Encounter: The Apprentice
January 31, 2019
Here's the last of the encounters we promised you as Adventures stretch goals!
Some people place great import on dreams and prophecies. That can be bad news when they have power to act on them . . .
For several generations, there have been prophecies in the regions around Baron Twen’s lands about a mighty hero destined to bring a new era of prosperity and wealth. This hypothetical hero is known as the Swordsman of the Sun. So far, he hasn’t showed up. (Intense investigation reveals that the original “prophecy” may have been the result of the drunken ramblings of a particularly charismatic bard looking for free room and board.) Still, if the Swordsman of the Sun does turn out to be real, it’s generally agreed that his allies will benefit hugely, and that’s fired the imagination of nobles such as Baron Twen. The Baron likes to think of himself as a merciful and benevolent ruler, but he’s at best mediocre, a historical placeholder until a more interesting leader comes along. He’s not evil or cruel . . . merely banal and uninspiring.
When he dreamed the other night that his own son, Natan, is destined to be the Swordsman provided he receives the proper inspiration, his meager ambitions sparked to life. In the Baron’s dream, Natan had traveled with a group of heroes into a dungeon, where he learned the ways of heroism and adventure. This provided the inspiration that would ultimately turn his son into the Swordsman.
Whether this dream is true or the result of an undigested bit of beef is beyond the scope of this adventure. What’s important is that the Baron thinks it’s true.
Answering the Call to Adventure, Begrudgingly
Ideally, the heroes cross paths with the Baron in some embarrassing way. Perhaps they are responsible for a bar fight or vendor altercation that brought them under scrutiny of the law. Or maybe they merely resemble some prominent ne’er-do-wells, and the Baron’s sheriff takes an “arrest first, ask questions later” approach. It’s also feasible that – during the course of another adventure – the heroes discover that the Baron has something they desperately need.
Regardless of the reason, the Baron senses opportunity and presents the heroes with an option: Take my son with you on one adventure, or suffer the consequences. The specifics are left to the heroes; it’s obvious the Baron would prefer that Natan learn as much as possible, but even more than that, he wants him to return alive.
The Baron promises suitable rewards if his son is returned safely, but that reward probably isn’t much encouragement on its own, what with the threat of imprisonment or death if Nathan is harmed. (Of course, if someone in the group would be willing to accept this challenge without the need of coercion, by all means go that route. And if the GM wants to keep options open, the Baron can always ask nicely, and then – if turned down – have some incident or “evidence” brought to light that causes the Baron to ask again with a bit more force.)
“Bring a Child to Work” Day
Natan is a typical nine-year-old child (In the Labyrinth, p. 100), with an IQ and curiosity that hints at the possibility he might eclipse his father someday. He’s generally polite and respectful, but he also recognizes this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a castle-bound noble child, so he’s not above sneaking off or otherwise getting into trouble. Stats should be adjusted so that Natan’s not an immediate disaster, but he should definitely be a liability (depending on the power level of the heroes). ST 6, DX 9, IQ 11 would be a reasonable starting place. He has Courtly Graces, Swimming, and the nine-year-old-boy equivalent of Climbing. The heroes can arm and armor him as they think appropriate (the Baron admits cluelessness at this sort of thing and trusts the heroes); the Baron will provide any reasonable mundane equipment that Natan can carry, and perhaps a bit of magic. Certainly a Blur ring, if one is available, would be a good idea!
Once Natan is outfitted, the GM should run an otherwise “normal” TFT adventure, with dungeon-crawling, monsters, traps, and the like. Even if the players have undertaken such quests a dozen times before, the addition of a fragile target they need to protect and (perhaps) encourage should make it feel radically different. The GM should not engineer events to specifically target Natan, although some monsters might see him as a tempting morsel.
The Return Home
Presuming one or more of the heroes survive, the Baron’s reaction depends (of course) on how well the heroes succeeded at the goal of protecting and educating Natan.
• If Natan dies, the Baron is (of course) deeply saddened. How angry he is depends on what the heroes say, but it’ll require a convincing story for the heroes not to be arrested or become hunted by the Baron’s forces.
• If Natan is kept safe but otherwise uninstructed (say, by keeping him under guard “behind the lines” until each room is triple-checked), the Baron grudgingly releases the heroes from whatever coercion he had them under but provides no rewards.
• If Natan is kept safe and allowed to be a real part of the action, the Baron is happy and provides whatever reward he promised.
• If Natan is kept safe, allowed to be part of the action, and the PCs provide significant additional tutelage or wisdom (GM’s discretion, but a great opportunity for roleplayers), the Baron will be delighted and double the reward. In addition, the heroes likely have two generations of strong allies in the region the next time they need favors.
It’s up to the GM if there’s anything to the prophecy of the Swordsman of the Sun and/or the Baron’s dream. It’s probably just wishful thinking; there’s otherwise too little that’s noteworthy (ill or good) about the Barony to suggest hidden greatness. However, the future is tricky, and it’s also possible that there is more to the story . . . although maybe the dream was misinterpreted and Natan’s younger sister Natalia is actually the one with a greater destiny than anyone can imagine. If so, the heroes might be called for a repeat favor.