An explosive situation…

Imagine this set up.

It is a small walled town or more accurately a settlement. To the east of the market square is the manor house, to north at ground level are a few shops to cater for trade caravans and above them a hostel or flop house for itinerants. The west has the gate house and the south facing on to the market place is a taverna with seats spilling out into the square.

Our characters should ideally be sat at the taverna, outside. Maybe they are waiting to meet a patron or even waiting to get paid? We will come back to the characters later.

The sun is just coming up over the town walls and it is going to be a fine day.

Let us take a look behind the closed doors and behind the shutters.

In the manor house we find a home is shock and disarray. During the night the master of the house has been assassinated and the only living heir is missing. Guards were killed at their posts and often without any sign of struggle. The women folk are in shock and the men are split between the hawks who want to turn the town upside down to find and kill the assassins and the doves who are only concerned with the safe return of the missing heir. A runner was sent to the gate house before dawn to tell them there were assassins in the town and to not let anyone in or out.

Across the square the gatehouse is filled with pent up energy. The gate will not open today. Eyes are scanning the horizon outside the town looking for any trace that armed men and a hostage may have escaped during the night while others scan the town looking for suspicious foreigners.

At the flop house on the top floor we find a group of eastern looking assassins. Maybe they are of some ancient holy order dedicated to refining death to an art maybe they are masters of infiltration.  right now they have look outs watching the market place looking for the first signs that their work has been discovered and of the heir who is still to die. Three storeys below them one of the shops is that of a weaponsmith and pawnbroker. The owner was wakened not too long ago by the missing heir who was looking for a safe place to hide. The last thing his dying father had said was run and protect yourself, you must survive. Our young heir has no experience of weapons, more adept with a pen than with a sword. As it is easy to use the young heir is shown how to load a heavy crossbow. The weapon is heavy and awkward for the young man and whoops! A loosed bolt shatters a pane of glass in the shop front and flies across the empty square towards the taverna.

So our characters are sitting their minding their own business, just waiting to get paid when the crack of breaking glass grabs their attention. Does the bolt hit anyone? Who knows?

So what happens next? The party draw weapons and head across the square? Do the assassins see the heavily armed players charging their hiding place? I have the assassins suddenly rappelling down to the square on silken ropes, a blur of scimitars and curved daggers.

What do the guards do when they are suddenly faced with a market square filled and erupting battle? Out into it all rushes an embarrassed and somewhat ashamed young heir who can only stammer “I am so terribly sorry, it was an accident…” knowing he may have hurt someone with his errant crossbow bolt.

All of this attracts the attention of those in the manor and the first sight of the young heir is enough to bring the remaining household guards from the manor charging out to save the son.

So how do your players react to this? Obviously the entire powder keg situation here is contrived and the trigger is applied by you the GM.

Even if the party does not charge into the attack the second the young heir steps out into the square to apologise the assassins are going to leap into the attack.

So can the party work out who are the good guys, who are the bad guys and who is completely innocent? Can they resist letting off fireballs in a now rather crowded market square?

Will the heir survive?

There is no real point to this post other than that I was reminded this week that the original reason for starting this blog was to provide playable material so there you go, a little town encounter for you.

19 Replies to “An explosive situation…”

  1. This is great Peter! I picture a 3 way stand-off ala True Romance, between the PC’s, assassin and the manor guard with the Heir standing along in the middle of the square.

    However I’ve found those tense stand-offs hard to do in RPG’s. Players assume the encounter is “balanced” and therefore every encounter implies survival or success so they default to attack mode when they meet an adversary.

    1. I’ve read a few things recently complaining about how encounters are typically balanced in modern games (dungeons specifically, but it probably applies in general) and how they didn’t used to be. It’s suggested to have places where players can get in over their heads, but to have warning signs leading up to them. If they ignore them… well, they’ll die.

      1. For me it depends on the point of the encounter. If the point is just to deplete the PCs resources a little on the lead up to a final confrontation then there is for me no real point wiping the party out.

        The point of the explosive situation above is that the characters actions will colour others reactions to them from that point on. If they raze the town to the ground and kill dozens of innocent guards who have wives, girlfriends and children in the town then life will be difficult. If they rescue the heir and capture at least one assassin then they have an ally and an adventurer hook.

        In a roleplaying heavy game you could have a situation where the noble family love the PCs but the population hate them or even the assassins were hired by the oppressed town population.

        I say in the comment above to keep the numbers vague, this means you can add or take away numbers to make the situation more or less dangerous as it unfolds. I have said before that I am a fan of James Bond dynamics. In that style of movie you see the hero fight thugs in ones and twos in series leading up to the climatic finale. You can have as many or as few as you like until, as GM, you have the party where you want them.

        I have some sympathy with the idea of warning the characters that they will die if they do X and if they continue then just see how it pans out.

    2. I would keep a close eye on the time in this situation. The bolt kicks off the time frame. There should be a short lag while the heir is apologising to the shop keeper about his window, the crossbow being taken off him and put down safely and then the moment of realisation that someone could have been hurt. The noise that the party make may change the order of action.

      The assassins are on a much more alert status and the party are in their immediate field of view so their reactions will be fast and combative. I can imagine them leaping from windows (adrenal landing) and striking poses very quickly. The guards would be the slowest to react as the lookout will call his CO who would have to issue orders and organise the men before they can rush into the fight.

      What I would do is let the PCs make an assumption that they were attacked from the ground floor shop.

      Before they get there I would have the first assassins land. As the PCs readjust to that threat I would have the heir step in.

      The assassins would choose killing the heir over the PCs. Now I would loose the guards into the square.

      Depending on how the PCs respond to the now 3 way battle field I would open the manor doors.

      I quite like fights where everyone is trying to kill everyone but here technically no one is trying to kill the PCs.

      You can pre-roll many of the NPC actions so you don’t have to play out assassin vs guard rounds and assassin vs manor knights.

      I would also keep numbers vague unless a PC chooses to get into a position to see the entire square and count the combatants.

      Mind you at the end of it all they could get in trouble if they haven’t paid for their drinks at the taverna.

      Going right back to the beginning you could have the PCs patron tell them originally to wait for him in the taverna but keep a low profile. Just so that when the patron turns up they are stood in a square full of bodies, burning hayricks and glass from shattered shops crunching under foot.

      1. Peter–this would be good for a short encounter download with a battle map of the square and the action sequence is laid out round by round as you described.

        I’m trying to add NPC action priority to my adventures now. I recall that DnD tournament modules used to do that (I’m thinking of the A Slavers Series). With RM, and especially with spellcasters that might have HUNDREDS of spells, it’s helpful to have a few actions planned out as a GM aid.

        A few of my motivations in reducing total # of spells acquired in BASiL was to counter caster homogenization and also to make it easier for spellcasters. Fewer, but more useful spells makes casting decisions easier and gives flavor to characters.

        For instance, in a combat encounter with a high level priest, the adventure notes could provide basic guidelines for NPC actions.

        2 examples:

        Rnd 1: Cleric casts Prayer III on his temple guard.
        Rnd 3: Cleric casts Wall of Stone between himself and the PC’s.
        Rnd 5: Cleric casts Holy Shout


        Rnd 1: Cleric casts Holy Shout
        Rnd 3: Cleric casts Blinding on PC
        Rnd 5: Cleric casts Absolution

        The spell choices not only offer up a sense of the NPC (the first is more defensive and cautious while the second is more aggressive) but gives GM’s a road map versus reviewing all the Open, Closed and Base lists (and then settling for the same half dozen spells).

        1. I have a post it note method I use for planning out what an NPC will typically do in the first 3 round of a combat. It includes spells and or items. I started to do it after I had an NPC die and then afterwards realise I had missed an item they were carrying that would have completely changed the outcome. I work on a little flow chart style arrangement so should they fight or flee and if so what and how do they do it.

          1. There was discussion about introducing box descriptions in RM modules (Green Gryphon has them) but I think including NPC action notes for the first 5 rounds is more useful and reduces GM planning and work. Isn’t that what ready to play adventures are supposed to do?

            1. Regarding a short download – I think it would work like some of AAW Games’ Mini-Dungeons. In particular this one:

              Admittedly that’s Pathfinder, but it could be converted if something commercial was desired.

              Some modern Pathfinder/D&D 3.x also have round by round lists of preferred NPC actions; what they will do if everything goes to plan. Of course, in battle, this can alter.

              1. I will look into that this evening.

                I am a bit stacked out with things to do at the moment. I have more plans in progress than I have days in the week it seems.

              2. Is there anywhere where I could get a generic market square or town square battle map? I have the artistic talents of a slug. Anything public domain or creative commons would be cool.

            2. Yes, Totally agree. It also gives the GM a chance to try our different spell combinations. Things you wouldn’t necessarily think of in the heat of the moment.

    3. I find it strange, about the worst thing you can do to a party is give them a choice to run or fight…unless you are subtle or have sent previous examples of the might of their foe – they will generally just fight and if they die…well that’s the GM’s fault.

      So i tend to pepper them with tons of low level creatures which they dont get much xp for but can tend to get the odd lucky strike and kill off a character – they dont have much to complain about then. Just unlucky. Keeps the party respectful that the GM will kill off their characters…

      1. In my last gaming weekend we had lots of mass battles against low level foes, Kobolds, hobgoblins and Gorcrows if I remember correctly and it was fun but too much of the same thing can get boring for the players and the GM.

        The next session for my guys will see them encounter some pretty tough opponents. The party were becoming complacent and relying on Sleep spells too much. I have a strong desire to have them piss off an ogre that has a couple of grizzly bears as ‘attack dogs’. Try casting sleep on them!

  2. Peter, this would also be a good play arena for testing RMU rules. Matt was running some of the guys through a gladiator arena to rest the combat rules, initiative and round resolution, but this is a bit more interesting than a simple arena and allows for introducing new elements.

    1. If you want to share it with Matt then that is cool. That was the point of posting it on then blog after all.

      1. Matt’s still straight out with normal “career work” and final RMU design and heading off to Europe for a month (I’m heading over too so my blogging will go down in the near future)!

        I’m curious how the final testing will go. Jonathan Dale has taken over final editing and tuning but will there be a Beta3? I have no inside scoop and I’m on the record as a proponent of B2 and the scalable size rules.

        1. I was of the understanding that there was no Beta 3 planned. The next stage was straight to print.

          I don’t know where you are heading in Europe but in my opinion Berlin is one of the coolest cities there is.

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