Political Intrigue in Dungeons and Dragons
Crit Academy discusses political intrigue in Dungeons and Dragons
Sometimes dungeon crawls aren’t your bag, or you need a change of pace, cloak and dagger style play is a great way to change it up. This covers political intrigue, stealth missions, and lots of wheelin n dealin to get even the slightest advantage for an opponent, aside from just tearing them from life or limb. For example, instead of being the Jedi out in battle, your team is tasked with gaining the support of the senate to achieve your goal.
Adventures like this are much more open-ended, making it a bit more difficult on the DM. Additionally, this is also more difficult for the players, as they are expected to go to a whole new level of role play, and are required to be fully engaged.
How do we make this happen?
Build setting investment
Most adventures can be dropped into pretty much any setting.
The common response, get weapon kill the thing in this setting, move on.
For political intrigue stuff it requires much more interest in the world around the players.
Often times, life and limb threats aren’t going to be the proper way to handle a situation - forcing the players to get creative, as well as invested in what’s going on around them.
A challenge in and of itself.
Best way is to use existing settings that they are well informed about or a setting that they have been apart of for some time.
If you’re running homebrew, you should build up to this sort of campaign, not start out in one.
Ensure to give players a chance to know the world, before they have the power to alter the setting in a drastic way.
Players who have spent lots of time, fighting/defending a particular location often form their own opinions of those in charge and how it is run.
Make the issues matter
The heart of political intrigue are often just one or two major issues.
Different characters fight for power because of sharply different points of view on a particular aspect of society, and the best way to approach it.
More common issues maybe, Wizards arguing over the ethics of necromancy, or a trade village may argue over opening trade with a village of goblins.
Regardless, its the DMs job to make these matter to the players. Is a play a Necromancer or a Goblin in these instances?
Remember to K.I.S.S. - Overly complicated, too much detail can end up boring the players.
If the players take on a steep interest, then consider adding depth.
For best results, I’ve found making the issues parallel with real life. Shits about to get real...
Model your Paladins after Nazi’s - have them act in the same vein, making the same arguments.
Maybe the conflict with the elves fleeing their burning forest due to a powerful lightning storm a stand in for immigration issues.
It's easier for player to identify with certain issues that they have to deal with in life, and already may have strong opinions on. This can ensure they stay engaged.
Break it up
No matter how well it goes, political intrigue, just as with dungeon crawling can be tiring.
Ensure to include events or encounters that have no moral uncertainty.
This can help prevent player burnout from the constant arguments of who is right and who is wrong.
A killer on the loose, can easily over shadow arguments of whether or not the elves should be allowed to stay in the city, or if necromancy is ethically wrong.
This can give a short digress from the political intrigue with a bit of mystery, and fighting.
Tailor these encounters to your table.
If you’re a real pro, you can find a way to tie these “breaks” into the overall plot in some way. For instance, maybe the murder victim was someone important on one side of the debate.
If the DM has done their job, the players should be well engaged and start to form their own opinions on the subject. This can lead to a player having strong feelings and building their own agendas. They even decide that both sides are incorrect, and their is a third option, one that DM did not lay before them.
In an election for example, maybe one of the players become a candidate.
If that happens, don’t worry, it just means you’ve done a fantastic job of engaging them. Don’t be afraid to let go of some of the control of the story. Players don’t always use the power they have to their fullest, but better, they use it in ways you wouldn’t expect.
It’s their story too, let them help tell it.
When the PCs are engaged and have a stake in what's going on, they will bring all their ideas, and creative juices to the for front, instead of going off on tangents or being distracted easily.
The game is about the PC’s stories, so they should be actively engaged as much as possible.
As the characters form their own ideas, they may end up having differences of opinions. This is a great way to make the story even more about the PCs.
PCs opposing each other means the spotlight is on them, more than any NPC the DM has created.
Additionally, the PCs don’t need to censor their character’s growth on account of what the party wants.
With that in mind, the DM should never force the players into opposing each other.
This can tread on PVP, keep in mind some tables can’t handle this, as DM use your judgment.
Ensure that the political PVP doesn’t extend to a Free for All.
To help with this, use a point system, track success and failures as tally’s that help determine the side that winds.
Of all the forms of PVP political intrigue isn’t combative, so it shouldn’t de-evolve into something so terrible. Ensure the players are ok with opposing each other’s goals without resorting to killing.
That being said, having two players run against each other to be lord of a city can make for an amazing opportunity, not only can they try to influence the crowds, but also the other players at the table to come to their way of thinking.(much like those old classroom president elections).
In any case, these are more difficult to run, but when you succeed, the payoff is much greater than any goblin slaying adventure. It opens many great opportunities to reveal who the characters are and what really matters to them.
Unearthed Tips and Tricks! We bring you new and creative content for you to bring with you on your next adventure!
The Debt Collector
This character often works for those who pay them well to find those who owe his employer something.
This could be taxes, property or even souls.
This character is often very intimidating and, if you can’t pay your debt, he may take something of equal value.
Property, slaves, or even their life.
Monster Variant: Drapes of Life Draining
Origin: Rug of Smothering
The target takes half damage from the smother feature.
Life Draining Smothering- In addition to its normal effects, at the start of each of the target’s turns, the target must succeed a Constitution 13 saving throw or lose 1 hit die. If the target has no hit die remaining, this attack does its normal damage.
Absorb Life Essence - If a creature falls unconscious while being smothered, it has disadvantage on its death saving throws.
Encounter: Masquerade Ball
The players have gained an invitation to a masquerade ball attended by nobles and the wealthy. Each of the attendees wear expensive and intricate clothing and masks of great craftsmanship to indicate their house as well as their wealth and so it will be difficult to copy. However, there is one attendee known as the Golden Noble who wears fine yet simple black clothing, and a plain mask made of gold and a wig of long white hair. Yet there is an air about them as they come across as one of great confidence and sophistication. Many rumors going around about them ranging from that they are the disfigured son of a fallen noble, that they are a merchant of great wealth, or perhaps a spellcaster of great power. What cannot be denied is the power they wield in the world of intrigue is unrivaled. Rumors even say that a young nobleman once imitated the Golden Noble’s appearance at a social event, only to be found the next day dead hung from the city gates with a golden mask nailed to his face. Shortly after the players arrive at the ball and acclimate themselves, a masked servant approaches them and simply states, “The Golden Noble will see you now.”
Melriks Portable Workshop-
Much like daern's instant fortress, except its a 1 in anvil instead of a cube and the dimensions are 15ft x 20ft room with a 15 ft ceiling. (5ft of which are in the ground) and one of the 20 ft walls has a 10 foot opening(much like a garage)
Inside it houses a forge in the middle of the wall opposite the entrance(that can be turned on with a command word), an anvil in the middle. A table (for armor) grinding stone and strap(for sharpening) this always has enough material to make two weapons and it resets after 8 hours of being used and appears next to the anvil.
All other features of daern's instant fortress applies.
Dungeon Master Tip:
Pre-record your voice and add effects using programs like audacity(should make a sample) to enhance the experience of the players.
Player Tip: Don’t be a Dick
Master that Disguise
When changing disguises be sure to change yourself
Document the disguises with a name for later use.
Developing good disguises, can be as fun as running multiple characters.
Treat them as completely different characters, especially referencing them so.
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