Following up on my post from Monday, here are some ideas for adventuring groups who are in service to a patron.
There are a few historical examples that come to mind that can provide inspiration.
Varangian Guard – Founded in the late 10th Century the Varangian Guard was originally composed of Rus warriors but soon became closely associated with the Norse. The Varangians served as elite troops and the personal guard for the Byzantine Emperors for nearly 400 years. The Varangians have a lot in common with Dungeons & Dragons adventurers; they are free men who travel to far off exotic lands to gain fame and fortune. They do this by taking on dangerous missions for a powerful lord and using their skill at arms to accomplish them. A Varangian would be right at home in Greyhawk.
The Swiss Guard – Historically the Swiss Guards are not a single company but a military tradition. The 15th Century was a tumultuous time for Europe and many young men from Switzerland decided to seek their fortunes by forming companies of sell swords. They created a militant mercenary culture that became renowned for their discipline and skill in arms. For several centuries companies of Swiss Guard could be found on battlefields across Europe. The most famous company of Swiss Guards, and the only one remaining to this day, is the Pontifical Swiss Guard of the Holy See who act as the bodyguards to the Pope of the Roman Catholic church.
The Landsknecht – Very similar to the Swiss Guard, the German Landsknecht filled the same military niche throughout the 15th and 16th centuries. In fact the Landsknecht patterned themselves after the Swiss Guards and a rivalry grew between the two groups. Like the Swiss Guard they were known for their flamboyant uniforms as well as their battlefield discipline. The relationship between the Landsknecht and the Swiss Guards is a good historical example of how you can play up rivalries between PC and NPC adventuring groups.
The Amazing Race – A patron is looking for an adventuring party worth his or her time and has decided to hold a contest, with the PC’s being one of the groups invited to participate. The objective may be to recover an artifact, or slay a dragon, or to see who can recover the most impressive amount of treasure from a dungeon. The patron may make the objective’s location known and begin the competition with a grand ceremony, giving the entire affair a feel similar to The Great Race, or discovering the location may be part of the challenge. If the groups are allowed to fight each other the adventure will quickly turn into The Hunger Games but if they are not allowed to kill each other it will present a more subtle challenge.
Belle of the Ball – When normal adventuring groups return from a successful dungeon delve they usually head to the tavern to celebrate. When they have a powerful patron they have other responsibilities. The patron will want to show off their great adventurers and exhibit the recovered treasures and that means a grand ball. The players will be both guests-of-honor and centerpieces on display as bards tell stories of their exploits while the other guests get the chance to view these exotic creatures known as “adventurers”. The status gained by such events is too important to the patron and the wise adventurers will learn that this is a duty they cannot avoid.
Such events open possibilities for role playing and intrigues. It will also give rivals of the adventurers, or the patron, an opportunity for mayhem on a grand stage.
Dancing Bear – This angle is closely related to the previous seed. Adventurers rarely come from the ranks of nobility. Usually they are low-born sell swords, peasant apprentices in the mystic arts, or later children to minor nobility. They may mingle with the noble castes but they are not of those people. This is something they will be acutely aware of and there will always be members of the aristocracy ready to remind them at every opportunity. The adventurers are possessions, no different than trained animals or the unusual objects they pull out of a dragon’s hoard. Demi-humans in particular may fall under this stigma of being exotic curios in a human-dominated realm.
The adventurers will need to suffer these insults if they wish to retain their patronage. All too many tavern brawls end in fireball spells and battles with the city watch, but giving in to such impulses among the aristocracy will bring down a whole new level of punishment. Those seeking influence over the players will know and use this. Perhaps they will ingratiate themselves by feigning sympathy and friendship, going out of their way not to be like those other nobles. Some may make offers of titles and lands in order to lure the players away from their current patron. Enemies of the patron may send agent provocateurs with the intention of causing the players to lose their temper in the most spectacular ways possible.
Escort Duty – The patron will send someone important on an adventure with the PCs with explicit instructions to bring their new charge back in one piece. Failure to do so will invoke their patron’s wrath and the forfeiture of sufficient valuables to resurrect the deceased. However casting a sleep or charm spell on the hapless target and leaving them in a local inn isn’t an option, the patron is clear that their charge must experience the quest.
The NPC will definitely be a few levels lower than the player characters, providing a soft target that the veterans will need to shield. The old cliche of making their charge be arrogant and boorish works well here, but for a change of pace I’d suggest a different route. Have the NPC be hopelessly in love and out to prove his or her worth through facing dangerous adventures. For a twist, make that the stated goal but have the NPC secretly be in love with one of the PCs.
The NPC may also have a death wish, some secret or destiny that he or she finds so distasteful that they would rather die in the unholy depths rather than live to see it come true. Or perhaps the party is being set up to fail, as the patron or one of their rivals has marked the NPC to be killed in an indirect manner.
Betrayal – Maybe the party has grown too powerful for the comfort of their patron. Maybe their fame has begun to eclipse that of their patron, their exploits no longer bringing him or her the renown it should. Perhaps the patron has to sacrifice the adventurers for some political gain. Or maybe the collecting of adventurers has begun to bore the patron and is falling out of fashion. Engineering their downfall may provide one last great legend to boost the patron’s reputation, not to mention removing their now inconvenient presence from the patron’s household.
For a twist, leave doubt on if the patron really is behind the betrayal. Perhaps the real mastermind is one of their patron’s enemies and by driving a wedge between the two the villain is now free to move against their patron.
Why We Can’t Have Nice Things - The adventuring company of another patron has become powerful. So powerful that rumors abound that their patron is now their puppet. The adventurers are growing bolder and the nobility is beginning to take offense. Other groups have approached the PCs saying that if something isn’t done soon the aristocracy may withdraw their protection en masse and leave them open to a purge, judging all adventurers too dangerous. The other groups are willing to help but the player characters are the only ones close to the renegades in power.
Have any game seeds of your own? Any other historical examples to draw from? I’d love to hear them.
Also the Landsknecht get +1 CHA for snappy dressing.