daughter will get a dowry when she gets married.

The most important thing to understand is who becomes king when the king dies. Usually, it is the oldest son of the king. If the oldest son of the king has died before the king, his oldest son becomes king. If the oldest son has no heir, then his next oldest brother becomes king, and so on. This article is not long enough to explain all the rules of succession, so you will have to look this up. Check out this article about the British line of succession.

So, I made the family tree and tried to figure out what adventure ideas I could get from it. What I ended up with was a conspiracy of certain nobles to assassinate Red King John and most of the royal family.

I started with Xerxes, who was the son of the deposed Imperial governor. He had a motive for revenge against the king. I decided that the younger brother of the king, Edmund Red, Bishop of St. Alban, was jealous of his older brother and would join the conspiracy. Then I looked at the king's best friend, Lord Bellose, who had gotten a big castle and town after the rebellion against the Empire had succeeded, but perhaps that wasn't enough for him. I decided he was a widower, and that the king decided he should marry his young daughter, Princess Artania. I decided that Lord Bellose would use that marriage as an opportunity to make himself king by murdering Red King John, and all of Princess Artania's older brothers, including Prince Harry.

So, with that conspiracy in play, I decided to start the adventure with the assassination of Prince Harry. And that's how the Gordovia campaign got started...

How long does it take?

This idea takes a few hours to implement, but it is important to note that you will end up with a large number of NPC's and adventure ideas when you are done, so it is definitely worth the time.

I would do this as one of the first things in creating your campaign, since it is important to the backstory.

And it's never too late to implement this idea. But it's important that if you have not, you are consistent with what you have already revealed about the NPC's in your world, and their relationships to each other.


You can make up important NPCs on a freeballing basis, so long as you take notes as you go, and make a permanent record later. For example, you may decide that Red King John is the king, Artania is the princess, and Edmund is the King's younger brother who is jealous against the king and plots with his enemies against him. Just write all this down somewhere.


On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being most important), I would rate this as an 7, since you can do an entire campaign without ever doing this, it is not strictly necessary. However, I think you will find the effort worth it.