View Full Version : Intrigue

2009-09-05, 09:18 PM
So I just finished the second session of a new campaign I'm DMing, and the way it's going is much different than the way I had intended it to (which is not itself a problem, as it's still going in an interesting direction). Originally it was supposed to be an all human low fantasy game based on traditional folklore and faiytales set in the early rennaisance (not on earth, it's a fantasy counterpart world) , with the characters:

*Prince Andrew of Reiske, (Level 1 Warlord) Your typical Prince Charming, the Group Face
*Sir Thomas of Reiske (Level 1 Paladin) a typical Knight in Shining Armor, and the twin brother of Prince Andrew (but Andrew was named heir)
*Abigal of the Eastern Marshes (Level 1 Wizard) A Hedge witch, destined to serve under Prince Reiske
*Kaitlyn the Rose (Level 1 Shaman) A Gypsy Medium/Fortune teller
Alexander (Level 1 Rogue) A common pickpocket

The idea was for it to be a very sandboxed campaign, allowing them to seek out their own adventure hooks and build the world/story as they go along (all of it being made up and improvised on the spot. I started with a blank map and only added locations to it as they found them. I planned on taking any adventure hooks that they chose to pursue and weave them into a coherent overarching story) allowing them to find a dungeon crawl when they want it, and some deep roleplay when they don't.

However, things started to change. By the end of the second adventure I now have:

*Prince Andrew of Reiske, (Level 1 Warlord) A diplomat intent on restoring order to the kingdom.
*Sir Thomas of Reiske (Level 1 Paladin) Andrew's faithful bodyguard and brother.
*Abigal of the Eastern Marshes (Level 1 Wizard) Andrew's court magician and Royal advisor.
*Kaitlyn the Rose (Level 1 Shaman) Ambassador from the Gypsy nation (which she recently created through open revolt) who the Gypsy's believe to be a messiah.
*Alexander (Level 1 Rogue) A mercenary/assassin bound to Andrew by the promise of money.

In that time period they have disbanded a villiage of Robin Hood-esque outlaws, freed Abigail and Kaitlyn from being tried as witches, incited a revolt and thus caused the Gypsies to form their own independent nation, had Kaitlyn appointed by the King as ambassador to this nation and been (for various reasons) appointed to travel together, investigated a serious of sheepnappings, attended a feast with the Gypsy queen, formed a peace treaty and trade agreement with the Gypsy nation, convinced the Gypsies that Kaitlyn is actually a divinity, traveled to the castle of a count who is opposed to the King in order to try and win his favor, stolen a stag from the Duke's forest, been arrested and escaped from jail.

Essentially they've made it clear that they want to play a campaign based more on intrigue than a typical D&D game, which I am all for, however I have no experience DMing such a game, so I'd like some advice on the best way to do so.

Also, we are playing this game in D&D 4E, so their characters are very much built around combat. While some of them like the idea of getting away from combat (as it takes so long) Thomas and Alexander still like combat and will be upset if it goes away (besides, how can you rework characters in 4E so that they aren't completely built around combat?), and I'm not sure how to reconcile this.

I still want to keep my original basis (low fantasy, sandbox campaign), but I want to move the focus to intrigue. Does anyone have any experience running an intrigue based campaign who can give me some pointers?

2009-09-05, 09:47 PM
Start with the solution and work backwards from there. An intrigue is just a big knotted-up puzzle. It's easier to start with a final picture and break it into tiny pieces, than it is to start by making tiny pieces and forcing it into a final picture.

2009-09-05, 10:13 PM
Start with the solution and work backwards from there. An intrigue is just a big knotted-up puzzle. It's easier to start with a final picture and break it into tiny pieces, than it is to start by making tiny pieces and forcing it into a final picture.

My one fear with that is that I'll end up railroading them to make the solution make sense. I really want the campaign to be a sandbox with the players free to choose whatever path they wish.

Beyond that, though, I'm really looking for tips on running an Intrigue campaign in general: I don't know how to run one or how to make it interesting, how to make it fun, etc.

2009-09-05, 10:13 PM
I tend to take an approach almost exactly opposite of Crow's. Guess each of us will find different methods easier than others. :smallwink:

What I'd do is start with an NPC, give him goals, resources, and a minimal personality. That's all he needs during planning phase...about three sentences. Then start creating more NPCs - each with their own goals, resources, and personality. By the time you have a dozen or so NPCs, you'll notice some will have complementary goals (potential allies) and some will be diametrically opposed. Now's the time to start relating them to each other...some are allies even if only temporarily. Others are enemies. Some will be willing to work with or try to use the PCs while others will see the PCs as threats or competitors. Weave them all together into a complex knot of plans and counter-plans. Don't worry about solutions...pick the most interesting solution your players come up with and twist it into your own. Done well, they'll never know it wasn't planned from the beginning. :smallcool:

BTW, I use a wiki for notes. It makes tying nonlinear NPCs and plans to one another easy. I highly recommend it!

2009-09-06, 05:17 AM
You may want to have several possible solutions, then if players start to go towards one choose another to keep them on their toes. But working backwards is a good idea, it works for mystery writers, some of whom I think are the best plotters.

2009-09-06, 07:48 AM
You may want to have several possible solutions, then if players start to go towards one choose another to keep them on their toes. But working backwards is a good idea, it works for mystery writers, some of whom I think are the best plotters.

I put a vote forward for this approach. Pick out 4 or 5 goals varying from world peace to armageddon and then build orders,societies and nations around one of the goals. Make sure some of these goals conflict with one another and then have the PCs pick sides.

Make sure there's also particularly a singular Boss for each group and at least one highly unique lieutenant (or group of them) for each one.

For example an order of Paladins might have The Order of the Silver Shield, who are their crack team of undead specialists, turning first and reading rites later. They all have distinct personalities and quirks and foibles. On the flip side, the vampire/lich/whatever lord of the Cult of Shadow has Maw, his pet undead abdomination which is a crashing, thrashing nightmare of power and sinew. It's a sucker for tasty meat though. On the other hand, Maw hates engaging with the Silver Shield. Those turns don't exactly tickle and the taste of righteous flesh just isn't great. Plus Count Von Whatshissnuff is only fighting for his "people" to be recognised as a nation.

Meanwhile the Scions of Doomseye are trying to bring about utter universal desolation.The Count, having lived 13 centuries of unlife is reluctant to give it up. He's willing to put forward a proposition to the Silver Shield's master, he'll give them the useful shock troops of unintelligent undead to serve on the front lines if they coordinate to stop the Scions.

And in the middle of all this are the PCs, brokering deals, ushering undead troops secretly through the sewers, battling cultists and their leader The Prophet of Infinity trying to stop whatever mighty cataclysm they are summoning.

Now rewind. The PCs encounter a Prophet who tells them that the cataclysm is coming due to the raging imbalance of the spirit world caused by King Agnirum of Shieldara and Count Von Whateverhewas's fighting. The cataclysm will reset the very universe itself so that life may try again and the PCs must bring down one of the oldest and most powerful vampire liches and human nations in the world in order to spare the millions of innocents caught in the crossfire of a holy crusade and an undead menance. Assassinating the king by night, summoning up angelic assistance to take on the vampire lord and discovering the prophet has really been pulling the wool over their eyes.

Giving Prince Andrew the agonising choice of having to potentially kill his own father to save the world, have evil vestiges begin to corrupt the gypsy people's spirit companions with Kaitlyn's being the last pure spirit of her people, Alex being forced to find the goodness in his heart when his baby sister/childhood friend is going to be ripped to shreds by a rampaging undead, have Sir Thomas's faith be brought into question when he's unable to save his love with his supposed "divine powers", have...something happen to the wizard!

Variety is key in intrigue. Or rather, the illusion of variety. You could have as few as 2 different sides to take, just so long as there are at least 2 approaches to take for each side. Everything they've done could all be leading to one single boss fight that you've always planned to have, but all that matters is that they think it happened only through their actions. And let's face it, they'll never know :)

2009-09-06, 10:13 AM
(Awesome Post)

I like that stuff a lot, it's given me a lot of good ideas, thanks.

But what about running Intrigue adventures in general? How should I differ my approach from the way that I run regular adventures? How do I get the players experience and levels in such a campaign? How can I still include combat without it seeming out of place?

2009-09-06, 06:25 PM
Sometimes people can be lying or withholding information for purely innocent reasons. Mrs NPC in Stonecity who is the washerwoman for the corrupt Order of the Bleeding Heart may betray the PCs for the simple reason that her son is a member of the order and she is doing what she can to save his life.

2009-09-07, 11:40 AM
Bump (Because I'm too pretty for the second page)

So far I've gotten many great ideas on how to come up with a good intrigue conspiracy (and they're wonderful and I thank you all for that) but what I really need is tips on how to run an intrigue campaign in general.

2009-09-07, 11:58 AM
Things are rarely as they seem. Make up your factions, even if you only know what their basic goals are. Two factions is enough -- though more is okay too. After all, a lot of people look at D&D as two basic factions anyway: Good and Evil. Now, come up with a "leader" for both factions in whatever area they are currently in. How do they implement their factions goals?

Personally, I wouldn't make more than one npc of each. That way I am free to just freeform minor npc's as needed. If possible, make the bad guys look good and the good guys look bad. That way they can discover that they are working for the wrong side ... and possibly use that to their advantage. Make things not as they seem... for instance, I'm running a Werewolf game where the players have made an enemy. That enemy is about to rise to a position of power above them through some very suspicious circumstances not of his doing. The players will be wondering: did he have something to do with it? In reality, no, he didn't. It was just his good (well, bad really if you knew all the circumstances) luck. But it'll put the players in an akward position: their leader is suspected of "being evil", though really he's just a jackass that is still a good guy.

Throw in some misdirects like this to have them looking in the wrong area. Through their actions/investigations/diplomacy, they will either discover the truth or deal a crippling blow to the wrong side. Either way, their actions are making a difference and they will eventually learn the truth -- even if it has to be from the BBEG's monologue.