Adventure Hooks: Gambling

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on April 8, 2014

a-to-z-2014-gGambling can be thrilling. The idea that you can place a bet on something, and if successful win a sizable reward appeals to most people. Gambling can serve as an invigorating adrenaline rush for those who play for high stakes. It can be a form of entertainment for those who can afford to lose. It can give hope to the desperate and inspiration to the lazy. It doesn’t take much to find a reason for someone to gamble, especially PCs.

Throughout April Dungeon’s Master is participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. The challenge is to write a new article ever day in April, excluding Sundays. That’s 26 articles over the course of the month. To make things even more interesting the title of each article will begin with a different letter of the alphabet. This year we’ve decided that every article will provide our readers with new adventure hooks. Today “G” is for gambling as we look at ways PCs can gamble or how others can gamble on them.

I’ve learned that it’s tough to role-play gambling in D&D. What usually happens is that you end up going player vs. player rather than character vs. character. Instead I’ve often found the build up and circumstances of the gambling is a more rewarding gaming experience than actually spending time on the gambling itself.

If your players want their characters to gamble in casino-style games I encourage DMs to steer them towards games that involved rolling dice, like craps or sic bo. Even roulette can be recreated using a die roll to represent the ball spinning around the wheel. The advantage of going this route is that you don’t have to break out cards and slow things down. Since players already have dice it’s just a matter of rolling them, much like they would during a combat encounter. Remember to let the narrative of the scenario guide your rolls.

Adventure Hooks: Gambling

1. Not quite the Kentucky Derby

In a world with exotic and fantastic creatures, why would anyone settle for a mere horse race? The PCs hear of a local racetrack where all kinds of strange land-based monsters and creatures compete. Sometimes the races feature creatures of the same type (like Centaur races), while other races allow any monsters to compete in a free-for all of speed. The race winners are paid handsomely. Betting on the races is fierce and competitive. With the success of these tracks the owners are in the process of setting up courses for aerial races. They’ve already lined up Griffons, Gargoyles, and Dragons to compete for supremacy of the flight track.

2. The honest gambler

While playing cards in a tavern one night the PCs meet a man who wants to join the game, but he makes a big deal about integrity and honesty. Furthermore he asks all players to swear an oath that they’ll play honestly. He proposes that if anyone is caught cheating that the rest of the players get to divide up all of the wealth and material good in the cheater’s possession. If they all agree they game begins.

[One of the players already in the game when the honest man shows up is wearing a magical amulet that detects cheating. He and the honest man are con men looking for a quick score. Anyone near the amulet who cheats of their own free will does such a poor job that the attempt is instantly obvious to anyone in the game. Unfortunately the cheater does not realize that the amulet’s magic makes them transparent. The person wearing the amulet is the only one unaffected by the magic which allows him to cheat freely; which he does. He deliberately lets the richest looking player see him cheating in hopes that the rich Mark will try to beat him at his own game and be exposed by the amulet’s magic.]

3. The Illithid in the basement

Two adventurers decided to retire and open a tavern. Unfortunately the business didn’t do well and they lost most of the loot they’d acquired during their adventuring days. In desperation one of the partners decided to join an adventuring party and go on one more quest. He returned with plenty of gold pieces and a new vision for the tavern that included gambling. Since the makeover, the business has flourished. The tavern is quickly gaining a reputation as the place to gamble.

[When the partner went back on the road his party was attacked by Mind Flayers. The Illithid’s modified each party member’s memory and dominated them. With the adventurers fully under their control, the Mind Flayers secretly accompanied their thralls home and took over their personal lives. The Illithid has set himself up in the tavern’s basement. He frequently manipulates the outcome of card games by giving players flashes of what their opponents are holding or thinking. This is how he helps the tavern remain prosperous.]

4. The world’s greatest trainer

One of the PCs is approached to participate in an upcoming unarmed combat tournament (boxing, wrestling, MMA, whatever works). An elderly gentleman is willing to train the PC. If the PCs look into the man’s history they realize he has coached numerous champions over the past few years and seems to be on the level. He guarantees the PC will win and is betting his life savings on the outcome, something he encourages the rest of the party to do to. A win will allow him to retire to a well-earned life of comfort.

[Although the coach is good, his assistant coach is the one responsible for the recent success. The assistant was a Warlord for an army that was defeated. He’s been in hiding for years which is why he stays in the shadows as the assistant. During matches he shouts encouragement to his fighter, granting him free attacks with Direct the Strike and healing wounds with Inspiring Word.]

5. Voyeurs (Part I)

The PCs learn of a new gambling parlor that caters only to the extremely wealthy. They also learn that whatever’s going on there does not involve cards or dice. Yet the patrons and proprietors happily confirm that serious money changes hands through the course of an evening.

[The parlor is divided into a series of small rooms, each of which has a scrying pool at its centre. The pools allow gamblers to watch adventuring parties fight monsters. Best are placed on the actions and outcome of each combatant.]

6. Voyeurs (Part II)

The PCs are hired to visit an ancient dungeon known to be inhabited by monsters. Their patron explains that his friend was part of an expedition to the ruins a few months earlier. He’s confirmed through magic scrying that his friend’s party all died there. He wants the PCs to recover a family heirloom from his friend’s body so it can be returned to his widow.

[The PCs are being sent into the dungeon so that others can gamble on their adventures. At least one PC is given an item that the scrying pools can easily use as a focus object. Although the PCs are not being told about the gambling, the rest of the story is true and they will be fairly compensated as promised.]

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1 Joe April 8, 2014 at 10:42 am

In my last attempt to run a gambling parlor with my PCs, I developed a whole intricate system involving bluff checks to get extra cards, etc. But the players were all aware of the mathematical realities of gambling, and didn’t take the bait. I had to alter things on the fly, because I’d planned all these plot interactions around the gambling. Just goes to show you what too much DM planning will lead to.

2 dan April 10, 2014 at 11:55 pm

In our 3.5 home campaign, we have had 2 Combat tournaments this far, with a 3rd only a session or 2 off. Betting on the outcomes is allowed, and encouraged. There are bet limits and other rules preventing us from getting too rich from betting on our warblade (it took a level 16 paladin to beat him at level 6, and only because he was temporarily evil)…

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