One regular feature of this Web log is Crime Scene Sunday, in which the author examines some form of criminal activity, considers how a villain may use that particular crime in a Dungeons & Dragons game, and provides one or more examples of that particular misdeed in a D&D campaign setting. As the name implies, such entries are posted on Sunday.
This week’s crime is sabotage. Beyond he term’s typical usage to describe saboteurs acting on behalf of one side of a military conflict, the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines the term as “an act or process tending to hamper or hurt” with added connotations of “deliberate subversion.” Wikipedia’s definition focuses still more, calling sabotage “a deliberate action aimed at weakening another entity through subversion, obstruction, disruption, or destruction.”
Based upon these definitions, sabotage appears to be a very versatile crime. It can be committed by directly performing a subversive act, or even by failing to act. In some cases, sabotage can be committed without acting outside of one’s vocational responsibilities, simply by the perpetrator opposing an initiative that he knows needs to move forward.In a Dungeons & Dragons game, the crime of sabotage is best suited to three types of villains:
Those employed as saboteurs in an ongoing war. The conventional use of the word sabotage has military connotations. In D&D games where an ongoing war is a central plot element, saboteurs will probably be employed by both sides; if the heroes are playing an active role in the war, they are likely to encounter enemy saboteurs in the course of their adventures.
Good candidates for this type of saboteur/villain include corrupt officers, double-agents and disgruntled segeants who can undermine operations at unit level. A crafty foe may even employ shape-shifters or illusion to assist sabotage.
Patient, scheming villains. Villains prone to making long-term, elaborate plans, such as evil clerics, aboleths, liches, wizards, vampires, devils, or illithid, would certainly employ sabotage to improve the odds of success for other portions of the grand scheme. This type of villain enjoys outwitting adversaries almost as much as achieving goals, and sabotage is a great way of eliminating a foe’s options without the foe’s knowledge.
For example, imagine a vampiress who knows that a nearby temple of Pelor holds an artifact that can channel true sunlight at any time of day in any setting. Not surprisingly, no vampires have claimed the surrounding area as a vampiric feeding ground. Undaunted, she arranges for the item to be stolen in secret and replaced with a non-magical copy of the item; the true item is brought to her, where it is stored safely away from heroes. In this case, the act of sabotage – deliberately weakening the temple’s ability to respond – is essentially a contingency plan, to be used in case the clerics of Pelor learn that a vampire is active in the area and decide to employ the artifact.
Passive-aggressive types. Not all villains have the temperament or ability to take on foes with open conflict. The dungeon master (DM) should look for people who suffered real or imagined slights from the villain’s foe that can be motivated by vengeance; such persons are ideal passive-aggressives with respect to sabotage.
Most often, this type of saboteur is a pawn of one of the aforementioned scheming types. In such cases, the passive-aggressive will typically perform sabotage within the boundaries of his job description, doing his small part in helping the villain’s greater plot to harm the foe.
A more interesting way to use a passive-aggressive saboteur in an adventure is to use such a villain as the major villain in a D&D adventure. For players accustomed to objectives requiring toe-to-toe combat to solve, an adventure where the primary quest is identifying the villain offers an interesting change of pace.