BUT WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO FOR US?!: Generating actionable NPCs to get players out in the world


Michah Ulrich

In my current home campaign, each cleric according to the 90 + 10 Edict must have a sponsor in the Abbey in order to reside there and maintain good standing. Those sponsors are drawn from the Obedientray- senior monks who have additional duties and skills within the Abbey. In-game, this is a way for the Church to maintain further control on its martial component. Out-of-game, it was a way for me to create NPCs the players could go to for help.

But as the campaign as taken root, I've have a couple of problem flower in my head as well.

PROBLEM 1: Since the campaign will be starting its 5th session this week (yeah!), I wanted to make sure that it is not so cleric-centered that other classes could not easily fit in if one cleric is killed.

SOLUTION 1: Open up the world to be more than just Dyson's Delve. This would allow me to throw out other interesting things which could catch the players' attention and provide fuel for other classes.

PROBLEM 2: A. So how do I naturally get them out into the world? "Natural" here means as a result of player choices, not the DM just dropping another plot point in. 

SOLUTION 2: Because the clerics are resupplying through reaction rolls with their obedientaries, maybe I'll just have these NPCs have other wants, needs, and desires out in the world. They can't get to them due to obligations at the Abbey, so they send the PCs.

And because I need a bunch of unique NPCs, I can use Evlyn Moreau's Fabulous Pocket Guild which I've been meaning to use more. So I just draw 10 cards for each obedientary. Then look up some names for them. And I just need to give them a want.

PROBLEM 3: Also, what is this "world"-- is it homebrew or some repurposed campaign?

SOLUTION 3: Lets use Beyond the Borderlands as a setting for this campaign. Its something I already own like the the Fabulous Pocket Guild. Alex Damaceno did a great job expanding upon a will worn classic module. Converting it into six section, 36 hex, hexcrawl. And since the theme of this campagin is linking me, my newphew, and older brother together-- its a perfect fit-- new spin on the old.


Each obediantary is represented by two rows of the NPC cards (top: 1-5; bottom: 6-10). The cards themselves give me basic looks, equipment, and they ooze with personality. People even have pets: sheep, a donkey, floating skulls...

The black hexs represent where their "want" is located in Beyond the Borderlands. And the red text is my attempt at quickly sketching out something interesting between the NPC and a hex feature. Don't want to spend a lot of time because it might not come up. Its just a seed to get me going incase the players say, "Alright will you give us X if we help you with your problem Y?"

I tried to create a range of problems from the seemingly mundane (setting the accounts), to finding special items (a flute that controls animals), to the very personal (lost a piece of their soul).

Beyond the Borderlands- the world
I put Dyson's Delve in hex 4,1 where there are already ruins

SUPER CLERIC BROS: Session 3 & 4

AZLN the Lion of Light

More from the on-going cleric campaign started here.


The Abbot still pushing the completion of the Ossuary, but this time the PCs have the help of the wizard Lunell a pilgrim of St. Ulther who has agreed to join the adventurers out of duty to the patron saint. 

And so the two clerics, Cadfael & Phellius, set off with wizard Lunell and the Oblates Leo (bow) and Samuel (sword) to Dyson's Tower.

By mid-day, they had made it to the tower, where they took a wide birth to the southern cavern entrance. With no giant ferrets insight, they made their way up the narrow center tunnels that would lead them past the goblin guards, and at the beginning of the eastern crypts they wanted to explore again.

At the end of this narrow passageway/burrow was a pile of sleeping giant rats (Note: DM rolled a "7" on the encounter rxn roll). Cadfael whose background in animal handling was put to the test and found lacking. Combat began with Cadfael in the center of the giant rate circle and Phellius and the Oblates on the outside. Combat ended when Oblate Leo (2 hp) was turned into a rat buffet after one ripped his throat out (dmg 3) and he was swarmed.

After casting Detect Evil and reinforcing why the goblins marked the doors to the eastern crypt, this holy(-ish) host descended to the 3rd level, cursing the wizard for not learning at least Magic Missle which could have saved Leo.

On the third level after mild exploration, they realized they were caught between a goblin party in a closed room and giant fire beetles milling about a treasure chest. A quick plan was formed: Hold Portal the door to the goblin room closed, oil and set fire to the giant beetles, and load the chest onto a Floating Disc-- then be gone!

Turns out Follower Lunell had useful spells after all and did not for one second let them forget it on the way home. Oblate Samuel's sobs did not let them forget the dead Leo.

The contents of the chest however netted them an ironic 666 XP each.


(Note: I finally started to implement my procedures in this session described here)

Our clerics decided to start off with a visit first to the Abbot who once again implored them to devel the crypt for bones to complete the ossuary. The prior, who believes them filled with avarice and tells them so, implores them to leave the crypts behind, but go to the marshes in search of the lost caravan.

Our clerics think the Prior is trying to get them killed.

Siding with the Abbot they return to Dyson's Tower with only Follower Lunell this time. Brother Samuel was still shellshocked from the loss of Leo (Note: PCs rolled over the NPC's moral according to the PC CHA). Back to the same cave where poor Oblate Leo was turned into rat vittles. This time they head straight for the eastern passages and doors marked by the goblins and slip inside.

They find a plain crypt. A far cry from the one for St. Ulther. But their curious investigations soon awoke the zombie inside, burst forth from the grave. Combat ensures were Brother Cadfeal & Phellius are so consumed by sending the thing back to hell with their bare hands, they forget to even attempt turn undead. This almost proves fatal as only 1 of 3 thrown vials of holy water dash against the zombie, Follower Lunell is brought to 1 hp, and even Brother Phellius is one heavy zombie punch away from death. But at the last second Brother Cadfael's mace finds purchase and the zombie's head is knocked off.

The reward for this effort is the revelation that the curious dagger sticking out of the zombie's chest was in fact a profane dagger of Orcus. The clerics resolve to destroy this foul tool at the Abbey in appeasement to AZLN. Then they find behind that behind a mysterious door is on the south wall of this room is the crypt of St. Serene the Beheaded-- their second saint!

The first order of business back at the Abbey was to destroy the dagger. The PCs approached the Prior who offered to destroy it which made the PCs think he is an agent of Orcus. That and the fact he's never liked them. Instead, they gave the dagger to the Abbot and leveled their accusations much to the shock of the Abbot--- "He's an old friend and a pious man. It cannot be true."

YOUR OWN PERSONAL JESUS: Building a Clerical Order Cheaply & Quickly


In my current BX game, both of my players have rolled clerics. Now, I didn't want to have to build a whole pantheon or build too much around those characters because-- BX D&D-- they could die. However, as much as I find clerics to be the true odd-class out versus fighter-wizard-thief, they do come with a lot of pre-baked role-playing opportunities due to fielty to a greater power. Plus, my players rolled they were seeking the bones of saints. So, what can I do to establish a clerical order quickly and with little effort?

Some wants:

  1. To match a  diety to primarily undead turning, light, purity, healing, removing fear, and some martial ability
  2. To make something the players (with mainly Christian backgrounds) would find easy to make prayers and rites for on the fly; eliminates the needs for lengthy lore dropping too
  3. To explain why the abbey has a limited number of clerics on hand-- why do the players always have to do the hard quests?
  4. To come up with a slogan that is also easy to communicate and matches the above.
DIETY: So what is a good "fantasy Jesus"? I think C.S. Lewis did is pretty good with Aslan the Lion, so I just stole that like any other self-respecting DM. Aslan became "AZLN the Lion of Light". 

PRINCIPLES: Also, since the magic mainly wielded is less "fire cleansing sin" (very Old Testament) and more "cleansing & purifying" (more hippy New Testament), I thought the order's slogan could be "Light, Beneficence, Order". Strong guiding principles- which help the players understand what they should be concerning themselves with and what they can ask for of their god.

The ORDER: But I still wanted to explain why the abbey has a limited number of clerics AND give the players a little more to go by. I thought it would be cool to come up with a set of principles for the abbey's order and so was born the 90 + 10 Edict which:
  1. Established the purpose of the order is to combat the schemes of the undead prince Orcus (always feels like one of the best universal old-school baddies)
  2. Explains that only 10% of the abbey's population (currently 100) can be clerics (which is why the players have to do everything)
  3. Outlines what material wealth they can keep. Not gold and silver, but only copper, topaz, citrine (the colors of AZLAN), and pearls (all mainly to keep the clerics from gaining wealth and power)
    • In-game fiction: the church justifies the taking of gold for good works and silver for the abbey. Copper, topaz, and citrine are the colors of AZLN and so can be kept and used in ornamentation.
    • As a piece of in-game fiction, sailors like this clerical order because they often pay with pearls, which is the currency of the sea; captains like them too for their ability to cast Remove Fear. Also, dwarves won't trade in pearls because they come from living things not the earth.
  4. Also outlines that the clerics can only order around those who submit to their will due to their exemplary character ( again, in-game, the church doesn't want a martial order to gain power AND influence)

More nagging questions--  if I was restricting money to just copper and certain gems, how will the players resupply? Or acquire better non-magical items? And since there are only two players, how can they get retainers/hirelings etc?

Turns out there is a real position in an abbey called "obedientary" where a monk has a more specialized job the abbey. And in terms of potential "hirelings" or "followers", one ready-made pool of 0-level adventurers could be the "oblate"-- sorta wards of the abbey (also real). People who seek escape for one reason or another, but won't become monks.

OBEDIENTARY: Clerics may get favors from their obedientary as their clerical sponsors under the 90 + 10 Edict. The non-sponsor obedientary are also who they can turn to for resupply and items of special interest (2d6 roll similar to how Ben L of Ultan's and Ava of Errant do their procedures).

Here I tried to describe the general purpose and add a specific "give" in yellow, hopefully to encourage out of the box thinking or untilization. For instance if players wanted to perform some sort of rite they might need to combine the obendientary for Church and Prayer.

Micah Ulrich is the artist here- very cool work

OBLATE: Each of these start as a 0-level NPC who can weld a 1d6 weapon and has 1d6 hp. It again takes a 2d6 RxN roll similar to the hireling rules to measure willingness to go on quests. And depending on what happens during the quest, bribes to ensure continues service (especially if someone else dies). Which I think pairs well with the other way to attract followers by completing reliquaries and ossuaries.

So like the Obedintarians, the Oblates require management mainly not from money but from reaction checks and diplomacy. If the clerics act poorly or immorally, then they are less likely to be able to attract help.

EDIT: Putting it all together

So what does an "Abbey Turn" between adventures look like? Is it just roll, roll, roll and on to the dungeon? In some ways "yes", but each roll is an opportunity for the players to bring to bare various RPG elements to influence that roll or maybe even eliminate it altogether if they have a compelling reason. So the next session will work like this:

[Game Start]

Summary of last adventure

Recieve, somewhat optional, requests from the Abbot regarding the abbey's needs

Players decide what they want to pursue or follow up on what they told the DM last time or find something else via discussion with the abbey population or pilgrims

"Morning prayers" where players decide which spells to prepare & which reliquary they want to pray to

DM rolls 1d6 to see who has been attracted by the ossuary and has come on pilgrimage

Players converse with the Obedientary (2d6 reaction roll) for resupply of basic equipment and/or novel requests

Players converse with the Oblate (2d6 reaction roll) for additional party members

[Leave abbey for quest]