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All Rules in Social Conflicts

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Example Social Conflict: The Taken

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 173
The following serialized social conflict serves as an extended example of how to build a satisfying series of encounters and adventures using the guidelines presented throughout this section. Since social conflicts evolve over time in response to the PCs’ actions, this example provides a step-by-step description of the conflict’s early stages—which could then evolve however you see fit These elements might serve as background between other adventures or the basis for a full-fledged campaign.

Aside from the PCs, this social conflict involves two open contenders: the revolutionaries and the royalists. However, there is also a secret contender: the fey fosterlings.

The Contenders

The revolutionaries are common folk who believe that the nobility of the kingdom are decadent and out of touch with the plight of the commoners. They blame their recent troubles on the nobility’s neglect. While these contenders are basically looking to destabilize the royalists and usurp political power, they are decentralized and rarely coordinate well. They want to change or even overthrow the government; though they are by no means united in what they think should happen next. Even among these contenders, there is no consensus of opinion on how to increase the stakes. Some of the revolutionaries want to overthrow the nobility in general. Others want to stop short of their monarch, King Theobard. The latter faction believes it will be sufficient to get the king’s attention and have him address the issue, rather than oust him entirely. Even among those who blame the king and want him removed, most still support Princess Annika, and they hope to replace King Theobard with his daughter. A few have dreams of setting up an entirely different, more egalitarian form of government.

The royalists are composed of both the nobility and other citizens loyal to the crown. Unlike the revolutionaries, they have a single leader: King Theobard. The royalists believe the revolutionaries are manufacturing or at least exaggerating the recent troubles for their own political agenda, and many believe they’re nothing more than bloodthirsty anarchists wishing to toss out the status quo and loot the riches of the kingdom. The royalists are more powerful and organized than the revolutionaries, but they’re slow to react, at least at first, as they dismiss the commoners as a disorganized mob of sheep pushed along by a handful of rabble-rousers. The king and many of the nobles feel that mounting a response is expensive, and a heavy-handed reaction might just stir up unrest elsewhere.

The fey fosterlings are the final contenders, and they’re the ones who on the surface appear to be pulling the strings. These fosterlings are fey children who were swapped in the cradle for human children. They appear fully human and magic detects them as being such. The fosterlings are spread throughout the kingdom and communicate clandestinely via animal messengers and the like. Their greatest political asset is the fact that Princess Annika is a fosterling, and the main coordinator of the faction. Given how disorganized the revolutionaries are, it was easy to seed some fosterlings among them, and Annika and her few fellow fosterlings among the nobility can manipulate the royalists with ease. Annika and the fosterlings are not the true power behind their faction, however. A powerful <%MOSNTERS%Norn">norn has become convinced that fate demands a firmer hand with this kingdom, and she is actually the one pulling the strings—and snipping them if necessary.

The PCs enter this situation as a fourth faction, capable of shifting the balance between the revolutionaries and the royalists, or even of exposing the true culprits.

Conflict and the Stakes

This particular conflict is one of political power. The royalists have the power, the revolutionaries want it, and the fey seek to ultimately control it no matter who seems to be in charge. Over the course of the social conflict, the PCs will likely become agents of a faction, only to eventually discover the force behind the real political power in the kingdom, and could even work to motivate the revolutionaries and the royalists to join forces and confront the real threat to the political landscape of the kingdom.

Conflict Arc and Early Events

The conflict arc begins with the PCs in a town on the kingdom’s outskirts, on the edge of a forest known to be the home of fey. The superstitious villagers purchased charms to ward their homes against the fey, but a fosterling in the village has been exposing the charms to fey magic, causing them to erode faster than usual. With the failing wards, a quickling managed to sneak into the home of a popular local woodsman and whisk away a baby, but not before the parents spotted him. The woodsman and his revolutionary friends blame the nobility for the baby’s kidnapping, as the appointed mayor refused to pay to replace the crumbling wards, considering them superstitious nonsense.

Challenge Event: Angry Mob

The PCs notice an angry mob gathering around the mayor’s house. These revolutionaries are intent on punishing the mayor for what they perceive as his role in the baby’s kidnapping. The mayor’s hired guards attempt to forestall the mob. The guards are outnumbered, and they probably have to resort to lethal force to compete with the townsfolk, who aren’t pulling any punches. At this point, the PCs can come in on either side of the conflict, either by joining one faction in combat or by attempting to talk down the mob, perhaps with a verbal duel.

Consequences: If the PCs can win a verbal duel against the leader of the revolutionaries, they get the rabble to realize they don’t have much proof against the mayor, and there is a real mystery that needs to be solved here. A critical success (beating the revolutionary leader in three or fewer exchanges) settles the mob to such a degree that they realize although the mayor works for the nobility, he cares more for the people than his position and is not the enemy here.

A failure means that the PCs are going to have to physically defend the mayor or let the mob have their way. A critical failure (being defeated in the verbal duel by the rebel leader in 3 or fewer exchanges) brands the PCs as royalist collaborators no matter where the PCs’ true sympathies lie.

Whether or not the PCs are able to resolve the event with reason or with force, they will likely move on to one or more discovery events: either investigating the baby’s disappearance or learning about the political turmoil in the kingdom, but likely both.

Discovery Event: Scene of the Crime No matter the turnout of the “Angry Mob” event, the PCs will likely want to investigate the disappearance of the child that sparked the riot—maybe with a bit of detective work taking the form of a goal collection freeform challenge.

Consequences: When the PCs piece together enough clues, evidence shows the child was spirited away by some creature from the woods. If they gain enough successes, they can even determine the abductor was fey, leading them to search the woods for fey involvement. This may allow the PCs to uncover the secret contenders of the conflict, though finding the fey’s motivation may prove difficult. This leads directly into the “Hall Under the Hill” challenge event.

Botching the discovery means the disappearance will remain a mystery, at least for now, but the PCs may be able to find other clues of fey involvement later in the social conflict. This likely leads PCs to events that revolve around the conflict between the revolutionaries and the nobility.

Challenge Event: Hall Under The Hill

Chasing after the clues that something or someone in the forest abducted the baby, they follow the trail to a strange hall under a mossy hill. There they find a group of quicklings who have been abducting children from various settlements near to the forest. The quicklings, rather than being knowledgeable of the norn’s overall plans, are nothing more than fey mercenaries capturing the babies for a mysterious buyer they meet during full moons among a nearby group of standing stones. They then replace the babies with eerie fosterlings for another fee paid in ancient coins.

Consequences: While the quicklings don’t know who pays them (nor do they care), by either defeating the quicklings or bluffing or bribing the information out of them, the PCs can learn that neither the revolutionaries nor the royalists have anything to do with the unusual kidnappings.

Continuing the Conflict

At this point, the PCs have many possible avenues to explore. If they return the woodcutter’s baby, they earn the gratitude of the townsfolk, and one of their friendly contacts in town requests that they head to the capital, either to deliver a letter requesting more funds to assist the town (if they ally with the mayor) or helping with a mass protest (if they ally with the revolutionaries). Even if the PCs are making their own path, they still might want to head to the capital if they find out about the potential mass protest. On the other hand, depending on the results of the last event, the PCs could attempt to chase down the quickling’s buyer, or even to check on the other entries on the quickling’s list.

Social conflicts branch and diverge quite rapidly and respond to the PCs’ choices, which makes it difficult to plan more than an engagement or two ahead without quickly devolving into numerous if-then contingencies. Depending on the PCs’ path through a social conflict, they could wind up pulling a heist on the royal treasury (using the heist rules on pages 118–129), attending a gala to gain influence with the upper nobility (using the individual influence rules on pages 102–109), working with Princess Annika for a peaceful solution as she secretly manipulates them to further the fosterling agenda, pursuing a group of kidnapping fey to discover the whereabouts of the buyer (using the pursuit rules), performing acts of sabotage in an attempt to overthrow the monarchy, researching the connection between the fosterlings (using the research rules), engaging in a verbal duel with one of the founders of the revolutionaries in front of a crowd of his followers (using the verbal duel rules), and much more. No matter what the PCs do, the fosterlings try to turn it to their advantage, and if the PCs unearth the fosterlings’ existence and launch a shadow war against their adversaries, the fosterlings turn all of their efforts to destroying the PCs and their reputation, preferring to use the other factions as proxies if possible.

Concluding the Conflict

Depending on the PCs’ actions, the conflict has many possible endings. In general, however, each faction acts in a certain way as it approaches defeat.

If the royalists approach defeat, they concede the social conflict. The king agrees to abdicate to Princess Annika, which ameliorates enough of the revolutionaries that the truly radical among them lose almost all of their remaining support. These remaining revolutionaries continue to attempt to take down the monarchy, but with far less efficacy, their future actions are likely to be fruitless without aid from the PCs.

If the revolutionaries approach defeat, they concede the social conflict by dissolving, still dissatisfied, but quieted at least for now. The royalists accept this concession and grant pardons to the revolutionaries, other than one of the more radical ringleaders who wanted to overthrow the entire government and watch the nobles burn. This woman refuses the pardon, so she is named as the leader of the revolution and executed.

The fosterlings do not concede the social conflict, even to the point of total ruination. While Princess Annika would prefer to occlude her ties to the fosterlings and allow her lieutenants to quietly back off, the norn commanding all the fosterlings demands they continue to the end. When they are completely defeated, the fosterlings are exposed, both sides informed of their existence, and Princess Annika along with them. If the PCs have a personal connection with the princess, she begs them to protect her against her norn mistress. Once the norn is vanquished, the princess and the fosterlings may need a new place to live. The PCs could then convince the people of the kingdom of the benefits of letting their former infiltrators become loyal citizens.