Double-Edged Sword Subplot

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by Bill Logan

The players are traveling from here to there. Neither the starting location nor the destination matters. It doesn’t even matter whether the voyage is by foot, vehicle, or space vessel. The point is, they’re going from point A to point B, as part of whatever adventure you have planned for them. This mini-scenario is designed to add a plot twist or subplot to an adventure.

Along the way, they see a battle going on. Some nefarious sorts are preying on what appears to be innocent somewhat well-to-do merchants of some sort. There are already several casualties. It’s not obvious what caused the hostilities. When the players come into the scene, they won’t be able to get either side to talk, as both are fully committed to battle.

Typical player reaction is to immediately take sides and battle the ruffians/brigands/pirates alongside the merchant bodyguards. One of the ruffians must get away. If they do this, they’ll be offered financial reward (100Cr and their wounds tended to) and an explanation that it was all a typical robbery attempt. They’ll part ways.

An atypical reaction would be to side with the ruffians... if the players take this option with some sort of inner rationale, let them. One of the merchants must get away. When the merchants are taken care of, the ruffians will state that the merchants had attacked them and they’ll offer the characters 100Cr and their wounds tended. They’ll part ways.

But what really happened? Well – this is one of those situations where the character’s actions are doomed either way. If they helped the merchants, they did the wrong thing. If they helped the ruffians, they did the wrong thing.

When the characters arrive at their destination, they’ll find that the destination belongs to whichever side they fought.

If they attacked ruffians, they find that the destination (planet, city, star system, etc.) is under the control of the ruffians, and that these “ruffians” were just normal folk without much in the way of organized militant equipment – banding together out of a common brotherhood. The merchants stole from them, and they were trying to get back an important artifact that belongs to them and defines them.

If they attacked the merchants, they find that the destination is under the control of the merchants. The ruffians were really assassins that were trying to kill the merchant prince, and succeeded. The merchant house is a powerful one, and the woman who steps up to claim the title of merchant princess is quite vindictive and protective of her now dead father.

If they broke up the fight or helped neither side, or something else unknown, you’ll have to figure out a way to make that be the wrong thing to do!

It turns out that the one of their enemies who escaped returned here ahead of the player’s characters. He spread the word about what the characters have done. Suddenly, the characters find themselves surrounded by the local military and ordered to surrender.

What do they do? How can they make this right? Is it going to keep them from completing whatever adventure or mission they were on when you dropped the doubleedged sword subplot on them?