The Conspiracy is a simple, play-friendly method to describe interaction and conflict between city-based interest groups or conspiracies, reusing the entries of random encounter tables. Individually, random encounters represent local colour, complications in an ongoing scenario, or the beginnings of mini-adventures. By placing three or four next to each other – whether by design or chance – the result is often an adventure that can fill much of a session. Yet cities are even more complex, and they are filled with hidden social structures with dangerous agendas.
In the Conspiracy, the nexus points of a pre-drawn, blank “connection network” are populated with random or semi-random encounters, and once finished, a coherent design is created around the existing network.
The resulting network has multiple benefits. It shows who is associated with whom, and it also shows which way clues lead from one point to the next while the characters are investigating the network. The links can, furthermore, represent command structures, dependencies, and especially the conduit of information. They can be one-sided (marked with an arrow) or mutual. Stronger links may be marked with bold lines, and weak, tentative ones with dashed ones. Some connections can be dead ends, but important nodes – the „heart” of the conspiracy – should be located close to the centre, approachable from multiple directions. The deeper details of a network usually follow logically from the connected nexus points.
These networks are individually fairly simple, but they are often well hidden, and a large city has several of them. They are often connected, too – but how? Does it all form an enormous spider web, with a particularly clever conspirator pulling all the strings? A hierarchy, with a leader or group on top of the all-seeing pyramid? A matrix that seemingly leads nowhere? Or multiple networks vying for power and influence? All configurations have their potential in the game.
Example: The Gamemaster wishes to develop a conspiracy centred around Prince Alkoor, a double-dealing aristocrat. Selecting the second basic layout, he rolls up seven encounters [these are drawn from The Nocturnal Table, a forthcoming supplement for running city campaigns, and are abridged here for demonstration purposes]:
- 137 Bricks fallen from a nearby wall are all stamped with the mark of a cat’s eye, reveal entrance to forgotten part of house sealed up long ago.
- 151 City guards: 1d4*5 militias (Fighter 1) battering down tenement door, suspected tax-dodgers.
- 212 Hermit, an animalistic, nameless wreck, digging in street garbage. Cursed priest.
- 239 Mob: 2d4*10 men looting neighbourhood
- 312 Robbers: Yusuf Muraad Khusi (Illusionist 4) and 2d6 robbers (Fighter 2); the hunchbacked Yusuf, hiding in a curtained hiding place, creates the illusion of several more companions surrounding locale.
- 110 Alchemist Multiphage of Lam (Illusionist 6) selling 1d6+1 potions from beaker of potions (01-40 delusion); also provides horoscopes (all ambiguous)
- 356 Thief Smardis (Thief 4, deep blue turban, 4*opium), smoking a hookah and offering empty tower apartment for sale at 140 gp.
|Prince Alkoor's Conspiracy|
With some more rolling and interpretation, the random entries yield a decent criminal enterprise. It appears that Alkoor’s game is to expropriate plebeians through aggressive tax-collection (151), as well as inciting looters in the slum areas (239). He buys up properties on the cheap, and sells them through one of his agents, a skilled thief named Smardis (356). Alkoor is mostly careful to work through intermediaries, a loyal robber gang (312), placing his orders in a secret meeting room in a sealed house (137). However, a more immediate connection can also be established via the City Guard – perhaps he has been stepping up the collection efforts and leaning on the officials. This is only part of his racket, though – and perhaps an entirely lawful one!
We have two more entries to consider. It seems Alkoor is related to a nameless pariah (212), who could be a victim or a secret associate – the GM elects to make him an effective spy most characters would not suspect. Finally, the alchemist and potion-seller (110) is tentatively connected to both of Alkoor’s main activities, without being linked to the robber gang. Perhaps he is not even a formal part of the network – just someone who had made a fateful connection, and can offer the important information that the two activities are somehow connected… or someone who’d had his own fingers in the pie, but is now in over his head.
And how does it all unfold? Does Alkoor end up losing his head, or does he have an offer the players can’t refuse? Are those connections with the robbers and the City Guard good enough to hound the company out of the city before they jeopardise a perfectly good get-richer scheme? Well… The conspiracy described above should serve as a sufficient framework to provide the right kind of pointers, and let the characters connect the dots on their own. The adventure can take the shape of a mission, or arise spontaneously from the logic of the campaign: in any event, minor puzzle pieces can form a pattern; and patterns, a grander design.
|Cloak, Dagger, and a Few Magic Missiles|