Heroic Undercutters

A recent comment by GMSarli resulted in me recalling an old segment from The Tom Green Show, which is a reference that I know dates me quite a bit. After reading his comment, included below, I immediately thought of Undercutters Pizza

What is Undercutters Pizza? Glad you asked! Tom Green poses as a pizza delivery man and follows a genuine pizza delivery man to a house. When the genuine delivery man attempts to sell the pizza to the customer, Tom Green comes in to offer his pizza at a lower price. He attempts to undercut the competition. The magic of the Internet allows me to include the brief 2-minute clip below:

Upon reading GMSarli’s comment, I thought it would be intriguing to develop a rival adventuring party to follow and undercut the genuine pary at moments during the campaign. The idea seemed frivolous at first, but during a discussion of the idea, it seemed to have some realistic applications to a campaign. Below, I offer four potential uses for a Heroic Undercutters group that a DM could incorporate into her or his game.

Comedy

It seems that many campaigns experience a dearth of comedy. The heroes are typically pitted against evil forces and travel the lands in search of the next quest. The world is populated with characters that assist the party in some fashion – providing clues, offering quests, granting boons – but it is not often that characters are inserted into the world to provide a bit of light-hearted comedy.

I have attempted to pepper my homebrew world with comedic beats sporadically. A grumpy Dwarf Rogue, Dorwin, comes to mind, who sends the party on dangerous Robin-Hood-esque missions to perform his dirty work. Dorwin’s missions always arrive with a catch, and if the party isn’t bailing him out from a rival’s brute squad, then they are amused by his down-on-his-luck demeanor. He serves a purpose in my campaign of giving the players (and me) a break from the grind of important world-defining quests. Dorwin is wiser than he appears, and he keeps the party on their toes – often popping up in the campaign when least expected.

Heroic Undercutters could be utilized to add humor to any campaign. The group does not need to pose a serious threat to the adventuring party; however, they could appear at opportune moments in the hopes of stealing away missions and glory from the adventurers. Imagine the party is granted an audience with the leader of a city and requested to purge the sewers of a dark menace. As the party agrees to do clear out the sewers for 1000gp, Heroic Undercutters burst through the door and offer their services for only 500pg, “We’ll do the same job at half price!”

In this scenario, Heroic Undercutters could be portrayed as low-level adventurers that are completely overmatched and out of their element. More than anything, they are a pest to the party and are quickly dismissed by the leader, who is quick to wave on his guards to escort the members of Heroic Undercutters out of the room while they cry out, “We just wanted to give you a better deal. We just wanted a chance to be your discount heroes. Hear us out!” Heroic Undercutters could execute these lame attempts to undercut the party at various times in the campaign. The keen party member could perceive Heroic Undercutters following them in the wilderness between towns, leading to a humorous encounter between the groups. If a DM desires for a safe way to quickly “ham it up” during a gaming session, then Heroic Undercutters may be just the thing.

Competition

Heroic Undercutters are presented above as a group of hapless and harmless NPCs. They pose no danger to the group and are intended to provide comic relief at random times during a campaign. But Heroic Undercutters can be so much more in a campaign if the DM wishes to challenge the party in unique ways that do not require monsters, traps and hazards.

In this scenario, Heroic Undercutters would be a suitable challenger for the adventuring party. The group would be well-known, charismatic and successful. Their deeds will be sung in taverns the party visits, and leaders will respect their offers for service. In the comedy example above, the leader of the city quickly dismissed Heroic Undercutters because they are considered clowns. However, if Heroic Undercutters are a legitimate adventuring group, then the leader may consider the offer.

Consider the implications of the scene – the party has reached the leader and learned of a quest, which offers a substantial reward. As the party accepts the mission, another group bursts into the room and steals the mission from them. The players have several choices to make while you gleefully play out your NPCs from Heroic Undercutters. Just a few options are:

  • Lower their asking price for the mission, which could result in a bidding war between the party and Heroic Undercutters.
  • Accept the knowledge that Heroic Undercutters has offered the leader a better deal and search out another mission.
  • Attempt to convince the leader that Heroic Undercutters is not “up to the job” and will likely fail.
  • Leave without taking the mission but then attempting to complete the mission anyway, which could result in the party following Heroic Undercutters into the sewers, or searching for another way to reach the same goal in a shorter amount of time.

Regardless of the outcome, the gaming session has moved away from the standard “fetch quest” scene to something quite different and dramatic. The scene offers many opportunities for roleplaying and/or a skill challenge with the leader, Heroic Undercutters and other NPCs in town.

After Heroic Undercutters has successfully fleeced missions from the party, the players are likely to be quite annoyed by them, and some may even advocate disabling the party by ruining their reputation or outright combat. Attempt to avoid a simply party-versus-party combat encounter for as long as possible. Perhaps Heroic Undercutters “saves the day” during a mission when the party is on death’s door, so there is a debt to them. Competition does not have to always mean Threat.

Threat

But then again, sometimes competition does mean Threat. Heroic Undercutters have been previously discussed as a comedy device and a legitimate competitor to the adventuring party. The final scenario results in Heroic Undercutters acting as a direct and serious threat for the adventurers, and this can play out in multiple ways during a campaign.

The Undercutters plotting their next move against the party.

Heroic Undercutters can be presented as an experienced and talented adventuring party; their reputation for ruthless efficiency and success is well-known, and the party’s quests and results are likely overshadowed by Heroic Undercutters’ more dramatic and flamboyant exploits. The party’s early success is noted by the members of Heroic Undercutters and they will begin to interfere with the party’s adventures.

Heroic Undercutters may spread vicious lies and rumors in the party’s area of operation. The party may need to spend more time convincing NPCs that they can be useful and may be offered lower rewards for their quests. Heroic Undercutters may also intervene to sabotage the party’s effects through setting traps in advance of the party’s progress or even hiring thugs to assassinate the party while they rest at an inn.

The DM could have the party interact with Heroic Undercutters through roleplaying but avoid the ultimate culmination of these events, which would be a showdown between Heroic Undercutters and the party. Heroic Undercutters would likely wait until the party is at their weakest – perhaps after completing a grueling dungeon delve – to spring an ambush. Setting up this scenario would be an effective method for challenging your party with a Boss fight immediately after a Boss fight.

Memorable NPCs

Regardless if a DM is interested in employing Heroic Undercutters to increase the level of comedy, competition or threat in a campaign, the group can be populated by an array of memorable NPCs. Develop NPCs for Heroic Undercutters that work as a foil to players at your table. For example, if you have a player with a backstory that indicates she does not get along well with Eladrin, then certainly include an Eladrin among the members of Heroic Undercutters.

The DM can use the members of the group to further the story and plot of the adventure. Perhaps while the Rogue is using Streetwise to seek out information about an upcoming quest, he overhears two members of Heroic Undercutters discussing a secret entrance into the lair of their enemy. Perhaps the Wizard of the party bumps into another arcane user of Heroic Undercutters at the local archives as they both search for information on the same quest. The NPCs from Heroic Undercutters and the party can trade situations when they get “the upper hand.” Even the comedic group could outsmart the party one time, which could create a good laugh at the table.

Summary

I use NPCs often to further the plot of the campaign. The process populates the world with interesting characters and gives the quests more depth and meaning. Heroic Undercutters could be another set of NPCs for a DM to employ in a campaign. The group can be used to add light comedy, minor drama or a severe threat to a campaign.

So, how might you use Heroic Undercutters in a campaign? And what would you call the group?

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About The Id DM

The Id DM is a psychologist during the weekdays. He DMs for a group of fairly loyal and responsible PCs every other Friday night. In the approximate 330 hours between sessions, he is likely anxious about how to ensure the next game he runs doesn't suck.
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4 Responses to Heroic Undercutters

  1. quirkydm says:

    I like it. My first thought was Rene Belloq in Indiana Jones as a “Threat” option. Perfect.

    My next campaign is a treasure hunt race as the anonymous recipients of a mysterious lord’s will sends them out on adventure after adventure. The Heroic Undercutters are the perfect way to round out the other competitors, with a mix of threat, competition and even comedy.

    One last option I’d use for the Heroic Undercutters is as allies, where you both end up in the same hot kettle of water and need each other to get out of the situation. Or where you each have a piece of the puzzle and need to trade with the other to get it.

    • The Id DM says:

      Yes, Indy and Belloq had a unique relationship; they appeared to respect each other while in competition for the same artifact. It was a fun dynamic and added another layer to the story.

      The allies suggestion is an excellent theme that can be applied to Heroic Undercutters. I referred to that option a bit when discussing them as competition; perhaps the groups have to coordinate their efforts for survival and that is one reason the party doesn’t want to eliminate them.

  2. Captain Spud says:

    I really like this idea. I’ve been asked to DM for a system I’ve never played before, and wanted to set up a simple campaign instead of one of my usual epic-weirdness ones while I’m still learning the ropes. I felt bad about doing something as boring and predictable as “adventurers for hire doing odd jobs” (a trope I despise), but setting it up with a rival party sneakily stealing their jobs sounds like it would be different enough to avoid the usual story clichés.

    One hook that seems promising to me, once the rivals are introduced: the party gets job offers from prospective employers, and are told to be somewhere at a certain time. But the party (whether due to actual unplanned interlopers or direct interference from the Undercutters) gets tied up on the way and shows up late, to find that the Undercutters took the job instead. This keeps happening, so the party (rightfully or not) starts to get suspicious and go after them. (Maybe the first time is an accident, but the Undercutters learn that delaying rivals is a good way to get work, and start doing it on purpose).

    This has lots of potential. Thanks for the tip. :D

    • The Id DM says:

      I believe you could use the Undercutters as a quick distraction throughout a campaign, but as you mentioned, the group could be a focal point in the adventures. I think you can go many different ways with the plot, and much of it will likely depend on how your players react to the Undercutters. Responding to the player reactions would be a great deal of fun.

      If you plan to include the Undercutters as a major force in the campaign, then I would suggest spending additional time to develop the NPCs in the group. At the very least, develop a few key characteristics for each member of the Undercutters and spend more time on the leader. The other option is to run the Undercutters like Jaws – the players know the group exists but they never see them or talk to them. The Undercutters are just a “presence” in their lives that is menacing.

      Hah, I like that idea! It would be a challenge to see how long you could delay the exploding-oxygen-tank-in-the-mouth payoff. Good luck.

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