To keep at something fun between bouts of grading papers, I've also been typing up a list of NPCs with complications, the sort you might encounter along a lonely highway through a dark forest or in the warm firelight of a country tavern along just such a road. These are loosely intended to suit a late medieval or early modern European-ish setting - anything from WFRP's Old World to many D&D campaigns. I suppose I am imagining a "Hunters, Highwaymen, and Horrors" kind of setting. A party of Road Warden PCs tasked with keeping the roads open would be perfect for these encounters. :-)
This list is also inspired by my recent positive experiences rolling up (urban) NPC contacts on The Nocturnal Table, though I am of course shifting the action out-of-town here, and a bit more Brothers-Grimm/WFRP than traditional Sword-and-Sorcery.
If these seem useful, let me know if a longer list like this would see much use. This is potentially just the first batch ... as I've lots more to grade. :-)
WHO DO YOU MEET ALONG THE BORDER HIGHWAY THROUGH THE GRIMWALD?
Roll 1d12 (for now), then consult the table below. Expanded details follow. Repeat encounters with the same person are allowable, and may lead to unexpected twists.
4 Nun, solitary
9 Robber Chief
12 Swordsman, fuming
1 - Crossbowman – this skilled crossbowman sports a jaunty yellow-feathered cap and carries a large, well-crafted crossbow.
On the highway: He is traveling on foot. If one of the PCs is carrying a crossbow, he will approach and challenge the PC to a contest of marksmanship. He wagers a beautiful gold brooch worth 100 gp, and will begin the contest if the PC stakes something of equal value. If the PC refuses, the crossbowman will mock them for timidity before moving on.
At a tavern: the crossbowman will approach inside a tavern and challenge using the same conditions as noted for the highway (the proposed shooting contest is to happen outside, unless the participants have clearly had too much to drink.
2 - Drover – this pleasant-faced, stout fellow is walking alongside a team of four oxen pulling a wagon laden with cheap cargo. One of the oxen can speak, and will greet the party politely as they pass. If engaged in conversation, the ox (with its owner's bemused permission) will claim to have been an old lord of a great merchant house, now cursed to bear the form of a beast. The ox, however, has no desire to be ‘cured,’ as he finds his new body pleasantly healthy and strong, and his new life far less stressful than his old endeavors. The drover, however, is less content, and will mention that the ox knows the location of his (former) family treasures…the drover will happily sell this knowledge to the party, and the ox, equally bemused in his turn, will happily oblige his drover.
3 - ‘Recruiter’ – the bailiff of a military ‘recruiting’ venture, accompanied by 2d8 guards (Lvl 1 Fighters), is running a press gang to conscript troops for a pending low-level border war among noble families. Will try to ‘recruit’ the PCs by force, if the press-gang outnumbers them 2-to-1.
At a tavern: the bailiff and party enter the tavern, look around, and try to clear it out of any 'recruits' who look like they'll come easily. Unfortunate 'volunteers' will beg the PCs for help, if the PCs aren't already involved.
|"Right lads...just sign or make your mark there...|
no no, that's quite alright...no need to be conscious when you sign..."
4 - Nun - young, traveling alone, and looking anxious. She is on her way to the bishop’s see to report her Mother Superior as a Dark Cultist. She suspects that They are on the road looking for her. If the PCs look remotely trustworthy, she will ask for the party’s protection.
5 - Nuns - an old Mother Superior traveling with 3 lower-ranking Sisters. They are looking for a nun from their convent who has gone missing.
On the highway: They will approach and ask tearfully whether the PCs have seen the missing woman.
At a tavern: the Sisters will enter the tavern hesitantly, moving from table to table and quietly inquiring about the missing nun. They will leave quickly once they have asked all patrons. The Mother Superior will take a long, comprehending look at the nearest gambling-match on her way out.
6 - Mystic – this young man wears recent bruises instead of clothes; his garments were taken from him by bandits down the road. His face is radiant with joy at finally being parted from his last material attachments.
On the highway: the happy young man offers to bless the party (he heals 1 PC to full HP or removes 1 poison/disease – once only). He will not accept financial payment, but will accept food, if it is offered. For modesty's sake, he will also accept a new set of undergarments, after thinking about it for a while.
At a tavern: the naked mystic can be seen picking through the food refuse-pile behind the tavern. If approached in a friendly way, he will respond as above.
7 - Preacher – this robed, mendicant preacher is moving from town to town and village to village, preaching a message about the dangerous rise of hidden Dark Cultists, the injustice of the nobles, and the worthy dignity of the common folk. His rhetoric has become more radical of late, and the writ of authorization he carries, signed by the local bishop, technically has been revoked.
At a tavern: the Preacher enters, stands on a table or upon the bar, and begins a sermon calling on those Who Have (inside the tavern) to donate to those Who Have Not (in or near the tavern). If in doubt, the PCs qualify as those Who Have. The preacher refuses to accept any donations himself.
8 - Puppeteers – troupe of 1d4 puppet entertainers with a garishly-painted (red and blue) covered wagon that doubles as a small puppet-show-theater.
On the highway: the puppeteers are chatting happily with each other and barely notice the PCs. As their wagon rolls past, the PCs see a small puppet’s head poke out from the wagon and turn – as if watching them closely - as they pass.
At a tavern: the puppeteers have brought their show inside the tavern. As the PCs enter the tavern, they see the puppet-show conclude with a farcical romance about a young hero who dies horribly, leaving behind a lost treasure and a lonely maiden (the maid closes with a dramatic speech about ‘future heroes who must right these wrongs'). As the puppeteers wrap up their show and leave the tavern, one of them passes by the party’s table. His eyes momentarily go blank, his jaw goes slack, and then he whispers, “But who is the puppet, and who the master?” quietly to a PC. Then they depart the tavern, as if nothing had happened.
9 - Robber Chief – this once-beautiful woman’s face is hard and scarred. She wears trousers and a loose, belted jacket that does not fully conceal the glint of an iron cuirass about her torso. She is quite visibly armed with several long knives and a short sword, and she caps off her ensemble with a very wide-brimmed blood-red hat. She was separated from her crew in a recent job that went wrong, and is now making her way back to their cavern-lair a day’s walk from here. The woman is a very experienced fighter and a hardened rogue, and should not be trifled with.
On the highway: if the PCs look particularly shifty, she may try to recruit them into her band. Otherwise, she will stare at the PCs rudely but yell at them to ‘keep their eyes to themselves’ if they try to communicate.
At a tavern: the PCs become aware of this fellow tavern-‘patroness’ when she stands up from the bar, noisily finishes her (third) tankard of ale, points vaguely toward the PCs, tells the bartender “they said they’d pay for it, thanks,” and turns and walks toward the exit.
10 - Scholar – this roughly 30-year-old natural philosopher has come to this district to find a Dragon Rose, which blooms briefly, only once each century, atop arcane ruins. He has been criss-crossing the region’s roads and woods for several weeks.
At a Tavern: Weary, obviously bored with tavern society, and running low on traveling-funds, the scholar will approach any party of obvious adventurers and offer to sell the location of several remote ruins he has found within a day’s journey into the woods.
On the highway: this incredibly agitated young man has just found and harvested a Dragon Rose in full bloom an hour’s hike off the main road. He knows he has only five days of bloom left to get the flower to a Stasis Glass at the Royal Academy – seven days’ journey away. His entire career hangs in the balance. The scholar will accost any competent-looking party, offering to pay them 1,000 gp each if they will help him hijack a fast coach and get him home on time (back home, he is easily good for the money).
11 - 'Swordsman' - apparently…this thinly-built, clean-shaven young fellow has fine, elegant features, and wears an ornate cuirass and a sword - but seems to handle both uncomfortably. In fact, this ‘lad’ is the young widow Jenna von Radstein, on her way to try to kill her husband’s murderer. Roll again on this table to identify the murderer (or, at least, the suspect…).
On the highway: 50% chance von Radstein, if accosted, may ask the PCs to help her quest for vengeance.
At a tavern: 50% chance the widow approaches the PCs and asks for their help finding the murderer; otherwise, the widow thinks the killer is here at the tavern and will attempt a very public retribution on her own. 70% chance she has identified the correct killer.
12 - Swordsman, fuming – this advanced student of a Fencing-Master is quite good at fighting (mid-level Fighter) but is smarting after a recent training-bout that ended in defeat by a rival. He is carrying a letter from his Fencing-Master to a colleague, but he is so insecure and troubled that he will stop to challenge a PC to a first-blood duel at the slightest provocation – even if he has to engineer that provocation himself.