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 rogue Mercenary company, funded by one of Eversink’s rivals, hopes to undermine and destabilize the city – and will work (almost) free for anyone with those goals.
Description: The Company of the Golden Coin is a mercenary company with a patriotic and trustworthy name, a charismatic leader, and a rebellious plan to undermine and destroy the city’s church and government.
Funded by a rival trading city in nearby Capria, Commander Lielle presents herself as a stunningly straightforward, competent, and trustworthy leader. It’s this skill that has allowed her to avoid prosecution for two drunken murders, a mutiny, and three separate acts of possible terrorism. Lielle and her soldiers are in Eversink to spy and surreptitiously make its defenses and stability worse, and they’ll charge less for any job they think might help accomplish that. They only work for clients, though; that way if it all goes sideways, they can heroically and patriotically kill their client and claim it was that person’s fault all along.
Plot Hook: The Heroes stumble into the Company of the Golden Coin time and time again as they face off against foreign or subversive enemies, and soldiers in the company seem to have legal protection against prosecution or arrest. Research shows that’s due to poorly written pro-mercenary laws Lielle managed to influence, laws that say only the client who hires a mercenary company can be held liable for their actions. The problem is, the Company of the Golden Coin now consider the Heroes a personal threat, and volunteer their service to any of the Heroes’ enemies who want to hire them.
Alternatively, the Heroes find a dire threat to Eversink’s security or stability, and it’s the Company of the Golden Coin who are responsible for making sure the Heroes can’t do anything about it.
Concept: Important civic leaders are making oddly kind decisions, declaring new out-of-character – and generous? – policies and laws for several days before disappearing and dropping out of sight. The Watch assumes they’ve been assassinated for their boldness, and they have.. but not in the way anyone expects.
Description: Ilgazar is a facestealer, a doppelganger who literally steals someone’s face and identity when he takes their form. He has a bold new theory: monstrosities in Eversink tend to feed on the poor, sometimes including their emotions. Right now many people are sad, beaten down, and hopeless. What if, Ilgazar reasons, he could help make the poor healthier, happier, and more welcome in their own city? Then Commoners would thrive… and so would monstrosities who feed on them.
As a result, Ilgazar is targeting church elders, political officials, committee leaders, and judges – anyone with the authority to make life less miserable for the lower classes. He steals their identity, spends several days setting new selfless policies, then kills the victim and moves on to his next target. Ilgazar is no mastermind, his tactics are going to become predictable, and the Heroes are going to be able to catch him. The question is, once they do, will they want to stop him?
Plot Hook: After rumors of five other church and political leaders acting generously before disappearing, Swanmother Gabriella’s assistant in the Church of Denari fears the worst when she orders coins and food distributed for free to the poor of Sag Harbor. Not wanting to look stupid in the church hierarchy if he’s wrong, Gabriella’s assistant hires the Heroes to investigate. Why has her personality apparently changed, and what is she up to? Finding the actual Swanmother’s body in an unsealed crypt, unconscious with no face, may lead the Heroes to confronting Ilgazar. When they do, Ilgazar is more likely to confess than run. Can he recruit the Heroes into helping improve life for people instead of confronting him?
Concept: An exiled princess from the Borderland kingdoms arrives in Eversink to recruit help winning back her stolen kingdom – and a surprising number of people want to kill her, cheat her, or take advantage of her. The Heroes get to pick a side, whether that’s to leave Eversink and help win back a kingdom – or to just help the princess navigate the politics and perils of Eversink.
Description: Princess Kayleth was raised in the saddle with a sword and a bow within easy reach. When her kingdom was overthrown she swore to take it back from the usurper who slew her father and stole the throne, but she’s going to need help (and money) to do so. So far she has neither. But rumors travel quickly, and there is plenty of opportunities to win a fortune working with her – or to win a fortune assassinating her for the warlord who stole her kingdom.
To complicate the matter, decide her backstory. Is she the legitimate ruler? Is she loved or hated? Was her father a bandit who stole the kingdom from the man who then stole it back and currently rules it? Are her enemies fully human? What makes the kingdom so important? Does she have more secrets that even she isn’t telling?
The answer to that last one is “yes”.
Plot Hook: Rumor reaches Princess Kayleth’s advisor that the Heroes are a good and trustworthy local contact in Eversink. Her enemies hear the same thing and try to hire the Heroes first.. and if they can’t, they might try to remove the Heroes from the picture instead. This plot hook is particularly good if you want a longer adventure where the Heroes are traveling, forced to work alongside a newly-hired mercenary company to defeat the Princess’s foes.
Concept: Charismatic devotees of a foreign demon come to Eversink. Instead of keeping their presence secret, they stay strictly within the law and make themselves incredibly well-known – as they work to undermine the church’s authority simply by being more popular, more interesting, and more stylish than Church officials.
Description: The Valiant Order describe themselves as worshipers of a foreign god, and that’s debatable; every single one of their elite membership can wield sorcery, and they promised their souls to a demon for power. Their “god” gives them easy access to sorcery that helps them manipulate others. None of them would dare externalize Corruption in the city of Eversink, however, because far too much is at stake.
The goal of the Valiant Order is to find the bright ones, the people who shine, the naturally charming and beautiful and charismatic in Eversink – preferably amongst Commoners, but they’re not too picky. Then they seek to induct these people into the mysteries of their order, and prepare them to bring about the overthrow of the Triskadane.. not by sorcery, but by creating natural leaders with political power who are sympathetic to their cause.
Plot Hook: The Valiant Order works hard to convey that they are far too prestigious and well-known to touch politically, but the Inquisitors have their suspicions… and as they explain to the Heroes, if this is a cult, the longer they wait the more difficult it will become. Their hands are tied, however, probably due to cult interference with their superiors. They ask the Heroes to infiltrate the Valiant Order or otherwise find out what they’re really up to, and to acquire proof that will let the Inquisition sweep in legally. What the Heroes find is far worse than anyone expected, however, and the most expedient way to destroy the cult might also kill everyone in it. Is the risk (and the ensuing power struggle) worth it?
Concept: In a plot hook partially inspired by Scott Lynch’s Lies of Locke Lamora, a new thieves’ guild sponsored by a Mercanti family makes it their mission to steal from all the other thieves’ guilds – and then blame the thefts on an entirely innocent Mercanti rival, hoping that they are crushed in the process.
Description: The Guild of Feathers (formally “By appointment by Her Munificent Mother, the Right and Official Guild of Feather-plucking and Waterfowl”) is a small and rapidly declining guild headquartered near the slaughterhouses of Sag Harbor ever since they were unable to pay their rent on their old guildhouse in Temple Market. Their bailiwick is the use and resale of feathers from any poultry or seabirds slaughtered within the city. In truth, however, most of their business has been blatantly stolen by richer and more prominent guilds such as the Guild of Goose-keepers. The Guild of Feathers can’t afford the legal fees required to fight their rivals in court, and so they are destined to be run entirely into the ground within the next decade, their remaining contracts bought up for loose change by their former rivals.
Their guildmaster Orlando di Penna has decided that he prefers to go out fighting. He is using his remaining funds to finance a group of exceptionally talented thieves and con artists who have little loyalty to Eversink’s traditional structure. These thieves, led by Orlando’s sister-in-law (and possibly the Heroes themselves, if that’s fun for your group), are to rob and anger as many of Eversink’s thieves’ guilds as they possibly can. Ideally she will work them into a frenzy of paranoia and suspicion. Then, at the right time, she will pin the thefts on the Guild of Goose-keepers. Orlando expected the Goose-Keepers to go down in blood and flame, and he’ll be there to step in and pick up the pieces. The best defense, he reasons, is one dramatically out of proportion to the offense that inspired it.
Plot Hook: The Heroes could approach this plot as the thieves themselves, agents of the Guild of Feathers, agents of the Guild of Goose-keepers, agents of the thieves’ guilds who have been robbed, or even City Watch assigned to investigate the thefts. As they learn details it’s up to them to decide what to do; whatever their choice, it’s certain that some other group will object, and that’s when the blades come out. In addition, what happens to all those ill-gotten gains that were stolen from the thieves’ guilds? That’s an adventure in itself!
Concept: At the height of summer in the middle of a heat wave, a sorcerous cabal offers a fortune for a Triskadane coin – and the resulting chaos, theft, forgery, scams, and murder throw the city into chaos.
Description: The Triskadane are secret members of Eversink’s ruling council, selected by the goddess by way of a divinely-infused golden coin. Whether it’s true or not (that’s up to you), popular belief is that if you steal a council member’s coin you also steal their role as a secret lord of the city. The Children of Ytt are a sorcerous cabal that loves creating chaos, and they decide to seize the opportunity during a brutal heat wave that is already causing dissent. They announce that they’ll give 100 Wealth (which is basically a lifetime of wealth, especially if people start trying to murder you for it) in exchange for a real coin. They also claim enemies of theirs are the cult members who will make the exchange. Virtually every faction erupts in anger or greed, and a whole series of dangerous adventures might result.
Plot Hook: Whichever allied faction you find most interesting asks the Heroes for help in securing a coin, researching who might have a coin, protecting a real Triskadane member, or taking a coin away from a cult member (real or imagined). Meanwhile, it’s likely this much chaos is a smoke screen. What are the Children of Ytt really up to, and how is it worse than what they’ve already accomplished?
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.