Synopsis: The players roll into town and begin to hear fantastic tales about a local hero. These stories begin to sound unusually familiar. Surely enough, these are tales of their own deeds! Some unscrupulous individual (or individuals) is lapping up the credit and renown due to the players.
This is a charlatan scenario. With it comes many angles for the Dungeon Master to approach the players with. Firstly, it’s a great story hook. It engages the players, young and old, and elicits a “hold up…” response. Beyond that, the DM has leverage to shape the charlatan however they please. The type of charlatan greatly changes the moral implications of the session.
Laying The Groundwork
The players should take a little time to understand what is going on. This slow boil will lead to a greater emotional impact once they realize someone is stealing their credit. Here are a few ways to sow the seeds of suspicion in their minds:
- A young halfling bumps into a player. They quickly apologize, stating that they are in a hurry to set up for a performance honouring a local hero.
- Excited townsfolk talk openly about the great deeds of someone. They player with the highest Perception overhears a portion of a story that is very similar to one of the players’ adventures.
- An elf cleric is collecting donations for a hero to bring to the needy. They explain a similar story about a group of people the players helped.
- A statue has been erected in town depicting a hero slaying a mighty beast. This creature looks strikingly similar to one the players have killed.
- A goliath is arguing with someone on the streets. He insists that he could take this hero in a fight. He mentions how he doesn’t believe the hero -insert one of the players’ achievements-.
Once the foundation is laid, you can set the stage for the inevitable appearance of the charlatan. There are any number of ways to make the introduction. Whatever you decide on, make it an event with fanfare and praise being heaped upon the charlatan. Some suggestions:
- The charlatan is at a tavern having drinks brought to them. They just finish telling a tale of one of the players’ adventures to a captive audience. Cheers erupt.
- A festival is held in honour of the charlatan. The charlatan takes the main stage after a performance to thank the town for their hospitality.
- A gathering is held in a temple to help equip the charlatan on their next mission. The charlatan is announced by a cleric and makes an impassioned plea for help.
- A tournament is being held in the charlatan’s honour. A mock battle of one of the players’ adventures is staged with the charlatan saving the day.
The Charlatan’s Motivation
The stage is set and the intrnoduction has been made, but what is the reason being this identity theft? The charlatan can have multiple motivations. While petty greed is always a great motivator, you have an opportunity to layer in some complexity. Here are a few sample motivations:
- The charlatan has incurred a terrible debt and their family is being held as collateral. They are using the players’ accolades to amass gold to pay the debt.
- The charlatan is a new adventurer and is using the players’ renown to find work. They have been offered a quest to recover powerfu magical items.
- A dark history with one of the players has led the the charlatan to assume their identity. They plan on ruining this player’s reputation.
- The charlatan was once saved by the players and wanted to be like them. They ended up telling tales of the players’ deeds and eventually started taking credit. They have, unfortunately, committed the players to several agreements.
Now that we have slowly created a story to hook the players, there needs to be a payoff. Several avenues were listed above that can be explored. Take note to draw the local population into the adventure and to incorporate the charlatan’s motivation when proceeding. Here are a few examples of the payoff:
- A tavern erupts into a brawl as the charlatan accuses the players of being, well, charlatans.
- They players are asked by an apologetic charlatan to help rescue family members from a crime syndicate.
- The charlatan escapes and the players must give chase through crowded streets. The townsfolk are supportive of the charlatan and attempt to help them.
- The charlatan ruins the reputation of the players by commiting an atrocity or murder. The players are persued by town guards as wanted criminals.
- The charlatan asks if the players would assist in a quest that was agreed to in their name.
- The charlatan is hidden by supportive townsfolk. The players must seek them out in a hostile town.
With these prompts you have the bones of a great adventure. Playing up the players’ backgrounds will help in drawing them into the story. A clever motivation for the charlatan can make dealing with them less straightforward – possibly leading to a moral quandary for the players. Finally, an exciting payoff will leave the players wanting more.