Guards: Why Your Adventuring Party Should Interact with Them
Wherever you go in your D&D campaign, you are bound to encounter guards. They are the stalwart forces of a local government and are present to enforce laws, prevent crime, and sometimes to get in the way of your fun!
Guards form the backbone of most civilized areas that you are going to be exploring, especially at lower levels. Not having the guard on your side will make investigating, adventuring, and generally being a hero very difficult. This quick guide will help you find some ways of getting along with, sneaking past, or taking advantage of guards that end up in your path. There is one golden rule if you are trying to get the guards on your side: try not to approach them in the middle of their day; no one wants a mound of extra work just before lunch!
Guards are just trying to do their jobs. Most of them are just young folks who wanted a regular wage, a spiffy uniform, and some sword training. You will, of course, have some die-hard fanatics in any guard regiment, but generally, they will just want to get on with their day.
Finding a chance to converse with guards when they are off-duty and getting to know them as everyday NPCs, rather than just guards, can be both humanizing and beneficial to the party. Perhaps after talking Private Geraint through his divorce or helping him find his lost cat (his only companion now, really), he’d be more willing to grant you special access to the next burglary site that he is guarding.
To Bribe or Not to Bribe
Bribery is often a key part of a charismatic adventurer's toolkit. Rogue masterminds, bards, and warlocks will often employ small pouches of gold to make interactions with guards go a little bit smoother.
However, you must know which guards to bribe and when to do it. Perhaps you could ask the innkeeper or town gossip if there are any officers who are in debt or have a habitual vice they need to feed. After approaching these guards, you should use an insight check to determine whether they’re going to be susceptible to your attempts.
Remember, bribes are a high-risk and high-reward strategy. If you are caught or try to bribe the wrong person, you are most likely looking at arrest and potentially imprisonment!
Quid Pro Quo
A great way to get local guard forces or even individuals on your party’s side is to help them out. Offering to aid in hunting down a local outlaw or investigating a crime ring could win you some favors with officers and higher-ups alike. Making their job easier means that when you need them to help you out, they are more likely to do so! Alternatively, it may help persuade them to look the other way when you have messed up yourself!
"You Talkin' to Me?"
Guards are the embodiment of the law, whether or not they are accurately upholding it. Respecting this is very important from when you first enter a new town to when you leave it. Accessing crime scenes or seeking an audience with nobility could potentially be made harder if you threaten members of the guard. Even if your Fighter’s attempts to Intimidate are a success, you are going to build a reputation for yourself and your party as someone the guard needs to keep tabs on!
However, if you do choose to threaten the guards, or simply approach them directly with the aim of intimidating them, some good things may come to you. Having a guardsman who is truly terrified of you can serve your party’s interests. You can use this fear to coerce them into giving you private access to the barracks at night or to requisition some small explosive charges for your daring heist. In addition, if you have intimidated them or physically beaten them, you may have the chance to figure out how tough these guards truly are and if they can be overcome.
If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em
Some characters, like Warlocks and Bards or races like Changelings, have the uncanny ability to impersonate other people. Knocking Sergeant Boggoff on the head, tying him up, and “borrowing” his armor is only the first step. Spells like Disguise Self, Alter Self or inherent abilities like the Whisper Bard's shadow impersonation can be key to perfecting the facade. You can then use this to help your party access restricted areas or to simply abuse the power by asking for an “adventuring tax” from local parties as you impersonate the guard.
The most useful tip about dealing with guards is simple: think of them as NPCs with lives, jobs to do, and emotions, rather than simply members of the guard. Respect their job and station whilst pushing limits only when it feels appropriate, you have an established relationship, or you know you can get away with it.