Posts Tagged ‘D&D’

Or at least, a mailbag full. Behold what I’ve received over the last 24 hours:

That’s both of the 4e Dark Sun books, the hard copy of Apocalypse World, and the hard copy of Delta Green: Targets of Opportunity. Truly, my cup runneth over with grim and terrible joy.

I’m presenting this here for comment and peer review.

One of the PCs — a paladin of Erathis, let’s say — has gotten themselves into a fix. Somehow*, they’ve gotten separated from their party and surrounded by bad guys with ill intent. Orcs, for example. Luckily, they’ve got a magical horn or other means of letting their friends know they’re in trouble. The question is, will said friends get there in time to do anything other than mourn?

Here’s how it plays out:

Set up the battle-map with the lone PC facing down a bunch of minions, four for each PC currently running to help. (So if there are four total PCs in the party, twelve minions works). Roll initiative for everyone: all PCs, plus the minions, plus three more (see below).

For the lone PC and the minions, play the battle out as normal. For the other PCs, on their turn they each have to work their way through their own private Complexity 1 skill challenge to determine if they get to their friend’s side, and how long it takes them. Be pretty flexibile with which skills they use, with two restrictions:

  • Each character can only use a given skill twice.
  • By the gods, they describe what they’re doing. It should fit into the setting of the scene, be it woods, deserts, a crowded city, etc.

The specifics of the challenge are as follows:

  • Four successes from a PC gets them to the battle, going on their turn next round.
  • Three failures means they don’t get there until after the fight’s done. (They can use the downtime composing eulogies.)
  • Each of the first two failures should also result in either a -2 to their next check, or the loss of a healing surge. Use whichever fits the description of the skill check better.
  • Aid Another is allowed, but since each character’s dealing with their own skill challenge and time is of the essence, it’s not the best idea. However, when a PC rolls a success, they have the option (with appropriate description) to give their success to another PC. So if the dwarf fighter succeeds, but thinks it’d be better for the elf ranger or human warlord to get on the scene first, he can use that success to move that along; the dwarf doesn’t get a failure, but it’s gonna take him longer to get there. The recipient, in turn, will likely arrive sooner.

And here’s why that matters:

  • In round 5, two standard monsters** arrive on the scene to back up the minions.
  • In round 6, their boss (an elite) arrives to mop up. If the lone PCs’ friends haven’t arrived yet, things are gonna get ugly.

Be sure to use the MM to your advantage here and bring some fun new bad guy abilities into play with these three. After round six you’ll probably know who made it to the dance and who didn’t, so the fight itself needs to be interesting.

Obviously wrinkles may develop. If the PC eliminates the minions before their friends or the new baddies arrive, let them take an action or two to prepare for both sets of reinforcements. If the PC drops before friends arrive, I’m always of the opinion that a dying (but savable) PC is more interesting than a dead one. Some disagree, and some like to have it both ways. Do what works for your table.

In any case, this encounter has the potential to be very, very rough: for a party of four, we’re talking the equivalent of seven standard monsters, plus the skill challenge. It can obviously be tweaked to be less — or gods help them, more — deadly, but there’s some precedent to making this kind of thing a major turning point in a game.

* And let’s be honest: it’s probably because they did something foolish that they thought would be in the best interest of their god, their civilization, their city, or some such. You know the type.
** These are the folks you were rolling initiative for back at the start of the scuffle. I always get a special kind of joy from openly telling the player in charge of the initiative list to include unknown bad guys in the order. It gets everyone at the table so excited.

If you ask a soldier to tell you the foundation of the Nerathi Empire’s strength, she’ll describe its mighty legions, led by centurions and knight-officers trained in the Imperial War Colleges. If you ask a mage, he’ll expound on the lore and puissance of the Akademeia Mysteriium. Inquire of a priest, and the beneficence of Pelor, Erathis, and Bahamut will be cited. Ask a politician, and expect to hear a long discussion of the Emperor’s Council and the Congress of Satraps.

But if you ask someone who actually knows the answer, they’ll say the secret of the Empire’s strength is the Ritual of Rehabilitation. (Unless they don’t intend to murder you, in which case they’ll almost certainly lie.)

While the origins of the Ritual are long since lost, its potency is such that those of the Council privy to its existence believe it to be either the final gift of an ascending Nerathi archmage, or a dark boon from The King Who Crawls himself. Its working is oddly simple, and once performed its subject cannot work against Nerath in any deed, and is compelled to obey the Emperor and his proxies on pain of instant and painful death.

The Ritual is reserved for criminals sentenced to death, but possessing talents of use to the Empire. Under the direct administration of Knight-Commander Walla Ramandus,  they are repeatedly sent into hideous danger in service of their King… but the few who survive for five years are set free. In Ramandus’s presence, these criminals are always referred to as the Redemption Regiment; amongst themselves, they’re the Suicide Squad.

Mechanics of play:

  1. All players, including the initial DM, create 2-3 different characters they’d be interested in playing, at a level decided upon by the group (1st is the default). Use of the Character Builder and the inherent bonuses described in the DMG2 are recommended to make this process relatively quick.
  2. The initial DM chooses an adventure to run from Dungeon Delve. (Other sources will work, but the stuff in DD seems ready-made for this campaign structure.) If there are three or fewer PCs, pick an adventure of their level; 4 or 5, an adventure 1-2 levels higher. [EDIT: Sounds like the Delves are harder than I’d thought; using at-level delves for large groups and level-1 delves for smaller groups could be the way to go here.] Use the hooks provided to explain why the mission is vital to Nerath’s survival. (Of course, the occasional “Why the hell are we even here?” mission can help set the mood.)
  3. As a group, the players each choose a PC to play. If they haven’t already, they should figure out what the PC did to end up in the Squad. They should also come up with one thing outside of mere survival that drives that character — the more melodramatic, the better! — and get a general sense of what the PCs think of each other.
  4. Run the delve, with the DM trying to make it as bloody as possible. If things go pear-shaped, the surviving PCs can try to retreat, but they — or their replacements — will keep getting sent back until the job is done.
  5. After the mission is complete, they’re a Player’s Turn à la Mouse Guard, in which the players get to call for scenes in which they address their melodrama, deal with a PC’s death, investigate some oddity revealed during the delve, or just get into loud arguments with Ramandus.
  6. Decide who’s gonna DM the next session, and call it a night.

Potential issues to be addressed in play:

  1. What happens to those who do their five years?
  2. Are the known effects of the Ritual the only ones?
  3. How do the missions and attitudes of the Regiment PCs change when they hit the paragon tier? The epic? Or will your Regiment be limited to those tiers from the start?
  4. If level 30 is the apotheosis for the characters, is there a similar one waiting for the Regiment? Will it herald Nerath’s canonical fall?
  5. Who or what is Walla Ramandus? As the one consistent NPC, she will likely be played differently by different DMs: make this a feature, not a bug. Maybe she’s just a well-trained and canny swordmage, maybe she’s a fallen exarch, maybe she’s something else entirely. What she should never be is satisfied.

—–

This is a campaign I’m definitely interested in running/playing, for reasons I’ll explore in a later post. It is, of course, completely ripped from DC Comics. Comments, questions, and critiques are welcome.