Plot Lines and Politics

I recently posted my tips for getting the most out of playing monsters in an article called fantasy creatures without commenting on my favorite theme – politics.

Monsters Have Lives Too!

When you think about it, monsters will have their own trials and tribulations before the arrival of a blundering group of characters makes life even harder for them. The stock solution for your average creature to save its treasure from plundering and to reserve the privilege of roughing up the wife and kids for itself is to jump out and (eventually) fall on the invaders sword. Is this realistic every time? Probably not. Here are a few suggestions that I have played or participated in and which should entertain your players. Obviously some races are just not capable of executing some of the options but I’m sure you get the idea.

Warring Factions – Civil

I’ve run into (or run) this quite a lot and it can be quite frustrating when the lair you are invading is at war with itself. The basis of a feud is going to be control of the tribe, the breeding pens, the booty or possibly something cultural or race specific. It justifies a lot of GM situations like abandoned guard posts, lax security, plundered troves (before the adventurers arrive) and possible alliances if the characters are so inclined. As a plot tool I remember some brilliant Fritz Leiber stories along these lines.

Warring Factions – Other

I am often frustrated when a dungeon does not hold together. We all want a mix of monsters to challenge us but if you can’t justify them living next door to each other then it makes it a territory struggle. This justifies all guards being on a heightened level of security and again, areas of the dungeon being battlegrounds or wastelands. It might be the lead that brought the party to the dungeon is now redundant and the treasure they sought is now under new (complicated or fiercer) management.

Contagion!

Disease and infection are under-utilized ways of worrying a party so why not loose a plague on the poor unsuspecting monsters. This includes, of course, the plague of necromancy. How will this change behavior? Isolation is the obvious solution which probably helps the party (but with the risk of contact of course). Why not mix contagion with factionalism and have one beasty holding the cure from everybody else (including the adventurers)? Necromancers are loners and as they recruit on battle grounds, a lawless or remote underground complex is a good place to pick up new recruits. Undead versions of existing monsters create new challenges.

Iconoclasm and Heresy

A term borrowed from the cards of the game Civilization but a brilliant excuse for plot. Religious differences are common everywhere (sadly) and frequently create factions, imprisonment, impeachment, assassination, and Iconoclasm (the destruction of Icons). If the party are out to retrieve a valuable icon (perhaps the statue with the jeweled eyes) which is now the focus of a major theological debate amongst it’s current owners….who knows, will they get hired by one or more of the power wielders?

Outcomes

The point is that a conventional dungeon bash can become a very different challenge if options are presented and taken. Ok, so your average Paladin is going to take a lot of persuading to join forces with a bunch of Ogres but maybe the greater threat justifies the means. Regardless, if you have a good set of roleplayers, you can bet the chaotics and the rogues are going to be tempted, and the resultant banter will be great – if controlled. More seriously, you get to have some fun and develop new plot lines.

The Things I get Up To

In my long-running Friday night game run by Adrian we have ended up in many strange situations and created unexpected plotlines. We have Orcish contacts/associates and even occasional allies who worship “He Who Watches” – Grummsh I believe. Because of a common threat from a new heretical, chaotic, Orcish cult we ended up working together “my enemies enemy is my friend and all that”. The Grummsh worshippers were at least Lawful (and hard) in this campaign and fate makes strange bed-fellows. We have just run into yet more strange Orcs in the Underearth who are “heathen” devil worshippers after long association with Drow and other strange races. Having just taken a mixed race ship on the Dark Sea we were forced to “press-gang” the remaining Orc crew to have enough to sail it!

2 comments

  1. Nice. One thing to think about, though, is how or if it’s even possible to have heresy (or within-sect iconoclasm) in a world with active gods that interact with their worshipers on a daily basis as is the case with many fantasy settings, particularly those using D&D. Players are probably going to want to know why it doesn’t become obvious which side is right when one side’s priests stop getting their daily allotment of miracles. The creative GM can think of explanations, even without making the gods remote enough not to notice trivial doctrinal disputes erupting into war, but it’s better to work it out in advance than try to wing it when the PCs start thinking about theology.

    Joshua´s last blog post..What’s Normal in Savage Worlds?

  2. What I really like about these ideas is the way they can make a 1st-level adventure in a dungeon with much tougher occupants who are weakened or divided or sick, rather than regular old goblins.

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