• The VOIDRUNNER'S CODEX is coming! Explore new worlds, fight oppressive empires, fend off fearsome aliens, and wield deadly psionics with this comprehensive boxed set expansion for 5E and A5E!

D&D General How to run an intrigue session?


Without boring you with a ton of detail, I've been giving some thought to a session that will occur in my campaign in the future.

Basically, a princess in a far away kingdom is being manipulated by a succubus. The same succubus has already assumed the form of the Queen and killed the King. Now the princess is in charge, and the Queen is in jail until the truth can be established about what actually happened. When the PCs arrive in this kingdom, they will learn of the King's recent passing. The Princess, manipulated by the succubus, won't likely ask the PCs to help them. Though, some of those in the inner circle of the kingdom (chamberlain, regent, her two younger sisters, etc.) might secretly ask the PCs to investigate (quietly) in order to determine what the truth is. Since they are outsiders, they might be viewed as impartial, and thus useful for this purpose.

And while all this sounds terribly interesting, I'm just not sure how to actually run this at a table, without it being either boring, or taking about 30 minutes, in which case I'm left wondering how to pad out another three and a half hours of a session. I've seen stuff like this kind of ran in Adventurer's League games, and it usually just lands with a thud, and is mostly terrible, as PCs don't ask the right questions, or it's just a ton of random skill checks, and unless you make the right one, at the right time, you lose out on some key piece of information, and the PCs go around in circles for an hour until the GM finally throws them a bone, or whatever.

At any rate, any advice is definitely appreciated here.

log in or register to remove this ad

Your feelings are correct: these types of adventures are quite risky. PCs may decide that they will not go behind the back of the princess (the de-facto head of state), may not ask the right questions, or may not know where to start. They may even have no interest in the type of work.

So, it's much easier and smarter to give them real plot hooks: They are witness to a crime, or something has gone missing. And as they follow leads (plot hooks that you set), they slowly learn the truth of the whole situation. And if they don't piece it together soon enough, you can always make it blatantly obvious by having them see the Succubus in its true (fiend) form?


A suffusion of yellow
so its a murder mystery?
firstly your feelings are right, if you cant get pass them, change the scenario and do something else (a assasination attempt on the princess that the PCs have to foil maybe?)

if you do go ahead, then have the younger sisters engage the PCs -the Princess will be unhappy (unfriendly attitude)- then define the Relationships and Loyalty of all NPCs (hostile, unfriendly, indifferent, friendly, loyal). This is your intrigue space, where PCs affect Attitudes and Loyalties (to Succubus Queen, Princess or Sisters). If the Princess becomes hostile she may have the PCs arrested

Decide how the PCs are going to find the Answer (what even is the question?) then step back and lay out 3-5 Steps on the path to find the answer (this is the adventure map, the straight path with all the answers for the DM only)

Then create maybe 3 -5 encounters and 3 clues for each encounter location and tell the PCs up front what they find - do NOT gate the clues behind dice rolls.
Instead let PCs choose which clue to investigate - which should lead them to talking to NPCs (hostile or friendly?), investigating locations/scenes (especially if theres a dead body) and making Lore checks. NB all 3 clues should point to the next Step (eventually)

more than one encounter may lead to the same Step and all clues should encourage players to come up with a Theory - and my advice; use the Players theory even if its not what you planned for your next step (be flexible)

determine if the PCs have earned any loyal allies (who will help)
decide if any hostile NPCs are going to be combative (combat and avoiding combat is still fun)
decide if any friendly NPCs are going to do heel turns (secretly loyal to Succubus)
Last edited:


Follower of the Way
Writing a murder mystery adventure is rather different from writing a murder mystery story. Because, in a story, you're in control of the detective, and thus the truth will come out however you intend it--the trick is to make the truth obvious once the lines have been connected and nearly invisible when they haven't.

For an adventure, you need to do several things very differently:
  1. There need to be more clues than the players actually "need" in order to solve the case. The rule of three is useful here: for every clue the adventurers truly do actually need, provide (at least) three alternate paths to reach it, or three distinct sources, etc. That way it's pretty unlikely that they'll miss all three chances, and if they do, well, that's probably to some extent actually their responsibility.
  2. You must actually entice the adventurers to want to solve the mystery. Most detectives are brought onto a case because detecting is what they do, or because they love the craft, or because they're hired/paid (e.g. actual police detectives.) Adventurers, not so much. Either you need to pull on an intrinsic motive for at least one of the PCs, or you need to provide a compelling extrinsic motive (political favor, big payoff, shiny loot, aid with something they really need help with, etc.) such that they'll stick to it and not peel off if they lose interest or things get tough.
  3. The final verdict needs to be open to the possibility of failure/wrong conclusions. This is probably the single biggest divergence from the mystery-novel format. The players need to have the ability to be wrong, or else it can all feel really perfunctory and wasteful. Being able to tolerate and respond to flawed or even outright wrong deductions is critical, and yet all the pieces need to be there to find if the players are perceptive and methodical.
  4. You have to prepare lots and lots of sensory details and descriptions of scenes, but you want to avoid just putting a signpost on everything the players need to know. This is possibly the hardest part of all of this, because the previous three things are mostly just a matter of "do more/better prep work." In order to pull off a "give lots of details but don't give the game away" scenario, you have to be really careful about how you prime your players and what information you let slip easily vs what takes active investigation. Further, you have to consider both the conclusions that the players can easily make, and what the character would know/conclude. E.g., the Bard in our party is explicitly a healer with both formal and informal anatomy experience, played by someone with a physical anthropology degree. As a result, I know that both player and character can draw conclusions from knowing that (for example) a body has developed rigor mortis (which must mean it is at least so-and-so hours old, but no more than yadda-yadda hours.)
Sometimes, it can be useful to consider things in terms of scenes, e.g. a time for interviewing suspects, for examining the crime scene, a time for examining the body, a time for a momentous reveal, etc.

Remove ads