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How to Add Secret Societies Into Your D&D Gameplay

Written by Krystal - Published on July 27, 2010
Dungeons and Dragons Secret Societies

Dungeons and Dragons Secret Societies

Ever plan an encounter but have nooo idea when or where the adventurers will ever see it? Well those are really the best kind! Sometimes we just have fun planning the enemies and the societies, evil deeds and so on! Though sometimes we have a bit of trouble, so I’m here for a little bit of advice and some resources for you to use as a DM!

First off, my wonderful partner-in-crime (my bf) decided to donate his list of Secret Societies, he wrote them for his own campaigning worlds and meant them to be for 4E though it can be used for anything really. Secret societies are a great way of having something planned out that can pop out of nowhere, they can run towns, cities, they can be small gangs or hoards even. Some secret societies can dress in certain ways, like a uniform, they can also have imitators who aren’t part of the society but still pretend to be (like some modern gangs), secret societies can be for good or evil, can be people behind the crown, can be people trying to over throw kings or leaders, it can be almost anything. Use your imagination and remember, it’s your world!

As I said before here’s your list of secret society examples, you are welcome to use for your personal at home games as well!

The gilded haft: A secret society of nobles and their son’s. This group was founded during the Strifetime approximately 300 years after the inception of the empire. It’s history is laden with political scandal. Some say it is the primary reason for the late emperor’s demise last winter and The placement of his first council on the throne. Though no revealable evidence has been presented. This guild will often appear when the party is dipping it’s hands in it’s intricate plots.

It’s leadership is scattered throughout the empire and is nearly untraceable. The Palmer’s(The guild’s secret army of thugs) Wear fine silk cloaks bearing a dagger Woven from gold thread.

The Skull clan: The skull clan has been in operation seemingly since the beginning of recorded history. Since the earliest tomes and scratchings on cave walls, there have been depictions of men clad in black with bone armor and skulls painted on their brow’s. Though the current clan is only a vestigial remnant of the original peoples. It’s threat to travelers is still palpable, and tales are still spread of the horrid deed’s done to comrade’s corpses. Due to the clans popularity some bandits don disguises to strike fear into their victims hearts. Though knowing the legitimacy of a group of clansmen is not a difficult task. True clansmen will not negotiate or barter with their quarry. The only forewarning a group of travelers will have is a shrill inhuman war cry at the onset of combat. Then they will be beset on all sides by men wielding bone morning stars. After defeating their enemies, they will dismember them and consume their organs. This ancient practice is derived from the idea that an enemies power can be consumed with their flesh.

The Trishdan guild: A group of thieves in the ancient city of Falthezzar once drew up a charter. Known as “The Thieves Honor”, it has since been referred to as “Honor Among Thieves”. It outlines a system in which a group of thieves swears allegiance to one another, and to do no slight to one another. This charter of illegitimate brotherhood has been passed on to the Trishdan guild. The thieves of this guild do not wear any special garments, but have instead memorized a secret form of hand cant. Which they use to communicate their membership.

See what we mean? Secret societies can be guilds, clans, or any other variety of things. If you plan these out you can put them in multiple towns or cities, or just one, and you can use them as a filler or perhaps your characters create the perfect opportunity to throw them in. Keep in mind if your characters become affiliated with them, or if they are rival enemies, perhaps they are simply passing by. Hope this was helpful!

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Written by Krystal

At a young age, my mother opened up her own gaming store. We had two game rooms, an office, and the front area which had a ton of miniatures and books. I helped manage that store for several years, my mother teaching me the ropes and treating me like an adult so I could learn. Even beyond that she played games at stores like Haster Hobbies and several other places. In fact, my parents met gaming! DnD kind of runs in my blood, as well as any other gaming you can think of. I’m simply a gamer at heart, an artist, and a jack of all trades. I love to write and that’s why I’m here at Dungeon Mastering! I’m going to be going to school for Video Game Design, and my bf is going to school so he can publish Core Rule Sets. In the short few years I’ve been with him I’ve learned all about how to create my own rule system and create a game from the ground up! But my expertise is not limited to DnD alone. I’ve ventured far into Call of Cthullu, and beyond to games like Shadowrun and some White Wolf games..though I’m not a big fan of dice pools. :)

Anyways! Gaming is my passion and my life. I game constantly, go to conventions, and so much more! Maybe I’ll see you there! Happy Gaming!

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8 Responses to “How to Add Secret Societies Into Your D&D Gameplay”
  1. Myseri says:

    This is a good idea, but it does not have to be just secret societies. I am currently running a campaign where i have two different antagonists, sisters, who are both employing doppelgangers to do their dirty work. This is causing all kinds of hi-jinks, like the party was accused of murdering someone, when it was the doppelgangers all along. The sticking point was, how can doppelgangers, not in their natural form, tell that the person it is interacting with is in fact another doppelganger. Needless to say, i now have two distinct groups of doppelgangers who are “secret” societies unto themselves. I decided that it was a scent issue, ie, they could smell that they were near another doppelganger, and upon closer inspection, they were able to determine who it was.

    My thoughts are to always wait for your party to surprise you, those are the best time to interject the encounters you have been salivating over. If it fits in well with the story line, let the party get there on their own, because they will.

  2. Tiorn says:

    I used a thieves guild called the “Copperheads” in games that I DMed. They wore a piece of copper jewelry, shaped like a snake, to show their membership when needed.

    @Myseri… is that a downfall of the 4e version of the doppelganger? 3e’s doppelgangers had the Detect Thoughts ability, making them mind readers. So, you would think they would instantly realize that another person wasn’t who they claimed to be, at least. Knowing that, they could ask questions to force the other person to think before answering, exposing their true thoughts. I wouldn’t think that this ability would be removed from the 4e version, since this allows the doppelganger to impersonate individuals so well. Its really a crucial ability for the doppelganger to have, otherwise they would easily and often fail at what they do best.

  3. Myseri says:

    Off the top of my head, i dont remember about the detect thoughts ability. But, one of the doppelgangers was using magic on top of everything to block any detection attempts. The party does not know this yet though. I agree that that would be a crucial ability. With that being said, and without looking at the ability to know what kind of action it is (minor or standard i would bet). Would that then infer a defense bonus, as they would be able to sense attacks coming? Sorry to hijack the thread.

  4. Tiorn says:

    @Myseri…. in 3e, it could be negated. DC 13 Charisma based Will save. The ability behaved as the 3e Detect Thoughts spell cast by an 18-level caster. The ability is at-will, plus, they can choose to suppress it. If the doppelganger can read someone’s mind, then it gets a +4 bonus on bluff and disguise checks when dealing with that person, but I see nothing in 3e that suggests a defense bonus. Any other perks for the ability would have to be based on the spell. It allows detection of surface thoughts… so yeah, what I said previously would be true… ask questions while using this ability. If the save fails, then the answers are wide open to the doppelganger. It can even be used on animals to figure out what they will do… say, if a wild boar was going to charge at a doppelganger, the doppelganger has a good chance of already knowing it beforehand.

  5. The DM Lord says:

    Good idea on your part adding secret organizations. I like to use them to. Maybe you’d like this one.
    The sword of Dior: This organization of mostly fey has existed for several centuries. They find people they believe have the potential to be adventures and then then train them. After training them, they send them out on quests for the good of the world, and sometimes for their own benefit. They’re always on the lookout for magical items, as if trying to keep them away from others. They can easily turn against the person if they believe that person’s views all begins their own. They’re usually quick to judge and deal out the penalty of death, so it can be hard to stay out of trouble with them. They move pretty slowly, and confuse with Mo’s too slow. Hiding is usually their first choice.

  6. Takaiteishu says:

    I personally don’t use secret societies all that often since my standard campaign style is the usual “save the world”, only for a massive unexpected twist at the end, in one for a campaign setting I’m working on the party was racing against time to stop a lich from releasing a primordial and then controlling it. They interrupted the second ritual, only to realize that the lich planned to use the ritual to utterly destroy the primordial, not control it.

    The few times that I have used secret societies they tend to be along the lines of vampire or lycanthrope gangs, though once I did have a horde of orc assassins/ninjas…it was an asian campaign so sue me.

  7. E Flowers says:

    In all of the games I have DM’ed there were always rival factions and different parties trying to control areas of power. The best game I ran was a series that revolved around two towns trying to gain complete control of the trade route that ran between them. Unfortunately for the towns the merchants had their own secret operators that kept throwing monkey wrenches into all of the plans. The PC’s were hired time and time again to ensure one towns domination over the other or to gather proof of the other towns “evil” intentions to control the trade route. When it was all said and done and the charaters finally figure out they were chasing down leads on a third party that had nothing to do with either town several months and hundreds of good gaming hours had passed by. And to think that it took me less than two hours to come up with the overall idea and the main characters. Honestly one of my best creations, and the one campaign I have never been able to top.


Check out what others are saying about this post...
  1. […] How to Add Secret Societies Into Your D&D Gameplay Secret societies fascinate me. Full stop. It doesn’t matter if they exist in the real world or a fictional setting. I love them because you can never learn all you want to know about them (unless you’re the GM.) However, it takes careful brush strokes to add a secret society to your world. Go see what Krystal has to say on the matter. She has some great words! […]

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