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Mastering Intrigue

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 98
Any adventure can contain elements of intrigue, and even the most combat-filled dungeon crawl often benefits from breaking up the action with more nuanced encounters as a change of pace. Because it’s less confrontational than physical combat, intrigue acts as a counterpoint to battles, and serves to highlight and strengthen a campaign’s high-octane moments, helping tension to build slowly and naturally and creating satisfying storytelling moments.

All references to “an intrigue-based game” in the following section apply to a game that incorporates any amount of intrigue, from one with a splash of deviousness to a full-on political thriller.

Intrigue Systems

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 98
This chapter consists of new subsystems, new rules, and advice to add robust elements of intrigue to your game.

Influence: This rules system measures how characters gain influence and reputation with various organizations. Rather than boiling a social interaction down to just a skill check or two, influence creates a back-and-forth that plays out over a longer scene. It provides concrete rewards for engaging with such groups, which can be customized to fit your game.

Heists: This sections presents tips on organizing and running heists, such as running a con or penetrating a set of complex defenses to steal an object, rescue a person, or attain some other goal. This section also discusses the similar topic of infiltration.

Leadership: Expanding upon the Leadership feat, this section offers ways to incorporate leadership into the game so the PCs can attract hirelings and other followers. Discover advice on how leadership works in an intriguebased game, and the role that cohorts and followers can take on in such campaigns.

Nemeses: To amp up the dramatic thrusts and parries of an adversarial relationship, the nemesis system adds nasty stratagems an enemy can employ against the party. This section also includes suggestions for how to escalate the animosity, as well as specific strategies and XP rewards.

Pursuit: For long-lasting chases that take several days, these new pursuit rules make the back-and-forth of such engagements fun and strategic, offering opportunities to gain edges over your pursuers or quarries.

Research: Obscure information lies hidden within great libraries and other repositories of knowledge. The research system gives a procedure for digging into the ancient tomes and gleaning those rare pieces of information.

Spells of Intrigue: Many spells cause problems with an intrigue-based game by enabling characters to easily detect lies, charm creatures who have needed knowledge, or otherwise bypass social interactions. This section talks about these spells both in general terms and in specifics for certain prominent spells.


Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 102
Jockeying for position and favor is natural part of human social dynamics, as common in the armies of high-minded crusaders as in the courts of wicked nobles. The resulting web of allegiances lies at the heart of any intrigue-focused campaign, with individuals scheming to gain allies while undermining their enemies’ support. To represent these machinations, this section introduces two influence systems: one for individual influence and one for organizational influence. The first system provides a dynamic framework for social encounters in which the PCs gain or lose the favor of key NPCs, as well as a mechanic for calling in debts. The second system models the way the PCs’ actions affect their clout within allied organizations, and how far organizations at cross-purposes with the PCs will go to undermine them.


Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 118
Movies, television series, and novels frequently depict the same scenario: a team of experts, each of its members able to contribute a specific and unique skill set, tries to pull off a complex heist. Whether it’s jewelry thieves breaking into the diamond exchange, a rescue team extracting a high-value target from a maximum-security prison, or even former convicts hired to find and report on vulnerabilities in a bank’s vault security, detailed and hair-raising tales of carefully planned heists (often gone awry with thrilling twists and turns) abound in popular storytelling. It only stands to reason, then, that GMs running a game based on intrigue and subterfuge might want to introduce the excitement and thrills of a complex heist scenario.

Running a successful heist requires the GM to understand of the strengths and weaknesses of the participants, and to grasp how to build challenges for them that play to their strengths.

An ideal heist allows every character in the party a chance to shine, making it fun for everyone involved.


Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 130
Social interactions and the bonds between people are some of the most important elements in any story. One of the best ways to portray those ties and bring a supporting cast of NPCs to life is through the Leadership feat, though getting the most out of it can sometimes be a challenge for both players and GMs. This section offers an in-depth overview of the Leadership feat, presenting suggestions for how to include cohorts and followers in your game and incorporate them into various rules systems found in Pathfinder RPG Ultimate Campaign.


Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 136
Over the course of their adventuring careers, player characters face many obstacles and enemies. Only a true nemesis, though, continually tests the PCs, seeking to foil them at every turn. Whether it’s a corrupt magistrate thwarting the PCs’ efforts to bring order to a town, or a fellow adventurer sabotaging their attempts to curry favor with the king, a nemesis can be the PCs’ most memorable foe—particularly if he’s an adversary they’ve made through their own choices. This section provides detailed guidelines to help GMs create recurring villains who are memorable and who possess recourses beyond normal foes. A system of escalating nemesis stratagems helps rivalries intensify over multiple engagements. It also presents suggestions for encounter adjustments and increased XP rewards you might provide to make facing a nemesis deadlier, but also more rewarding. Each foiled strategem should provide the PCs with an opportunity to strike back against their foe, potentially launching into new adventures plotted to go along with the PCs’ schemes. These new adventures are also almost certain to deepen the grudge between the characters and their nemesis.


Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 142
Hunting down your enemies across hill and dale is a classic fantasy trope, and a deeply satisfying part of many books and films, yet difficult to simulate using only the Pathfinder RPG combat rules. Though chase rules appear in the Pathfinder RPG GameMastery Guide, those are specifically designed to cover fast-paced action chases— once the journey is measured in hours rather than seconds, endurance and strategy quickly outweigh fast reflexes and quick thinking. Only by using careful tracking and cunning tricks can pursuers catch up to their quarries. The pursuit system presented below integrates these crucial elements into a structure that simulates a longer pursuit in a manner that’s both fun and easy to manage.

There are two main types of pursuits. In a direct pursuit, the pursuers are following another group’s trail wherever it may lead, with the express goal of catching up to their quarries. In this type of pursuit, the pursuers don’t know where the quarries will go—they’re forced to follow the trail that their prey left behind. By contrast, in a race, both sides know the destination, and the pursuers simply want to get there first, perhaps to catch their quarries or prevent them from acquiring something at the destination.


Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 148
Knowledge is power, and this is just as true in an ancient dungeon as in a queen’s court. In the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, the various Knowledge skills represent a character’s familiarity with different fields of study. Knowledge checks can often answer specific questions, but sometimes a character either fails the Knowledge check or has no hope of success, such as when the knowledge she seeks is forgotten, hidden, or important enough to the story that uncovering it with a simple skill check would be anticlimactic.

This is where research comes into play. Under the following rules system, characters can visit a library and use its resources to discover new information. While simple questions (such as identifying a monster, knowing a local rumor, or recognizing a deity and her symbols and clergy) may still be answered with a single Knowledge check as presented in the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook, this system addresses more complex issues, such as learning details of an ancient pharaoh whose name has been lost to history, interpreting an infernal contract, or studying a comprehensive book of arcane lore. Many character concepts focus on the pursuit of knowledge, and spending time researching the topic in a library using the following rules can be a fun way to let that aspect of a character or party take center stage.

These rules can represent researching any repository of lore or knowledge: an actual library, a vast historical archive, a complicated legal contract, a city’s hall of records, a hoard of ancient scrolls, a magical tome of esoteric lore, a wizard’s personal collection of books and scrolls, or even a psychic’s memory palace. For the purposes of these rules, however, the term “library” is used to represent all of these possibilities.

Spells of Intrigue

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 154
Magic influences nearly everything in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. In an intrigue-based campaign, the principal focus shifts from exploration and dungeondelving— where magic is primarily used for survival and fighting—to navigating complex and precarious social interactions. Politics, organized crime, espionage, mercantilism, and other intrigue-based objectives require extensive use of subtlety, subterfuge, thoughtful planning, and orchestrated tactics. As a result, characters engaged in intrigue often utilize spells that are geared toward communication rather than combat, spying and intelligence-gathering rather than physical defense, and winning power and influence rather than slaying opponents outright and taking their treasure.

The following section offers advice on certain spells particularly likely to see use in an intrigue-focused game, organized by level of play and spell school.

Social Conflicts

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 166
The Pathfinder RPG is often played as a game of high adventure, where heroes brave wildernesses, monsters, dungeons, and other dangers to gain experience and treasure. Often cities and societies simply serve as backdrops—places to rest and go shopping, use workshops or laboratories, and maybe hunt a cruel monster or dangerous cult in the labyrinthine sewers below. However, with a slight change of perspective, Game Masters can introduce social conflicts into their adventures. These unique encounters can spice up your game by presenting players with different kinds of stakes, rewards, and consequences than those found in conflicts involving brute force.

For example, while selling plundered artifacts in a city, the PCs might discover a local tough is extorting tribute from dock-side businesses. After confronting the extortionist and driving him out of the neighborhood, they find he was working for a “businessman” who, aside from his legitimate trade, controls a network of criminals. These practices have made him rich, and given him enough capital to contribute a number of civic works to key areas of the city, which in turn has made him a leading candidate for alderman. While engaging in a campaign of whispers to foil the election, the PCs learn of a society of political reformers that wishes to pressure the mayor into dissolving the current council and holding new elections. While the society seems harmless at first, it’s actually a cover for a group of foreign spies paving the way for a major attack on the city. What are the PCs to do?

Social conflicts like those described above aren’t always devoid of combat—often they erupt into violence. But unlike ordinary combats, which frequently unfold in remote areas beyond the reach of the law, social conflicts take place in settlements where peace is enforced and wanton violence creates instability and threatens ordinary citizens. Social conflicts deal with the subtlety, charm, and ingenuity used to gain commodities, prestige, or power.

The following section offers advice on how to create and run social conflicts in your games, including suggestions on how player characters can become embroiled in such conflicts. You’ll also find a new event-based structure for adventure design, in which the PCs’ actions lead to consequences will either determine the next event in a social conflict or modify future events. The section closes out with advice on designing social conflict events, giving you all the tools necessary to run a social conflict adventure arc, or even an entire campaign.

Verbal Duels

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 176
Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can crush your spirit. Verbal duels are battles of words rather than swords, in which skilled duelists use facts, wordplay, and rhetorical flourishes against each other to win arguments or sway crowds. This kind of duel typically takes place in front of an audience, but the rules presented below can also be used for private discussions, or even large debates where multiple viewpoints conflict in an arena of opinion.

Many of the following rules assume the duel is between two chief opponents and is conducted in front of onlookers the duelists are attempting to sway—indeed, sometimes a duelist and her allies can improve their odds by discerning the crowd’s biases and playing to them. A verbal duel’s audience might be an angry mob, the members of a ruling council or senate, the jury during a court proceeding, or socialites at a party—anywhere two characters might best each other with wit and cutting remarks.