D&D General Tell me about your crime campaigns.

My D&D group is doing session zero tonight to decide what kind of campaign we want to run, and each member of the group will make their proposal, and we will decide on what sounds most fun for the most of us.

I want to make a pitch for a campaign where the player characters are criminals operating in a city whose leadership is corrupt and abusive.

Who here has run games where the player characters were criminals? What sort of plots did you have? What worked and what didn't?

One key thing I have in mind for my idea is that the city restricts who can be a priest, and tries to crack down on access to spell books, So a sample plot might involve trying to access holy texts in order to plagiarize them into spells or something.
 

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Rabbitbait

Grog-nerd
I ran a Boromir Clan campaign set in Sharn, in Eberron. So they were working for a crime syndicate based at a casino. It was surprising how easily DMs Guide modules fitted into that because the objectives of a crime syndicate are not far different than normal murder-hobo objectives.
 

bedir than

Full Moon Storyteller
My second to last campaign was a rebellion from within a city torn apart by civil war. One of the challenges facing the players regularly, that I expect you'll have shortly, is how do they stay hidden in a land of magic?
 

payn

I don't believe in the no-win scenario
I’ve played a few cyberpunk games where the PCs are criminals. It often felt like slippery slope as the bad guys got worse and worse. Not sure how to avoid that?

Done a pirate campaign where PCs where more like revolutionary crews fighting oppression.

Not sure how to keep on the criminal road without being a scumbag but I suppose that’s the point sometimes.
 

Odysseus

Explorer
I tried this, and it ended up as one of my players favorite campaigns.
Plots.
Gang war. The party literally took a wrong turn half way through the campaign, got captured, and ended up running a war against the gang who captured them.
Home base. I started with a plot to get them a base of operations,
There were a bunch of short adventures. Get rich quick ideas. Bounty hunting, finding missing people, stealing from other criminals, anything quick that earned money, no matter how dangerous.
One of the players , a Bard, tried to become King of the Vagrants. He had a power point presentation for it!
And scattered in between were, stealing/buying /obtaining magic items, they desired.
 

aco175

Legend
A rival gang that is worse then the PCs. A group of slavers or something that allows the law to focus on them and not the PCs. This also allows the PCs to have a contact with the law that can feed information both ways. Getting rid of the slavers guild can take several levels and allow the PCs to gain power and see where the campaign is going.

The government could be the ultimate problem to the people and the PCs could rally to defend the people, like Robin Hood or such. There could be a Dark Lord of the Sith behind the government that stole power from the rightful king and now his lost heir can emerge.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
My D&D group is doing session zero tonight to decide what kind of campaign we want to run, and each member of the group will make their proposal, and we will decide on what sounds most fun for the most of us.

I want to make a pitch for a campaign where the player characters are criminals operating in a city whose leadership is corrupt and abusive.

Who here has run games where the player characters were criminals? What sort of plots did you have? What worked and what didn't?

One key thing I have in mind for my idea is that the city restricts who can be a priest, and tries to crack down on access to spell books, So a sample plot might involve trying to access holy texts in order to plagiarize them into spells or something.
Our Blades in the Dark campaign had our team as city-scale terrorists known as the "Embers" – we were basically working within a network of criminal organizations and very dodgy police in order to thwart plans for displacing population to create an arcano-polluting necromancy compound. I was a player, so I may not have had the full picture, but that was the gist.

The initial trouble after our first job was direction. In the city, multiple plot hooks, all these criminal organizations that our various PCs have ties to. NOW what do we do? There was a real "pain" wall we had to get through as a group.

Plots that tended to work included getting blackmail documents / planting them, stealing a teleporter device, breaking into a research lab / rescuing a captive friend, and various heists to gather information/evidence. I do think the heist approach – where you have PCs approaching a problem apart from each other initially – worked better in the Forged in the Dark rules than I've seen it work with modern D&D-esques. I definitely think it CAN be done, but like you know, some mindfulness about HOW to do it seems necessary for 5e/PF2e/etc.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
I took the idea of Pratchetts "Dodger' and started the PCs as street urchins who are part of Fagins gang of pickpockets. They get involved in thwarting an abduction which earns the attention of the Squire, a special agent of the crown, who recruits them to do a heist that gets them involved in the resistance against the city's evil overlords ...
 

After session 0 character creation, I think I'm going to draw upon Black Sails as a basis for the campaign, just without, y'know, sails. The first arc will build toward stealing a major holy relic while it is being transported from an old battleground to the great ziggurat in the capital city, but first the PCs will have some smaller missions where they'll run afoul of other criminals and have to acquire protection from the enforcers of a tyrannical queen.

Here's the write-up I gave the players:

Word Crimes
A Bronze Age Heist Campaign

You are all associates in lawbreaking with Malath-Zu, a man of refined manners who has indicated he is planning a major theft some time in a few months, so he’s vetting prospective accomplices to see if you have the skills he needs.

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The city of No-Ostalin (population roughly 10,000) is ruled by Logos-Queen Kalumum of Regkel.

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She reigns from the temple of the mighty god El the Eternal, which sits atop a ziggurat known as the Palace Hill.

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For the past 100 years No-Ostalin has held the Lu (members of the government) and the En (members of the priesthood) separate, but Kalumum manipulated her way to be leader of both groups. As Queen she can command warlords and armies. As Logos, she wields magical powers and can speak declarations into stone which then carry supernatural authority.

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Two rivers dominate the land. No-Ostalin straddles the Quatil River, named for the first Logos. The other great river is the Chebas, personified as a goddess prayed to by farmers and merchants. The city of Eshkital lies along its banks, about 100 miles from No-Ostalin. The leaders of Eshkital seeks peace with No-Ostalin but fears its dominance. The priesthood of Chebas refuse to be integrated with the En of the Palace Hill.

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To keep Kalumum from gaining any more power, strange alliances are forming between wary priesthoods, criminal gangs, power-hungry warlords, and marginalized tribes. Rumor has it that 200 miles to the south, the beast-folk known as the khabesh are being united under a dread messiah they call the Tirshata, who will cast down all the graven words of No-Ostalin.

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When we meet next week, Malath-Zu will give you your first mission: to steal a dictate inscribed with holy words and infused with divine power. But be careful, because you aren't the only scoundrels out to commit these word crimes.
 

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