If there’s one guarantee about PC’s, it is that they will attack someone you didn’t intend for them to fight because they found them ‘suspicious’, or just because they didn’t like them and a murderhobo is going to murderhobo. There there are two guarantees, the other would be that the PC’s will find themselves strangely attached to what should have been throw-away characters. This happens with my PC’s continually, whether it is Loras, a homeless half-elf who originally didn’t even have a name who ended up becoming one of the PC’s greatest allies, or the whip-master I introduced to give one of my PC’s an exotic weapon proficiency who ended up becoming that PC’s follower. But one of the oddest sagas is the tale of small-time gangster, Ruggy.
My PC’s were on the trail of a criminal organization known as The Smiling Men. They followed a lead into a poor area outside the walls of the capital city (known by the locals as “Darktown” because the city walls cast in shadows most of the day and because the guards didn’t patrol there) and, after deciding to let the locals know they had money by flaunting it in an attempt to gather information, they were subsequently pickpocketed by local thieves. Not ones to let their gold go, they followed the trail of the thieves to a local hideout and engaged them. It ended with one thief dead, two more captured, and the rest fled. The PC’s had their gold back, but where exhausted and decided to take a rest in the gang’s hideout.
I decided that hanging out a gang’s hideout for an hour after causing a considerable amount of noise had to lead to something, so while resting there the PC’s were confronted by the gang’s leader, Ruggy. Ruggy was a minor half-orc gangster I had made up on the spot. He was none too bright and used to getting what he wanted through intimidation rather than muscle. I assumed he would try to intimidate the party and the PC’s, who didn’t like getting talked down to from anyone, would kill him and that would be that. Instead, the conversation goes something like this:
Ruggy: Hey, what you think you doing in my hideout?
Rogue: Sorry, we didn’t realize it was yours. We are leaving now.
Ruggy: You can’t just leave. You killed Todd.
Bard/Barbarian: It was an accident. But you seem like a businessman, surely we can work out something. What would you say the price of one of your men’s lives is? 100 gold?
They go back and forth a bit, and in the end they give Ruggy 100 gold to apologize for killing one of his men. This is a huge sum for the small time crook, more than he ever hoped to see in his life, so he lets them go on friendly terms.
Fast forward a few months and the PC’s find themselves looking for information in Darktown again. They find that Ruggy has put the gold the party gave him to good use, hiring many of the local crooks and cutthroats to work for him (and even hiring a few spear-wielding peasants as enforcers, spears that had been provided by the party’s barbarian to help the locals defend themselves against the criminal element). Ruggy has become one of the biggest names in crime in Darktown. The PC’s find him and, after some friendly bantering, agreed to pay the princely sum of 1000 gold to Ruggy if his men could turn up the information they were looking for. Again, this was a huge amount of Ruggy, even for his new crime-boss status, and he immediately sets to work. His men turn up what they were looking for, they pay, and they part as super-best-friends.
I have some time to think about what this massive influx of cash was going to mean for this extremely impoverished area, particularly since it was all in the hands of one guy. Next time the PC’s visit Darktown some months later they find the area is worse than they remember. Ruggy has used his wealth to open a casino which is becoming popular with the citizens of the capital. In order to attract more respectable clientèle and ensure none of his patrons are pickpocketed on their way he has his enforcers going around Darktown spreading the message that they either work for Ruggy now or have to leave. These are poor people with nowhere to go and many of which have no desire to work for Ruggy’s shady casino and are now finding themselves kicked out of their homes so that it can be torn down for things Ruggy thinks will look better.
The PC’s go to find Ruggy and find the casino pretty well guarded. In addition to the normal goons Ruggy has hired a handful of skilled adventurer-level mercenaries, including a few spellcasters who the PC’s note watching them from the walls. Now, for all my PC’s selfishness and shenanigans, they really did see themselves as heroes of the common man and did not like to see the poor and downtrodden get abused. I thought I might have finally found a way to pit them against their old friend. Ruggy himself was no stronger than he had been at the start of the game, although he was pretty decked out in magic gear at this point. The PC’s stood to make a pretty substantial return on their investment by killing him, and they would help the people of Darktown break out from under his rule at the same time.
Instead the adventurers go and have a friendly chat with the half-orc, who is all too happy to see the guys who are always giving him ridiculous sums of money. They try to teach him the basics of economics (how he stands to gain if the town is economically strong) and, some very high persuasion rolls later, have convinced him to charitably help the poor of the town rather than forcibly evict them. They again part as friends.
Later in the campaign the PC’s once again make their way to Darktown to find it a very different place. Firstly, there’s a sign proclaiming it ‘Darktowne” (the ‘e’ at the end makes it fancy). The homes are in much better repair, some completely rebuilt from the town up. Lanterns line the street to give it some light, and Ruggy’s enforcers now serve the role of guard, patrolling the streets and keeping everyone safe. They find that Ruggy is now ‘Mayor Ruggy’ (there was no election, Ruggy just liked the title of mayor and no one was going to argue with him) and has used the considerable wealth and influence granted to him by his casino to improve the lives of the citizens of Darktown. It is now a legitimate (if not desirable) suburb of the capital, and the poor people who live there now are either employed by Ruggy or ply various trades in growing the community.
Ruggy would continue being a friend and ally to the PC’s throughout the campaign, even going so far as sending men and resources to help in the final battle. This random half-orc gangster I had made up on the spot would become one of the most memorable NPC’s of the campaign, while my characters who I actually worked to design, build, and create elaborate backstories and personalities for would mostly be ignored, or be relegated to the status of “Oh yeah, I remember that guy.” All because they randomly decided they didn’t want to fight him.
The lesson to take from this is as follows: the players will gravitate to whoever the hell they feel like and you have no damn control so just go with it. Just…go…with…it. Sigh….