Burning Double Crosses: A Different Kind of Drop-In Side Quest




Greetings. I offer this bullet point adventure outline to you members of this community to peruse, dissect, and use as you see fit. The storyline is free-form, but the key inciting events all take place over a short period in a determined order before arriving at a turning point, the gateway to many paths and possible conclusions. It benefits greatly from some set-up and foreshadowing in the preceding sessions leading up to the game session in which the events outlined below play out. The adventure concept presented here is sufficiently malleable to be worked into a wide variety of larger campaign arcs and can work for adventuring parties of many different compositions. I hope you find something useful here.

Over a year ago, I ran my friends through this adventure as a branch off their main campaign storyline, and it fundamentally altered their game. It also provided us with some of the most tense and interesting roleplay we had seen to that point—in or out of combat—despite a narrative that had already been fast-paced and extremely entertaining over the course of many months.

For the hook and the story elements contained in the following adventure outline to work as intended, there are two important requirements:

REQUIREMENTS (Contains spoilers!)
  1. There needs to be an antagonist—an Adversary/Rival—with a grudge and/or ill intentions toward the party, someone with intelligence and influence sufficient to carry out a slow-burning plan for revenge against them. Ideally, this antagonist is culled not just from a backstory but from active play during previous game sessions.
  2. The player characters should most likely still be in the “rat-catcher” phase of their adventuring careers, either low- or early mid-level in terms of their own power, ability, advancement, and influence. This “side quest” should come along when they are particularly hungry for a well-paying adventuring opportunity to set the stage for the turn of events to come.

This adventure was played out at my table over about a half dozen sessions (approximately 18 hours) over four weeks, with careful and patient foreshadowing and dropping of seeds to amplify the eventual reveal at the turning point. All of this set-up led to some unpredictable and very satisfying gaming that remains memorable to this day.

I hope you have a similar experience if any of these ideas inspire your own narrative.

If you are a potential player in this scenario and not a prospective GM, please STOP READING NOW and direct your gamemaster to this post. Then enjoy the ride when this story comes to your table…



  • Down on their luck and in need of their next paying job, the adventurers pull in off the dusty road to seek work in a promising-looking tavern, the Bottomless Tankard.
  • Looks can be deceiving, and despite the impressive exterior, the tavern is tepid in its patronage all afternoon, as the adventurers grow disheartened; perhaps one of them is propositioned by the enterprising Barmaid/Cocotte, who shares with them both a need to get paid and a lament over the slow traffic in the establishment.
  • As the adventurers resign themselves to their fate, a man of sophisticated bearing dressed in posh garb enters, surveys the establishment, and speaks to the Barkeep, who points out the party, adventurers for hire, to the man, a traveling Merchant boasting impressive credentials and an immediate need for help.
  • The Merchant explains that he was in town to take delivery on a large shipment of luxury goods, which, according to a wounded sole survivor, was just ambushed outside of town and stolen by bandits less than an hour ago, last seen headed north up the main road. The Merchant will pay a handsome up-front retainer and an even more generous reward if the party can chase down the bandits and recover the wagon full of valuables. He drafts up a hasty contract for the party’s services to seal the deal, has the Barmaid/Cocotte witness it with her mark, and pockets the papers as he hands the adventurers a tidy pouch full of coin.
  • Important NPCs: Barkeep, Merchant, Barmaid/Cocotte
  • With their cash retainer in hand, at the suggestion of their employer the party acquires some rental horses from the local livery stable.
  • Supplied and mounted, the adventurers set out on the north road in pursuit of the bandits in the stolen wagon.
  • Along the way, several decision points and obstacles test their wits and put their tracking skills to the test. (Eventually, they find their way.)
  • Important NPCs: Stable Owner, Stable Hand
  • Sometime after nightfall, the party closes in on the bandits’ hideout.
  • The bandits, numbering five (5) in total, are holed up in a secure-looking bastle house (fortified stone farmhouse) along with the stolen trade goods, still in their chests and strongboxes. The horse team is stabled in the animal enclosure beneath the bastle house’s main living quarters, and the wagon is parked along side an unattached storehouse (containing little of value) across the compound.
  • Two bandits are stationed outside the bastle house, a Roving Sellsword on patrol about the grounds, and an Ogre Enforcer (the muscle of the group) laying low inside the storehouse but ready to provide immediate backup in case of alarm.
  • The three most senior bandits, each armed with crossbows as well as melee weapons, sit by arrow slits inside the elevated quarters in the bastle house, tending the fire and counting money. At least two are vigilant at all times for signs of approach or intrusion during the night. The Bandit Leader is a gruff veteran highwayman with magical protections, and his Lieutenant is a master rogue who uses specialized arcane items to aid in her stealth and sneak attacks. They are accompanied by a Grifter, the weakest member of the group, a brainy charlatan well suited for subterfuge but no slouch with his rapier. At first sign of trouble, the trio will reinforce the already barred door and mount a vigorous missile defense while their partners outside go on the offensive. If cornered, the Lieutenant will elude and escape, leaving comrades and treasure behind if necessary; the others will fight to the death out of bravado and spite.
  • Important NPCs: Bandit Leader, Lieutenant, Grifter, Roving Sellsword, Ogre Enforcer
  • After a vigorous battle, the party has expended energy and resources and suffered some wounds, but their objective (the treasure wagon) is in hand and all but one of their adversaries (the elusive rogue Lieutenant) lie lifeless at their feet.
  • The adventurers load up the chests and strongboxes; if they open and examine the contents, they will find that, while certainly objects of finery, the valuables and small amount of gold coin contained in the chests does not command a market value even close to the amount of their retainer and reward.
  • The adventurers make preparations to depart and proceed south on the road, back toward the town. If they haven’t noticed before, the chests the mediocre trade goods are kept in are of extremely high quality and fine manufacture, emblazoned with a distinctive coat of arms (perhaps that of a high-ranking noble house or even the crown).
  • Just outside of town, they come across an authority checkpoint, where a large complement of royal armed guards (or other formidable constabulary) is manning a roadblock. The Captain of the Guard waves the party’s wagon to a halt and questions them. He informs them that they are on the lookout for a wagon full of stolen trade goods taken by a group of bandits numbering about the size of the adventurers’ party. They have some explaining to do…
  • It should be made clear to the party at this juncture (if they haven’t already surmised) that they have been framed by someone—a past Adversary/Rival of considerable power with connections in high places.
  • A tense stand-off is now initiated. If the adventurers fight and try to run, it will be hard and costly, and they will either become prisoners or outlaws on the run.
  • If the party surrenders to the overwhelming constabulary force (or fights and gets captured), the local Sheriff will arrive with reinforcements, and they will be taken straight to the capital, relieved of their possessions, imprisoned for a short period, and put on trial for capital crimes by a court and a Justicar not predisposed in their favor.
  • Worse yet, the Merchant will turn out to be a sham and an impostor, later discovered to be some two-bit actor hired for the confidence game. He may never be found or seen again.
  • The Barmaid/Cocotte will have suddenly disappeared from the tavern and the town, as has the signed contract document she witnessed.
  • The elusive Lieutenant will appear in court to testify against the party, claiming to be the legitimately contracted escort of the treasure wagon (with documents to support it), who saw her comrades murdered by the adventurers.
  • The Adversary/Rival will show up to gloat silently from the gallery over the courtroom as the gavel sounds and the legal drama plays out…
  • Important NPCs: Adversary/Rival, Sheriff, Justicar, Lieutenant

(Will the party survive life on the run as outlaws until they can clear their names? Will they find a way to beat the odds in court and be exonerated? Will they uncover the subterfuge set in motion by their nemesis and seek revenge? It’s all up to you and your players…)

(PS: I’m not going to lie; when I finally sprang the trap (in Part 4) on my players after weeks of careful set-up, it was SO satisfying…and everyone had a good time in the end.)


Thanks for the story but, huh, how did you do the spoiler thing? 8D


I bumbled onto the DETAILS tag (set off by square brackets) in the post code. :thinking:


Where can I see everything that I can do on this forum? This is exciting, I knew of Markdown but not the rest! :smiley:


I’m afraid I don’t know; as I mentioned, I discovered it by mistake when I hit some icon in the editing bar.


Apparently you can build a poll too, I just looked into it! This is pretty cool! :smiley:


Really cool scenario! Once I can manage to get some long-standing antagonists running I might try to steal it!


This week I was telling someone else about this scenario. I would love to hear if anyone has ever integrated this campaign turning point or one very much like it into their game. I’m curious to find out what your players did and how it ended. :shield:


I’m not sure if I have the pieces in place for this little bait and switch. The key part is that long term, well connected rival. We’ve spent quite a bit of time running around collecting magic items, but they haven’t really dug in in the city.

I gotta start moving that direction! We need more connections and rivalries in civilization!


Now that you mention it, you could probably even structure things so that an eventual nemesis of which the party is not yet fully aware becomes the aggrieved bad actor that sets this frame job in motion. It would be a sequential retcon, as the identity of the vengeful villain, the motives in place, and all the connections are revealed step by step as the mystery and the conspiracy are uncovered during the party’s efforts toward their exoneration.


That would be cool… Maybe it’s less of a revenge plot one more of an attempt to get some leverage? Instead of calling back to an enemy, we’ll make a new one :grin: