Need help with role-playing scenario

…and oddly, I’m not tdn. :slight_smile:

I am in the beginning stages of putting together a D&D campaign that will have overtones of betrayal, stealth, political intrigue, oncoming war, and a web of lies, all the service of a little productive dungeon-delving.

To begin with, I want to make it clear that I don’t always do things by the book. I’m inventing the maps, creating the societies, and building dungeons from scratch. There’s no backstory to adhere to; I’m very flexible here.

The dungeon in question is the Alcazar, a fortress on a cliff-like peninsula that overlooks a maze of islands at the mouth of a river. The geography is fragmented, and so the populations there are also fragmented. Many peoples live there in overlapping territories; there are no official national boundaries, though there are some city-states and governments.

The peoples that live there can briefly be described as Alchemists (NG), Amazons (LG), Avians (CG), Diviners (LE), Golem-Makers (LN), Pirates (NE), War Children (N), and Weres (CN).

The Alcazar was constructed as a monument to a lasting peace between them, established for mutual benefit after a destructive war against a common enemy. This enemy was so powerful — demons or some crap like that, maybe, I haven’t decided — that they put aside their squabbles and united against it.

Afterward, the alliance had eight magical artifacts forged (probably by the Golem-Makers), each a weapon representing the various societies, and placed them in the Alcazar. So long as those weapons stood there, that society could not attack the other society, nor could they be attacked by the others, nor attack the Alcazar itself. (It doesn’t prevent minor incidents between citizens, nor does it render them helpless against outside threats.) The weapons were meant to only be removed by a divine being, or by all them at once.

I’ll describe the eight societies in a few words in the next post.

However, the Alcazar was captured by a hostile force, possibly the same one. It has been in their hands for many years, and those weapons have stood there for all that time. And until they are removed, they can’t lay siege to the fortress and get it back.

All that backstory can be changed at will. This is just a starting point.

The Avians (CG) are winged humans, mostly chaotic good. They agree to the spirit of the alliance, or at least the parts that are convenient, though they don’t always obey the letter of the law.

The Alchemists (NG) are the remnant of a former society which was crushed during the war. They don’t really care who leads them as long as they can keep researching; and since potions are a consumable item, the other societies have an interest in helping to protect the Alchemists in return for trade.

The Amazons (LG) don’t go to war without just cause and had no problem agreeing to a lasting peace.

The Diviners (LE) see the future, imperfectly, and then force their members of society to accept the roles they foresee. They are fatalistic, obedient, and ruthless. They uphold the letter of the peace agreement because they believe it is their fate to do so.

The Pirates (NE) find refuge among the narrow, twisty islands and in the shallow waters. If not for this safe haven, the Pirates would be destroyed by the powerful merchant fleets of the Union (some external empire just off the map).

The Golem-Makers (LN) are recluses who eschew butchery of living things and do battle with golems and clockwork men.

The Weres (CN) are formerly human lycanthropes that are trying to fight their animal instincts and form a crude but civilized society.

The War Children (N) are the descendants of the surviving warriors from the long-ago internecine battles who are trying to atone for their ancestor’s battles.

Okay, last post on this. This is kind of how I want the flavor to go:

The players get hired by the alliance of eight to go in and retrieve the weapons, so it will free all the societies and allow them to re-take the Alcazar.

But secretly, the Pirates pull them aside and say, “Oh, about that weapon of ours that’s supposed to be in there? It isn’t. We stole it long ago. While you’re going in there, put it back, would you please? And don’t tell anybody.”

And secretly, the Golem-Makers pull them aside and say, “About those weapons we forged? We made several cursed artifacts for the Pirates, because we thought they’d steal theirs. Make sure you only retrieve the real one.”

And secretly, the Amazons pull them aside and say, “We put a curse on the weapons so that only women could safely use them, so while you’re in there, could you possibly undo that before anyone discovers it?”

And secretly the…

You get the idea.

But I’m having trouble coming up with a variety of intertwining betrayals and secret machinations. Any suggestions?

Amazingly, you’re not me. :wink:

Maybe the Diviners have nothing to do with an artifact at all, but have predicted some dire event happening during all of this. Their obedient population therefore puts all of the other efforts into great peril.

That’s a very good take on it.

And yeah, I didn’t mean to imply that all of the subplots necessarily had to revolve around the artifacts.

The Alcazar is basically a time capsule of secrets, lies, and politics that has been abandoned for 100 years or so. Now that it looks as if they may actually take it back, the various factions are trying to keep their plots from being exposed.

A few questions about these societies:

Are all of the Alchemists alchemists, or is it more a general population but with alchemists in key governmental positions? Do they have a king? Or queen? Or council of elders? If every member of the population is an alchemist, what do they eat? Are there farmers? Is there any sort of socio-economic class structure?

Same questions for the other societies, of course.

Your plan is for each of the eight societies to ask the PCs to cover the society’s plot. What’s to stop a society (especially the Pirates or Weres) from deceiving the PCs? Or the Diviners from telling people something different from their divinations?

The Alchemists’ society is probably most akin to a University. The population is a mixture of many races. Only a few of them are full-time scholars. Most of them are there to learn, and gather ingredients from the surrounding lands, which are rich in necessary resources. They are on the largest of the islands, living in the remnants of what was once a center of learning — like the librarians of Trantor, almost. They generally trade potions for the things they can’t produce themselves. There is room for them to be somewhat agrarian, raising large quantities of crops and livestock for things they commonly use as potion ingredients — say, chicken gizzards or corn husks — and eating the rest. They have gone on with their studies as obliviously as possible despite the long-ago fall of the official University structure. Their neighbors protect them because they are more valuable alive, replenishing potion supplies, than dead.

The Pirates have a loose hierarchical structure. They know the value of teamwork, of obeying commands, of coordinating attacks between vessels, and they have a certain honor. They’re just not keen on obeying the laws of others, especially at sea. There is a Pirate King, of sorts, who holds command as long as the various captains support him, but his hold is unstable and subject to change. Most of what they need they steal from Union ships, or trade with the land-dwelling members of the alliance.

The Golem-Makers live underground or in secret well-protected cities. They’re probably Dwarves. They get what they need using golems as laborers (for mining, food-gathering, and building) or in trading ores for food. They have a formal government and a rigorous code of laws.

The Amazons have a militaristic and matriarchal society, consisting of a variety of mostly autonomous tribes who answer to a ruling council. I’m leaning toward some magical effect that causes there not to even be any men in their society. They are disciplined, organized, and cooperative, but they live with nature and eschew road-building and vast permanent cities. They are hunter-gatherers on the verge of agriculture, with food-producing “gardens” that they tend periodically.

The Weres have a crude imitation of government, which changes often. As a whole they are committed to rejoining civilization, but individually are unreliable as they are susceptible to involuntary transformations. The were who today is king may be a wolf tomorrow, and others lead for a week in his place. They try to farm, badly; they try to raise livestock; they try to build but they don’t often finish. They have a low population and are scattered widely, mostly on the fringes of other societies. As a whole, they are committed to the idea of being human, but from week to week, their focuses and tactics shift.

The Diviners are probably some underground race, possibly dark elves, who were forced to live above ground when the shifting jungle rivers flooded their caverns. The catastrophe was seen as a failure to properly appreciate the dangers of the future, so their society formed around the concept of rigidly anticipating and adhering to any coming trials. Not all of them are diviners; the lower classes adopt the role they are told, whether to farm or hunt or fish or build or fight. The diviners are the ruling class over a vast obedient peasantry.

The Avians… I haven’t really got sussed yet. They’re highly mobile, so they are the first to defend the Alcazar, but also the first to retreat. Since they can escape most threats they have the least to lose by alliance. They like to live in high places, of which there are many scattered around, so they’re probably migratory and tribal.

The War Children are best described as tyrannically egalitarian. They are a race of multi-ethnics, part elf, part troll, part orc, part human, part gnome, part doppleganger, etc. They interbreed as a sign of brotherhood and fellowship, deliberately homogenizing their gene pool. They take pride in having lost their individual racial characteristics. Some are deformed, and most are ugly. They are trying to revitalize the ancient battlefield in atonement for the sins of their ancestors. As part of their efforts to wipe clean the past, they have studied the history of the area thoroughly and know their own lineages by heart, to more properly absolve themselves. They farm, restore the natural beauty, bury the dead, honor the soldiers who fought, and so on. I don’t have any idea what kind of government they have.

What are the leaders of the factions like? Any personality quirks? Anyone not what they seem?
Are the weapons big mass destruction type weapons, or small personal weapons?
How does anyone have the power to fight against the Golem Makers golems?
Any geography notes? Resources only one faction has access to?
Hatreds between the factions? Hatreds between the leaders? Love between factions?

Nothing. :slight_smile:

What I’m hoping to generate is an atmosphere of mutual mistrust. 100 years ago, X didn’t trust Y to uphold the alliance, so they had a contingency plan. Y didn’t trust Z. A didn’t trust X or Z.

As the societies attempt to re-take the Alcazar, questions arise: how did the Enemy take it so easily? Was there a betrayal 100 years ago? Did we mistrust the wrong people? Do we trust the PCs to do this properly, or are they a tool?

Good questions. I haven’t got down to the nitty-gritty of individual leaders yet, until I know what the secrets and lies are. I’m open to suggestions.

Personal weapons, but with great power. Like a +5 Vorpal Blade with cheese and extra pickles.

Golems are tough, but they aren’t smart. They can’t be given commands that are too complex, and coordinated attacks and defense are beyond them.

None important enough to mention. The location of the Alcazar is on a high, cliff-like peninsula that is in the center of where all the societies overlap. Apart from that, carte blanche.

Got any suggestions?

The one question that pops into my mind is this: why do any of the factions want the Alcazar back? If it’s filled with secrets that they don’t want people to know, and it’s been in the hands of the enemy for ages without hurting anyone, why go to the trouble of taking it back? Why not let sleeping dogs lie?

That’s a good question, Priceguy: why now?

First of all, they’re forbidden from taking back the Alcazar until the weapons are retrieved, and they can’t retrieve the weapons without attacking the Alcazar. For 100 years, there wasn’t anything that could be done. (It’s somewhat similar to the idea of Lake-town living in the shadow of the Lonely Mountain — as long as they didn’t rock the boat, there was no need to attack Smaug, but eventually they began to want their treasure back and hit upon the idea of burglary.)

Second, there could be some recent signs of attack and/or expansion by the Enemy. Since the factions don’t trust each other, they each suspect others of collusion with the Enemy. Retrieving the artifacts may be a pretense — it would enable them to re-take the Alcazar, yes, but it would also let them start a general war to attack the factions they suspect of betrayal.

Third, I’m thinking that one of the PCs can be an aasimar — a person with godly lineage who might have the power to remove the weapons himself. Aasimars are very rare, so this may be the first opportunity in 100 years to circumvent their own safeguards.

Specifics might occur if you formalize the leaders of each faction and give them a personality. Is the leader of the alchemists really only interested in research, or does covet the Golem Makers power? Is the leader of the pirates really a War Child and was ousted because of some crime and so joined the pirates and really hates the WC? It’s easier to make things out of details than it is from generalities. Make your world first, and then determine what’s happening.

People always scoff at the extra pickles, but damn if they aren’t handy.

Golems, by the way the rules are now, would extremely difficult to impossible for the average foot soldier to affect much less defeat. I imagine you’re changing them?

But do the societies themselves have anything enviable that isn’t related to the societies themselves? Maybe the pirates territory contains the only pearl bearing oysters in the entire area. Maybe the War Children have the only place a certain plant can grow, and the Alchemists need this plant for something. Difference makes for conflict.

Farming is complex. :wink:

I would give more thought to both food and sex (I often do, in fact!). If these societies are hunter/gatherers, then they must have low populations in vast areas. I would suggest that a good 95% of the population of most groups to be farmers. Perhaps non-farming nations can trade for food? The logistics would be a nightmare. Surely a lot of fishing goes on. Therefore most nations have boats. If food is being traded, it’s traded for some other goods, most likely by ship. Bam, now the Pirates have something to pirate. Where do they fence it? Where do they store it? There’s got to be a treasure map. Perhaps in Alcazar? Maybe there’s more than a map there. Something that, if found, could be very dangerous to them.

Sex: Young master fish, there are other ways of making babies than by magic. Far more fun. And far more cruel, in some cases. Where are the Amazons getting sperm from? Humans? Slaves? The capturing and trading of slaves gives the Pirates yet another source of income. And what happens with the studs when their usefulness runs out? Are they killed? The whole business is pretty seedy, and a potential embarassment to the Amazons. Perhaps there is something in Alcazar that would implicate them.

The reason I ask questions about such mundane day-to-day stuff is because that’s where the best plothooks come from.

If I had all the specifics, I would already know the answers. I’m looking for suggestions.

These golems can be overwhelmed by numbers. They are not numerous and are primarily defensive.

The Golem-Makers have the best mines. The Amazons have the largest area of fertile lowland (mostly dense jungle with pockets of semi-cultivated land) and the most fresh water. The Pirates control the oversea shipping lanes (because the other societies mostly do island-hopping in small boats). The Alchemists have the best location — a combination of a well-fortified city structure, arable land, springs, and defensible geographic position.

That is indeed the case. None of the populations are vast, which is why they were compelled to unite their resources against a common enemy in the first place. It is also why they maintain a balance of power.

I believe the Pirates steal from the Union shipping lanes and trade it to the land-based peoples. If the Pirates stole from their allies, the other seven nations could rise up and exterminate them — at the cost of losing their trading ally, of course.

I haven’t yet decided if there are indeed men in the Amazonian society or not. If this turns into a long-term campaign, I need to know the answer; if it doesn’t, I can simply decide the men aren’t seen and work it out later. And the answer can be a red herring.

Just as a way to start the ball rolling, what if the river running through the Amazon’s territory ran with some kind of magic-fortified water? Sort of like… Water Plus, good for making potions (which justifies the Alchemists’ success) but with some unusual side effects that take effect over time.

Why doesn’t the alliance of eight just hire some other group of people to attack the Alcazar?

They wouldn’t trust an army that big tramping around. Any force big enough to take the Alcazar by force would also be big enough to crush them all one by one.

Hiring one or two people to attempt stealth is more palatable, but they don’t even trust that. They’ll probably send spies along, or seed the party with a few trustworthy retainers.