I’m changing some things up with the blog and looking at a variety of new and old ideas in gaming. I’d like to spend part of today talking about some recurring tropes and ideas that crop up in fantasy storytelling and how they can be used (and abused) in an RPG to some sort of effect. Today’s volume is going to feature The Patron phenomenon. There are a variety of ways this idea can be used to great effect in a fantasy rpg. Let’s take a look at how that can work. Further, we’re going to spend the next few weeks examining other supporting elements that characters rely on in a typical role-playing game. As always, we hope these help you out with setting up your own adventures, campaigns and stories.
Plot Point 9 The Patron
This iteration of a plot trap involves an NPC who serves as the principal sponsor/quest giver/resource allocator for the characters in the party. This NPC is typically a higher status character or one who has access to resources that other npcs don’t. Whether it’s the High Priest/ess of a local temple that one of the character’s is an acolyte at, or the Wizard who taught one of them magic, or even a local noble who has tasks for them to do, each of these relationships is mutually beneficial to both groups and can help you move your adventure/story arc/campaign forward.
Some campaigns will require a benefactor who handles negotiations and legal paperwork for characters to be officially recognized as adventurers. A Patron is ideal for this role because the NPC is probably a fixture in adventuring society and has contacts and information to give his or her adventurers a leg up on the competition. In an even more restricted society, Adventuring could be illegal without a Sponsor, meaning that the characters are breaking the law every time they step out their doors looking for treasure. Sponsors in this sort of environment are extremely rare, and can command high prices for their support.
Patrons of all stripes serve another important feature. They hand out paying jobs for adventurers. In exchange for coins, trinkets of a magical nature, or other forms of payment, the Patron hands the characters a task that their unique talents are suited to. Again, this is a mutually beneficial arrangement, as the Patron has work that gets done and the characters gain valuable experience and wealth.
Some of the business of adventuring is well, business. Contract negotiations, shopping trips, expeditions to ancient libraries full of dust and allergens, and a host of other concerns have to be addressed before the characters can actually go on the adventure. Some players really enjoy these tasks, but others are less interested in the details and much more interested in the adventure itself. Being able to have a friendly NPC who will take care of these details for them is a life saver, and our experience has been that every adventuring party needs an Alfred keeping their resources working for them.
Why is this a Plot Trap?
This Plot Trap is a Plot Trap because the Patron can very easily become the focus of the story rather than the player characters. Patrons are background characters (by design) who show up to provide information, resources, jobs, and angst. These npcs aren’t necessarily friendly towards the PCs (Turin, from the TV show Killjoys, is an excellent example of a hostile or ambivalent Patron, depending on his mood). However, the services they provide are essential, until they aren’t. Like Home Bases last week, Patrons typically have a limited range of support and services they can provide, and it’s possible that the Characters outgrow their Patron.
Key Elements of this plot device
- The Patron: The Patron is a deeper character than most NPCs because they provide a lot more resources and assets to the PCs. They also have motivations, goals and foibles of their own to contend with. Spend time figuring out the personality traits and social aspects of a character like this. It will save you in the long run to nail these details down early.
- The Services: Every Patron has a specific range of services that they provide. Knowing what services they provide is critical because it also tells you what services they don’t have access to. I’m sure there’s an exception, but i can’t think of a Patron (that’s willing to deal with characters) that has an omnipotent ability to provide resources. Remember, specific Patrons have access to specific special resources (A High Priest/ess likely.has access to divine resources, whereas a Wizard will have arcane assets). Figure out what services are provided by the Patron so you can see if you need to find additional resources.
- The Cost: Very few Patrons do this out of the goodness of their own hearts. They typically charge a fee of some kind or are reimbursed in other ways. Figuring out what the Patron charges for their services can inform a lot of decisions about what quests they have available and what they are willing to extract from the characters in exchange for other services rendered.
There are a couple of variations on this theme that all work roughly the same way. Let’s take a closer look.
In this instance, the Patron is not a singular person, but a council of Patrons who have a variety of motivations, quests, and resources they can bring to bear on a situation. This situation has a lot more political intrigue to it because it’s highly unlikely that everyone on the Council is super friendly towards each other. Navigating their interpersonal squabbles while still being able to utilize their resources is an interesting balancing act for a party of adventurers.
The Second String
This version of the plot has a minor quirk to it. In this iteration, the characters are not the Patron’s preferred agents, and the Patron uses them either sparingly, or when circumstances prevent them from sending their A-Team. Depending on the Patron’s disposition towards them, they may get fewer resources than the A-Team, or sent on either much simpler missions (or if the situation is truly dire, Missions much harder than they should be handling).
This version of the Patron is an ugly one. In this iteration, the Patron has their own specific agenda that they are using the characters to prosecute. They are perfectly willing to sacrifice other characters to accomplish their objectives, and have little qualms about sending the characters into suicide missions if they think it will accomplish their objective.
Patrons have a very specific, very necessary resource that they provide characters. Without a Patron, characters have to basically go wandering into the woods and look for trouble without any idea what’s out there in the world. Personally, i think that’s kind of a fun way to go through life, but it’s not for most characters. Patrons provide a lot of services and options to characters, especially if you provide the Patron as part of a home base. Remember that your characters are likely going to hit a point where they need a new Patron, so plan accordingly.
I hope this gives all of you some insights and ideas on incorporating this style of a Plot Element into your game without it becoming a burden to your fun. If you’d like to see more of these, or have a question about a specific plot element that you’d like to know more about, drop me a line on twitter, which you should be able to see over there on the right side of the screen. Game On,
Almost. Like i said above, i’m going to give you a campaign seed for using a version of this plot trap in a hopefully not crazy way.
Campaign Seed: The Guilds of Karanteeth
This campaign seed focuses on the seaport of Karanteeth, which is dominated by a council of guildmasters. Each guildmaster has control over a specific guild, but come together to manage the larger threats to the City. There are 7 Guildmasters who control the city. As one would expect, most of them have at least one enemy on the council and they have an elaborate web of interactions and hostilities.
Part 1: The Dockworkers
The Guildmaster of the Dockworkers Guild has a problem that someone is moving cargo into the port without paying their taxes (or using Guild labor). She would like some well meaning low level adventurers to investigate the situation and bring her information on who’s violating the terms of the docks.
Part 2: The Shipwrights
Identifying the culprit behind the mischief at the docks has cast the characters into greater prominence. A local city state has approached the Shipwright’s Guild about constructing a fleet of ships. The characters are tasked with bringing the emissaries to the city and ensuring their safety during their stay. Someone or something is trying to sabotage the negotiations, and the characters will have to work very hard to protect the emissaries.
Part 3: The Bankers
Someone has recently started to rob the city’s banks. With a flair for the dramatic, the criminals are well funded and well equipped. Halfway through their investigation at the behest of the Guildmaster of the Banking Guild, other forces get involved and the characters will have to make choices about which guild they support, and which one they are willing to offend.
And that’s our 30 minute campaign seed. See you guys next time.