By Kevin Kulp
Combining focused ambition with poor judgment is a great basis for an adventure. When you want to run a last-minute Swords of the Serpentine game and aren’t sure where to begin, start with one or more of the factions. You’ll see an example of this in the two free adventures here at See Page XX, The Dripping Throne (which starts with Commoners and Mercanti) and Sin-drinker (which starts with the City Watch and Thieves’ Guilds).
The following supporting characters and plot hooks, one for each of the twelve factions, focus on rebels: people who aren’t afraid to stand up to the status quo, even when it may be dangerous or foolhardy. Grab these, change them, and make them your own as you populate your own game.
Concept: A rebellious young noble, hating everything the nobility stands for, is trying to sabotage her family’s reputation and standing.
Description: Gabrielle Ambari defines herself by “what will make my family angriest?” She grew up without much money but bathed in social prestige; she was raised to know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that members of her family were blessed by the Goddess and amongst the most important people in Eversink. That illusion quickly crumbled when she gained enough empathy to look at the Commoners around her. The more she learned about everyone else in the city, the more disillusioned she became with her family and the nobility. Now she broadcasts her title and lineage at every opportunity but embraces fashion that would appall any noble, and she works for Commoner rights and against noble tradition. Most nobles would like her exiled or dead as a traitor to her heritage. They just need a subtle way to make it happen.
Plot hook: The heroes are hired by Gabrielle’s family to “help” Gabrielle in a way that gets her out of town or sufficiently distracted. Alternatively, Gabrielle hires the Heroes to pull a scam on the Ancient Nobility, understanding that if it goes well it’s going to make a lot of nobles very angry indeed.
Church of Denari
Concept: A trusted church official is secretly a heretic and is trying to undermine official doctrine.
Description: Orthus Swanbeak is a wrinkled, cheerful, elderly man who was given to the church as a toddler and has been raised in its folds his entire life. He’s been involved in almost every aspect of the divine bureaucracy, from the inquisitors and the church militant, to the prophets, to tithe collection, to being an advisor to the high priestess herself. Everyone seems to like Orthus, and he’s a repository of institutional knowledge; when anyone needs to know something about church tradition, Orthus can probably tell you.
It’s unfortunate, then, that Orthus is secretly a spy and heretic. It’s up to you what flavor of heretic he is. He may have glimpsed Denari’s true will and is working against the church bureaucracy that constrains and defines Her; he might be a secret sorcerer determined to topple the church through unsound business decisions; he might be mind controlled by outsiders; he may hope to find and destroy the Golden Contract, the document that allows Eversink to exist. Regardless, he’s playing the very long game and keeps his secrets close. His main weapon is everyone’s misplaced trust, and he’s not going to squander that unnecessarily.
Plot Hook: The Heroes are hired by the Church to ferret out a traitor in their midst, and Orthus “helps” them do so. (If your players read this blog, feel free to have Orthus be actually honest and loyal, and the true traitor pins his or her sabotage on Orthus instead.)
Concept: A City Watch officer who encourages vigilantes instead of cleaving to the rule of law.
Description: Captain Settana Malfi was raised as a Commoner. She made a name as muscle-for-hire around the Tangle, and spent more than a decade breaking heads and guarding questionable shipments before she decided to earn regular pay in the City Watch. It took her some time to understand the political quagmire that any Watch officer has to wade through, balancing bribes against special interests against actual justice. She’s not well-liked – at one time or another she’s managed to tick off just about every important group in the city – but she’s fair, consistent, and really doesn’t like doing things the “official” way.
Settana is stationed in Sag Harbor because she’d rather encourage adventurers and vigilantes than arrest them. Why should she get in trouble for taking sides when the so-called “heroes” can solve her problems for her without any political backlash? Settana personally encourages and mentors young adventuring groups, showing them how to fight crime while remaining just barely on the side of law – and in doing so, she gets her problems cleaned up without any risk to her own Watch officers.
Plot Hook: Settana shows up after the Heroes are arrested, and instead of imprisoning them she lets them go with nothing but good advice. In exchange, they’ll owe her – and she has a whole lot of quasi-legal problems she wants solved.
Concept: A popular commoner is doing his best to organize the populace against the government, and multiple factions are trying to recruit him for their own purposes (or wipe him out completely).
Description: Pendle Shortstreet is arguably the most popular person in the Tangle. The adult son of a poor but well-known grocer, Pendle has always used his natural charisma to makes friends and connect people who need help. He and his husband have been the unofficial mayors of their neighborhood for several years now, and they’re universally looked-up-to and well-respected.
That makes a lot of powerful people nervous, because Pendle is mad as hell about how Commoners in Eversink get treated. The people in charge try to bribe and mollify him, the factions who are not in charge try to ride on his coattails to greater power, and Pendle is losing his patience with anyone trying to manipulate him.
Plot Hook: The Heroes might get involved when Pendle is framed for accepting bribes and then blackmailed. He needs someone unknown to steal and destroy the forged blackmail materials. The question is, are they forged after all… and who’s willing to kill the Heroes to get their hands on the material themselves?
Guild of Architects and Canal-Watchers
Concept: A rebellious ancient architect, deformed and brimming with sorcerous power, gets tired of living hidden underground and decides to make herself well-known back in the city.
Description: Long-missing Master Architect Liera Oberi, once chair of the powerful Waterways Committee and long thought deceased – there was even a huge funeral! – shows up back at her favorite restaurants, horribly deformed but still as abrupt and sarcastic as ever. As is traditional, she had worked for the Guild of Architects until her deformities from internalizing Corruption made it impossible for her to continue without being suspected, at which point the Guild relocated her to the secret underground community where ancient architects retire. Liera, however, grew bored. She decided to break her vow (and trigger an associated curse) and return to the surface, to the embarrassment and disgrace of her powerful Guild. She knows incredibly valuable architectural secrets, she’s stubborn and opinionated, and she’s strong enough to reshape an entire district. Who is going to handle her, and how?
Plot Hook: Master Architect Liera is a shockingly capable sorcerer with the sorcerous spheres of water, stone, buildings, metal, and air. Once this is discovered any number of factions will attempt to ally with her for their own purposes. Before this can happen, an allied faction – perhaps the Architects themselves – hire the Heroes to make friends with Liera and convince her to return home if she won’t become their ally. And what if she decides she’s tired of internalizing her Corruption?
Concept: A selfless Mercanti philanthropist is trying to use his fortune to help others, and his peers want him stopped NOW.
Description: Alchemist Zorios Sandefar was originally an Outlander brought to Eversink as a young boy by his foreign parents, but that hasn’t stopped him from becoming tremendously wealthy. Now retired but formerly the head of the Alchemist’s Guild, he’s the ultimate rags-to-riches story; it was Zorios’s combination of business acumen, faith in Denari, and alchemical talent that allowed the guild to gain a profitable stranglehold on alchemy in the city.
Zorios is kind, middle-aged, and bored, and that’s a dangerous combination. His dream is to use his wealth to make life better for everyone else. Healthier food? Better sewers? Higher pay? Delightfully inebriating drugs? Guaranteed clean water? Reduction in disease? Transformation into inhuman killing machines for self-defense? Zorios wants to establish his legacy, and while he may not be the wisest person you’ll ever meet, his heart is in the right place.
That threatens many, many other factions. He’s creating unprofitable risk through his meddling, and sabotaging his peers in the process. Doesn’t he know enough to enjoy his money and keep silent? Many Mercanti want him exiled or killed, and they aren’t the only ones.
Plot Hook: His bodyguards dead, Zorios is desperate and on the run from assassins when he bumps into the Heroes. He offers to pay them well (5 Wealth a person) if they help him. Then all they’ll have to do is dodge assassins and injunctions as they track down who is trying to stop Zorios this week. And is that someone impersonating him? Worse, his enemies will offer to pay the Heroes twice that if they take care of the Zorios problem themselves…
Kevin Kulp (@kevinkulp) and Emily Dresner (@multiplexer) are the co-authors of Swords of the Serpentine, currently available for pre-order. Kevin previously helped create TimeWatch and Owl Hoot Trail for Pelgrane Press. When he’s not writing games he’s either smoking BBQ or helping 24-hour companies with shiftwork, sleep, and alertness.