Saturday, September 10, 2011

SoSA the 9th: The Earl of Mountebank

This is post 9 out of 25 in the Cygnus Series of a September of Short Adventures.

The elevator pitch: The PCs are hired to escort a noble family, who are traveling to a distant kingdom to marry off their son in a big royal wedding. The twist: The nobles are impostors! The caravan is attacked by people who seem to be common brigands, but they're really loyalists, led by the masked son of the real noble family.

Do I even need to include any more?  :-)

Among the impostors are two medium-level thieves (pretending to be the Earl and his adult son), plus one high-level female assassin (pretending to be the Countess, the wife of the Earl), and a few streetwise urchins (pretending to be the other younger royal children). There are also a handful of 1st/2nd level fighters (valets) and zero-level females (attendants to the Countess and children).

How are the impostors pulling this off? They intercepted some written communications that were being carried back and forth between the real Earl and another noble family from 100 miles away. (For convenience, let's call the Earl's family the Montagues and the other family the Capulets, okay?) The Montagues were in the final stages of arranging a marriage for their spoiled eldest son. Once the band of thieves started reading these messages, they hatched a plan to get themselves in on the action. They began tossing out the real messages and sending two separate sets of fake messages:
  • The Capulets began receiving messages from the faux-Montagues that kept up the excitement about the wedding, but contained a desire to move up the date to something sooner -- and to hold the wedding at the Capulet's castle.
  • The Montagues began receiving messages from the faux-Capulets that contained nothing but delays, delays, delays...
Thus, the impostors are traveling overland to Castle Capulet for the big nuptials. Their plan is to purloin whatever they can the first night they're safely bedded down in the guest quarters of the castle -- including the lavish wedding gifts. They thought they could use a little extra muscle (and pomp) and thus hired the PC party to escort them. The real Montagues, on the other hand, just recently got wind of this and are moving to stop the impostors.

The following set of events outlines one possible way this adventure could play out:
  1. The real Montagues and their men begin attacking the caravan on the main road. It starts out with sniper-type attacks (bows, slings, thrown knives, bolos) but if that doesn't work they escalate to frontal attack.
  2. The PCs may suggest leaving the main road for safety and cover. There are some other paths through the dense forest, but they would take longer to traverse -- and the impostors don't want to miss the big day! Prepare a map that gives players meaningful choices and tradeoffs.
  3. At some point, the raiders kidnap one of the PCs (or otherwise separate him/her from the rest) and tell that one PC their story. The PC learns that they're led by the real "spoiled" son, who in reality isn't so spoiled! But the raiders decide the PC has now been away for too long, and the other PCs (and the impostor Montagues) must be led to assume that the PC was killed. Do they leave behind bloody clothes or a valued item?
  4. Willingly or not, the captured PC has now been included into the raiding party. Now they resume their ambushes with renewed vigor. How can the PC warn his/her friends without tipping off the impostors?
Even if the PCs stay together, there will be clues that things are not as they seem. Each night, one of the thieves or urchins will attempt to steal something from the PCs. Use whatever system you have for "perception" to figure out if they get away with it, or if the PCs start to notice missing items.

If one of the PCs decides to ride on ahead to Castle Capulet for reconnaissance, they will hear some gossip about the Montagues that conveys information contrary to what they've seen from the impostors. The "son" is playing his part as a spoiled prig, but anyone who's met the real son wouldn't refer to him that way. The "Earl" is playing it very straight and proper, but the PC may hear about the real Earl's flatulence problem that everyone knows about....

See Welsh Piper's random guide to royal houses for generating additional familial flavor and intrigue.

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