Monday, July 19, 2010

Rival Adventuring Groups and Adventurer Friendly Kingdoms

Has a party ever come upon a dungeon they have prepared to enter to find another group leaving? One of the large fighters in the other party has Acererak on his hand and pretends it's a puppet, "You're too late. But you can have the scraps we left. Tell the green devil I said hello." Then laughs as he hefts a sack overflowing with loot and walks off.

Well crap, your party is all dressed up with no place to go. In a world where all the bad guys are plotting world domination or ancient tombs and temples filled with forgotten treasures does the party believe they are the only ones out there waiting to save the day or to gather the loot? Come on they can't be that arrogant can they? Do they believe the dungeons, temples, mines, ruins, towers or god forbid crashed spaceships are waiting just for them to plunder?

To add a little competition to a dungeon crawl world I add other parties of varying degrees of competence. Some helpful, some who would rather lop off the heads of the players than speak to them. Some of the advantages of this are if a player dies they have a pool of 'free agents' they can pull from. If the players find a higher level party willing to mentor them they could discover what the weaknesses are of certain critters and possibly get a hand me down magical item or two to help them on their next quest. It can also set up foreshadowing, say a high level party comes back half its number and the rest bloodied, the players might be the next group to be called upon to deal with the menace.

Having a kingdom that is tolerant or maybe even friendly towards adventurers has a great advantage.

1. The adventurers are going to buy their stuff from that kingdom and pour in the money they gained from the adventurers. So there is no need to tax them too high, the kingdom will get their share soon enough.

2. The kingdom is safer. It will have its own standing army, but have groups of incredibly skilled mercenaries that could easily change the tide of battle.

3. The king doesn't have to pay them. If there is trouble coming from the nearby swamp he has his people spread a few rumors about a treasure horde and watches the adventuring parties stumble over themselves racing to collect it.
4. It keeps nobles on their toes. Hereditary claim is no match for competence in battle and the ability to lead. The king is always assured that his nobles will be the strongest in the land. He can select among those who will serve him best.

5. Even though the king will need to watch during times of peace, because all those players boiling and seething for victory, glory and fame don't like to sit at home for very long, he must create grand distractions such as tournaments and contests that glorify what players most hold dear.

6. Finally, it provides competition. Who will be the first, who will be the best, who will last the longest and who will be remembered.


  1. I generally dislike the idea that there are lots of other dedicated adventuring groups because it really doesn't make much sense. In the real world, treasure hunters and tomb raiders are real, and they're considered a nuisance at best.

    Of course, this would work fairly well in a swords-and-sorcery world, but that setting doesn't imply dungeons as a matter of course. If a rival theif steals the Egg of the Ape-God before you manage to, then that's the way it works and a big part of the setting.

  2. I was giving an example that personifies a world where the Keep on the Borderlands is not uncommon. This would be a hard fantasy setting with a healthy critter population and lots of baddies lurking in corners. Almost a comicbook version.

    Generally I run more of a realistic setting, but even then if there is a pile of gold somewhere it is going to attract people. I wouldn't say that towns were teaming with adventuring parties, but a few to give the players an allie or rival. They don't have the monopoly on that career.

  3. I'm hoping to add something like this to my eventual 4e Eberron campaign, where the PCs are 'retrieval specialists' for the magical Morgrave University in Sharn. Having a rival expedition to be the Belloq to the party's Indy is something I've always wanted to do.

  4. In my old OD&D days, I always had a party of adventurer's in my wandering monster dungeon tables. I usually had them written out and stated, and they were just as diverse a group as the player party. It came up from time to time, and was almost always a fight to the death (and a tough fight for the players). "This here's our dungeon to pick over, boy."

  5. Bruno's idea = brilliance.

    Always wanted to, but couldn't figure out how to do it.