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Midgard Monday: Getting the warband together, part 5

Midgard Monday: Getting the warband together, part 5

It’s Midgard Monday! Each week, we visit a corner of the wide world of Midgard. Look for standalone content you can drop into your campaign—whether it’s in Midgard or your own homebrew. Find new inspiration each Midgard Monday!

Conflict between the Seven Cities and the occupied territory of Rumela isn’t just a war story—it’s an opportunity to partake in the ceremony of the Season of War.

Before delving in, GMs and players should familiarize themselves with the chapters on the Dragon Empire (Chapter 5) and the Seven Cities (Chapter 7) in the Midgard Worldbook. A refresher can help you represent the wider battlefield and the key factions. The first Warlock Grimoire and the Kobold Press blog has additional content about the Seven Cities and the Mharoti that are linked in these articles.

Safety Tools
A war campaign has a good chance of involving potentially troubling elements, or even elements players didn’t realize could trouble them until they appear during play.

The beginning of a war campaign is a good time to discuss how eventful and descriptively intense the players want it, what safety tools may be necessary, and what level of detail everyone is comfortable describing. Some have no needs and charge headlong into the atrocities of war, while others might prefer to often fade to black. Consider having this conversation a couple of times depending on the session results.

This campaign draws together PCs as members of a free company, similar to the dark fantasy of Glen Cook’s Black Company series. Using this article series, GMs and players can create a war campaign.

After using character backgrounds as motivations, mustering the free company, dealing with leaks and spies in the immediate aftermath, and initial strikes against the draconic strongholds of the Mharoti Empire, the PCs pressed their advantage against the scalyfolk. But something is missing. . . .

Not-So Secret Sauce

The key element in any Black Company-inspired campaign has been conspicuously absent thus far. While the action has been intended to mirror the series’ initial dark beats, we haven’t considered the aspect of betrayal. Yes, the deaths of soldiers in the engagement swirling around the players help create the grim and brutal scene. However, betrayal requires the intentional laying groundwork, creating an investment or emotional attachment. Then once these valued relationships are in place, when the characters stop worrying about them, but relying on them, the time is right.

But who will be the betrayer? Who waits to plunge the knife into the back of their Septime allies?

Presuming that Parszan is the forward base of operations, you can consider using or adapting the following adventure arcs as doors to the betrayal.

Door #1: The Ghost Folk

The PCs previously convinced the Ghost Folk to join the battle against the Mharoti Empire. Some Septime commanders may have been reluctant to allow the seemingly degenerate Ghost Folk from joining the alliance, while other commanders might assign them demeaning camp tasks or suicidal combat roles.

Despite this, there’s a Ghost Folk leader who is an accepted member of the alliance who trusts the PCs. This leader should be flattering but capable, encouraging the alliance to rely on the PCs as skilled operatives. The leader may incorporate the PCs into a Ghost Folk trust ritual, creating a camaraderie that extends beyond the battlefield.

This deep bond can be exploited in heartbreaking fashion. Perhaps the Ghost Folk have grown weary of the bigotry of Alliance leadership. Perhaps the Ghost Folk have been given a better offer by the Mharoti. Perhaps the Ghost Folk always planned to use the chaos of war to carve out their own realm in Illyria.

Before opening this door to one last narrative twist of the knife, the Ghost Folk leader offers the PCs the opportunity to join their insurgency. The next time they meet, they will be on opposite sides of the battlefield, and the courage of the Ghost Folk will be missed among alliance forces.

Door #2: The Rival Company

Back in the second article of this series, the PCs helped create a rival company: the questions that your PCs answered. Use these answers to leverage narrative tension.

The rival company commander is perhaps easiest to turn. As the PCs racked up victories, his soldiers were ground against the Mharoti war machine. You can tease the rival commander’s ultimate betrayal during campfire scenes. The rival commander may even come to blows, however briefly, with the leadership of the PCs’ company.

The door to betrayal can open with the twin motivations of jealousy and absence of battlefield glory. The Mharoti have spies all around the alliance camp, and their riches are more tangible than the glory of the Seven Cities. While the rival company wouldn’t be the first to turn traitor in this war, they are the most prominent. Their commander directs their blades at the PCs’ friends and allies, and their deaths makes the betrayal even more painful.

Door #3: The Company Commander

The PCs’ company commander might be the most hurtful of the traitorous choices. As the primary interface between the PCs and the alliance leadership, the company commander offers a guiding voice, the wise captain who sees the bigger picture. Their commander should grow more sullen and preoccupied as the campaign progresses. The mounting losses weigh heavily on the commander’s mind and they should vocally discuss their disagreement with the greater council of generals.

The seeds of betrayal flower during a secret meeting with a Mharoti envoy, where the captain promises to lead the unit into an ambush. The commander might instead attempt to defect by escaping with as much intelligence as possible. Who can resist the riches of the greatest dragon hoard in exchange for just walking away, especially when they’ve been so underappreciated?

Door #4: The Archmage Kolos

The PCs freed Kolos from his imprisonment in the Lonely Tower. Grateful for his freedom, the archmage aids the alliance and providing arcane support on and off the battlefield.

What truly happened to Kolos in the opening days of the conflict remains unknown. Perhaps the person freed from the Lonely Spire wasn’t actually Kolos, but instead a rival archmage in disguise, a duplicitous doppelganger, or a misguided simulacrum.

Before opening this door to betrayal, consider moving the PCs’ mission to free the wizard earlier. With Kolos freed early in the campaign, he can offer resources and experience to assist the alliance. He could have a magical quartermaster role, sharing nifty potions, scrolls, and other items.

In this scenario, Kolos reveals his true nature at a critical moment. Once his magic fails to work or malfunctions magnificently, Kolos arrives to support the mission. Instead of saving the day, the “archmage” exploits the situation and leaves the PCs in a lurch. After word of Kolos’ betrayal reaches the generals of the Septime alliance, they order all of Kolos’ weapons destroyed because they cannot trust the weaponry, weakening their extended position.

Tough Choices

Which of these should you consider? All of them! But make your choice count.

As the campaign winds around Illyria, the PCs will rely upon different allies. Depending on who they are most connected with, the PCs may gravitate towards a particular NPC, who is a great choice to twist the knife of betrayal.

At the same time, your story can’t be all about betrayal, lest the perfidiousness overshadow the whole campaign.

Next Steps

With the campaign’s collective noses bloodied, the stage is set for our next phase, and the big question, just how much war do we want?

Get into Midgard with the Midgard Worldbook! This acclaimed campaign setting is rich and deep, with a decade of support from Kobold Press.

Want a more focused start? Try the Zobeck Clockwork City Collector’s Edition! This detailed sourcebook
gives players plenty of room to run, and includes adventures within the Clockwork City itself!

about Ben McFarland

Ben lived on a desert island for two years while serving as an officer in the US Air Force. He likes sushi, worldbuilding, and magic systems, and spends way too much time at a pool. He’s been freelancing, playtesting, and editing RPGs since 2005. While D&D’s a first love, Ars Magica is his greatest love and Cthulhutech his secret mistress.

4 thoughts on “Midgard Monday: Getting the warband together, part 5”

  1. wooohoooo! Rival company or ghost folk is what i’d pick. I think I can make it feel like a larger political move with repercussions rather than primarily a personal betrayal. Though a personal betrayal is no wrong answer either.

  2. As always midgard mondays are something i look forward to every week! Can’t wait to see more content of midgard lore! This series has been very inspiring for a players backstory.

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