Imagine a culinary master, renowned in his field, who won’t hesitate to humiliate and belittle anyone who dares question their mastery of the kitchen. There’s a face that probably comes to mind immediately, but we’re actually playing with SkeletonKey’s Dossier Decks again and building a new NPC for your reading pleasure. Today we’ve drawn three cards from the Commoners deck, and come up with a malevolent master chef who has stumbled onto a gateway to another realm…
Per the Appearance card, we have a bearded half-orc with a sour disposition named Aarnuth. The name is, of course, arbitrary, but we’re going with what’s printed on the card. For Traits, we have Culinary Artisan (which of course immediately brings to mind a certain temperamental celebrity chef), Revenge is a Dish (adding a much more sinister element) and Knife Work. For our Story Hook, our NPC has sheltered beneath a cairn and in doing so caught a glimpse of an unknown place or realm.
I think it’s fair to suggest that our chef lives in a reasonably sized city. Having built up enough cred to be renowned requires (a) an audience, (b) competition. We need a large enough populace to spread the word of Aarnuth’s amazing veal scallopini, and we need other chefs in the area for him to be compared to, such that he’s acknowledged as one of the best in the land.
A larger populace also gives us enemies, those who’ve been poisoned by our temperamental – and apparently homicidal – half-orc. Rival chef mysteriously found dead in their own kitchens, a half-eaten dish in front of them. A stabbing in a dark alley, and a bladesmith who was rumored to have delivered a batch of substandard knives while charging a premium price, is suddenly out of business.
As one of the most skilled chefs in the city, Aarnuth is as skilled as covering his tracks as he is sought after by the wealthy, keen to sample his creations. Two innocuous ingredients, combined in the right way, suddenly become virulently toxic, but this deadly pairing is known to very few, and certainly not to any of the city constabulary who may be investigating a death. This could be a story hook in itself, setting up a murder mystery for your players to solve – A villainous slumlord dead after seemingly choking on gooseberry compote, crating a power vacuum in the seedy underbelly of the city. Was his death an accident or something more?
If this was an assassination, who arranged it? Any prospective gang boss would lose all credibility – and claim to the empty spot – if it was uncovered that they’d resorted to poison rather than a good ol’ fashioned knife ‘twixt the shoulder blades. One boss in particular is suspected, but he knows he didn’t arrange it, and needs the PC’s to clear his… “good” name, so that he can make his move.
At the same time the local authorities, keen to avoid a gang war spilling out into the streets, have hired the party to help uncover the details of the mysterious death, and the results they deliver will make or break the future of the less fortunate citizens of the city.
Meanwhile, the city’s most celebrated half-orc is “missing”, having left the city in a hurry to allegedly gather some wild-grown ingredients from the nearby countryside. Scroll forward and we come to the actual Story Hook card, even though we’ve already got one on the go.
Sheltering under a rock formation from inclement weather, Aarnuth failed to note the faded runes on the stones themselves. As the water flowed and filled the runes, the surrounding landscape shifted and changed, revealing lush jungle and rainforest covering a rolling landscape very different from the plains surrounding the city. When the rains stopped and the runes emptied, the flat landscape returned.
What had Aarnuth discovered? A window into the Feywild? A promise of a verdant heaven in a different realm entirely? Was this merely a means to view a distant place, or was the viewer actually transported for as long as the runes were wet? Could this be a doorway to Mystara’s Savage Coast?
If this truly is a way to travel to another realm, could Aarnuth hide out there until the heat died down in the city? Alternatively, could it be an easy access to myriad exotic ingredients for dishes that could only solidify his reputation as the finest of chefs? Or what new, unknown toxins could be harvested, that would completely baffle anyone who became suspicious at the death of the sergeant of the watch who’d dare imply that his profiteroles weren’t as good as “His ol’ mammy used to make”.
Aarnuth’s story could lead to multiple gaming experiences, from a city-based murder mystery, to the exploration of a different realm, far from home. Will the party help the constabulary or the rival gang boss? Perhaps try to seize power for themselves? If they do end up on the trail of Aarnuth, do they bring him in or do they team up with him? Do they explore the other side of the runic portal, or do they try to shut it down before who-knows-what comes through from the other side?
The Dossier Decks can provide you with simple, quick NPC descriptions, or they could inspire you to create a whole new campaign. Inspiration in a small cardboard box, thanks to Ed and the SkeletonKey crew. Until next…