There are four dangers adventurers should worry about while shopping for unusual equipment in a city:
- drawing the attention of thieves,
- drawing the attention of authorities,
- drawing the attention of those inclined to manipulate them into serving their purposes (not in nice ways),
- and drawing the attention of those who are already enemies.
The last is a possibility that lands square on the GM’s plate — whether you have existing enemies with spies in the marketplace is something only the GM knows. We will not address that issue here. Instead, we’ll look at the other three.
Drawing the Attention of Thieves
No matter what, actually, the thieves will notice you. How could they help it, really? Either you’re bristling with weapons and carrying around dragon skins, or else you’re trying to be subtle but still probably carrying yourself like a seasoned (and secretive) campaigner. Aragorn stood out enough in Bree that even an untrained halfling grocer noticed him. So, yeah, you’ll get noticed by thieves. That’s what they do: notice.
The trick isn’t whether they notice — it’s what they notice.
- Do you seem more dangerous than rich? If so, the cash-flashing noble who is only armed with a dagger might look like a more appealing target….
- Do you seem wary? If so, the drunk adventurer who is taking a break from his comrades to spend his ill-gotten gains on liquor and prostitutes is going to look like a better target.
- Do you move within a group of dangerous, wary people? If so, you may not get a lot of invitations to the ball, and there may be other problems (see below). But you can kind of expect the thieves to worry about someone else.
- Finally, do you seem streetsmart? This goes beyond being wary. The wary person without streetsmarts might stare down an innocent juggler while missing the well-dressed “nobleman” picking pockets. The streetsmart, wary person says to the fake nobleman, in passing, “Nice pull!,” and thus signals that she knows where to look. The streetsmart person avoids the real trouble spots, doesn’t carry wealth in obvious or easy-to-cut places, and generally seems both aware and comfortable on the street. Thieves will generally avoid such folk, possibly out of identification (read: professional respect), but another significant reason to avoid a person like that is that such a savvy target might easily reverse the fortunes of the person trying to victimize her.
GMs: For each of those questions, count 2 points for a yes and zero for a no. Then roll 1d4, adding the points to that result, and compare it to the “random criminals” table below:
- The PC is ignored — more promising targets were available.
- The PC is ignored — more promising targets were available.
- The PC is spied on for a while (and might notice — DC 15 Perception), but ultimately the spies vanish, losing interest (or gall).
- The PC is spied on for a while (and might notice — DC 15 Perception), during which time the PC’s behavior is re-evaluated for potential weaknesses. If the PC notices the spy, the spying ends. If the PC fails to notice (or doesn’t reveal that he or she has noticed), go through the checklist above again for the time period in which the PC was observed and then roll again, subtracting 1 from the title. Treat any result of 3-6 as a 1.
- The PC is spied on for a while (and might notice — DC 17 Perception), during which time the PC’s behavior is re-evaluated for potential weaknesses. If the PC notices the spy, the spying ends. If the PC fails to notice (or doesn’t reveal that he or she has noticed), go through the checklist above again for the period in which the PC was observed and then roll again, subtracting 1 from the total. Treat any result of 3-6 as a 1.
- The PC is spied on for a while (and might notice — DC 20 Perception), during which time the PC’s behavior is re-evaluated for potential weaknesses. If the PC notices the spy, the spying ends. If the PC fails to notice (or doesn’t reveal that he or she has noticed), go through the checklist above again for the period in which the PC was observed and then roll again, subtracting 1 from the total. Treat any result of 3-6 as a 1.
- The PC is spied on for a while (and might notice — DC 20 Perception), during which time the PC’s behavior is evaluated for potential exploits. If the PC notices the spy, the spying continues but is noted and reported. If the PC fails to notice (or doesn’t reveal that he or she has noticed), that’s also noted. At the end of the period, roll 1d6+7 and check this table again — the new result is the plan that the thieves came up with, usually timed or set up to exploit one of the observed weaknesses. On a result of 13 (a die roll of 6), the plan is abandoned.
- Someone attempts to pickpocket the PC or rob his or her room — avoiding conflict but attempting to pocket whatever can be picked up quickly.
- A single robber or pair of robbers (1d2 bandits or thugs) attempts to rob the PC, taking whatever can be quickly obtained. The plan isn’t elaborate — it’s a simple opportunity knock, or else one of the robbers might try himself or herself to lure the PC away from safety and into the trap. This pair might rough up their target.
- A team (1d6+1 bandits or thugs) attempts to rob the PC, taking everything of value they can extort at knife-point through an elaborately coordinated exploit. The team usually employs one commoner whose job it is to lure the PC in question away from any friends or allies — like a young woman in an alley, apparently looking for her little brother. Two other commoners usually find some way to block any view of what’s happening, by pulling up a wagon to block the alley or something similar to that. Half of such teams (1-3 on a d6) will be violence-prone, attacking any target to kill, lest that person return with allies to hunt them down. The other half veer sharply the other direction, using violence only to show they are serious or to defend themselves, but generally believing they are safer if they do not kill their targets. The more dangerous the PC seems, the more likely it is that the team errs on the side of caution, avoiding violence.
- An elite thief (a level 5 rogue, bandit captain, or assassin) attempts to rob the PC, usually befriending him or her first and then cornering the target when the opportunity is right.
- An elite con-artist targets the PC, possibly with a long-term ploy, but most likely with something simple and straightforward like a rigged card game. The con-artist is usually a Commoner, but with high social skills, talent, and Expertise (all at +8 to +10 total bonuses). He or she might employ a number of hand-picked collaborators, some of them dangerous (used as enforcers in case trouble brews) and others merely appropriate for what they’ve been asked to do.
Drawing the Attention of Authorities
If your party is obviously armed and working as a group, it will be observed by authorities or their snitches even if there are no weapon or armor laws in the town. If none of you are local, the odds of close scrutiny increase. If you lack subtlety, the odds go up further. Finally, if you or any of your comrades seek out black-market or dangerous stuff like poisons or evil magic without the common sense to use Thieves’ Cant and similar dodges, then you are likely to get stalked by people with legal permission to be creepy.
Like thieves, city officials have many people they might feel compelled to keep an eye on, however. The trick to avoiding city harassment is to make sure you’re not the highest priority. The more armored groups of adventurers there are in town, the less conspicuous your party will seem and the lower priority you will be. Conversely, if your party is the only armed group of strangers in town, then just about everyone will be worried about you.
Unlike thieves who stalk the party, officials don’t back off when spotted and don’t get intimidated. Instead, the more dangerous your party seems — and the more it operates as a group (or “gang”) — the more like a problem it seems and the more reinforcements might become involved.
For GMs: Below is another checklist and another encounter table that work just like the thieves one above: Score 2 points for each item on the Suspicion Checklist.
The Suspicion Checklist
- Party is unusually well-armed and/or armored for this community.
- Party is not local.
- Party appears to walk as a “gang,” staying in an intimidating group most of the time.
- Party is actively engaging in criminal activity or seeking illegal or evil items (poison, evil spells, etc.).
Reduce the above checklist total by 2 for each of these qualities:
- At least one member of the party is clearly a noble from an allied or respected demesne;
- At least one member of the party is clearly aligned with a respected church or holy order;
- At least one member of the party is a known local official.
- The party has taken some sort of publicly heroic action on behalf of the city or a local community.
Official attention involves several possible actions, which are determined as before, with a 1d4 roll plus the total modifier from the checklists above:
- The PCs are beneath the city’s notice except when they pass through gates or do something violent.
- Same as result 1.
- The PCs are observed casually by local officials in the immediate area and by snitches, but nothing comes of it.
- The PCs are methodically observed by local officials who want to know what the group is up to. People who talk to them might be interviewed. If significant criminal activities (murder, robbery), plots, or the like become apparent, roll again on this table, using a new modifier based on the checklist above, and treating any total below a 5 as a 5. If after a day nothing turns up interesting, the investigators go elsewhere.
- The party is observed and if criminal activity occurs in sight of officials, then a guard unit is dispatched to drag in the PCs. The guard unit isn’t stupid. It strikes when the party is sleeping or drunk in celebration from a score. It uses tactics. If the party proves formidable, it retreats and calls in specialists to deal with them. (See #10 below.) If no criminal activities are observed after two days, the party is left alone.
- Tax collectors or other officials might attempt to collect fees, taxes, or fines from the group, with guards present. If resisted, the militia mobilizes to deal with the PC threat. If militia are slain and the party gets away, the city puts a bounty on their heads. If the PCs pay whatever they are charged, the city keeps tabs on them but otherwise minds its own business until trouble arises.
- A magistrate or inspector approaches the party to inquire as to its business dealings in town, politely but sternly suggesting that they might want to leave soon — or else stop freaking people out. If the magistrate is attacked, a militia is raised as in #5 above, with the same contingencies.
- Both 6 and 7 above occur, with 7 usually occurring first and 6 following up if the party refuses to leave the city.
- Option 8 above occurs, plus merchants and townsfolk are targeted with a whisper campaign against the party, who find themselves the subject of many dark rumors and unwelcome in many establishments. Moreover, the tax collectors and similar fee-collecting officials don’t stop coming — it’s an ongoing harassment campaign. If blood is drawn, the city responds with option 10 below.
- A magistrate visits the party, backed by militia, and attempts to negotiate a surrender or an exile (the latter only if the party has committed no violent crimes yet). If the party does not surrender, the militia tries to keep the party contained while a specialist (an assassin, a mage, or similar NPC of a CR appropriate for the party) or a team of specialists (adding up to a Medium difficulty encounter) attempts to subdue or kill the party for a bounty.
- As 10, but with a team of specialists and no warning from a magistrate. The bounty calls for dead, not alive. Although the encounter should be rated a Medium in terms of raw NPC statistics, their ambush tactics and trickery should result in the encounter seeming Hard.
- As 11, but the bounty hunters brought in by the city are top-notch and numerous enough to be a potentially Hard encounter for the party based simply on CR. However, they are also clever and tactical, and will attempt to attack with surprise while the party is distracted or inebriated or already wounded, using every dirty trick they can think of. A total-party kill (TPK) should be a possibility in this encounter if the bounty hunters are played right.
Drawing the Attention of Manipulators
Finally, anyone who draws the attention of either thieves or authorities may also draw the attention of manipulators — if the total result on either of the above 12-point tables lands between 5 and 8.
Manipulators will see the PCs as a means to an end — a way to get something done. Instead of presenting another encounter table, ideas will simply be listed here:
- The party is asked to escort someone or deliver an item. The people asking expect trouble but may not tell the party.
- The party is provided clues linking the manipulator’s enemy to something the party is investigating — though that person might be perfectly innocent — in the hopes that the party will go terrorize that enemy.
- The party is encouraged to adopt a manipulator as a friend and frequent companion so that the manipulator has a good group of bodyguards against trouble he or she is very much expecting.
- The party is recruited to put to rest an “evil spirit” by consecrating its grave in a particular way — a mission fraught with danger. However, the danger is misunderstood and so is the nature of the grave; the party is actually being led to damage or desecrate a grave for the purposes of the manipulator. Perhaps the manipulator wants to awaken a spirit instead of putting it to rest, or perhaps he wants the tomb’s defenses penetrated so he can follow later and steal something.†
♦ Graham Robert Scott writes regularly for Ludus Ludorum when not teaching or writing scholarly stuff. Graham has also written a Dungeon Magazine city adventure titled “Thirds of Purloined Vellum” and a fantasy novella titled Godfathom. Like the Ludus on Facebook to get a heads-up when we publish new content.