Sunday, 13 March 2011

Who's your Dungeon Rival?

Tomi Ungerer's "Les Trois Brigands"
To keep the pressure on players, it's a real good idea to have some competition for the spoils of your typical mega-dungeon. Of course, your standard NPC party will answer, but below are eight more unusual ideas.

1. Spyro and Ain, a desperate husband and wife evicted from their farm, carrying a baby (whom they will leave with someone trustworthy at the inn) and accompanied by their dog Ponto. Both are zero-level civilians, and they are carrying a spear, a shield, and an axe between them, equipment they say they found on a dead man by the side of the road.

2. Fazio, a low-level rogue, and the Five Fingers of Fazio, a collection of ex-stevedores, unemployed farmhands, and unclassifiable layabouts whom greed, and Fazio, have persuaded to go dungeon-bound. Fazio has a small sword and boot dagger, the Five Fingers have cudgels, one hatchet, one hammer, and a bill hook between them. Three of them have quilted armor, two have a shield. The whole plan is a swindle, and Fazio sees the Fingers as completely expendable. (Note: this may or may not be his actual motivation in the Trossley campaign).

3. Seven dwarf homesteaders and a wagon pulled by a mule, led by a matriarch with the unlikely name "Ivo Gnarledchasms the Sound of Lozenges." They are well armed and equipped, with axes, hammers, picks, mushroom spawn, casks of ale, and even an anvil. They intend to settle in the dungeon once cleared, and will camp outside in the meantime. They know the story of Snow White and take very poorly to attempts to exploit its comedic potential.

4. Elf and Safety Inspector. A mid-level cleric, one Sister Kunda, has become slightly deranged and is convinced that the dungeon is an unsafe working environment. She intends to rectify this by finding and disabling all traps, catching all monsters and releasing them in the wild, and incidentally carting out all the treasure she can find, because coins have sharp edges and someone might slip on them. Until her job is done she is very insistent that nobody else should go down into the dungeon. Her sidekick is a cynical female elf named Thyale, who helps the good Sister chiefly so she can claim in truth that now she's seen everything.

5. Bax is a mid-level hunter, or ranger if you will, from an aristocratic family. He has become fixated on finding and killing one particular monster deep in the dungeon. He would rather not have any distractions on shallower levels if he can help it and is always looking for news of a quick way down. His entourage includes Mahlathi, a tall, taciturn warrior from the southern continent, who knows no Common but whose language Bax knows; a pipe-smoking bard, Landreaux; four hired crossbowmen; and four baggage handlers.

6. Reckel is a dark, brooding half-orc warrior. His company is made up of shabby, disreputable humans - a spell-slinger, a scout, three rough-looking bandit women. Their intentions are sinister. Aided by his command of most of the major humanoid languages, Reckel has a messianic vision of uniting all the humanoid groups and patrols in the dungeon, marching forth and conquering the nearby area. Not all the humanoids in the dungeon go for his scheme, but he is very good at bargaining with them and they will likely let his team pass through safely.

7. Young Lord Borgis is a spoiled and dissolute nobleman's son from the nearest city. He is here to fulfill a bet, made while drunk, that he could spend a night in the dungeon and emerge alive. He has the best equipment that money can buy, and a grizzled, much-put-upon veteran bodyguard named Deague. But he has also brought along his two foolish friends, some female companions, and a mule loaded with wine and sherry, and he intends to make a joke and picnic of the whole affair. In the likely event that he is lost in the dungeon, his father will offer a large reward for the retrieval of his body and a larger reward if he is returned alive.

8. A standard adventuring party, with fighter, cleric, magic-user and thief. Except the fighter is a doppleganger, the cleric a penaggolan, the magic-user a rakshasa, and the thief a wererat. They met as part of a powerful arch-wizard's menagerie of shape-changers, and were subjected to unspeakable sorceries and humiliations. Escaping upon the wizard's demise, they swore to live as humans from now on, to see how truly human they could become. The rivalry with the players' party, though, makes for a sore temptation to exploit their special powers - one that each of them will have to face in his or her own way.


The first two of these rival bands have been met in the Trossley campaign. Last night, the party hacked down, with axes, the door to a trick room (not one of my finest) where any noise would disturb the teetering stacks of bronze pennies and send them swirling down into the depths. Then they came across a couple of Grinning Skull orcs from a lower level, also attracted by the noise, and killed one. There followed a tense fight with four wandering spiders, which left the hireling Balm comatose from poison but surviving his second saving throw and becoming a Level 1 fighter.

Near the end of the fight, when the players were starting to panic, a light from behind revealed the coming of Fazio and the Five Fingers! They rushed forward to help, and their contribution to the fight was minimal but gave a player morale boost when it was sorely needed. With healing spent and Balm near death, the party decided to leave the dungeon to Fazio and his Fingers.

And of course, I needed to know what happened to them. So I ran them through the dungeon, rolling decisions to go left or right as needed, also making checks against their morale and loyalty when needed. Indeed, that's how they got to the fight with the spiders in the first place. About the rest of their day, all I can say right now is - it's fun to be an adventurer as well as the DM ...

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