Adventure Hook: The Mercenary Company

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on February 15, 2011

Did your adventuring company meet in a tavern? Perhaps they were recruited by a wise old wizard who needed help clearing out a pesky band of goblins? Of course there is always the village in need of rescue and the PCs just happen to be the only able bodied individuals around. Finally, the PCs might be the heirs of old adventurers destined for greater things.

Regardless of the initial start to your campaign your players will require a long term reason for why they continue to adventure together. Often adventuring parties are composed of personalities that have no real reason to remain together. That is where a Mercenary Company can provide the required glue to keep your adventurers together. Wizards of the Coast recently featured two different mercenary companies, Queen Filfaeril’s Blades and The Last Legion (DDI subscription required). Mercenary Companies allow you to keep the party involved with a long term campaign goal, while still providing other secondary adventures.

Using a mercenary company holds another additional benefit for you players. If they are interested in playing multiple characters over the life of the campaign the mercenary company provides an accessible pool of characters that could rotate in and out of the campaign with little explanation as to why they suddenly appear. Rules for determining how characters that aren’t active would level and be equipped would need to be worked out, but that’s a post for another day. If you would like to reference mercenary companies in fiction read Glen Cook’s The Black Company.

Presented below are 10 adventure hooks that can be used for a party that is currently employed by a mercenary company. Some of these represent minor diversions and others could be fleshed out into long term campaign goals.

  1. The party is tasked with defending the keep of a local baron. When the attacking force arrives the party notices members of the mercenary company with the attacking army. This is in direct contravention of the companies policies. Are the leaders of the mercenary company aware of the betrayal or have the players been viewed as expendable?
  2. A captain in the company has decided to strike out on his own and form his own competing mercenary group. The party is approached and asked to join. Do they defect or advise their superiors. What if any fallout might occur?
  3. A competing mercenary company is holding a competition of skill. Your band has decided to compete. During the course of the competition the party observes a member of the host company stealing documents and planting false evidence amongst the various other mercenary groups.
  4. The company has made camp and will be remaining in their current location for the foreseeable future. A recent foul odour has been detected at the latrine (fouler than usual) and the party is tasked with investigating and cleaning up. It seems some earth elementals have changed the composition of the earth to react badly with human waste. Are the elementals trying to chase the mercenary company from this site and for what reason?
  5. On a routine patrol in the Great Forest of the border kingdoms the party enters a manifest zone connected to the Feywild. The normally peaceful inhabitants are angered by the intrusion.
  6. A party member is promoted over another long standing member of the company. Jealousy and bitterness ensues with the other member seeking to sabotage the party at every turn.
  7. The party is sent to quash a local rebellion. When they arrive on the scene they discover that the rebels are local townsfolk and farmers who have been oppressed by their lord. Does the party side with what is morally right or fulfill their contract?
  8. The ranks of the company have been decimated in a recent conflict. The party is sent out on a recruitment drive. Unbeknownst to the party they end up attempting to recruit new members from those whom they recently fought.
  9. The party is tasked with taking a local mine. The goal is to deny the enemy the resource and start using it against them. Unfortunately the miners dug too deep and a clan of Duergar has taken offense and begun a guerrilla war against the miners and the forces that aid them.
  10. The war is ending and the mercenary company finds itself on the loosing end. The party is tasked with holding off the enemy while the remaining forces retreat.

Have you incorporated the idea of a mercenary company into your game? What plot hooks and devices did you use?

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1 Kenneth McNay February 15, 2011 at 2:26 pm

levels for characters not currently involved in the campaign is fairly easy.

If you view levels as a simulation of an individual making notable growth and learning due to actual experience, those members of the merc company can gain levels by carrying out missions ‘off-camera’ or conducting exercises at a base of operations.

If you view levels as an indication of player narrative involvement and authority, those members of the merc company can gain levels because the player retains the same narrative authority regardless of character.

Also, if you employ inherent bonuses, you don’t have to become concerned with magic items for characters not being played.

2 Sunyaku February 15, 2011 at 11:41 pm

The campaign my private group is currently playing through started with everyone heading to a city to participate in a large tournament. Along the way, a village that the characters happened to all be spending the night at was in need of some help. The players volunteered, and after taking care of business, were encouraged by the NPCs to form a group– otherwise they would have been “assigned” party members for the group portions of the tournament. Their recent battle, and a few more days’ travel to the tournament would give them time to learn more about each other and to work together as a more cohesive group.

After the tournament is over, however, I haven’t decided what hooks I will use to keep them together. I think I’ll wait and see if they gel on their own.

3 Francois B. February 17, 2011 at 5:16 pm

I used the Wolves of Maldeen article for my now-retired adventuring group. I played them as grouped “cells” that didn’t know much of the higher ups in case they got caught.

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