Part of making a Dungeons & Dragons milieu appear believable to players involves alluding to constant activity taking place concurrently with their heroes’ adventures. One effective tool at the dungeon master’s disposal to create this allusion is a “most wanted” list for his or her campaign, which provides brief descriptions of the most dangerous known criminals in a given region.
While it is unlikely that this list will be compiled and formally released, like the list generated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, dungeon masters can create such lists for their own reference. The DM can then drop hints about wanted criminals into the game via rumors, bounty notices, observing local law enforcement undertaking manhunts and similar responses to the criminals’ movements.
It is helpful to create and indirectly notify players of several such criminals. If the DM introduces too few of these evildoers, each one may be considered an adventure lead in itself; although there is nothing wrong with this approach if the party begins to develop a reputation as bounty hunters and the players like the idea, it fails to produce that sense of background activity a longer list can create.
Another important aspect of using such a list includes creating a calendar of sorts, to help the DM track what the listed criminals are doing while the heroes are off fighting evil elsewhere. The calendar doesn’t need to be a minute-by-minute affair; a few simple notes about what the villain attempts and/or accomplishes during a month should provide enough grist for the campaign rumor mill and affect bounty values.
By way of example, consider this list from one of this writer’s old campaigns:
Fernwoode’s 10 Most Wanted
10. PUSTULUS MURKLUST: This fiendish human is a priest of Mozir, immortal of disease. He has claimed responsibility for a giant rat infestation in Tathrik, and an outbreak of plague that resulted from that infestation. Fortunately, priests of Hanira, immortal of healing, were able to stave off the plague before it destroyed the town. The town has offered a reward of 100 gold pieces for his capture, and the church of Hanira has offered to grant a boon to anyone who should bring him to justice.
9. PRINCESS AQUIA: As beautifiul as she is deadly, self-named “Princess” Aquia commands a large group of bandits that prowls the King’s Road. There is no specific reward for her capture, but defeating her and discovering her lair is a goal of many powerful people.
8. KALDERAK: This dark wizard is wanted for breaking into the Warden’s Keep at Ferondale, and stealing a spellbook from Lord High Wizard Justinian. It is rumored that the book was ‘liberated’ from a necromancer early in the lost duke’s adventuring days. Since the practice of necromantic magic is illegal in Fernwoode, there’s a bounty of 500 gold coins on the wizard’s head, and the Warden will pay another 500 for the safe return of the book. Of course, to get the book would mean crossing the wizard’s summoned guardians, so many hunters are reluctant to seek the bounties.
7. SIR POLEMIS TOLDENBOURNE: Sir Polemis was a high-ranking Knight of the Star until late in the Xanian War two years ago. It was then that he turned his back upon his king, his knighthood, and his personal honor by selling information to the Xanians regarding undefended passes through the eastern hills of Quarix. Polemis was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. He escaped the headsman’s axe, however, and remains at large to this day, although he has not apparently engaged in any further villainy since his betrayal. A standing warrant for his arrest is kept in every town and city in the kingdom, and the Knights of the Star have decreed that whoever should bring him to them will be granted an honorary knighthood.
6. KELPNO BLACKDAGGER: Generally considered a small-time thug in roguish circles, Blackdagger has had the dubious fortune of attracting the personal attention of the Warden himself. Apparently, Blackdagger was involved in an armed conflict with a Forestguard patrol last month, and slew two of its members. The Warden has set a bounty of 1000 gold pieces for Blackdagger’s living body.
5. SMAG THE SQUALID: Another of the Warden’s favorites, Smag is recognized as a master thief in his own right. He traditionally operates in the capital city of Quarix; last month, an “object of considerable value to the kingdom” (so read the decree) was stolen from the King’s Palace by Smag, or someone who dared to use his calling card. A bounty of 2500 gold pieces will be paid upon return of his body, dead or alive; an additional 25,000 gold pieces is offered for the return of the object he allegedly took.
4. SIR ANDROS TOTH: The only Knight of the Axe who has been positively identified, Toth is wanted for the rape and murder of a peasant girl from Timberdale. The Warden has issued a Death Warrant bearing Toth’s Name, and a reward of 3500 gold pieces or a commission in the Forestguard is offered for apprehending Toth.
3. GRAYSHADOW: Little is known of this rogue, except that he has an apparently consuming hatred of priests and clerics. It is whispered that he is responsible for arson, specifically the blaze that nearly destroyed the temple of Thont in Thornfeld. Bringing Grayshadow in for trial brings a boutny of 5000 gold pieces; clues to his whereabouts or identity are worth between 25 and 500 gold pieces.
2. ALRIC: This rogue is recognized as the guildmaster of the thieves’ guild in Tathrik. His reputation preceded him into the region, and although the Warden knows of his existence, his forces have been unable to apprehend, or even identify, Alric. No bounty has been set because Alric has not been accused of any specific crime, but the Warden’s troops see the potential danger of his presence and search for him accordingly.
1. COURIN: An infamous assassin from the south, Courin made an attempt on the life of King Regenald three months ago. The attempt was thwarted by Sir Bryon Thunderheart, but no information regarding Courin’s employer could be divined. A bounty of 50,000 gold coins is posted for his capture.
An interesting twist to using such a list arises when the heroes find their own names upon it. Between the violence inherent in the adventuring profession, the manner in which heroes gain power and influence and the questionable circumstances under which some adventurers obtain their wealth, it is likely that a given party may well annoy a major law enforcement entity during its career. This writer has employed the heroes-on-the-list tactic during two separate campaigns: in the first, the party did all in its power to clear its good name and restore relations with ruling authorities, and the second (which happened with the same players, interestingly enough) resulted in the group being collectively insulted at the low bounty offered by a prominent king. The insulted bunch embarked on a spree of acts against the monarch that constituted something greater than guerilla warfare but falling short of civil war. By the time the bounties were high enough to tempt the heroes to turn themselves in, the condition of the kingdom had deteriorated to a point where the heroes didn’t want to live there anymore, so they left for another continent, leaving “that stingy king” to clean up his own dominion.
At the very least, incorporating a “most wanted list” will provide that elusive sense of background activity necessary for players to suspend disbelief in a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. At best, your players will have some of their most memorable adventures chasing some of your “background” fugitives.