If you haven’t yet read Lois McMaster Bujold’s book Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance or her Vorkosigan series and plan to (and I really do recommend), you may be best of skipping this post for now. If you have read it, please forgive how I gloss together a major plotline in the book to make an RPG twist.
In Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance our protagonist, Ivan Vorpatril, ends up entangled with a band of temporary (or are they?) in-laws who are surprisingly like the murder-hobos that comprise many parties of sword-and-sorcery players. The former crime lord and lady parents have discovered a secret treasure on his planet, a cache of gold, jewels, historical loot, and bio-sealed genetic experiments left in a bunker by invaders who had been run off over a hundred years ago but had assumed they’d quickly regain control from the planet’s inhabitants.
When the military heads responsible for losing control of the planet rolled and everyone else involved tried to pretend they really weren’t there, the secret was lost to the archives. But there were a few people who quietly remembered and who passed on the memory to their children, including the mother-in-law. After she and her husband lost their small space-crime empire, they stole those old plans, took the most skilled of their children and went on a treasure hunt.
All well and good then, right? Secret treasure discovered, all you’ve got to do is dig it up, maybe dismantle a few traps. All in a day’s work for your average adventurers.
There’s one minor hitch in the plan, a hitch that forces the party leaders to seek assistance from their quasi-son-in-law. The bunker is conveniently located under a park…but the park happens to be next to the main building of the security force for the entire planet. These people are the CIA/FBI/DIA/DHS rolled into one. The only place on the planet under greater surveillance than those surrounding blocks is the Imperial Palace and its grounds. Suddenly, locating the X on the treasure map is only 10% of the job.
How to turn this into an RPG twist?
Think of it as a way to turn an otherwise straightforward adventure into something a lot more stressful and complicated. Make your characters come up with something better than “we go through the sewer.” They could try going through the sewer, but that’s sure to set off alarms…unless they find a maintenance team scheduled to be down there at a certain time and impersonate them. Perhaps their quest will involve breaking into the guard tower, CIA, etc. and neutralizing the threat. Perhaps they’ll have to make a huge diversion that will occupy the security forces’ attention while they go in.
This may not be something to use in a one-shot or on a new or frustrated party. But if you feel that your adventure needs more challenge or your players are ready for something a little less straightforward, consider plonking a big-ol’ KGB building, or appropriate entity, right next to that priceless artifact your players so desperately need.
Photo credit pfallows12.