Agents of Balance
Date: Mon, December 13, 2004
Topic: The Game Engine
All on Oerth are the pawns of Balance, good and evil, lawful and chaotic. Today's ally may be tomorrow's enemy, but PCs will never oppose them directly. These Agents of Balance distract with the left hand while spinning new plots with the right. This document provides suggestions on using these characters as recurring players in your campaign.
Agents of Balance
Used with Permission. Do not repost without obtaining prior permission from the author.
"Balance" is a force central to Greyhawk, but it is often overlooked as a player in Flanaess campaign events. But instead of developing armies who fight for the Old Faith, one should consider Nitescreed’s opinions on how the forces of Balance operate on Oerth. Screed’s original words can be found in the GreyTalk Archive, but I’ll rephrase them here:
Neutrality cannot struggle for domination. Doing so simply throws it into the ring with every other ideological faction. To achieve Balance, neutrality must act subtly. Allow the other factions to wage the wars, face the danger, reap the rewards. Balance must move very quietly in the background. A damn burst to block a much needed supply line, clues found and information culled, a rumor spread to besmirch a noble’s reputation. Balance uses these methods and more, but never heroes. Heroes are for the forces of Good, villains are for the forces of Evil.
Please note that Nitescreed is in no way affiliated with or endorsing this document, I simply agree with the opinion above.
BALANCE USING RECURRING CHARACTERS
There are many options for utilizing Balance in a campaign, but this document will concentrate on using individual Agents of Balance as recurring characters. I believe that several things must occur if a DM wishes to utilize Agents of Balance in this way:
- The DM must take a frequent look at the Big Picture, to determine how campaign events will affect the balance of Kelanen’s Nine Dooms. Will this tip the scale toward chaos or law? Good or evil?
- Consider using several Agents of Balance to interact with the PCs. Surely there are stronger forces working to tip the Scales than the PCs, and the efforts of these Agents will need to be shared accordingly.
- Citing Nitescreed's ideas above, it should be obvious that Agents of Balance desire secrecy. Puppets tend to fight those holding the strings, so Agents will often research the goals and desires of their chosen pawns. Manipulation is much easier if the subjects believe that they are in control. An arrogant king may not listen to suggestions from underlings, but a bit of information from a trusted source may "inspire" him to act on his own initiative.
- Reveling a small portion of the plans of Balance will be needed, lest the players never realize the role it plays. See the next section for some suggestions.
Introducing Agents of Balance will add a layer of complexity to the campaign. PCs may now consider how their actions will play into the hands of Balance, rather than simply opposing the more obvious enemy. Following are some suggestions on utilizing Balance to keep the players on their toes:
- When revealing an Agent of Balance, it may be effective to unmask a character already familiar to the PCs. The beauty of Balance is that the DM can choose from friends or enemies of nearly any profession. Balance has eyes and ears everywhere, though they often have no idea who they are actually working for. Alternately, a friend or ally (or PC) may be duped by an Agent, and the PCs may never find the culprit. The key matter is that the PCs become aware of the machinations of Balance.
- An Agent of Balance may develop a genuine bond of friendship with a PC – perhaps their goals coincide for a time. The moral dilemma of choosing friendship or ideals can be difficult but rewarding. To effectively set up this scenario, the DM should have the Agent save the PC’s life, or provide invaluable aid. Preferably, these events should setup the Agent as a trusted and valued companion before the forces of Balance are ever revealed in the campaign.
- It may be desirable to design "coincidences" which turn tides in various instances; even better if the PCs only hear of these incidents as rumors or hearsay. The world will move on with or without them, and it may be fun to leave the PCs wondering whether or not Agents of Balance had a hand in sinking that ship, or disposing of that missing courier, or leaking that information, etc. Hopefully, you can have the players seeing an Agent around every corner, but take care not to be heavy-handed about it.
- Red herrings can be fun to introduce. Lead the PCs to believe they have discovered an Agent of Balance (or, better yet, allow them to draw these conclusions on their own), when in fact their suspect is completely unassociated with Balance (or the suspect is a patsy). But DMs must use this tactic sparingly. Players will easily become frustrated if they follow your clues only to discover that they have not, in fact, discovered the culprit.
- Another technique which must be used with care is the Weal For Woe theme. The characters do the obviously Good thing (or Lawful thing, etc.), but the outcome of their actions actually make matters worse. Whether their actions aid their foes, enable a new force of Evil (or Chaos, etc.) to occupy the power vacuum, etc., the effect is that the heroes meant well, but they only made matters worse. While this is not necessarily tied to Agents of Balance, an Agent could certainly help the party achieve its goals via clues, equipment, etc. A careful DM can even have the PCs wondering if they’ve been duped by an Agent, regardless of the truth.
Agents of Balance can add a lot of atmosphere to a campaign, and you can tailor it to the style of play that your players enjoy, from a touch of mystery to a general feeling of paranoia throughout your campaign. Neutrality is one of the core elements that make Greyhawk a unique setting. Long-time players who have never dealt with Balance will be in for a surprise. Enjoy!