GM Tips is our series to help Storytellers and Game Masters improve their craft and create memorable roleplaying experiences. GM Tips has focused on advice, but sometimes we just need quick content past a writer’s block. These one-shot encounters are designed for inspiration in any system.
Maria Valdez isn’t a bad thief, she’s just… insatiably curious. This encounter is a pulp-fiction style caper that includes a curious cat burglar who will be chameleon her way through your players (and their friends) belongings. Every adventure needs a mystery at some point, so if you are in need of a one-shot non-combative mystery, then we’ve got you covered. In this adventure, we will be incorporating some out of game elements by stealing parts of your players’ character sheets, so you might need a printer.
Here’s the hook:
Adventurers cause all sorts of chaos and confusion when they move through towns. Each of them tends to have an iconic look and stats far higher than any regular town NPC. Is it any wonder that at some point, someone might develop a crush on the party? Maria Valdez is a skilled cat burglar with the ability to become invisible. This invisibility can take the form of a scientific light-bending suit or a more magical format. Like a curious cat about the party, Maria will be sneaking in and rifling through their possessions (but not stealing anything) to learn more about them, but maybe she forgets to put everything back in the right spot.
“…but I didn’t take anything…”
As the party wanders through a town or a city, take some extra effort to guide them into a library as the storyteller. You can have a thousand different reasons for their arrival, but what’s important in this scene, is the short university student who is quietly studying in the background. As a history major, Maria becomes instantly enthralled with the party and the secrets that they must possess. Have they seen lost treasure? Explored the depths of the ocean? What cultures did unique characters come from? If the party talks to her at this point, do your best to portray someone who is curious, shy, and rather skilled in her knowledge of puzzles.
The very next night after the party rests, the shenanigans ensue. Quietly give the players new sheets that have a few alterations on them such as moving around equipment in the bedrolls or other possessions between their sheets. Make sure you take their old sheets and don’t let them reference them—this is a test for your players’ memory. Nothing should be actually missing, just, shuffled around, and nothing too obvious yet. The party might not even notice.
Any investigation, magical or otherwise, will only reveal that someone had broken into their hotel or camp and bypassed their watch. Even if someone was awake, this thief was able to sneak in and rifle through their possessions, but nothing was taken. If the players didn’t notice yet, carry on with the adventure until the next night, where you will repeat this process… but this time more obvious with the gear being swapped around. A wizard might wake up missing his spellbook, only to find it tucked away among the barbarians stash of romance novels.
You’ll have to improvise how the players solve or lay traps for this cat burglar that is rifling through their things. If they do something extreme like lock themselves in a seal-tight room, nothing will happen to them (it will only resume again when the party forgets to do that one night). Once the party finds a solution you feel will work, have them capture Maria as she is quietly reading one of their journals at night while humming to herself. Some parties may elect to kill her, others may simply admonish her, and some might even opt to recruit her. The resolution if she is captured is entirely up to the players!
If Maria pulls off seven capers on the party, however, on the eighth night, the group will awake to find their favorite meals all cooked for them. Even some cupcakes left behind for them that are insanely tasty. After getting to know the party a ton by rifling through their possessions, Maria self nominates herself as the parties official caretaker and joins their group—one way or another. The world is vast and needs to be explored by her, and the only way she could get out of town was to become an adventurer—but what’s an adventure without a party to travel with!
Are you in need of quick encounters? Let us know in the comments what system-agnostic encounters you need!
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Rick Heinz is the author of The Seventh Age Series, Dread Adventures, and a storyteller with a focus on D&D For Kids, Wraith: The Oblivion, Ravnica, and an overdose of LARPs. You can follow the game or urban fantasy related thingies on Twitter or Facebook or reach out for writing at [email protected]