Friday, October 30, 2015

Happy Halloween

My home will be safe from candy-seeking adventurers tomorrow night.

Horror Games: The Evil Within

The horror genre in gaming is drastically different than the horror genre in movies and fictions. In a game where monsters are fought all the time and where the PCs are trained warriors of some ilk, monsters just aren't as terrifying. The lack of direct visual representation of the situation, combined with the lack of real-time pace, makes it more difficult to generate the wonderful jolt of being scared. To replace these elements, consider focusing on another great horror: the evil within.

The evil within is all about generating paranoia and fear within the party. By making the party a potential enemy, it makes combat more tense. Trust is broken. When your ally could at any moment become your enemy, it makes it hard to let them do the things they need to do, even like just standing behind you.

To bring out the evil within, we are going to use 3 different mechanics: sanity, disease, mental domination. Sanity mechanics allow us to use horrific circumstances to mentally break down the PCs, first generating annoying quirks in their behavior, but marching them steadily towards total insanity. Disease can be used to slowly eat away at the PC's body and brain, adding to insanity, and perhaps even turning them into a monster. Mental domination is the ability for external force to take over or heavily influence PCs into acting against their normal will, turning instantly into an enemy, one the party may be hesitant to deal with.

Pressured actions are the 4th element we add. We aren't really using any new mechanic or event. Instead, what we do is set the plot on a course in such a way that the PCs feel they have to move it forward. By depriving them of information, they feel pressured to go along with the path of events. These events, however, slowly change from seemingly normal to excessively cruel, violent, or corrupt. Like slowly heating a lobster so it doesn't feel the heat, we slowly immerse the party into a series of deeds that increase in evil and unlawful nature. In essence, we bring the party slowly to the dark side. The end result is one or more of the party members committing an act they would never normally consider.

At first this won't set in. The PCs will be oblivious to what happened. Later, however, the PCs, when put under stress, will remember what their party members are capable of. This will enhance the paranoia and distrust brought on by other factors.

Cultivating the evil within the party as a true threat takes time. However, as the stresses increase on the party in your horror game, these seeds that you plant early on will take grip. At maturity, you can truly generate some of the fear that we all really want in our horror games.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Planning for a Long-Term Campaign: When Sessions Turn into Years

It is the holy grail of gaming: to have a game that goes on for years, chewing through PCs and plot lines to build truly epic heroes.  Today's article is addressing how to plan out a long-term campaign and what to expect.

The first aspect of planning a long-term campaign is recognizing that things are going to change. Long-term campaigns only succeed when they can continue through the expected changes. The first thing you can expect is that real life is going to generate absences. To make a game resilient against absence, get a group size that is larger than what you need to play. For my games, I run with 6, knowing that most encounters will do just fine when only 4 are present.  Even with this, there are going to be times you just can't get together a quorum. Expect this to happen around holidays. Whatever you do, maintain consistency in scheduling. It is way to easy for a few skipped session to turn into the defacto ending of your gaming group.

Another change you have to be prepared for is the loss of players. The world is a dynamic place with school classes that start and stop, with jobs that come and go, and with people that move away.  Be prepared to replace players you lose. Players especially tend to leave around May-June, August-September, and around December-January.  When a player leaves, be prepared to find a new player, and be prepared to get them up to speed quickly on both rules and the story. Documents prepared and updated throughout the game can help your with this.

From these expected absences, you can get an idea of when your sweet spots are in the gaming year -- Mid-January to April and September through October. These are the times you want to plan the beginnings and the ends of segments of your campaign. These are also the times you will have the best player attendance and the most motivated players, so save your best story lines for these times.

The second aspect of planning a successful long-term campaign is to break it up into segments. Not every player is going to want to play a single character for all 20 levels.  Having major segments with major story lines breaks up the 20 levels. In between segments, you can give your players a chance to switch characters. It is also a good time to make major changes in setting.  Segments should be chosen to last from 6 months to a year, depending on how quick your group grows to wants changes made to characters.

The third, and most important aspect, of running a long-term campaign is having an overarching story that ties the full campaign together end-to-end. This story need not be a single villain or single mission, but it should connect together the segments, and build larger meaning from the individual challenges that the party overcomes. Possible patterns for this include a large organization that have far reaching influence and apocalyptic plots that will end the world. War also can provide a backdrop for an overarching story. This overarching story just needs to be an outline -- don't add the details and specifics until they come up in the campaign. Prepping too far ahead will be wasting all of the good ideas you'll get in the meantime. It also ties your hands in responding to player feedback.

No matter which story binding concept you choose, be sure to use character backstories to tie characters to it. Stories are far better when the characters have real motivation to move them forward.

Finally, the fourth thing to keep in mind in a long-term campaign is that you need to continually increase heroics required by the party. You can't end a segment on a wonderful climax of saving the day, and then immediately go back at the beginning of the next segment to hunting down bandits. Every story line has to take the danger, the action, the rewards up a notch. Without it, boredom will ensue and the game will fall apart.

I encourage, as you think about starting your next campaign, that you take on the challenge of a long-term campaign. It takes a little extra work, but it is a nice feeling to know you are really bring a regular bit of happiness to yourself and others, throughout the trials of everyday life, something that truly improves the years.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Darkness and the Light: Using Foil NPCs

Without light, there is no darkness. In literature, we take this simple idea of contrast a step farther with the idea of a foil.  A foil is a character or object used in literature to purposefully contrast another character or object, in the process, emphasizing the contrasting characteristics. The use of a foil character is not just limited to literature. You can use it very effectively in a TTRPG game too.

A good example is the pair of Boromir and Aragorn in Lord of the Rings. Aragorn and Boromir both are fierce fighting men joining a mission.  However, the contrast between these two character is what is most emphasized in the telling in the story. Without Boromir's complete failure in resisting the ring, we would not be able to recognize how strong Aragorn really is.

Similarly, in the RPG stories we tell, we often want to highlight certain characteristics of both NPCs and PCs in the story. In these cases, adding a foil character can really bring out the contrast. For example, in a party with a paladin, we may want to make the paladin look better or worse.  By bringing in another paladin, either corrupted or upstanding, we can make the point. A stealing rogue can be made to look better after bringing in a murdering thief NPC. A wise PC can be emphasized with a foolish NPC leading the party to folly.

Because the foil changes the perception of an NPC or a PC, it can be very effective in manipulating the story. Do you have a thief that you want to do the right thing? Bring in a morally corrupt NPC to make the thief feel like a hero of good. Need to make a paladin take morally questionable actions? Bring in a high and mighty cleric who messes up a mission with excessive do-gooding. By changing the perception of the PCs, we can essentially rewrite the story, making the hero into the underdog, the hero into a failure, the compromised into the moral protagonist.

The one caution with the use of a foil is to avoid taking away the spotlight. Were Boromir a character in our TTRPG, bring in an Aragorn NPC would upstage the PC, and potentially ruin Boromir's player's experience. In game, it is always important to improve the fun of the players and let them feel in control of the story. Foils should not be used to take away from that.

The next time you need to highlight some aspect of a PC or NPC, consider bringing in a foil character. You might be surprised at the effect it can have on your game.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Evaluating Homebrew and Third Party Options in 5E

There are a lot of questions always flying around in the community about the balance of third party and homebrew options.  Unfortunately, it isn't always obvious how to make this judgement and how to evaluate the options. In this article, we're going to look at some strategies for making the evaluation in 5E.  For a light example of this analysis, take a look at my thoughts on fixing the Ranger Beastmaster archetype in 5E.

The first thing to keep in mind, is that a well balanced option should be neither clearly better or worse than existing options in order to be balanced.  Unfortunately, this kind of comparison has to look at a lot of different aspects and try to compare them as a whole. Some of these aspects are easily quantifiable. Some of these aspects are hard to measure. Our first step is to try to get things into the same language.

Combat effectiveness is a definite consideration. A PC during combat causes damage against foes while taking damage from foes. Improving performance of a PC can be done by increasing the probability of a hit, increasing the amount of damage for a hit, or by increasing the number of attacks. It can also be done by decreasing the probability or number of hits against the PC or by decreasing the damage against the PC.  AC, attack bonus, and damage resistance are all straight-forward effects. Secondary effects, like the rogue's cunning action, also play in by allowing the PC to move out of danger.

Non-combat effectiveness and role-play flavor are also key evaluation points, though typically these are less weighted than combat effectiveness.  The farther away we get from the crunch of combat and mechanics, the less weight the enhancements seem to carry.

For comparison, we need to get everything into the most common form. Things that replicate spell effects, list the spell and effective level. Things that replicate magical item effects, list them as a magical item and its rarity. Attack and AC points are incremented in 5% effects for damage production and damage reduction. We know from fighting styles the relative weighting of AC, damage, and attack bonus: fighting style gives +2 to attacks (+10% chance to hit), +2 to damage, but only +1 to AC (5% less chance to hit).  As you reduce to a common form, start lining up comparison between what you have as a homebrew / third party option and the best first party comparable.  Start figuring which is better in each of the categories that applies. If all of the comparisons favor one of the other, it points to a balance problem.

Classes have the added complication of requiring balance at each level. This isn't always perfect. For example, the druid has a couple of know levels where it is very powerful, but this rolls off. To do a good comparison, we need to look at the comparison at each level as the class builds.

Keep in mind that mechanics often have layers of equivalency.  For example, comparing cantrips, we can see that different types of damage are weighted at different levels. Fire, acid, cold, and lightning damage all have different ranges and damage dice. Some have advantage under certain conditions. Some have additional effects. Similar levels exist for resistance and immunity, where some are easy to get, and some are impossible to get. Similarly, some are very useful, and some are almost never useful. When we do our comparison we need to take all of this into account.

When evaluating archetypes, compare against all available archetypes for a class, noting commonality and differences. Where something falls out of the normal pattern, throw up a red flag.  Pay attention to attributes like how many enemies or allies are affected, how long the effect lasts, and what kind of action is required. A combination of several changes from the norm all in the better direction usually indicates an overpowered design.

In the end, all of these comparisons are all about asking the simple question: Is this homebrew / third party element something that is always better or worse than the most comparable thing to it in the first party content?  Once we answer that question, we are done.

Having just a single person do this analysis isn't perfect. The perception of the content is just as important as the reality. To really get it right, we also need to have multiple people do the comparison and argue it out. Often by changing the method of comparison, we change the result, so multiple methods should be considered.

In the end, the gold standard is the play test. Before you declare a class, feat, feature, or other game content fair and balanced, consider running it for a while and adjusting as needed. This probationary period can work wonders and get you to your final goal of a fun new game addition.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Interesting Encounter: Goblin Canyon Ambush

Interesting encounters are short descriptions of encounters that GMs can use to build on.  They combine unique aspects of different types of foes, terrain, skill checks, weather, combat, etc in order to provide more unique challenges than hit monster; repeat.

The goblin canyon is an excellent whimsical "random" combat encounter to throw into a campaign for a change of pace.  For this encounter, you will probably need to break out your mass combat rules.  I had about 70 goblins in play.  This encounter is best used with non-flying PCs that are traveling with companions, mounts, wagons, and other non-worn supplies.  It can work for a caravan too, or a ship floating down a river with minor modifications.

The party in this encounter is traveling through a canyon with sloped sides and a lot of rock formations.  The formations and canyon walls are 20 to 30 ft up.  This is all pretty visible when the party enters the canyon. Because of the open layout, it doesn't seem that dangerous. This isn't the typical box canyon trap. Very keen eyes might spot the hidden caves or signs of blood from previous ambushes.

What the party doesn't know is that the canyon is the preferred ambush site for a large tribe of goblins.  These aren't just any goblins, though. These goblins are armed and in force.

For mass combat, I like to organize my foes into groups of 6 to 12. Adjust the number of goblins in the groups to get the challenge you need.  Generally this allows you to apply damage to the groups at once, and allows you to have all the members of the group take the same action.

The goal in this encounter is not to kill PCs with goblins; rather, we want to make the party spend a lot of time cutting through melee goblins on the canyon floor. This time spent is the real danger, because a lot of bad things will be going on in the meantime.

On each sides of the canyon, just out of sight, are a group of goblin archers and a group of goblin riders.  To start off the ambush, the goblin archers will spot the incoming party and start rolling a barrage of boulders down the canyon walls, trying to hit the PCs or at least disrupt an easy escape.  PCs will need to dodge the boulders, and boulders will generate difficult terrain when they land in the canyon. The archers can then rain down arrows on the party. The goblin riders on mounts will charge in and attempt to block escape and engage in many vs one melee.  The goblin riders are also going be enticing the party to move away from all of their stuff.

In the canyon itself, there are some hidden caves.  In these caves, 4 groups of goblin infantry wait.  Once this battle breaks out they will run out.  They might attack the party, or they might to get to work on the party's stuff.

The rock formations have a couple of surprises waiting.  Out of the sight of the party, there are camouflaged foxholes dug into the rock formations from the top.  When the battle breaks out, a group of goblin shaman and a group of goblin firebombers appear scattered along the edges of the rocks of the various formations, ready to rain down havoc on the party.

Terrain wise, the twisting corridors between the rock formations can break up the party and allow the goblins to attack each PC from multiple directions.  Also, the sloping sides of the canyon are difficult terrain, slowing PCs trying to get to the goblin archers.  The rock formations are difficult to climb, and their height poses a risk for both falling damage and getting attacked on the way up.

Despite the large number of goblins involved in the battle, there is a lot of opportunity for roleplay. Goblins aren't particular intelligent, so some standard stupid enemy hi-jinks are going to happen.  The firebombers and archers, in particular, may not be as good with their aim as they would like, so hilarity may ensue.  Goblins may also be calling out all sorts of things to the PCs to try to scare them.  The PC may find this pretty annoying, but ultimately funny.

The PCs will look awesome in this fight, so try to get some battle narration going as the PCs mow down goblins.

Firebombers do pose a unique threat that the party may overlook. Fire can be a real nuisance. If the party happens to have some obviously flammable cargo, like distilled spirits, alchemist's fire, black powder, or even lamp oil, the little goblin pyros are going to be dancing with glee. Worn items that are flammable like spell books, scrolls, and magic items (necklace of fireballs) are also vulnerable to the fire attacks.  Wooden wagons will also be prime targets.

With so many goblins attacking, every living thing in the party will be under attack. This includes NPCs, mounts and work animals, and guard animals.  If there are supplies not worn by the PCs, the goblins will be ripping them apart, throwing things, and attempting to steal what they can.  The PCs, win or lose, have a good chance of losing things not on their person.  With this, add more hi-jinks.

Some of the goblins will be in positions to attack and hide. This strategy, depending on your system, can be pretty disruptive and force the party to hunt down goblins in their holes.  This distraction will only worsen looting of the party's stuff.

When things start to look really grim for the goblins, they will grab everything they can and run away.  At this point, throw in a ton of attempts to steal items off the PCs.  Over the sides of the canyon are forest on both sides, so catching more than a couple of the fleeing goblins will be a real challenge.

In the end, this encounter is designed to be a partial victory for the party. Despite beating back the goblins, there is a good chance they lost a lot of stuff in the fight.  It will be a really cool story for them to tell, when their party took out a goblin army that outnumbered them 10 to 1. It is definitely a nice distraction from the plot for a session, when you need a change.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Player vs Player in Cooperative Roleplaying Games

Most of my readers these days are playing cooperative roleplaying games: Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, d20, Numenera, and other similar styles of games.  In these games, a group works together to overcome challenges set in place by the GM.  Today we're going to discuss player versus player in this domain.

In cooperative roleplaying games, players control characters.  The characters form their beliefs and take their actions based on player thinking.  Player thinking can use information obtained through the senses and experiences of the character.

So let's say a character walks into a room with a large creature.  The mechanics can be engaged (usually) in some form to tell the player what the character knows about the creature.  The player can take those facts and information about the context and form an opinion and then take an action.  This control of the beliefs (not facts) and actions (not consequences) of the character is player agency.

In cooperative roleplaying game, player agency is considered sacred.  Railroading is a hated concept where the GM takes away some of the actions a character can take. This can be either directly by forbidding the action, or indirectly, by negating the natural consequences of that action.  Most players will agree that railroading is the worst thing a GM can do.

What is often misunderstood is that player versus player is the exact same problem, perpetrated by another player rather than the GM.  Player versus player is when one player tries to take away player agency from another player.  This can be done by directly attempting to kill the other player's character who is not playing how the other player wants.  This also can be done by engaging non-combat mechanics to attempt to control the other player's character.  The result in both cases is usually a lot of resentment between players that isn't good for game fun.

There are two approaches to dealing with the problem.  The first is to deal with the player problem.  Have a talk with your gaming group before you start gaming.  During this talk establish the social contract for the game.  This social contract can be verbal, but often carries more impact if it contains some written portion.  In either case, this is where you decide what topics aren't OK for the game.  This is also where the GM can add a very important consideration: all players are expected to cooperate and move the plot forward.  You would be surprised how many arguments can be solved by adding that simple expectation.

The second approach to dealing with player vs player is to ban the use of mechanics for it.  By not allowing checks or attacks or other mechanics, the relationship between characters is now directly determined by the players.  No one can attempt to gain the upper hand by engaging mechanics.  Instead, the players have to work it out.  With no game mechanics to hide behind, players have to engage, and by the rules of the previously mentioned social contract, have to cooperate.

Unfortunately, players can break Whedon's law and still cause problems.  In these cases, you may have to remove players.  Because they are breaking the social contract established at the beginning of the game, there will be a clear reason for doing so.  Remove players after the gaming session is complete.  Doing it over the phone, text, or email may be preferred to avoid confrontation.  Just remember, it isn't personal.

Before you start your next cooperative game, consider the approach presented here. Hopefully with just a few words and a few houserules, your gaming group too can avoid potential problems with PvP.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Interesting Encounters: The Ghost Ship

Interesting encounters are short descriptions of encounters that GMs can use to build on.  They combine unique aspects of different types of foes, terrain, skill checks, weather, combat, etc in order to provide more unique challenges than hit monster; repeat.

This encounter is inspired by the Zelbinion from the television series Farscape.

The Massive is a well know battleship, commissioned by a local wealthy city for its navy.  On its first voyage it was lost, but the years to follow, there have been multiple sightings of it as sea.  It remains a legend at sea and a prize if found, but the rumors also say it is cursed.  Specialized knowledge might give additional information about its mission when lost.

There can be a whole adventure had just finding the Massive, but we are going to skip that part. We will start with the party finding the ship.

The Massive is a huge hulk of a ship, found deep in the ocean, floating silently. The sails are torn to shreds, unable to sail.  A circular current pulls the ship in a board circular path that takes months to complete.  From a distance this ship appear intact. Closer, large red Xs are painted on the sides, indicating the ship is cursed.  Nets hang from the side of the ship, unlike fishing nets, purpose unknown to the PCs. (The GM knows that the seaweed on these nets is a useful weapon to entangle boarding parties.)  There is no one on deck and no lights from the ship.To the sharp eyed, cannons can be seen missing.  The insightful PC may figure out that they were pulled through the cannon portals, and that the ship has not been boarded. An unboarded ship still holds treasures to reap.

The Massive has 4 decks: a main deck, a gunner deck, a hold, and a lower deck.

The main deck is weathered and cracked with age and seawater.  Seaweed covers the railing on the sides. There are no traces of blood or fire or anything else can be seen on the deck.  At night the rigging glows slightly to anyone standing on the deck, but is otherwise not visible.

The ship's wheel and compass stands adjacent to a control panel. Whether magic or technology-based, it is keyed to the captain and helmsman, perhaps via some object. The panel shocks the unkeyed.  The panel is a riddle of runes that turns elemental (anti-fire, anti-water) and magical protection spells on/off on each deck. There is also an option to turn on a synthetic wind for the sails, though it will not work until the sails are repaired. Messing around with the panel can get a PC hurt or killed, or destroy the panel's functions. The status of protections can be very important later.

There are various quarters for officers on the main deck under the sterncastle, forecastle, and in rooms on the deck.  In one room, grub-like creatures are found feeding on the dead body of a crewman.  Some quarters are trapped. Some quarters contain equipment and treasure. Some quarters have clues to what happened to the ship.

The gunnery deck has one lone crewmember alive and in his quarters. This crewmember, Styx, was the crew's surgeon and is an insectoid race.  A smart PC might recognize the creatures feeding on the dead crewman as being the same race as Styx.  Despite the obvious disrespect for the dead, Styx is trustworthy NPC although his morals and ideals are alien. He will tell the story of the ship's caster and crew trying to capture gargantuan water elementals from sea.  Some of these water elementals of various size are on board the ship below. Styx will not go below the gunnery deck.

The gunnery deck also contains rusted cannons, cannon balls, and some meager food. There are traces of black powder, but not enough for a cannon load. Hammocks hang throughout, presumably the sleeping places for gunnery crew. There may be a few chests, some trapped, that hold items of the gunnery crew.

Below the deck is the hold. The hold has a very large black powder storage area.  The blackpowder is very old and unstable. Moving it gives a slight chance of accidental ignition. If one barrel of powder explodes, adjacent barrels will also explode, likely killing anyone nearby and sinking the ship.

The hold also has significant storage for rum, rations, and other supplies that are still almost full. Anything made of metal in the stores is heavily rusted. There are brig holding cells on this level. At least one holds a smaller water elemental.

There is also a crew mess / meeting room on this level. In this room is a pile of around 40 crew, all dead and decomposing. The smell and sight are sickening to those who enter the room. There is also a very angry wraith attached to these corpses that will attack anything that enters the room.

The lowest level, the lower deck, is the most dangerous area of the ship. Two secret rooms hold very large water elementals.  There are 4 bilge pumps that are disable, leaving this deck damp and moldy. A skilled PC can fix one in a couple of hours.

There are a couple of additional specialty rooms on this level.  There is a cooper's quarters filled with various barrel pieces and parts. A trapped chest with valuables is there too. There is also an alchemist's lab, filled with broken bottles, and spilled substances.  Entering this room is particularly dangerous. Disturbing the chemicals or containers on the tables or floor could result in catastrophic explosion.

The alchemist's lab also contains a prototype water elemental engine. This engine is very valuable. However, there is a small chance that disturbing the engine will activate it, causing it to blast out water, sinking the ship.

There is also a room that contains a fire elemental.  Magical fire suppression will disable it if activated for this level on the main control panel, but otherwise it may set the ship on fire while attacking PCs.

On the lower level, there is also a hidden room that is the master spy's quarters. Entering this room without deactivating the magical trap will start a 60 second countdown until a massive explosion that will destroy the entire lower deck. The 60 second countdown is voiced by an animated dead parrot in the quarters.

If there is a catastrophic explosion or if the water elemental engine is activate, the ship will sink in less than a minute.  PCs left on this ship as it sinks may drown if unable to get out past the water rushing in.

This encounter is a wonderful balance of risk and reward. At every turn, there are opportunities that could result in the ship being destroyed and PCs being killed.  The smarter the PCs are in their dealings with the ship, the more likely they will recover valuable items, and perhaps, even salvage the ship.

Salvaging the ship is likely to attract a lot of attention.  This ship is a powerful weapon and will attract those who wish to take it for themselves, both pirates and scoundrels, as well as city-states and navies. At every turn, the story always gets more interesting with this encounter.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Interesting Encounter: The Canyon

Interesting encounters are short descriptions of encounters that GMs can use to build on.  They combine unique aspects of different types of foes, terrain, skill checks, weather, combat, etc in order to provide more unique challenges than hit monster; repeat.

The canyon encounter is all about the PCs infiltrating an enemy camp.  We're not going to make it easy though. The threats are numerous.

The canyon has one obvious entrance where the small creek flows out of it.  The creek flows in over a small waterfall on the opposite end.  The canyon is quite large -- 100 or more feet across and several hundred feet long.  It's 40 feet tall walls are impassable at first glance.

The canyon contains different camps of 10 to 15 tents each.  Each camp is a different group that make up a faction of the enemies.  It is assumed these groups are only loosely coupled by their common cause and so they don't mingle much.  Some of the groups may be heavily inebriated. Other camps will have lookouts and be active. One group of tents near the back of the cavern will be the target of the interest for PCs.

Surrounding the canyon will be 1 to 6 scout tents.  They may or may not have fires burning at night, but if they do, the scouts will be a distance away avoiding night blindness.  The scout camps will be signaling each other every 10 minutes or so with lanterns. One scout camp will also be signaling the main camp tent.

Near the entrance of the camp will be a band of musicians playing. Despite their harmless appearance, they will be a group of trained killers.  Killer bards, if your system uses that sort of thing.

Various scrub brush will be growing in and around the canyon.  There are no trees.  Searching the scrub brush near the scout camps may turn up a treacherous path down into the canyon.

The PCs have a lot of options, but charging in is not one of them; doing so would get them captured and shoved in the main tent with no gear, weapons, and severe injuries.  From this point, they could attempt an escape. The other prisoner, discussed later, will be a complication.

They could attempt to sneak into the camp at night or in disguise through the front entrance.  They could attempt to overtake a scout camp.  If they do so, they need to continue the signaling or get caught.  If they attempt to do so at night, the path into the canyon, if there is one, will be dangerous and could get the PC injured and/or draw attention.

Inside the canyon, scouts around may spot the PCs and signal an alarm, overwhelming the PCs with enemies.  However, because of the mix of groups, it may not be entirely clear who are the PCs and who are the enemies in the scuffle.  Make the encounter tougher by giving all of the enemies some identifying item, like a red bandana.  The PCs may try to capture some of these items to disguise themselves.

Inside the main tent, the PCs will find what they are looking for, but also a prisoner unknown to them. This prisoner could be an actual prisoner to help them, or a planted prisoner to guard the tent.  In either case, the PCs will have to assess the prisoner and figure out what to do.  Choosing poorly could alert the camp or get them ambushed.

Once the goal at the main tent has been completed, escape is not assured.  Getting out the way they came in may be an option, or they may have to choose another way.  It is likely that orders could prevent anyone from leaving the camp, so the main entrance may not be an option.

However the party attempts to overcome this challenge, it should span a wide variety of skills.  Along the way, if mistakes are made, the complications will only serve to make the story more interesting.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Interesting Encounters: Mine Cars

Interesting encounters are short descriptions of encounters that GMs can use to build on.  They combine unique aspects of different types of foes, terrain, skill checks, weather, combat, etc in order to provide more unique challenges than hit monster; repeat.

In this encounter, inspired by Indiana Jones, we put the PCs in a mine car.  The mine car is traveling through a large open cavern filled with other tracks all connected together.  There are also several other mine cars and several rock platforms at the roughly same height as the tracks.  The tracks are old and rickety and may have sections missing.

Of all of the possible tracks that the PCs can take, only 1 takes them safely out of this cavern.  In order to reach it, the PCs will need to expend actions to flip switches to choose the appropriate tracks.  In addition, when a break in the track is present, all of the passengers in the car must lean to pull the car up onto two wheel to proceed safely.  Should a PC or the mine car leave the safety of the mine car tracks, it is a very long deadly fall to the bottom of the cavern.

In addition to the track challenges, the islands and mine cars contain lots of foes.  These foes have ranged weapons that can not only hit PCs in the mine car, but can also potentially damage the mine car.  Some foes may have ranged magic too. Passengers in the carts can also attempt to push / brake the mine cars to ram into other mine cars in front or behind them.

The foes are determined to stop the PCs from making it through the cavern. Whether killed or forced to fall to their deaths, the foes know they get to pick the PCs clean of items, food, and other supplies.  Good foes for this encounter could include goblins, orcs, or just simply other hostile humanoids.

If the challenge isn't enough, add periodic hot geysers or lava flows to the cavern to increase the danger.  You can use these to force the PCs to time their crossings of this features just right or that will take damage.