Patrons: Someone Has to Pay Your D&D Adventuring Party
Your players have made their characters, met in the tavern, and have just ordered drinks. What happens now? With the rise in popularity of RPGs, a lot of new players have joined the hobby, but many young and naive adventuring parties lack two absolutely vital things: motivation and gold.
Player characters without motivation rarely get anything done beyond meandering or following another character such as a Paladin's Oath of Vengeance; and without gold, these adventures may not last very long!
This is where a patron (also known as a benefactor or boss) comes in. Patrons are most often figures with power, money, or influence that will offer to support and guide low-level parties as they begin their adventuring career. These types of characters tend to fall into several categories. Depending on the alignment or composition of your party, you can pick and choose what is most appropriate.
This is one of the most cliched but the easiest to work with versions of the patron. If your party has a Cleric, Fighter or Wizard, then inserting this type of benefactor becomes even easier. Using a high-level Non-Player-Character (NPC) associated with one of these classes provides a wise, trusted, and experienced figure to the party who can both financially support their adventure as well as offer a constant stream of quests.
In terms of creating these characters, they should be of a high social ranking or of sufficient experience so that their knowledge cannot be ignored. Creating an obviously intelligent wizard surrounded by whirring contraptions and magical explosions, that they are not in the least bothered by, makes them seem eccentric and fun to be around. A powerful Cleric might be found in a temple of their god, surrounded by worshipers, incense, and leading a prayer. For each benefactor, the first impression is the most important part of their development. Your party must respect them.
As your players level up, keeping their patron relevant and interesting is a simple task. Having the old man/woman come out of retirement for one last big battle can lead to a dramatic moment that will have your players rooting for their old benefactor. If you want to avoid involving the patron too heavily in battle, you could include small moments of great support instead. Perhaps the party is attempting to enter a new and heavily guarded city and the party learns that the guard there was paid off by someone with their benefactor's initials.
Characters Like This:
Obi-Wan Kenobi, Professor X, Nick Fury
A retired adventurer that believes it’s the destiny of the party to save the world. After all, this old dog has seen it all before. Providing a Cleric who has seen portents from the gods provides a motivator for the party to go on to perform feats of greatness.
Creating a Crusader is somewhat harder to accomplish than with other Benefactors. These characters are big personalities with a following of their own. Whether they are marshaling a militia, running a spy network, or on a quest to rid the world of Aberrations, Crusaders have a strong goal in mind and want to sway others to their cause.
In many cases, these characters will still be active adventurers, offering to meet the players in different locations to check in on the progress of the missions they have been assigned. The quests they offer are more likely to come across as bounties on creatures or agents of evil, with the enemy’s hoard appearing as the reward for the task. Often, Crusaders are able to offer practical support to characters such as magical items, training, or supplies.
Creating a character that is engaging is vital for the Crusader persona. Your party needs to be as invested in the character as those who follow them are. Introducing this NPC through tales of their adventures before they are encountered helps build a dramatic tension. Maybe they are a famous dragon slayer or a mysterious underground figure with an unknown identity. Whatever their reputation is, tailor it towards what you know your players find appealing to ensure they take the bait.
Characters Like This:
Batman, Imperator Furiosa, Gandalf
Making this a group rather than an individual person creates a great air of mysticism. A religious group seeking to avert Armageddon or a group of Rebels trying to overthrow the corrupted Lich King can provide a fantastic chance for the party to feel like part of something greater than themselves.
The Boss is a straightforward option for a patron. They often hold positions like Guild Masters, Crime Bosses, or Barons and have a great deal of power in the world. As such, they do not need to be engaging or respectable in ways that other benefactors often require. The Boss provides help to the party in the form of cold, hard cash. Offering the party larger monetary rewards than other potential patrons means the players can choose their own rewards by “purchasing” them as opposed to being “gifted” them.
Bosses will often demand a dungeon cleared out, an item or person delivered to a distant location, or a particular local rival dealt with. These are good, solid starter quests for any party. Bosses do not need the same engaging personality that other benefactors do. Instead, they should exude a high level of wealth, power, and, in some cases, arrogance.
Characters Like This:
The Godfather, Xanathar
Offering a Crime Boss figure that initially employs the party can be fairly easy. It exposes the players to morally ambiguous quests and helps them determine how their characters feel about certain scenarios. You can then offer a turning point where the party can choose to turn on their former employer or commit fully to a life of crime!
What kind of patrons have you used to hire your adventuring party? Tell us about them in the comments below!