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General Help me figure out this NPC's evil plot in my campaign

I'm looking for ideas to flesh out the evil plot of an NPC in my game. A plot I didn't even realize was brewing until after events were set into motion :)

Here's the backstory: I needed to get the party from City A to City B for the next adventure. The hook in City B was helping an orphanage find (and rescue) some kidnapped orphans (Shackled City). While this backstory could tug at the heartstrings of many a good-aligned party, the PCs in my game are far more morally ambiguous and mercenary inclined than the average published adventure assumes.

So, having done various "odd" jobs in City A for those with power and ready cash but a strong desire to maintain clean hands, I came up with a hook to the hook. The party was hired by a wealthy (and connected) merchant-lord named Keltos. My quick backstory in my notes was this:

"Keltos is a wealthy merchant and trader of City A. He became a parent late in life, and his wife died in childbirth. Several years ago his daughter, Elena, ran off with a scoundrel and was never heard from again.

Keltos has recently discovered his daughter died (abandoned by her husband) but had a daughter. Keltos’ granddaughter was an orphan in City B. Party is hired to fetch his granddaughter from the Orphanage in City B, as Keltos wants this done quickly, quietly and discretely. The roads have been more dangerous of late, so hiring men both skilled with the blade (or spell) and ready to make use of these skills at a moment's notice is desireable"

Being offered very nice compensation for what seemed like low risk work, the party accepts ("low risk, high reward" is one of their mottos). When they arrive in City B, they discover the girl they sought was kidnapped, along with three other children. This ties in with the actual plot of the published adventure.

This brings me to the current situation. The party seems to think this story is pretty thin and there MUST be a real reason behind this fellow Keltos suddenly deciding to be reunited with his granddaughter. And if they were to go missing, any compelling evidence tying Keltos to the girl in the orphanage would be gone. So when they stated their concerns, I responded with "well, anything's possible." , but in my head I'm thinking "yeah, something DOES seem fishy with this story".

So, having (subconsciously) created a nefarious plot, I need to flesh it out. Why does this fellow REALLY want his daughter? And how with the almost certain double-cross against the party play out?
 

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Sabathius42

Bree-Yark
I say do a bait-and-switch morality play with it.

Use Keltos as a patron for the party and have him keep sending them on tasks that look fishier and fishier. Listen to the players as they try to figure out his scheme and go with tasks that seem to mesh with plans they think he is up to.

Have a second group/individual (who wants to take down Keltos for whatever reason) get in touch with the party and who uses them against him as double-agents. Lean into exploiting their not-so-good-but-mercenary outlook. Eventually have the party help this person/group overthrow, kill, rob, whatever Keltos.

Then drop a reveal bomb on them that Keltos was an innocent good guy all along and they have been used for bad by the other.
 

jayoungr

Hero
Supporter
This brings me to the current situation. The party seems to think this story is pretty thin and there MUST be a real reason behind this fellow Keltos suddenly deciding to be reunited with his granddaughter. And if they were to go missing, any compelling evidence tying Keltos to the girl in the orphanage would be gone. So when they stated their concerns, I responded with "well, anything's possible." , but in my head I'm thinking "yeah, something DOES seem fishy with this story".
My quick thought is that it could be something to do with inheritance.

1. Keltos might need an heir to stave off a claim to something of his by a rival within his family. For example, some relative is trying to muscle in on his commercial empire, and Keltos wants to squash him. Maybe he has a nephew who keeps throwing his weight around as the obvious heir to Keltos's fortune, trying to get the underlings loyal to him as their eventual master. Maybe Keltos even suspects the nephew is plotting to poison him and take over. Or the nephew keeps borrowing money on the expectation of his inheritance (and obviously will run everything Keltos has built into the ground as soon as he gets his hands on it).

2. Maybe it turns out the scoundrel, the girl's father, wasn't a mere nobody--he was the black sheep son of some important family. That means that the girl could be in line to inherit something important from him--and as she's just a child, her loving grandfather would of course take over the stewardship of whatever it is until she's old enough. Purely out of the goodness of his heart, of course.
 

I say do a bait-and-switch morality play with it.

Use Keltos as a patron for the party and have him keep sending them on tasks that look fishier and fishier. Listen to the players as they try to figure out his scheme and go with tasks that seem to mesh with plans they think he is up to.

Have a second group/individual (who wants to take down Keltos for whatever reason) get in touch with the party and who uses them against him as double-agents. Lean into exploiting their not-so-good-but-mercenary outlook. Eventually have the party help this person/group overthrow, kill, rob, whatever Keltos.

Then drop a reveal bomb on them that Keltos was an innocent good guy all along and they have been used for bad by the other.
I like it. The major mark against this approach is I have a lot of campaign worked out, and I’m leery of adding in yet another faction. But I might go with the angle of Keltos is simply an old man who had too much pride and made some poor decisions.

The PCs will be waiting for the other shoe to drop and it will ratchet up the paranoia level :)
 

Maybe Keltos made a bargain with a demon for increased power some years back and has to sacrifice a direct bloodline descendant in payment by a certain point in time. He'd been planning to sacrifice his daughter but she somehow got wind of it at the last minute and ran off, but now he learns she had a daughter as well before dying, so the granddaughter's fully suitable as a blood sacrifice. Keltos has already benefited from the demon's power so there's no turning back now - he needs his granddaughter by the next solstice/full moon/alignment of planets/whatever or else the demon's going to take it out on him.

Johnathan
 

My quick thought is that it could be something to do with inheritance.

1. Keltos might need an heir to stave off a claim to something of his by a rival within his family. For example, some relative is trying to muscle in on his commercial empire, and Keltos wants to squash him. Maybe he has a nephew who keeps throwing his weight around as the obvious heir to Keltos's fortune, trying to get the underlings loyal to him as their eventual master. Maybe Keltos even suspects the nephew is plotting to poison him and take over. Or the nephew keeps borrowing money on the expectation of his inheritance (and obviously will run everything Keltos has built into the ground as soon as he gets his hands on it).

2. Maybe it turns out the scoundrel, the girl's father, wasn't a mere nobody--he was the black sheep son of some important family. That means that the girl could be in line to inherit something important from him--and as she's just a child, her loving grandfather would of course take over the stewardship of whatever it is until she's old enough. Purely out of the goodness of his heart, of course.
Maybe Keltos made a bargain with a demon for increased power some years back and has to sacrifice a direct bloodline descendant in payment by a certain point in time. He'd been planning to sacrifice his daughter but she somehow got wind of it at the last minute and ran off, but now he learns she had a daughter as well before dying, so the granddaughter's fully suitable as a blood sacrifice. Keltos has already benefited from the demon's power so there's no turning back now - he needs his granddaughter by the next solstice/full moon/alignment of planets/whatever or else the demon's going to take it out on him.

Johnathan
Excellent suggestions. Both involve the same reason - bloodline - but with radically different short term implications.

I think the angle of inheritance would play out without a double cross. He has the girl, and what he promised the PCs for a reward is a pittance to what he would expect to gain.

Going with needed for a blood sacrifice, I think the PCs may be marked for elimination.
 

jayoungr

Hero
Supporter
I think the angle of inheritance would play out without a double cross. He has the girl, and what he promised the PCs for a reward is a pittance to what he would expect to gain.
In either option, the person who would lose by Keltos gaining control of the girl could be either an antagonist or an ally for the PCs, though.

1. Keltos could send the PCs to rub out/threaten his nephew.
2. The nephew could hire the PCs to rub out Keltos, not knowing about the girl.
3. The nephew could be a good guy and want the PCs to kidnap the girl back from Keltos.

Similar options with the father's family, if you went with that one.
 

Galandris

Adventurer
The story of the runaway daughter who died, heartbroken, after her boyfriend's departure and died of grief just after childbirth is, contrary to the feeling of the PCs, 100% true. It didn't happen to Keltos, though, but to the Iannos, another merchant prince from city A. At the moment, Iannos is old and his trading company will falter as he lacks an heir and his loyal associates wouldn't stay after his demise and try their luck on their own. They are loyal to him, but not to each other. Divided competition would allow Keltos to crush them one by one.

Recently, old Iannos has paid a diviner to foresee the outcome of his succession in order to select the best lieutnants to "sponsor" in the hope his trading house don't collapse after his death: lacking an heir, he'd like his name to endure through his company. The diviner answered that his blood heiress would increase the prestige of the trading tenfold, making Iannos understand he must have a granddaughter.

Keltos got the news as Iannos is recruiting a party to find the child and take him back to him. He hires the PCs to do the exact same thing, hoping to remove her. He understands that hiring people to kill orphan girls could attract bad publicity so he didn't mention his plans to an outsider.

1. The PC will have the opportunity to realize the truth if they hear the exact same story they are finding fishy with another merchant as the granddaddy. They could learn it in parts, and deduce that their instinct was correct.
2. The revalation about this story will make Iannos suspect AS WELL. They will certainly understand that the girl is important without at first knowing why. Will they just sell her to the highest bidder? Would they be better than the beholder running the slave trade in that case?
3. Iannos could succed in hire a party. Finding clue of their involvement would make the party think that there is something sinister to suspect. Especially if the confrontation with Iannos' team turns violent, a result quite common with PC (he could also have hired only morally intransigeant NPCs to send on the quest for his granddaughter, in order to make the situation even more tense, and if the first encounter turns badly, Iannos will think his granddaughter might be in danger and hire hitmen to hunt the PC identified as a threat). But they could also get clues about who is right in this story if they handle it better.
4. The orphan girl could be in age of not wanting to have anything to do with running a trading house. As a young Druid level 1, she thinks monetary wealth would only disrupt her newfound link with nature, so "thank you for coming, but I am not leaving Cauldron". If the PC decided to "betray" Keltos to go with Iannos, they might find themselves in a worse position as Keltos gets what he wanted without the need to pay the heroes...
 

aco175

Hero
I was originally thinking of having the grandfather be a wealthy tycoon, like Carnegie, who in his old age realized that he could not take it with him and became a great philanthropist. Although, I like having the father of the orphan be the bad guy and come for the PCs later. He could be the one who needs to find the daughter to sacrifice to the devil.

You could have some sort of red herring, like in the movie Good, the Bad and the Ugly with the grave of Arch Stanton be a foil and the money is in the grave next to it. The name given to the PCs could be one of the orphans and the real granddaughter is the other one. Of course, the herring keeps getting targeted and the PCs will thing all along that she is the one until she is killed when they almost get her to the grandfather.
 

Legatus_Legionis

< BLAH HA Ha ha >
What of the kid's father's family?

The story of the mother dying in childbirth could be a lie. She was killed as she learned a terrible secret. The grand-daughter is the pawn of her father's family.

They knew of the grandfather's trade business and that he had no heir. The kidnapping of the multiple girls is because the grandfather never got a good description of her, increasing the odd any rescue will get the wrong one.

What was that secret....
What is the other family...
Does anyone else know of the child's ties to Keltos... (a rival trader, a jealous employee, a slighted business...)
Does the orphanage get lots of such abductions? Is this something of a bigger problem?
 

GSHamster

Adventurer
I think the inheritance angle is the best. Maybe the father was a scrape-grace younger son with no prospects, which is why Keltos opposed the marriage. But then the father's older brothers died, and he inherited, and the granddaughter inherited in turn.
---
Actually, now that I think about it, this kind of reminds me of the plot to Mary Balogh's Wescott Series (Someone To Love):

The father is the son of an Earl, and marries a woman from the merchant class. He abandons her, and she has a daughter. The father marries another woman at the Earl's behest, but crucially he does so before his first wife dies. That technically makes the second marriage bigamous, and all issue from that marriage illegitimate. The daughter is the legitimate heir to all the non-entailed wealth. She grows up in an orphanage, and doesn't find out about her heritage until she is twenty.

You could tweak this, and have Keltos realize he can control the wealth of the Earldom if he has the granddaughter. And he could be opposed by the family of the second wife, who realize she and the children of the second marriage would be disinherited if the first marriage came to light.

Another enemy/rival might be the man who stands to inherit the Earldom if the other children are disinherited, especially if he gets to be named guardian of the granddaughter.

(Balogh's story is a bit different in that everyone involved is basically good, even though they are all affected by the legal ramifications of the bigamous marriage.)
 

Eltab

Hero
How old is the granddaughter? A little kid will react badly to all strangers, but a 20-something can weigh (or try to) the various stories and look to her own advantage.

As said above, go with the inheritance not the sacrifice route. Unless ... "I'll come along quietly only if we bring along my friend from the orphanage who was 'disappeared' last week. " Guess what a fine mess she's pushing the PCs into? After all, one maiden is just as sacrificeable as another.

If you have Storm King's Thunder, you can use a Blodstone to make sure the PCs can find the right orphan - and to pull them through all sorts of unforeseen perils while they search.
 

The inheritance angle doesn't make sense without a way for Keltos to prove that the orphan is his granddaughter. If family members are pressing their claim they're not going to accept some random urchin delivered by a bunch a mercenaries - especially after years of Keltos having no knowledge of his daughter's whereabouts (or if she was alive or dead). It would look like a desperate gambit to any magistrate or guild official. I guess it depends on how record keeping works in this realm and well Keltos' daughter covered her tracks.

A crazy alternate idea:

Keltos is his wife's servant. She's a magical being who has reproduced herself through parthenogenesis for centuries. When old age nears she births a daughter and, through raising her, becomes her at around 17. It's been a slow simmer horror movie for a daughter growing up in the Keltos household every 60 years or so.

The being's death during childbirth was a fluke. So, as the daughter grew, Keltos basically kept her prisoner, making her wear her deceased mother's clothing and jewelry, and eating her favorite foods, in hopes that the spiritual aspect of the parthenogenesis would still take. The scoundrel the girl ran away with was actually a peasant boy that rescued her.

Over the years Keltos employed different mercenaries to find the couple. The first few came back empty handed but the next didn't come back at all, except for one who was mauled. The merc said they found the couple at a small cottage with a small child, a girl. When they tried to apprehend them the woman transformed into a terrifying creature and ripped most of the mercs limb from limb. The husband seemed as terrified by the transformation as the mercs and fled with the child.

Cut to present day. Keltos suspects that his "daughter" has become lost and savage without the help of her "mother" guide her through parthenogenesis . It's his responsibility to save his "granddaugher" from the same fate. He would have retrieved the girl from the orphanage himself but he fears the beast daughter is still out there and wants her child back. He's hoping the party can slay her in the process of bringing him his granddaughter, so they're pretty much bait.

Something like that, just brainstorming.

Another, simpler, idea is that Keltos is desperate to have his wife back. He truly loved her. When his daughter was young he visited a witch who said the cost for his wife's resurrection was the life of his descendant. He almost went through with it but balked at the last moment. It destroyed his relationship with his daughter and she ran away soon after. His guilt prevented him from searching for her. It was only years later, when the scoundrel contacted him and asked for coin in exchange for his granddaughter's whereabouts that he sought the witch out again. Keltos is a deeply messed up man: he thinks he may be able to follow through with it this time as long as he doesn't have to lay eyes on his granddaughter.
 

How old is the granddaughter? A little kid will react badly to all strangers, but a 20-something can weigh (or try to) the various stories and look to her own advantage.

As said above, go with the inheritance not the sacrifice route. Unless ... "I'll come along quietly only if we bring along my friend from the orphanage who was 'disappeared' last week. " Guess what a fine mess she's pushing the PCs into? After all, one maiden is just as sacrificeable as another.

If you have Storm King's Thunder, you can use a Blodstone to make sure the PCs can find the right orphan - and to pull them through all sorts of unforeseen perils while they search.
She’s 9 or 10, as were all the other children taken from the orphanage.

The original, as-published, reason for the kidnapping is well set in the campaign, but I could always change the reason around.
 

aco175

Hero
The orphan's father can come back later in a few levels when the PCs forget about things and move on. Maybe he was imprisoned (by the grandfather?) in some sort of Count of Monte Cristo thing and now wants to connect with his daughter. Whether he is evil or not will depend on the PCs in a few levels. It would be even better if you keep bringing the family up every level or so where they become friendly to them.
 

If you have Storm King's Thunder, you can use a Blodstone to make sure the PCs can find the right orphan - and to pull them through all sorts of unforeseen perils while they search.
What is Storm King’s Thunder? Supplement? I clearly don’t have it, but I might want it :D
 




So I’ve decided I’m going with the “soft” plot involving some aspect of an inheritance.

I really thought about the whole “demon worshipper cultist” angle with the young lass being acquired for a sacrifice. But this campaign plan is already full of that sort of thing.

I think the party will (hopefully) deliver the granddaughter, they’ll be paid what they’re owed and then that will be it.

For a while...
 

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