Convincing Reluctant Nobles to Marry

11 Feb

With Valentine’s Day near, love is in the air. And what’s better than love but a love motivated by political necessity! In this skill challenge the PC’s are asked to help cement a marriage that would secure a powerful alliance. I’m leaving the details as vague as I can so that you can more easily slide this into your own campaign. Feel free to adjust the lore sections of this skill challenge as needed. The PC’s will be posing as (or will actually be) courtiers of some sort – bodyguards, handmaids, squires, etc. This will get them close to the nobles so that they can lean on the young couple to tie the knot.

Several skills stand out as being useful and some common applications (and possible actions that could provide a +2 bonus to the roll) are highlighted below. However any plan to convince the nobles of their duties is fair game so long as the player can justify it. That kind of freedom might be crippling to some players so frame it this way – there are several objectives that would aid you in pushing the nobles to your way of thinking:

  • Earn the noble’s trust or friendship; or confirm your credibility as an adviser
  • Establish to the nobles the value the alliance would have to their constituents
  • Discover facts about the nobles that might give you an edge in persuading them

Challenge Complexity
This skill challenge is of complexity (10 Successes before 3 Failures) – The players will need to net 5 successes convincing Baleon, and another 5 with Miranda. Unless otherwise stated, treat penalties and bonuses acquired during this skill challenge to count only for the noble they were used on (unless the players decide to get the nobles to spend time together). Likewise, limits on the number of times a skill can be used are per noble. That said, the three failures count towards both participants.

This encounter is mostly social, and takes place over a period of a few days to a week. Though the consequences could be important and far reaching, the dangers and immediacy is fairly low, so I would recommend setting this challenge at or below the player’s level.

Two families of noble birth are making an attempt to marry off the heirs of their respective organizations (Be it a kingdom, dukedom, mercantile empire, etc.) to solidify a political and financial alliance. Doing so would strengthen both sides and by all accounts this offer seems to be made in good faith. Certainly the peasantry stands to benefit from this arrangement as well (if to a lesser extent). What is derailing the whole thing is that neither of the young nobles has any interest in marrying someone not of their choosing. The families have the heroes recommended to them by a mutual friend as “problem solvers” (likely a previous employer of the PCs or someone who could vouch for their reputation)
The PC’s are offered a temporary position in both noble family’s households (that position is up to you, however it would need to be someone close to either young noble: a body guard, lady in waiting, valet, etc.) This includes room and board within each estate.

Quest Text
Your group’s reputation is finally starting to pay off! Two noble families, who got word of your exploits from their various contacts, have invited you to this city to help them settle an important political matter. A marriage. The heirs to each family are resisting an arranged marriage that as far as you can glean, would be to great benefit for both parties. The young noble’s parents beseech you to encourage the young heirs to agree to the wedding. Baleon, the young man, and Miranda, the fair maiden, have both expressed that they would take extreme measures to preserve their freedom to choose their own spouse.
You’ve come to the capital city of Baleon’s parent’s ancestral holdings, where Miranda and her father have come as honored guests. Each young heir could use a few courtiers to accompany them in their day to day routines here in the city, and that’s exactly how you’ll get close to them. Their parents offer a substantial reward (not to mention the perks of staying in the palace) if you succeed in convincing them of the value of the arrangement.

The Nobles
All of this information could be gleaned by asking the noble’s parents or friends for some inside information about the betrothed.

Baleon: Tall and lean with long blonde hair and goatee and twenty one summers behind him, Baleon is generally good natured, irresponsible, and has no desire to do work of any kind. He sees his position as heir to the throne as a burden. He isn’t unwise – Baleon has already spent time investigating likely candidates to be his advisers and take over his inevitable day-to-day burdens so that he can fill his days with recreation. He has many friends and devotees, though few have really bothered to get to know the man himself and for the most part are enjoying the benefits of a rich companion. He has a complete fascination with magic in general and the practice in specific, though he has no natural aptitude and demonstrated a miserable lack of talent for wizardry. He is often consulting with court mages on questions of casual interest. His passion and talent, however, is for the hunt. Though it does not come up often, he has a marvelous singing voice. He appreciates raucous partying and bawdy jokes.

Baleon is not fond of the marriage proposal, and has even gone so far as to state his intent to run away on an exotic hunting safari outside the country if his parents push him towards this arrangement too insistently.

Miranda: Her mother died while she was yet very young during an accidental fire in the family keep – a trauma that drove Miranda to religion for comfort at an early age. Her father’s duties regrettably kept him away from his daughter, and that often left her in the care of the priests she would frequently pester. Now a woman grown (just past her 19th summer) she is very typical of affluent women in the realm – she takes great pride in her appearance and values “proper” and “ladylike” behavior though is rarely one to call out or dwell upon a faux-pas. All the same she can be a bit of a loner. Miranda is certainly a pretty girl, though in an odd way that does not immediately stand out. To while away time, Miranda enjoys browsing and purchasing new clothing from exotic or aspiring tailors. Though she guards this fact with some fervor, she is a very talented poet. She appreciates dry or dark wit. She is an avid and swift swimmer.

Miranda is so dead set against the marriage that she has threatened to become a sworn member to a religious order – preventing her from taking a husband thanks to a vow celibacy.

Primary Skills
This challenge depends in large part on the player’s creativity and their best bet is to start not by rolling dice, but by roleplaying out the circumstances. Encourage them to ask questions of the parents, courtiers, and the young nobles themselves. If a player does a particularly good job roleplaying, makes a resounding argument, or blunders into asking the right sort of questions, do not be afraid to award a successes simply for that.

Arcana (Moderate – 1 Success toward Baleon only) Impressing the young man with equal parts jargon and parlor tricks, you appeal to his fascination with the magical arts and teach him a thing or two about the eldritch world
Suggested Modifiers: Specific spells, showing off magic artifacts, performing feats of magery for the court

Athletics (Moderate – 1 Success toward Miranda only*) You convince her to (or accept the invitation to) a race with Miranda on the water. Besting her with your speed she’s quite impressed. *The player can only attempt to use this skill if they have gleaned from some other source that Miranda has a penchant for swimming.
Suggested Modifiers: Performing stunts during the race, having a good physique (Con 14 or better)

Bluff (Moderate – 1 Success per character*) You exaggerate your credentials, overestimate what is at risk if the marriage does not go through, or generally give bogus if convincing counsel.
*A failure with this skill imposes a -2 penalty to all other Charisma based skills for that noble during this skill challenge – as the young noble no longer trusts the PCs to take them at their word.
Suggested Modifiers: Trophy’s, Bard songs about the character, The character is dressed exceptionally well, the character presents an expensive gift

Diplomacy (Moderate – 1 Success per character) You serve as a valuable confidant and advisor, making good arguments in favor of the marriage arrangement.
Suggested Modifiers: The character has already succeeded with another skill, the character is dressed exceptionally well, Bard songs about the character, the character presents an expensive gift

History (Moderate – 1 Success Only) You make an appeal regarding the value of the marriage to the kingdom. Using examples you explain how many arranged marriages turned out well, and what each stands to benefit from the union. You explain to the noble the prominent members of their betrothed’s family tree and that they would be marrying into a good bloodline
Suggested Modifiers: Detailed maps, a collection of personal books, contacts to corroborate your testimony

Insight (Moderate – 1 Success Only*) Spending time with the noble and asking some meaningful questions, you get a sense for who the youth really is: their goals, desires, what it is that makes them so reluctant to accept their parent’s marriage arrangements. You do your best to calm their fears. At the same time you share some of your thoughts with your allies, giving them an edge in their dealings with the young “couple.” * A success with this skill also grants a +2 bonus to any uses of Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidate on this noble.
Suggested Modifiers: Getting the noble drunk, having made a success with another skill, conversing with the noble’s other confidants

Intimidate (Moderate – 1 Success per character) Its not that you are threatening directly; no, you are instead a master of scaring your subject into action. You the noble know the grim consequences of a failed alliance. You paint a grim picture of the threats posed to both organizations and what stands to be lost by not marrying. You also drive home just how awful some of the other potential suitors could be.
Suggested Modifiers: Testimony from soldiers, pointing out ugly suitors

Religion (Moderate – 1 Success toward Miranda only) A few prayer readings, as well as being a patient ear with a thoughtful word or two has gone a long way to getting you into Miranda’s good graces
Suggested Modifiers: Preaching a sermon in the castle cathedral, attending a religious festival with Miranda, showing off a divine artifact, allowing her to aid you in a ritual with the Religion skill

Streetwise (Moderate – 1 Success per character) The nobility often stays cloistered behind their curtain walls, enjoying their fetes and balls. However there are many places within the cities and villages where one can have a good time; the kind of fun you can’t find behind austere pillars and stodgy guardsmen. You guide the noble on a tour through some of the sights and sounds of the city and beyond, showing them a good time they never imagined.
Suggested Modifiers: The character knows the city, the character offers a rare alcohol, the character has contacts in the city

Support Skills
Diplomacy or Bluff (Hard – Unlimited) You may also opt to smooth things over with an offended or doubtful noble. A success at this check will remove an existing failure (It is presumed you have used the skill in this way on the noble for whom the failure occurred). Failing this roll adds an additional failure to the challenge. This roll can be attempted as often as desired, but as you press and cajole the young nobles they will become more suspicious and resistant. Subsequent rolls add a -5 penalty to the check. Suggested Modifiers: See Diplomacy and Bluff

Mid Challenge Events
For each noble there is a pre-planned sub-plot that the players can be dragged along into. This is essentially an opportunity for players to roleplay more and to find some unconventional skills of use in impressing their young charges. You may elect to do away with these entirely (Indeed, the players may create their own sub-plots and find this unnecessary) or you may wish to make the entire skill challenge run more akin to these side-treks:

If the players discover Baleon’s passion for hunting and express common interest, he will immediately arrange for any PC’s who are interested to join him the next morning for a jaunt through the forest after stag or boar.

It couldn’t be a more perfect day for a hunt: cool, clean morning air, a nearly cloudless sky, and a pack of eager dogs and keen hawks just as eager to pursue prey. Baleon has provided good equipment, sturdy bows, sharp spears, and horses whose cost you estimate as being outrageous. Best show him a good time for all the trouble he went through – there’s bound to be boar out here somewhere.

Someone in the hunting party then has the opportunity to make a Nature (Moderate) or Perception (Moderate) check (These skills can be used to “aid another” in this instance). Regardless of success, move on to the next sequence:

He has his foppish qualities, but you have to hand it to Baleon; he’s no slouch on a hunt. Though all have had their shots at the boar, the young noble brings it down himself. Baleon quickly dismounts to begin cheering over his prize. In its death throws the boar gives a final, violent twitch, striking Baleon’s horse, causing the big mount to lose its footing. He cries out loudly as the animal comes down on top of him. Fortunately the horse only fell on his legs before regaining its own footing: he’s alive, but on the ground, in a lot of pain, and completely unable to move.

Anyone in the party may now attempt a Heal (Moderate) check to gain a success towards convincing Baleon (he’s very open-minded to someone who’s saved his life). If the players feel unfit to treat the wound in the field that can return him to the city to seek the aid of one of their companions, however the player will suffer a -4 penalty for treating the wound much later and after it has been aggravated by the ride back.

Similarly, if any PC’s remark upon Miranda’s wardrobe or discover her eye for fine clothing she recommends a trip into town to visit the handful of traveling merchants who recently set up stalls.

The air is alive with the barks of eager merchants and the smell of fine perfumes and exotic foods. Miranda beams as she goes from stand to stand, taking in the sundry items on sale. You keep an eye out for a good deal or a rare article that might impress your discerning patron.

Someone accompanying Miranda then has the opportunity to make a Streetwise (Moderate) or Perception (Moderate) check (These skills can be used to “aid another” in this instance) to find a lovely piece of clothing for Miranda. Regardless of success, move on to the next sequence:

You are helping Miranda carry home the dresses and jewelry she acquired this afternoon when your eye catches three rough looking men approach. “Hey, pretty,” says the lead man, a bald human with a protruding beer gut. He and his friends walk unsteadily, having recently staggered out of their cups. Miranda rolls her eyes and picks up her speed. “Where you going? Hey! I’m talking to you. I just wanna talk. Get that nose out of the air.” The men pick up their pace, and start closing the gap between your party and themselves.

Anyone in the party may now attempt an Intimidate (Moderate) check to chase off the drunk assailants. A failure indicates that a brawl occurs between the players and the drunks, costing a healing surge. If the players succeed they chase the thugs off without a problem. Should the players draw weapons and harm any of the men, this will add a failure to the challenge: while Miranda appreciates being protected, any extreme violence would upset her.

Special Considerations and Modifiers
You’ll Learn to Love Each Other: If the players suggested letting the betrothed spend time with one another, grant them a +2 to their next charisma based skill roll for both nobles. Actually letting them get to know one another will make them much more tractable towards agreeing to marry.

A Better Offer: If one of the PC’s is of noble birth, or has land holdings and assets, you might point out to them that they could suggest themselves as a better suitor. This would, of course, anger one of the families, but might make for some great role playing and an engaging plot twist.

Success: If the players gain 10 successes before 3 failures they have convinced both Baleon and Miranda that marriage is in their best interest, and they agree. Their ecstatic parents happily grant the PCs at least a monetary reward, and perhaps a small parcel of land. Add to that a few happy customers who might serve as contacts, or would at least speak to the PC’s good reputation.

Failure: The players have pushed too hard, and both nobles decide that the only recourse they have to avoid being forced into a marriage they do not want, is to flee. News reaches their parents that Baleon is on a boat across the sea to engage in an exotic expedition; and Miranda has fled to the safety of lifelong religious vows that will keep her cloistered in a temple for life. The noble’s parents are furious and not only kick the PC’s out of the palace, but send a steward along to inform them of the outstanding expenses they incurred while staying. Inform the players they are being charged an amount in gold (significant though not bank breaking). If they fail to pay, the players might have to contend with legal ramifications or even bounty hunters chasing them down! Regardless the players take a hit to their reputation.

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Posted by on February 11, 2012 in Not Playtested, Skill Challenge


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