A little while back I wrote up a skill challenge for navigating a social function full of intrigue and espionage. While thinking about some of the details involved in attending a social function, it dawned on me how odd it must be for the PCs to “go stag” to a dance.
It was around the same time that I was reading a review for Crusader Kings 2 and was fascinated with the mechanic of using an NPC the character has a relationship with (in this case the character’s spouse) as a source for additional stat increases or other practical game impact – a kind of “BFF item slot” if you will (Calm down. I know the idea treating a character, – especially a wife or husband – as nothing more than a stat buff is kind of repulsive at first blush, but it fits with feudalistic notions of the purpose of marriage – as a means of gaining wealth, land, or other resources and solidifying alliances).
So I wanted to extend this idea as an optional bit the the “Duke’s Ball” skill challenge. PCs will have the option to bring a date who has some stake in the events of the ball…but lacks an invitation. Your choice of date confers some sort of benefit, as they bring their own talents to the pool of accomplishing the surreptitious assignment taking place under the noses of the guests. As an NPC their area of expertise is limited, but valuable. The trade off, is that the player will need to agree to help these characters accomplish a task of their own while at the ball.
One (or the group) of PCs is approached by one of the following potential “dates” (the NPC could be a simple guest as well, no need to force a romantic complication into the mix unless your players are looking for that) with a request to be their “+1.” The dates are straightforward with their goals, explaining why they absolutely must get into this party, and what they can offer in return.
If the PC tries to weasel out of his arrangement with the date, they will find themselves with egg on their face. Have the Date warn the PC when the players have progressed to the point where they are 1 success away from being halfway through the challenge, or after they have accrued their 2nd failure. If the PC doesn’t use their next action to complete the date’s task (or if the PC fails to complete the task) the Date will leave, causing a scene as they do. This social embarrassment incurs a -2 to that PC’s next action. Should the party complete the skill challenge before the player gets a chance to complete his or her dates goal, continue the encounter until they have had a chance to make good on their offer (the players cannot fail the challenge after accruing the necessary successes, however).
The academic elite will be in force at the Duke’s ball – the wise and haughty rubbing shoulders with the rich and powerful. T scholar is looking to be taken on as an apprentice, or enter into a top level academy, and the ball poses a great opportunity to sidestep all of the usual networking and impress one of the bigwigs directly. It’s not that the scholar doesn’t have the chops to keep up – on the contrary, he’s fairly brilliant. But he lacks the connections. And that’s
where you come in…
Quest: Succeed at a Hard Diplomacy or Bluff skill check to convince the academics to take The Scholar on as an apprentice.
- Scholar’s Benefit: The PC gains a +5 to two of the following skills during the entirety of the “Duke’s Ball” skill challenge – Arcana, Nature, History, Religion
Coin and influence mean having the ability andopportunity to fulfill your every desire, and among the rich and powerful you will always find a fair share of rakes, philanderers, faithless spouses, and those who seek exotic pleasures. So when a lady-of-the-night approaches a PC and requests his or her help in embarrassing a former client who is attending the party, this will likely come as no surprise. Resentful of the titles like “slovenly trull,” or “cheap trollop,” but completely happy with “expensive doxy,” or “wanton wench,” (or whatever other title you can randomly roll for) the Harlot…er…doxy is pleasant and pleading, trying to sway the PCs sympathy over how she was so badly treated by her wealthy patron.
Task: the PC must find a means to embarrass the Harlot’s old patron. Not just mildly. The whole party needs to be laughing at him. At the same time, the Harlot isn’t cruel and doesn’t want any unwarranted physical harm to come to him (he treated her poorly, but never resorted to any physical abuse, and nor will she). If it comes down to a duel, however, the harlot doesn’t mind seeing the spoiled fop take a few good licks.
- Harlot’s Benefit: A master of distraction, the Harlot can negate a failure on the player’s part by causing a scene that distracts the entire party from whatever faux pas was just caused. Unfortunetly, this diversion only works once – after disrupting the party, the Harlot will be escorted out, likely giggling (and if she is dressed immodestly, jiggling) all the way out of the mansion. NOTE: The player can only make use of the Harlot’s benefit after they have accomplished the Harlot’s task
The Pariah Not everyone of the city’s upper crust has been invited to the Duke’s ball. One nobleman has been left on the fringes of high society, and wasn’t invited to the social function of the season. The dejected nobleman is acquainted with nearly everyone at the party – he knows their quirks, their desires, and a handful of their secrets. But none of that matters if he isn’t at the party, not staying up to date on the latest gossip. He’s interested in more than just getting into the party – he wants back in the good graces of his friends. To do that he’ll need to impress them.
Task: The Pariah wants back into the good graces of the social elite. There are any number of ways to do this: provide him with a surprising gift to present to the Duke, besting a worthy foe in a (potentially faked) duel, appearing with a stunning and noteworthy date (Hard Diplomacy check) , rescuing a guest from some source of harm or embarrassment (again, possibly a convincing set-up) or any number of options. Let your players stretch their creativity, and have the nobleman filter their ideas to see which have the best chance of success.
- Pariah’s Benefit: Having the inside track on most of the guests will give the PC who has taken the Pariah as their date an upper hand. For any social (Diplomacy, Bluff, Intimidate) roll, shift the difficulty from Hard to Moderate, or from Moderate to Easy.
Plenty More Fish in the Sea
If these potential NPCs don’t suit your campaign or your players, use them as a guideline for developing your own. Perhaps an existing NPC that the players already have a relationship with would better fit the role of a potential date. Make the Tasks quick and easy (one skill roll only, if any at all) and give a good, solid, tangible benefit to the skill challenge for investing that action in the date’s agenda.