I always aspire to run a "living" campaign. No, not those official things like Living Greyhawk or Living Dragonstar from back in the heyday of D&D 3.X, but a persistent world where things continue to happen around the PCs that have little, if anything, to do with them. It helps make the setting feel a bit more alive.
Recently, I've been pondering how to insert some of these living elements into my upcoming Labyrinth Lord campaign. Given that the bulk of the campaign will be based out of Dolmvay, I've got a great urban landscape full of NPCs to work with. So what do I do? I go and make my own. Why? Because apparently I like making work for myself.
So Dolmvay has a city-within-a-city. Valeron, the seat of power for the Church of Law & Order. It's very Vatican City. I thought about having some political trouble brewing within the city. Recently, rumors have begun to spring up that there is a high-end brothel in the city that I'm currently calling "The Garden." This establishment is lead by a madame who is said to be the most charming, intelligent, and beautiful woman in the city. She's also very rich and no one seems to know a damn thing about who she really is or where she came from. I'll call her Eve, for now.
Truth be told, she's a Medusa. But no one knows it because she walks around openly and appears for all intents and purposes to be a graceful courtesan in her late twenties. How does a medusa achieve this? She's wearing a magic ring (or other such item) that projects an illusion over her true form. She and her two sisters recruit woman from across the city. They're well treated, but told only to take on merchants, traders, and the middle class as their clients.
Eve and her sisters - Lilith and Jezebel - are the only ones allowed to take noble clients. Of course they also take clergymen in secret, which is part of why the Church is trying to drive them out. What's more, the Three Maidens (as they're called by the locals) are known for giving large amounts of wealth to the poor and wretched of the city.
The only clue to the Eve's terrible truth is the magnificent statue garden she keeps at the heart of her establishment. But these statues are frozen in poses of ecstasy or grace - not horrified. The Three Maidens are trying to establish a bloodless coup in the city. By keeping in the good graces of the poor (who are often ignored by those with money), they are able to learn the secrets that the ignored and abandoned often overhear. By having those they take into their house serve the middle class they get keep tabs on the economy of the city and its trade deals - both secret and public. By servicing nobles and clergy, the ladies will undoubtedly learn secrets from idol pillow talk.
When the time comes, Eve will strike. Using her gathered secrets and the will of the people, she can sow the seeds of revolt against the church and even potentially convince people that Dolmvay needs new political and religious leadership. She can then install those she controls in positions of power, and eventually overthrow the entire church.
But why? Well, you see according to Greek myth, the original Medusa lived in a foul cave. So I decide that the Three Maidens are actually the last three Meduae in the world and part of a cult which worships the Lady Serpent - an ancient evil goddess . The last temple to the Lady Serpent is in ruins, beneath the sewers of Dolmvay. Why is it there? Because it is said the Lady Serpent slumbers at the base of the Dolm River and when she awakens, she will claim those who would cast snakes into the sea. They shall be taken into her maw, and devoured forever - leaving only those loyal to her. And the serpents shall rule the world, as they once did before the coming of Man.
No blood shed. No massive combat. Just rumors, news, and hints of political strife threading through the campaign. Now, if my players start pulling on that thread things will get interesting, but in the mean time they can come and go freely from the city as they adventure across the land. Meanwhile, the city of Dolmvay becomes wrapped ever-tighter in the serpent's coil.