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The Mharoti Empire has a reputation as the most intimidating military presence on the land. Even kingdoms outside of the Empire’s front lines have heard of the power and majesty of the Armies of the Dragon.
Fewer know to look out for Mharoti’s extensive spy network, though. Previous articles discussed making an operator for your campaign, creating plots and schemes for them, and tools at their disposal. How do these things fit together?
Fitting PCs into the Scheme
These stories are ultimately about your PCs and how they get involved in the machinations of the Mharoti Empire (or any large, villainous nation you cook up for your own campaign). Do the PCs know the operator personally? Do they stumble onto the plot? Connecting the players to the story can be a complex process. Use the Operative Hooks and Twists table to roll for or create a solution that fits your needs.
After all, no spy story is ever straightforward. Every corner has twists and turns, and your PCs should never know who to trust.
Operative Hooks and Twists
|5||Jailhouse Talk||Not Wrong|
|7||Money Talks||Red Herring|
|8||Trusted Ally||Triple Cross|
These hooks provide ways to get PCs involved with an operative’s machinations.
Archvillain. The PCs are already after a villain. This operative may be that villain or know where the archvillain is or what they might be up to. The operative can be convinced to give up crucial information for the right favors.
Fallen Relative. The operative killed one of the PC’s relatives. This could be a recent death or a long-held grudge the PC wants to avenge. The PC gains inspiration when directly confronting the operative or their plans.
Handoff. The PCs were in the right place at the wrong time. Desperate agents against the Imperial operative hand off crucial information, items, or people to the PCs before they perish from incurable wounds.
Honey Trap. A lover of one of the PCs spills key information about the plot. The PC has disadvantage on Wisdom (Insight) checks to resist the NPC’s Charisma (Deception) checks.
Jailhouse Talk. The PCs were in the wrong place at the right time. Victims, informants, or other ne’er-do-wells spill information while the PC cools in a cell.
McGuffin. It might not be part of their current goals, but the agent has some thing that the PCs want. The operative can use it as leverage when confrontation arises.
Money Talks. The target of one of the operative’s schemes hires the PCs with an exorbitant amount of money to protect the target or prevent the operative from completing their goals. The PCs gain advantage on Wisdom (Insight) checks with the NPC that hired them due to the amount of money offered.
Trusted Ally. A trusted friend and ally of the PCs passes rumors of criminal activity onto the PCs.
These twists provide some narrative spice to keep players on their toes.
Double Cross. The PCs were betrayed by an NPC at the behest of the operative who wanted the PCs to get involved.
Duped. Key information is intentionally missing from the Hook.
Hidden Identity. One NPCs, either the operator or an NPC from the Hook, is not who they claim to be.
Illusory. The whole initial setup was all an illusory experience through complex magics or psychotropic compounds. It’s put the PCs behind on the timetable needed to stop the operator.
Not Wrong. The PCs find themselves in a moral quandary when they find that the motives of the operator align with their own values.
Patsy. The PCs are being set up to take the fall for the plot, by the operator or an accomplice.
Red Herring. The PCs are being led on a wild goose chase to throw them off of the real operation.
Triple Cross. See Double Cross, but the NPC also betrays the operative, possibly in the PC’s favor, for themselves, another cause, or another NPC.
Combining Hooks and Twists
Steal or riff off these examples to use in your own campaign.
EXAMPLE 1: Hand-off And Red Herring
A Roll of 3 (Hand-off) for Hook, and 7 (Red Herring) for Twist. The operative knows that adventurers in town are getting closer and closer to meddling in their plots. A local vagrant, hard up for gold, was hired to hand off a mysterious object to the PCs. The object has (presumably) priceless cultural and political significance to locals. The vagrant’s story has holes in it, and the object is from a private collection with ties to the operator. While the story might throw the PCs off for a day or so, it won’t keep them away for long. The operative hopes the deception buys enough time to complete their plans.
EXAMPLE 2: Trusted Ally and Triple Cross
A Roll of 8 (Trusted Ally) for Hook, and 8 (Triple Cross) for Twist. A trusted friend and informant of the PCs was forced into service by the operative who kidnapped someone in the ally’s family as leverage. Feeling forced to do the operative’s bidding, the ally uses the PCs’ trust to lure them into an overly elaborate trap, fully intending on helping the PCs out of the trap and rescuing their family member after betraying the operative.
EXAMPLE 3: McGuffin and Duped
A Roll of 6 (McGuffin) for Hook, and 2 (Duped) for Twist. The PCs are after the operative because they hold one of the scrolls detailing a ritual for resurrecting dead dragons. The operator knows this and offers to trade the scroll to the PCs in exchange for the PCs pulling a job for them. The operative knows the scroll is a cheap reproduction, but figures the PCs are too dumb to know the difference for at least a few hours, giving the operative time to escape town.
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