|Douglas Muir 406|
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Mr Jingles is a bard. I think he's a gnome, though he could be a halfling, or human -- whatever fits your campaign. He's an NPC who is 6-8 levels higher than your PCs. So, if you have a group of 3rd level PCs, Mr. Jingles will be 10th level, give or take. He's missing one leg at the knee, which reduces his movement by 5'.
Mr. Jingles will show up one day, introduce himself, and ask for help with a minor bit of adventuring. There's a monster nearby, and it's guarding a big pile of treasure. Mr. Jingles can't take it alone, but with the help of the PCs... The monster will be APL +4 or so: a creature that the party would have great difficulty with normally. But with Mr. Jingles' help, it'll be MUCH easier. Mr. Jingles is optimized for support! He has lots of buffs and cures, and of course his Inspire Courage alone is going to give the party a massive power boost. Jingles offers to split the treasure 50-50...
And now Mr. Jingles has an offer for the PCs. He's relentless about searching for rumours about monsters and treasure. But he's not much of a fighter himself. So he offers to set the PCs up at a base of operations: the mansion he inherited from his former partners, adventurers who left him behind to go travelling in distant lands. It's an isolated place in the woods, but it has lots of rooms and a large, lockable treasure vault in the basement.
If the PCs accept, they'll find that Jingles is indeed very good at finding monsters to fight and treasures to be looted. In campaign terms, this may mean a couple of sessions where the PCs just cut down a bunch of high-level monsters with relative ease, allowing them to gain piles of treasure well above normal WBL and also level up faster than normal.
Of course there's a catch.
Jingles isn't actually evil! He's Chaotic Neutral and a huge coward, but he's not evil, and -- depending on how the PCs treat him -- he'll be somewhere between shifty-guilty and wracked with guilt and shame. If the PCs have really been friendly, he'll feel just terrible. But whether out of fear or magical compulsion, he's going forward with the plan.
-- He disappears sometimes for days at a time. (He's visiting Vincent.)
-- His own share of the treasure disappears fast. He says he's investing it for his retirement. (Vincent again.)
-- It's obvious that other adventurers lived in the mansion; there's a chapel to a god, a sparring room, a wizard's study with a shelf of (non-magical) research books, whatever. Vincent sighs that they left him behind, then changes the subject.
-- Vincent encourages the PCs to keep treasure and valuables in the vault. If the PCs are suspicious, he'll agree to any reasonable precaution. (Of course, it's all being piled up for Vincent.)
Jingles' behavior will grow more erratic as The Day approaches. Again, this will depend on how friendly the PCs have been to him and how well they've treated him. If they've really been good to him, he'll have a breakdown and spill everything just before Vincent shows up. Otherwise, it'll be a fun surprise.
I think Vincent is CE -- probably a black dragon? -- and I think he overplays his hand: instead of taking the PCs and all the treasure, he laughs and tells Jingles this isn't enough, and he'll have to do it all over again. This pushes Jingles over the edge, and he desperately offers to help the PCs against the monster.
The dragon should thoroughly outclass the PCs -- APL + 6 or so -- but it's overconfident, and it's attacking the PCs on their home ground (the mansion), and Jingles knows exactly how it thinks. With his help, they should have a chance at pulling off a crazy upset. You'll want to plot this one out in advance. But the endgame should be, they have a decent shot at winning.
Jingles may or may not survive -- season to taste.
Only... Vincent is far more cunning and devious than initially thought. He's been keeping tabs on Mr. Jingles (and it isn't hard, he stands out). He's also been hearing about these new adventurers that are taking out more powerful monsters than expected. When the PCs are away from Jingles, in town or on the outskirts. He approaches them, in disguise (magical and mundane), introducing himself as 'Vincenzo the Black' or 'the Dragon Warrior', or some-such. He can gear himself up however he likes, probably from Jingle's slain party-members gear. He mentions he's been keeping an eye on Jingles since his last party 'disappeared'. He acts like he was alerted or that he has a connection with one of the lost members. He will generally speak or phrase things in truthful ways, but not necessarily the whole truth. Vincenzo might even accompany the PCs on an adventure or two (obviously when Jingles isn't around), mostly to gauge their competence and threat.
He might try to convince them that Jingles is up to something nefarious, possibly planning to betray the PCs (and he would know, he talks to Jingles). He might hint that perhaps the missing party didn't just go off adventuring, since no one's seen them since Jingles supposed heard about a powerful creature and lead them to it. He may try to convince the party to explore or search the mansion, without alerting Jingles to their suspicions of course. Now the PCs may be sneaking around, facing traps in the basement placed by the old party rogue and spells from the wizard. Vincenzo may even have a key or two (from the dead party) that he offers to the party to help them break into the vault (to look for evidence of course), possibly implying that it was left in his safe-keeping.
He might even have them leave innocuous items in certain places to have the PCs 'see how he reacts'. It could be a sash, belt-buckle, ring, or some other object from Jingle's old party (he has their bodies and possessions). Jingle's current stressful and overwhelming situation may not allow him to make the most rational or deductive conclusions and he may begin to think one of his old friends survived (or is now undead) and is mad at being killed (blaming him). How he reacts may lead the PCs to realize there is more going on than just having them show up at the dragon's lair one adventure and finding out.
Vincenzo is mostly doing this to relieve boredom and to prove his intellectual superiority. Depending on how well this goes, when the party does reach the dragon, he may either be in his true form or Vincenzo waiting there, denouncing Jingles before he has a chance to beg forgiveness or offer the PCs a chance to redeem himself. If they kill Jingles, he just lets them go and tells him not to ever come back and bother him, he may even give them the keys to the mansion and says it's a gift (this was enough excitement to tide him over for a few years). If they claim he's an evil monster, he'll agree. He'll say he's an evil monster who lives far away from them and is known for letting people, even ones who invade his home intent on killing him, go. Even ones who turn out to be dishonest, scheming, gnomes luring others to their death. If they still want to attack him... well, they don't have the benefit of a cowardly higher level bard to back them up.