Posted in Set Piece

Set Piece: The Hold-up

I was in the corner of the shop ogling the ornate clockwork pigeon on a perch when my ears caught the slightly elevated conversation going on at the counter.

“Hey Shamus, Miss Elvestean hasn’t paid us yet this week.”

“Yes… yes, I did,” Came the hesitant female reply. “I paid you on Tuesday… you came in on Tuesday… It’s only Friday today.”

“Is that right?”

“I don’t know boss…  We had that thing on Tuesday. We weren’t uptown.”

“Did you hear that Miss Elvenstean we had a thing on Tuesday. There is no way you paid us then.”

By this point in the conversation, I had snuck close up to the counter and sized the two thugs up.  The black haired one named Shamus was rather beefy, he was trouble. The store owner was trying to hold her ground, but  the other one, the tall and lengthy  one, he pulled his blunderbuss from his belt and pointed it at the store owner.

“Listen lady,  pay us, or else.”

This I couldn’t handle alone.

I slowly backed up toward the front of the store and flipped open my communicator to call Alexis, when disaster struck.

Hey, Conner.…We’ve got a lurker here… about to cause some trouble.”

(Image from Pulp Fiction ©1994 Miramax)

The Hold-up

(or The Extorion…. depends on how you set the scene.)


A lot of buying of gear is done off-screen in PRGs but when it takes place during the session it sometimes can be a slog for both players and the GM.  Now it’s time for you to spice things up.  While the PC’s are in a store browsing the wares.  Quite a few ruffians come in to hold up the shop owner.


The scene may seem simple, but it can serve many different purposes. All of which would help define the mood.  So as a GM decide what you want the hold-up to accomplish:

Establish the presence of a gang or organized crime in the town – Maybe the intruders are looking for protection money. They own this turf so a few bystanders seeing them accost this shop owner doesn’t bother them.   This is a good encounter for PCs that are new in town.  It sets up who some of the local groups are without using exposition.

Establish a McGuffin – the villains want something that the store owner has something special.  “We know you have it old man, hand it over and no one gets hurt.”  A good adventure starter if the PCs want to get involved.  This kind of quest start can feel more organic since it’s up to the players themselves to get involved or not.

Force PC’s out of their comfort zone –  The whole party doesn’t all shop together usually. Have this encounter happen to the rogue who was already pick-pocketing items, or the mage or the face character.  Can they talk or con their way out?  Depending on how they respond it could be a great chance for character defining role-play.

Establish Corrupt Law Enforcement – Maybe it’s the town guard harassing the merchant.  Accusing him of selling illegal goods.  (maybe the shopkeeper is)

This isn’t necessarily a combat encounter.  The PC may be able to defuse the situation with great cunning or a sharp tongue.  They may not even get involve.  Don’t force them too.


Two to Three Ruffians assaulting a shopkeeper feels right.  Maybe a fourth to watch the door if the place is big enough that the party members inside were not noticed.   Remember that not all the party has to be in the shop for this encounter; a few could be outside nearby or not even in the scene.  The encounter shouldn’t be that long that people not  involved would get bored.

However, the Ruffians are not the only threat in this encounter.  This type of encounter can set up the reputation of the party to the various powers at play here.  No matter how they handle the situation, it is bound to rub someone the wrong way.


This encounter can go many ways depending on how your players approach it.  Hiding, Talking, Fighting are all pretty straight forward.  Remember though the location of the scene.  The clutter of the shop’s items, specific items or even furniture the items are on, could really end up making the encounter fun and memorable if a fight does break out, or if the players are trying to sneak around.  Innocent bystanders coming in from the street, or an unexpected clerk in the back room could really turn a tense social scene up another notch.


The assailants shouldn’t be straight up murdering the shopkeeper (unless they are pinning the crime on the party… but that’s another set piece) so the PCs probably shouldn’t murder the assailants out right.  If they do so, then you should really lay on the consequences.

Also before the encounter begins, (usually with a PC saying they want to find a place to buy some ______ ) make sure you ask the players  “While she is doing that, what are you up to?”  Or, “Where are you?” so you can figure out who should be included in the scene.

A small scene like this is a great way to challenge the least heroic character in the party.  If you can, isolate them in the shop alone and see how they react.  I could be a great character defining scene for the player.

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