Thinking of the countless battles that occur over turkey on Thanksgiving inspired me to write a way to implement the awkward tension in my D&D game. So let’s talk about the armistice!
What is an Armistice?
It is simply when two opposing parties agree to stop fighting for a certain amount of time, or a truce. So when disjointed parts of the family get together with the understanding that no one will talk about X, Y, or Z to maintain the peace during Thanksgiving dinner, but then return to flaming each other on Facebook the next day, is a kind of armistice.
Why would I use that!
I’m certain that the players surround themselves with NPCs that they love, and that is fine, but putting them in a situation where they need to stay civil with individuals they hate can lead to some crazy role playing moments. It also is a great way for you to give a voice to some of your villains before the players simply kick down the door and gank them. (*cries from personal experience*) It also allows you to fan the flames of animosity between the the heroes and the villain. More on that later though.
This concept isn’t new. In Curse of Strahd the vampire sends an invitation to have a ‘civil’ discussion with the adventurers. This meeting would be used to antagonize and taunt the heroes as well as to provide useful information. So, its not like I’m reinventing the wheel, but it’s good to remember that this tool is available to you when you’re crafting your game.
So what’s the point of the Armistice?
There must be a reason that this vile NPC is willing to put arms aside for a moment. They could be arrogant and simply giving the heroes an opportunity to give up with their lives intact. In contrast maybe the villain truly NEEDS something that the heroes have authority over, in which case they have come to barter from a position of strength (by holding something hostage of course). In contrast, maybe the villain is just flummoxed that this ragtag band of miscreants has thwarted several threads of their plan, and simply wants to meet and learn about them.
In any case the villain calls an armistice to barter, exchange knowledge, or attempt to manipulate the situation to their own favor.
How can we flavor it?
These interactions can be painted in all kinds of ways. If you want the players to absolutely loath the NPC have them talk down to the heroes. Have the seating set up to convey that the NPC thinks they are better than the adventurers. The chairs offered the heroes are cheap and stained. The cutlery is chipped. When the food is served the villain is served first as is their right. Then have them be wasteful. Have their servants be threadbare, but the villain carelessly spills wine on their expensive garments and stains them. To be honest, hatred is the easiest emotion to invoke from the players, and I’m sure you don’t need any help pushing the player’s buttons.
Fear, however, is a different can of worms. An NPC trying to instill fear in the heroes may put on an air of hospitality at first. Offering the heroes lavish sweat meats, wine, and a seat of comfort to converse from. After providing polite hospitality they will transition to their demands which will seem absurd. Everything up to this point should feel slightly off. The players will immediately call the NPC out on having this meeting in bad faith, and will probably try to excuse themselves or demand fairer terms. Then the villain escalates in some way. He can reveal to the heroes he has a cherished hostage, an artifact, a demon he can summon at will, or some other unique card to play. While explaining why they’ve already won, the villain will handle a mildly threatening object like a crossbow and use it to perform some horrible task like shoot a peasant from their window. That’s when the villain turns and explains how long they intend to give the heroes to surrender, and then promptly asks ‘how was your peasant’ referring to the sweat meats. Tying the comfort given to the atrocity committed. To instill fear you have to build it from the ground of comfort. No one walks into a spider’s web willingly.
Hatred and Fear are often the emotions DMs want their players to feel toward their villain, but there is a different emotion that can turn the entire campaign; kinship. By having the villain be charismatic, friendly, and seemingly reasonable you can present the heroes with the unsettling problem of having to kill an NPC they actually like or switching allegiances. It is incredibly satisfying watching groups question their own motives when a villain says they are simply trying to make the world a better place but you heroes keep getting in the way. Its okay for the villain to paint the heroes as the ‘bad guy’ and then try to recruit them. Just be prepared for your players to a. stay true to their goal, b. jump ship and join the baddie, or c. kiss the entire conflict good-riddance and become neutral observers.