Running a D&D game with a fair amount of intrigue has always been a particular DM goal of mine. In preparation for a new campaign, I decided to take a slightly different approach in implementing this concept.
For a while now, I’ve been running a game with a home-brew Luck mechanic. It’s a simple enough house-rule that I’ve found adds a lot of fun to the table.
Each player rolls 3d6 and this becomes their ‘Luck‘ stat. When a situation comes up that feels like a good opportunity to add some randomness to a scene, I have players make a contested Luck roll– the lowest roller gets targeted by whatever nefarious scheme I decide to unleash on the hapless victim. It’s proven a hit at the table and I’d highly recommend folks trying something similar at their own at least once. (You can find my brief PWYW Luck PDF on the DMSGuild for examples on how to run the concept, it’s pretty basic)
So in working on my upcoming Intrigue campaign, I based some of the design on my experience with the Luck mechanic. I decided to take an approach to implementing Loyalty from the Intrigue perspective as something somewhat out of a player’s control. I wanted to present them with opportunities to betray their current mission, just like any typical spy novel or film noir, however, I also wanted to carry the audiences’ uncertainty about protagonists in these genre’s own loyalties to the D&D table.
Intrigue genres are very much driven by world’s where loyalties and alliances are murky at best. Unlike films and novels however, role-playing is very much a participatory activity. This can take away players’ uncertainties about their characters ultimate motivations. I struggled with how to carry this tenseness over from the genre and decided a great way was to challenge a players own assumptions about their very own character– by adding a Loyalty stat.
While this may seem like robbing a player of their own character’s agency, I feel that, if applied sparingly and with adequate forewarning, having players roll situational loyalty checks is perfectly fitting for a D&D campaign.
As a comparison, a player playing a barbarian may easily understand a sphinx’s riddle, but would their barbarian truly be able to? In that case, an Intelligence check would seem like a great way to mitigate a player’s role in their characters in-game agency and abilities. And just like say, shooting an arrow at a marauding orc, or attempting to pick a lock, players are presented with a problem that they wish their character will overcome, however their characters may simply not be up to the task. That was the approach in conceptualizing this idea of a Loyalty stat.
This concept is somewhat explored in the DMG with the idea of Honor, and more succinctly addressed with the excellent 5e concept of Bonds. However, having players roll for Loyalty, feels like an added test, or challenge (some may even call it a skill challenge) that may be incredibly rewarding to players, who may do everything in their power to remain loyal to a particular faction, but find their own characters’ moral, ethical or willpower ultimately lacking.
During the roll-out of this particular concept, the players had a lot of questions, and to address them I went through an example of how these loyalty checks would go– it was well received. But that’s for the next blog…