Here’s an encounter during which a powerful NPC attacks the characters for apparently no reason, all part of a hidden plot.
Setup: A hostile NPC gets the player characters into a fight to the death. The circumstances “just don’t seem right” – the NPC seems to be fighting over a trivial cause, or at least has options other than mortal stakes. For once, the player characters are completely innocent of aggravating such violence.
What’s Going On: The NPC is facing a terrible fate (painful disease, debt to demon, imminent dishonorable discovery), or someone the NPC cares about stands to gain by the NPC’s violent death (life insurance pay-off, resolves a love triangle). In any case, the NPC cannot commit traditional suicide and so seeks death at the hands of another (in this case, the PCs). Failing to kill him – or worse, successfully subduing and restraining him – will bring out threats, then pleads for death. Whether or not the NPC opts to reveal his true intentions depends on players’ role-playing and character reaction rolls.
Some more options:
* NPC has recently become infected with vampirism or lycanthropy which further fuels his rage. He does not have the willpower to resist “the change” much longer and now he hopes to die “while I’m still human.”
* NPC has been repeatedly possessed by a demon or ghost and made to do horrible things. The NPC does not know how to resist these episodes and wants to perish to escape further abuse.
* The NPC comes from a powerful family (nobles if highborn, organized criminals if lowborn) who seek revenge for any killing of one of their own.
* The NPC is an imposter who was blackmailed into staging his death as an elaborate ruse. The “real” mastermind NPC (a ruthless wanted criminal) has the fake NPC’s loved ones hostage and threatens to murder them if the imposter’s “death” does not go off publically as planned.