It’s Bounty Hunter Week over on SWTOR again, the MMOG that my wife and I have been playing to scratch our itch for Star Wars in the months leading up to the new movie coming out. As a result, today we’re going to look at the idea of a campaign where the players all have characters that are a crew of bounty hunters.
At first glance, it might not seem like that great of an idea – there’s no immediate clear story or plot to the idea of being a gang of bounty hunters, and the only thing that seems to hold them together at first glance is the love of money. That said, there are plenty of ways to tie a group together and give them a plot to chase.
First and foremost, a crew of bounty hunters should all share some common goal, decided upon by the group as a whole before you start the campaign. Perhaps they’re noble-minded and only take bounties in the name of justice. Maybe there’s a notorious criminal that they all have it in for, and that criminal’s resources make them too hard to go after alone. Maybe bounty hunting is illegal, and they’re criminals who stick together for safety in numbers.
After that, the seeds of a plot are easy; every bounty captured or killed leaves behind people who will want vengeance. Every person who puts out a bounty has their reasons, and a plot can emerge from those reasons – if the group didn’t have a single foe they want to take down, the GM can easily provide them with one as more and more bounties taken in turn out to be part of an organization that works for a single figure or council.
Bounty hunters have excuses to be odd and eclectic, giving players more freedom than usual in what they might want to play; being constantly thrust into life-threatening dangers with people can form a bond strong enough to deal with the fact that one characters is a jerk who hates the culture that another one hails from, as long as he does his part of the job. Bickering and tense moments are both common for this kind of game, and it’ll work best for players mature enough to distinguish between in-game tension and out-of-game tension (a tall order sometimes, I know.)
Most bounty hunts will likely take 2-3 sessions, depending on how RP-heavy your group prefers to be; the first segment will generally consist of getting the bounty contract, researching the mark, leaning on informants and greasing contacts, and getting together any special equipment the characters think they might need. In groups willing to have people run multiple characters, each player may have 2-3 characters, each one a specialist in a particular role, rotating them in based on the bounty in question.
The second segment consists of the actual action – the players close in on the mark, have to get through whatever defenses and allies they have, and then have to take them down; bounties where the mark is wanted alive are harder (and should pay better) than ones where the goal is to simply kill the mark and bring proof back. The lead-up to the fight should be tense, with attempts to circumvent security and pull Mission Impossible tasks interspersed with high-action moments as the characters are forced to blaze through defenders weapons-first, hoping their mark doesn’t catch on and flee. Most marks will fight back to the best of their ability, with an eye toward trying to escape and flee. Some may surrender after a brief fight (perhaps ones where the bounty says, in no uncertain terms, that the objective is to kill them, putting the players in an uncomfortable situation).
Some might simply surrender at the start, with a smug attitude as if they know that they’ll be free again soon enough. These, of course, should be ones with ties to any overarching nemesis organizations; the second time players run into one of them, there should be a moment of shocked recognition and demands to know why this person is on the loose and recovered so fast, leading to hints of the background group.
The last section of a hunt is the wind-down – the mark is captured or killed, the players have brought the captive or evidence back, and now they get to actually get their prize. Most contractors will simply pay up, understanding that angering a group of well-armed individuals with a penchant for planning and violence isn’t the best plan for a long and fulfilling life. Occasionally some will try to renege, though, which leads to the question of how players handle it. Dealing with a low-life who thinks they can simply refuse to pay will turn out quite differently from a high-ranking judge or a politician’s aide who refuse to turn over payment, and may lead to further hooks. After all, when someone offers them a bounty that hurts the person who stiffed them, the PCs might find a reason to say “This one’s on the house.”
Lastly, if the group is in a grey area of the law or operating illegally, there comes the sections in parts two and three where they have to handle legal intervention. Rarely is shooting it out with law enforcement going to be a good plan, and sometimes the marks they take alive or the heirs of the ones they kill may come after them with lawyers or their own bounty hunters seeking to take the group down; these other bounty hunters may be one-off, or they may be recurrent adversaries, perhaps angling for the same bounties as the PCs and occasionally interfering with their plans while executing an attack.
So there, then, are some reasons and ideas for a bounty hunter campaign; give it a thought, and if it seems interesting try sounding out your player group to see if it appeals to them.