So my party has ended up in the middle of the desert. I want to give them a fun game of intrigue. The story arc is follows:
Party encounters monsters, which turns out to be a very tough battle (party is lvl 3, so no insta-kills, but they might go down). They get rescued by a trade caravan of trade organisation X (or they win the battle sustaining heavy wounds and encounter the caravan directly after). Caravan leader asks them to go along with them and explains that he suspects there is a spy among her men trying to sabotage the caravan and setup an ambush for his buddies of trade organisation Y (they're kinda at war). Party needs to find out who it is. There's about 6 or so suspects. Of course, they all show behavior that might be considered suspicious. One sneaks off to steal food, 2 others have a secret relation, a 3rd is just plain rude etc etc.
I'm trying to add some extra intrigue to it and come up with neat ideas for the bandits or reasons for people acting suspicious.
Maybe the extra intrigue is that the caravan leader is herself the spy and she tries to get rid of the person who is a secret agent trying to figure out why so many caravans get robbed or all 6 are the bandits and only the caravan leader is genuine.
Any ideas? I am slightly enclined to have an end-fight between party and bandits and then have desert monsters or evil organisation Z show up forcing everyone to band together. They learn that way there are heavy trade wars going on between different mafia-like trading guilds.
In the mean time, if things go too fast, I want to add some desert flavor and have the caravan enter storms, encounter oases guarded by monsters etc. Ideas on this would be welcome too.
I have an idea for side intrigue that could mix up the plot a bit.
If the headmaster is a male maybe have his wife coming along. If not the headmaster, then have the husband NPC be someone the players favor, like the arms dealer or some such, just be sure to include a wife. For the sake of explanation, the wife will be NPC A and the husband will be NPC B.
Now make a third character whom the players might like as well. For instances, maybe a young upstart mercenary guard that befriends a PC, or for more adult themes, a younger woman who takes a fancy to a male PC. Let this character be NPC C
With some intrigue and diplomacy checks, maybe the PC's start hearing rumors about the Wife, NPC A, being involved with the male, NPC C. This could erupt some internal conflict between all parties involved. In all actuality, the hidden spy is NPC B, the husband. If done correctly, PC's will feel sorry and favor NPC B because his wife is fooling around with another man or woman.
The best place to look for rumors is with the wife, NPC B. She will know her husband is a spy and that is why she is leaving him for NPC C, but the PC's might never think to look there. Cause she is a lying, cheating, philanderer.
They will never see it coming. Thoughts?
I'd make the leader of X caravan legit. Her closest companions are a right-hand man that seems to have his own agenda and a loyal, elderly handmaiden sort.
Suspects in X caravan are 1)right-hand man who thinks he can do a better job leading, 2)surly guy, 3)guy receiving mysterious communication, 4)greedy thief, 5)relative passed over for promotion, 6)some distrusted non-human race or foreigner.
Caravan X is ambushed by elements of Y. Accusations fly; fight begins.
There are clues all this time, though, that the elderly handmaiden is not what she seems. She is part of Z and has been spreading suspicion on others to insulate herself. The PCs must be able to figure out enough that they catch her in the act of magically signalling mysterious organization Z and then have to convince X and Y to band together to fight Z, which represents a deadly threat to both X and Y.
Hope that was sort of what you were looking for.
There's always the double-switch. Have two spies. One is working for org Y, but is in fact just infiltrating org Y to help crush them and make better opportunities for org X. Spy B is actually working for org Y and trying to destroy org X. Both can act suspicious and do things that are obviously out of character because neither really want to get caught. It helps if spy A (the double-agent) is helping org X because of an outside allegiance (like a noble house of somewhere that wants to support org X).
The party can catch one or both of them. If they catch one, they either succeed (by catching spy B) or catch spy A and end that mission, thus angering the outside allegiance and set up a new potential enemy/opposition. If they catch both, they get all kinds of options and still may end up with an enemy/ally from the outside allegiance.
If they're only 3rd level, that will help reduce the magical interference, but still be careful to set up something where a simple enchantment effect won't break everything down. Higher level outside interference like bigger, badder enchantment spells can help somewhat if you need to go that far.
This won't help with the content, but it might help with the mechanism: check out the mystery thatvstarts out the first Legacy of Fire AP. Itbis set in the desert, involves a female caravan leader, a sabotage incident ( a spy in her caravan committing arson on the wagons), and a nice sandbox way of handling the PC's investigation.