It's every DM's dilemma: You have a brand-new D&D book hot off the presses, but you don't have time to learn the whole thing for tonight's game.
Think of this column as your "secret weapon" against that problem. Here you'll find an adventure hook that features something from one of this month's releases, allowing you to integrate the book into your game immediately. You don't need to write any stat blocks or learn any rules beyond those described below, which means that you'll be ready to go in less than an hour.
This month, the column cracks the pages of Races of the Wild, the latest core D&D sourcebook. Like the other books in the series (Races of Stone and Races of Destiny), this book includes a wealth of information on familiar races of D&D while also featuring a new race for the game. This column spotlights the halfling, one of the two familiar races presented in the book, as the characters have a run-in with a caravan that includes a very unusual member . . .
What You Need to Read
This encounter is pretty straightforward, but you will want to check out these sections to prep for the session.
- The luckstealer's curse of the fatespurned and subtle magic class features on page 118. Since the luckstealer NPC has only three levels in the prestige class, these are the only class features you'll need to know to run the encounter.
- Sample luckstealer NPC on page 122. As the primary NPC of the encounter, it's crucial that you're familiar with this character's abilities.
- The halfling house wagon map on page 48. This is where the action likely takes place.
Luckstealers in a Nutshell
The luckstealer is one of those rare halflings who learns to channel his race's innate lucky nature by turning it from mere chance to an active tool in his magical repertoire. Though most caravans like to bring a luckstealer along, the role is virtually unknown by nonhalflings. Of course, the luckstealer prefers to keep his presence a secret -- that is, until he has time to make a miraculous getaway. By simultaneously saddling his enemy with misfortune as he augments his own chances of success, the luckstealer is an incredibly frustrating opponent to face on the battlefield.
The luckstealer's signature ability is curse of the fatespurned, which he gains at 1st level. This ability allows the character to siphon away some of a foe's luck to use for himself. As with any encounter that debuts a prestige class, the characters' run-in with this luckstealer features this signature ability as early as possible. When the luckstealer is encountered in a nonstrenuous situation (such as this one), consider rolling a PC's saving throw against this power in secret so that you can avoid revealing exactly what's going on. If you do so, stress the visual aspect of the power -- the halfling staring intently at his target for a few seconds, as if sizing him up.
The encounter uses the sample halfling luckstealer presented on page 122. While a 9th-level NPC would normally be a CR 9 encounter, this isn't intended as a combat encounter and thus you can play a little more fast-and-loose with the EL guidelines. In this case, the most important factor is the best Profession (gambler) check modifier in the party. As long as no character has a modifier of more than +10 or so, this encounter will be very "challenging" for the PCs. A modifier of +11 to +15 makes it a "fair fight," while a check modifier of more than +15 means that Kulya has less than a 50% chance of pulling off his con (which makes this a subpar encounter for the PCs).
Regardless of the check modifiers, if the PCs have easy access to a wide range of divination effects on a near-unlimited basis, this encounter may be avoided too easily. Simply having access to a detect thoughts spell isn't enough to render Kulya the luckstealer powerless, but having a persistent or overpoweringly potent mind-reading effect might do so.
A halfling caravan has rolled into town (or, if the characters are on the road, they come across a caravan that has settled down for a few days). Hardly an unusual sight, this string of two dozen wagons brings with it opportunities for trade and entertainment between locals and the short-statured visitors. Merchants ply their wares, storytellers spin tales . . . and of course, thievery rears its head as well.
Kulya Vashkarath is an inveterate gambler. On his travels with the caravan, he has played against human and dwarf, elf and orc, gnome and goblin, and he has won more often than can be ascribed either to luck or skill. That's because, as a luckstealer, Kulya has both. Though his opponents claim that the halfling's intense stare "looks right through" them, in reality it's simply a manifestation of the mark's luck being stolen from right under her nose. This, of course, is followed closely by Kulya taking some of the mark's money as well.
The most entertaining way for the PCs to meet Kulya is across the table. If any of the PCs enjoys gambling (or has wealthy, aristocratic contacts), she should find herself sharing a table with Kulya and a few other players of various races. (Make sure you have names for these individuals at hand so that you can ensure that the PCs can't easily identify the "important" NPC at the table.) Perhaps the character is invited to join another gambling buddy for "the big game," or maybe she just hears naturally that this table plays for high stakes. Regardless of how you engineer it, make sure that the PC is sitting at the table; other PCs can hang out nearby as well (see the Typical Halfling House Wagon for a map).
Even though you can't normally make a Profession (gambler) check untrained, you could allow an untrained character to sit in on a game with advice from a trained (but currently cash-poor) NPC; treat this as if the character is making a trained check (but with no ranks) with a +2 bonus due to assistance. If you want to make this more appealing to the PC, offer her a +2 bonus if she has at least 5 ranks of Bluff.
The rules of the gambling activity in question aren't significant; you can mimic a night's gaming with an opposed Profession (gambler) check made between the PC and Kulya. (For the purpose of this encounter, the other people at the table don't matter, though you shouldn't tell the players this.) The higher result wins a number of gold pieces from the loser equal to the check result. (Note that not all gambling experiences might be this costly -- this is a relatively high-stakes table.)
What the PC doesn't know is that Kulya is using tonight's gaming to set up the PC. If the PC shows any skill at all -- that is, if she rolls a check result between 12 and 25 -- Kulya "throws" the game, allowing the PC to win. Roll Kulya's check in secret and announce that the PC has won the opposed check. A bit ashamed, Kulya admits that he doesn't have enough gold on him to cover his losses, but instead makes an offer: The PC takes Kulya's masterwork dagger as collateral and agrees to come back tomorrow night to give Kulya a chance to win it back. The halfling should seem a bit desperate, as if he can't really afford to lose this item. (If the PC rolls a check result above 25, Kulya calls off the scam and simply tries to win tonight, since he is not certain enough of his skill and luck to beat such a talented player with higher stakes on the line. Roll Kulya's check normally, adding a +4 bonus from his luck pool -- derived from other players, of course -- and adjudicate the result without any chicanery or follow-up.)
Of course, any reasonable PC will be suspicious of this offer. A DC 12 Appraise check confirms that the dagger is indeed masterwork -- no chicanery there. While technically Kulya isn't lying to the PCs -- he really intends to play tomorrow night for the dagger (and more) -- a DC 20 Sense Motive check suggests that Kulya might not be entirely trustworthy. However, Kulya is already relying on his curse power to help him in the setup, and he has used it against each of the characters present. Roll each PC's DC 17 Will save secretly to see if he or she resists the effect; otherwise, reduce that character's Sense Motive check by 2 (again, secretly).
Assuming the winning PC agrees to return, Kulya stands by his word and is back at the table the next night. This time, however, he "admits" that he'll have to put up significantly more money to have a chance to win back the dagger, and he shows a bag of 300 gold coins to prove it. He lets the PC treat the masterwork dagger as if it were 300 gp, meaning that the PC is already way "ahead" of the game. When the PC agrees, the game begins, but this time the deck is stacked in Kulya's favor. He uses curse of the fatespurned against his opponent, attempting to apply a -2 penalty on that PC's Profession (gambler) skill check; again, a DC 17 Will save negates this. Regardless of the success or failure of this attempt, however, Kulya's use of the same power against the other NPC participants has filled his luck pool to its maximum capacity of 4 points. He uses this entire pool as a bonus on his Profession (gambler) check, giving him a total modifier of +16. Together, the penalty and bonus represent a six-point shift from the previous night, which he hopes will be sufficient to sway things in his favor.
This time, the character who rolls the higher check result wins gold equal to 30 times her check result -- likely in the neighborhood of 600 or more gp. If a player expresses surprise at losing this much money, simply indicate to her that she must have overestimated her chance of winning and risked a little too much, which is hardly an unusual occurrence in the world of gambling. Assuming Kulya wins, not only does he claim his dagger back, but he also gains a few hundred gold coins to boot!
Assuming he pulls off his con, Kulya happily claims his winnings and thanks the PC for playing. Unfortunately, he's too busy to play again tomorrow night, but maybe next time the caravan comes through town they can have another game. Though the PCs may well suspect chicanery, unless they have proof of wrongdoing, there's virtually nothing anyone can do to help them.
Obviously, the PCs have a variety of tools at their disposal to investigate Kulya's veracity. In fact, the second game may not reach completion or even occur. With the many possible outcomes that exist, it's up to you, the DM, to adjudicate the result of the ensuing action. Use the following guidelines to help reach an entertaining result.
- Kulya is as vulnerable as anyone else is to divination or enchantment spells. While his own spells resist being detected (the opponent must succeed on a DC 21 caster level check), no such effect applies to his own thoughts. His high Will save provides a reasonable bulwark against these approaches, of course.
- Kulya isn't a violent person. If threatened, he prefers retreat over combat; after all, he can always take what he needs from the PCs at a later date. Dimension door, web, spider climb, expeditious retreat, and his wand of invisibility offer him many ways to escape the clutches of angry PCs.
- Kulya hates to lose, but he's not stupid enough to risk a scene by starting an argument or confrontation. If he loses again (or if the second game doesn't occur), he'll try to recover his losses in a more direct fashion -- by sneaking invisibly into the winning PC's room to steal them back. He brings along one or two halfling burglars (see page 182 in Races of the Wild) if need be. Of course, that occurs only on the same night that the caravan moves on, making it rather difficult for the PC to return the favor.
- Any violence that erupts almost certainly results in injury to innocent bystanders. If any participants draw swords or other weapons in the cramped quarters of the wagon, one of the other players may lose a finger or an eye, and spells such as burning hands or lightning bolt could easily destroy the wagon (or more). Such activity is almost certain to land the PC(s) in jail, and the city guard doesn't care a whit that the characters may have been cheated. Despite the thievery that always follows them, the halfling caravans are well loved by local communities -- more so than rambunctious adventurers.
On the other hand, maybe the characters beat Kulya at his own game (whether fair and square or by way of their own trickery). In that case, award them XP as if they had overcome an opponent whose CR is equal to their level (up to a maximum of CR 9). As noted above, this victory may well result in another encounter with Kulya, but this one won't be at a card table.
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About the Author
By day, Andy Collins works as an RPG developer in Wizards of the Coast R&D. His development credits include the Player's Handbook v.3.5, Races of Destiny, and Complete Adventurer. By night, however, he fights crime as a masked vigilante. Or does he?