This is a tale that I must relate, even though it is the dreaded social faux pas of “telling you about my game.” The players deserve it.
So, the context: D&D 4e ruleset, Renaissance Italy-flavored homebrew setting, swashbuckling theme. The players have spent the first five levels of their career making reparations for background troubles, fighting against a plague-cult, even at one point acting to prevent the assassination of a prince’s champion. They are graduallly making a name for themselves, as protagonists in a heroic fantasy mashup are given to doing.
And then they hit Cinquedea. So far the cities they’ve visited have been “Tuscan-inspired metropolis in agrarian heartland, sunny and boisterous” and “Forest-enclosed city built on ancient ruins, tenor of the supernatural.” Now they move to “Cramped port city full of intrigues, jealousy and duels.” They’ve roughly been chasing a subplot of plague-apples sold to a brothel within the city, investigating this as the “mission” that keeps them together but what the players are really looking for is more social intrigue. The rogue is coming home, after having had to flee the city for sleeping with the wrong girl. The mercenary is looking to get recruits and build her own company. The peasant-turned-landowner is looking for a good husband for his daughter. The necromancer is investigating the rise of a new, potentially troublemaking Sorcerous House.
As they investigate the plague-apples plot, they get mired into those intrigues they’re chasing. The rogue finds that his family has some troubles of their own, and sets up the former peasant and his daughter with the matchmakers his family has produced. The necromancer finds a sword school and begins speaking with other adepts in the city. The mercenary learns of an all-female street gang, and joins them with the intent of converting them into a proper company.
And then things start getting… out of control.
Situation: A partly-failed infiltration of the brothel in question brings out a ledger, wherein it’s revealed that some of the apples have been sold to the Prince of Cinquedea’s champion, along with other city dignitaries.
Result: The rogue makes plans to call in a favor with the local assassin’s guild to have the champion assassinated (in a fantastic reversal of their “prevent the prince’s champion from being assassinated” plot of two cities ago), and the apples brought to light.
Situation: The ex-peasant landowner starts trying to raise awareness of the plague-apple symptoms by openly spreading word among doctors, healers and the like.
Result: He finds himself tailed by a wererat, revealing that wererats are part of the forces aligned with the plague-apple vendors, and that they’ve noticed him.
Situation: The mercenary discovers that the Cinquedean branch of her House (the Rovino) are leaning on a master swordsmith, trying to encourage him to produce more, shoddier weapons that they can still sell at high prices due to his name. She starts getting involved with the local Rovinos, hoping to guide them subtly out of this process.
Result: An open standoff near the swordsmith’s results in the rogue revealing himself to the Rovinos — the very same people he originally fled the city to avoid after sleeping with one of their young ladies. In addition, it’s clear that he’s standing alongside a Vargari (who the Rovinos hate) and a Sespech (the necromancer). The Rovinos start to wonder about conspiracies.
Situation: The mercenary attempts to convince the paranoid, belligerent head of the Rovinos that there’s no telling who might be aligned against the house if it’s a conspiracy, and tells him to lie low. She critically fails the check.
Result: The players discover that the Rovinos are now shoring up allies among other Houses, contacting assassins, gathering street-level soldiers to incite riots, and preparing a strike to cripple one of the Houses they suspect of working against them to make an example. Their target? One of the Sorcerous Houses. Who are themselves, of course, completely innocent.
So as of last night, the players discovered where their intrigues have gotten them: they’re behind an assassination plot reaching up to the Prince’s court, wererats are looking for them, and one of the Houses is about to start a civil war in the city if something isn’t done. None of this was planned by me, except maybe the wererats. This is what is going on when the city reacts to the players.
“This is going to end with the city in flames,” they said last night. And it might. And it might not. It depends on what they do.
I have no doubt they’ll do something, though. They are an amazing bunch that way. And they deserve to have it said. Cheers, guys. Looking forward to next session.