So this months RPG Blog carnival centers on something near and dear to every intrepid adventurer. The Loot. You know something is important, something has reached that apex of necessity and desire when it starts to have 733t (1337?) spellings. In this case, we could be talking about loot, or perhaps da-lOOts or even phat l3wts. In any case, it represents the same thing, those delicious little treats that are peppered throughout adventures. In some cases, they occupy a dragons hoard, or perhaps the crypt of a buried king. They may even be the subject of myth and legend. However, the point of this blog carnival is to discuss when those trophies of adventure take that extra step beyond the predictable, beyond a simple object of desire and become a part of the plot.
It is to this end that I’ll endeavor to discuss both how I personally use loot as part of the plot, as well as some ideas I’ve had or seen play out successfully.
I think it best to start at the beginning. This goes for both the DM and the players. If you want to smoothly include loot as plot, it will help to have an idea of what the party looks like as well as their motivations. This can be accomplished by discussing it with the players before the campaign starts. It can also be helpful to instruct your players to include references to loot in their backstories. A recent example was a rogue in one of the groups I run for. In his backstory, his father was murdered and the family sword stolen by the murderer. This is a “just add water” scenario when it comes to loot as plot. The rogue in trying to find his fathers murderer is also looking for a sword. We now have a baseline for how the loot can drive the plot. The easy answer is that the rogue can find the sword and ultimately use it to kill his fathers murderer, thus completing the circle. A potentially more interesting angle however might be that the sword is sold on the black market, time and time again. The rogue might come across the sword and then it would behoove him to find the previous owner, who he bought it from and when. Following the history of the sword through multiple owners could be a plot point bonanza of sorts. Imagine if the previous owner was an assassin and used the sword to commit a heinous act. Now, you’ve got authorities looking for the owner of a notable sword as well. The possibilities are endless. This is the kind of plotline that would make a good serial campaign. Each week the party could find and learn more from a previous owner, slowly but surely putting together a story arc that tells what the sword has been doing while leading back to the murderer.
An obvious use of loot is as a quest reward. But that’s too easy. How can we spice that up? Let’s imagine that the quest item was only recently discovered. Word is out that some great artifact has been located. Naturally, adventurers (OTHER adventurers) have tried and failed to obtain it. Now that the party has learned of it, there could be a plotline that boils down to a race against other groups of adventurers, all are trying to get to the item first. The trials to actually get the item could pale in comparison to overcoming the challenge of beating the other adventurers to the punch. Each competing group of adventurers could have conflicting patrons and goals. Who these patrons are could reveal more information about the item, giving clues as to why its so valuable.
So that’s two quick ideas of how the search for loot can drive a plot. But lets take a look at how loot can drive a plot AFTER you’ve gotten it.
The first thing that comes to mind is naturally sentient loot. When a sword or a ring or an amulet can talk (or communicate psychically, it can open all sorts of plot doors). Perhaps the sentient object has its own goals. Perhaps it’s not particularly honest. Having an item dupe the PCs in order to achieve some nefarious goal has very interesting applications. The basest of which might be convincing the PCs to kill someone the object dislikes. Then you’ve got a situation where the authorities are after the PCs as they try to prove their innocence and perhaps even destroy the item.
Another way for loot to influence the plot (and this is one I’m currently using) is for loot to be “incomplete”. Imagine a scenario where a player seeks out an ancient tome. This tome is a compilation of combat techniques. In my case, it’s called “The Book of Martial Forms”. This book contains combat techniques written by masters from several different ancient combative cultures. The fighter in the party learned of this book and sought it out in order to increase his combat prowess. What he learned then was that he was unable to decipher the ancient writings. Now, he is questing to find ancient linguists to translate it for him. Each one he finds, will help him understand a new technique. Slowly but surely over the course of his career he’ll be bettering his character through the translation of this magical tome. In some cases, he will travel to distant mountain regions, forgotten isles and even to the Feywild in order to find someone to translate its arcane pages. This magic item is of my creation and the benefits it offers will vary depending on the players needs and desires. The first such benefit was a permanent +1 bonus to the damage that one of his daily powers does. Other benefits might include the ability to recharge an encounter power when he uses an action point or once per day to spend a healing surge when he deals a killing blow.
Lastly, I’d like to mention something I’ve been thinking about lately and that is using the LACK of loot to drive plot. I have a player in my group who rolls poorly, so poorly in fact that we often joke about it. We talk about how if it’s really important, he’ll roll low. His luck is just not there when he needs it. I’ve been trying to think of a way to work this into the campaign plot and to tie it to loot somehow. I’ve not put it together fully but so far, my thoughts include what I like to call “disposable loot”. The premise of this is that this character will find a larger quantity of low quality magic items. The story behind it will be that these are “reject” items. Perhaps when you find a treasure hoard that has already been gone through, this one was left behind. He could start finding them all over the place. The point being, that whenever he rolls a natural 1, one of these sub-par magic items would break. He would be like the magic item garbage collector of the world, whose job it is to find and destroy lazily made magic items. This could be interesting for a couple of reasons. First is that it makes his poor die rolling more interesting and impactful to the story. Second, it would actually give him a purpose, one that could be fulfilled by bad rolls. He could start to take some small sense of pride of ridding the world of magic items before they have a chance to fail on someone else at some moment where their failure would be catastrophic. He’s a cleric so this could be a way to give back to the adventuring community. I imagine his mantra could be something like “I’m breaking magic items so YOU don’t have to”, or “When I’m done, the only magic items left will be those that are reliable!”. Ok, so it’s still a pretty early idea. It may need some work. What would you do to make loot a driver of plot for a player who rolls poorly much of the time? I think it would be interesting to know what ideas are out there.