Archive for category Modules

Dynamic Encounters

A dynamic encounter has more than one elements. Interacting with those elements influences some other aspect of the encounter.

To some extent, dynamism is already present in all encounters. Fighters engage the melee combatants, spell casters stay guarded behind them to act as artillery and resolve effects, and rogues rely on this distraction to positioning themselves for massive damage. It requires teamwork and coordination to properly play those roles. The fighter needs a healer to do his job efficiently, just as the ranged attacker needs someone to block melee attacks.

Extending this model, we can create more interesting encounters by creating different types of interactions on the battlefield.  Certain elements interplay in a way which requires teamwork and tactics to “solve” the encounter. Here, we’ll be talking about combat encounters, but you can apply this reasoning to nearly any type of challenge.

Start by thinking about the battle in terms of objectives. Those objectives must influence other elements present on the battlefield. This creates different tasks which must be accomplished during the battle.

Instead of writing straightforward combat encounters where the PCs and NPCs fight to the death over and over again, create different tasks and objectives. Perhaps the players are capturing someone, arming an explosive, cleansing a pool, or holding a defense point. Completing this objective should simplify or complicate other elements of the encounter.

Before a complex encounter, the players will need an overview. Have an NPC describe the objectives and conditions for victory. Don’t expect that players will figure out what’s going on mid-battle – there will probably be little time for comprehension, much less communication about what’s going on! If the players know what to expect in advance, they can begin formulating a strategy to complete the objectives. (It’s okay to throw in a curveball now and then too.)

Here are some examples of dynamic encounters:

Encounter: Orc Camp (module or wave battle) – The players are storming an orc’s camp. The camp is guarded by numerous orc warriors and a very powerful lizard. At the center of the camp there is a shaman within a protected circle of power. The shaman has a horn which he uses to call for reinforcements. He also knows a spell which can resurrect the lizard in 60 seconds. Also within the camp there is a totem pole which gives the orcs a berserker rage (this increases their strength and hit points). In order to complete the battle, the players will have to deal with all of these elements.

  • The lizard, who is too dangerous to engage in direct melee combat, can be distracted by waving a red cape at him. He will then focus on that person and charge at them like a bull. The shaman can easily resurrect the lizard, so until he is defeated, it’s best to just distract the creature.
  • The shaman can also summon an infinite number of reinforcements as long as he has his horn. Each time he sounds the horn, another wave of orcs will charge out of the woods.
  • The totem is a large pole covered with runes. It is placed in a dangerous spot, right near where the monsters are coming from. There are ten faces on the poll, represented by paper plates with faces painted onto them. If all ten faces are destroyed, the orc warriors no longer gain the benefit of berserker rage. It takes 60 seconds to destroy each face, using acid, carving, or magical incantation. This mechanic’s intent is to create a time limit. You can be sure the battle will last at least as long as it takes to do this task. Another method: The characters have been given a paint of dispelling (use a jar of blue paint, and give the players several brushes). To dispel the power of each face, people must paint over every inch of the paper plate, then they can take it down.
  • Like most orcs, the shaman can be baited by challenges and dares.  If challenged, he will allow a single spell caster into his circle for a casting duel. If the player wins, it stops the warriors and lizards from returning. The players may come up with another creative way to draw the caster out of the circle – the shaman should try to roll with their roleplay. If the players are slow to figure this out, he’ll begin calling them out and challenging them himself. He begins doing this in earnest after the totem pole is destroyed.

A note about preparing the players for this encounter: it is important that they know what to do before they’ll arrive at the battle. In this case, perhaps the players have a scout who reports to them: “They have a giant lizard in captivity. They’re dumb creatures, you can probably get their attention by waving around a brightly colored cape. Or maybe just kick a gypsy into his path. I also saw a totem pole like the one I saw last month in the other orc camp. If I’m right, there are going to be ten faces on it. They’re the orc’s ancestors, and they protect the orcs in battle. It’ll take sixty seconds to destroy each face, and you can only destroy one at a time…” and so forth. Knowing this in advance, the players can decide how to approach the battle with the resources they have.

Encounter: The Obelisk (wave battle) – The Obelisk is a six foot tall black statue which beckons undead. A chaos imp is attempting to shake things up by sending zombies towards this strange necromantic artifact. In order to complete the challenge, players will have to purify the nearby marshes and defeat the imp.

  • If an undead touches the obelisk, the undead will be absorbed into it. If ten undead are absorbed, a really dangerous undead will be released from the obelisk.
  • Within an acre of the obelisk there are five desecrated marshes, represented by big green circles on the ground. Zombies crawl out of these marshes and try to make it to the obelisk. A marsh can be purified by performing a 5-minute long cleansing ceremony next to the marsh. The ceremony requires you to spend 10 clear gems, which can be found on the zombies.
  • There is a sneaky chaos imp who is running around and re-corrupting the marshes. Not overtly hostile, he tries to persuade players into defending him while he completes his task. If he is killed or banished, he will be restored by his master and will appear again in five minutes. He has five “lives” like this, but there is another way to banish him entirely. He must be somehow persuaded to touch the obelisk, an object which he is curious about and does not fully understand. He can be charmed, repelled, or tricked into doing this. After he is absorbed into the obelisk, he will later emerge from it as the final boss of the battle.

Encounter: Undead Horde (field encounter) – A  uniform pack of monsters favors certain classes. If scholars are no good against obsidian golems (which reflect spells), a legion of obsidian golems is no fun for scholars. Instead, send out groups composed of different types of monsters, with different strengths and weaknesses. This pack of undead contains possible targets for various combat styles:

  • Revenants – melee creatures with mid range body points, but take half damage from weapons.  Magic deals full damage, so these are good targets for spell slingers. The majority of the horde is composed of revenants.
  • Lesser Vampires – these are young vampires, eager to impress their sire. They are hungry for blood, and will be healed to full and renewed if they spend 5 seconds biting someone’s neck. This faction of vampires are all archers. They pair up with the wolves.
  • Trained Wolves – light melee combatants who block for the vampire archers. Can be charmed to fight alongside players.
  • Death Knights –  a heavy melee fighter with glowing red eyes. Has resistance to magic. Will actively engage  other fighters.
  • Necromancers – black robed humans who support the death knights and throw necromancy. They also heal undead using necromancy. Being humans, they are vulnerable to just about everything, but can cast spells to support themselves.

Scaling Tip – Create a task for characters of certain levels. Too often, all the monsters in the battle are scaled at one difficulty level. In the average encounter, some people will be too low level to participate, some will overpower the encounter, and (hopefully) some will be at the sweet spot where the scaling is appropriate. Dynamic encounters are a great way to segregate the players into groups based on experience level. This allows you to ensure that all levels have something important to do in the fight. Here’s an example of how that might work —

Encounter: Two Prong Fight (wave battle) – Ogres and Goblins have allied to kill the adventurers. They are attacking from different sides of the field. The goblins are protected by an ancient goblin spirit who watches over the fight. It is incorporeal and merely watches over the fight, unable to be killed. The high level players should focus on the ogres and the low level players should focus on the goblins. If the high level players participate in the goblin side of the fight, the goblin spirit will begin empowering the ogres, making them stronger.

Writing Objectives – When brainstorming objectives, think of them from the player’s point of view. Is there an easy way to break the encounter?

For example, in the above Orc Camp encounter, the players might try to throw a protective circle around the totem pole. This would negate the need for them to defend whoever is destroying the pole.

Another thing to keep in mind is that not all players want to win. Some are secretly working against the town. Try to prevent situations where these players can easily disrupt the whole encounter. For example if your plotline requires a puzzle to be solved, an evil player can easily pocket one of the pieces and prevent anyone else from succeeding. The moral of the story: if you require the players to collect 10 items, put out 15 of them.

The Season Finale to Avendale 607:

Here’s an example of a very complex dynamic encounter.

Avendale 607 ended with a climactic boss fight which wrapped up two years of plot. In it, the players were confronting Nod, a creature of Void who was involved in the corruption or defeat of numerous NPCs throughout the two seasons. This was a three part boss fight…

  • In part 1, the players fought Nod and his undead minions in traditional melee combat. When he was defeated, he staggered over to a certain spot and transformed…
  • Part 2: Our monster department then unveiled their magnum opus – a 25 foot tentacle creature. The creature’s skull was attached to a pulley, and the black cloth body was fastened to the bottom. Large metal rings gave the cloth a hollow, collapsable, cylindrical form. When we pulled the rope, hoisting the skull up in the air, the creature seemed to spring out of the ground. Monsters respawned from the creature’s form.
  • Nod had long green tentacles which came out of the base of the creature. The tentacles were made of pipe foam wrapped in bubble wrap and Christmas lights, spray painted green. They could not be killed, but they could drag you into the body where you’d be engulfed. Hitting a tentacle with a healing spell caused it to go limp for about 10 seconds.
  • During the event, the players had enlisted the help of a mimic, a creature which looks like a treasure chest. The mimic knew of an underground cache full of stakes of woe. To aid them in battle, the mimic burrowed underground, got a stake of woe, then burrowed back up to the battle. The chest would appear in a random spot in the woods, up to an acre away from Nod. After it was looted, it’d begin its 5 minute round trip to the cache.
  • a player had to find the chest, grab the stake, and then run over to Nod. Another player would hit a tentacle with a healing spell so his buddy could get in and drive the stake into Nod’s heart.
  • Five stakes later, the creature shuddered in its death throes. Once everyone was looking, the pulley was dropped and the big cloth cylinder fell. Revealing the third incarnation waiting inside…
  • Part 3: Nod transformed into his final form, a 9 foot tall grim reaper creature. Wes (the NPC playing Nod) was on stilts, and is remarkably dexterous on them. You’d be surprised how scary it is fighting a creature that much physically larger than you! Nod’s sickle obliterated anyone it touched, but this ability could be suppressed if someone was playing a musical instrument. This ended up being the job for the low level characters that had trouble with the other monsters in the fight. Adventurers had to defend the musicians whole engaging Nod. The stilt creature was eventually taken down by coordinated force.

Sadly, the pictures / video taken of this battle were too dim to make out. It was perhaps a bit too complex, but it was interesting because everybody in the fight had a different job. In the end, the low level character playing the flute was just as important as the high level fighter who drove the final stake into Nod’s heart.

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Module: Faevors

This is a module in which players seek a favor or information from a Fae lord (or lady). They must attend a High Tea and figure out the nuances of fae etiquette. This is a basic, skeletal writeup which should be easy to flesh out and adapt for your game. If you don’t like reading module writeups, stop here!

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Tracking

The ability to track one’s foes is a common fantasy trope, and a very useful skill for an adventurer. This type of challenge is useful when the PCs must pursue an NPC, forge their way back to civilization after beign lost in the wilderness, locate a hideout, lair, or den, or blaze a new trail through dangerous territory. In reality, tracking through the woods can be very difficult. It takes training, patience, and time. To simulate this, we will create a trail through the woods which perceptive players will be able to navigate.

Note: Tracking challenges should never be used in player versus player conflicts. When following another player, you will have to track them fairly, without assistance from staff members.

Creating a Trail

Drag a heavy log through the woods, leaving a wake of disturbed leaves and crunched twigs. To adjust the level of difficulty, vary the size of the log or the speed that you’re dragging it.

Alternatively, you can leave tough-to-spot objects as trail blazes. Easy ones include bits of fabric tied to branches at eye level or markings on a tree. More difficult blazes might be on the ground, such as colored stones or dropped spell packets. The difficulty can also be varied by spacing out the clues, forcing players to move slowly through the woods as they look for the next blaze.

Some challenges might require players to find a certain number of blazes. For example, to keep on his trail, the party must find at least 10 of the 20 spell book pages dropped by the necromancer as he escaped.

Just like in real life, it’s extremely difficult to track someone after sunset!

Assisting a Tracker

Once a tracker has spotted the beginnings of a trail, she can point it out to her party so they can help too. People shouldn’t have to ignore clues that they can actually see! It’s much easier for large groups to spot a trail though – so increase the difficulty if the tracker has a whole party of helpers.

If you are running a tracking challenge in which only certain players should be able to follow the trail, use a subtle blaze and only let those players know what it is. For example, some races have an excellent sense of smell. They can find trails that others can’t. You can clue them in that a yellow leaf thumbtacked to a tree represents a scent trail, but forbid them from telling anyone what the marker looks like. (This isn’t a foolproof method however – other players might be able to figure out what blaze their companion is looking for.)

At Trail’s End

If the destination at the end of the trail is highly visible (such as a cabin or group of NPCs), it won’t be hard for players to find it through luck alone. Instead, have them searching for something smaller which represents their success.

For example, when tracking a person, you may not be looking for the person himself, but a clue about their destination. You might find a road sign which points to the Silverlake Road. When the tracker locates this sign, it indicates she discovered where her quarry was headed. She can then return to the marshal and say “I’m pursuing him down Silverlake Road.” This triggers the module where the tracker and her party close the distance and catch the escaping criminal.

Or when looking for a monster’s lair, you might find certain marks on the ground or trees which indicate you’re close to the heart of its territory.

If the tracking challenge had a time limit, the party may discover their quarry is already too far away, or that the monster has already returned to its lair.

Finding a Safe Route

Tracking Challenges can also be used to simulate forging a trail through dangerous territory. This is a variant of the tracking module, where players are actually looking for the lack of blazes. You mark “dangerous territory” by putting “anti-blazes” in the woods to represent the territory of hostile wildlife. This could be shredded clothing, bloody rags, or bones.

Players must chart a route through the dangerous territory by tying cloth blazes to branches. None of these blazes may be within line-of-sight of an anti-blaze. At the end of the adventure the tracker will have to walk an NPC through the trail who will verify that it is safe.

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Module: Choose Your Own Dungeon Crawl

This is a module format for running dungeons which are too large to be explored in one delve.  This is a basic, skeletal writeup which should be easy to flesh out and adapt for your game. If you don’t like reading module writeups, stop here!

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Module: Rope Trick

This is a LARP module written around a basic challenge – players must hold onto a rope while moving the woods collecting glowsticks.

This scenario could be used as a challenge when visiting any hostile plane. In this example, we’ll be talking about a trip to Dreaming, but you can adapt it to any plane.

The final encounter of the module is up to you – you’ll fill it in with something relevant to your plotline.

For some reason, the PCs are visiting Dream. Perhaps they need to speak with someone in the dreaming, or get information from someone who cannot wake up and forever wanders dream country.

If you don’t like  reading module writeups, stop here!

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Physical Challenge: Jumping Stones

Here’s an old module gimmick with some new twists.

Jumping Stones – there are certain parts of the floor that players can step on, and certain parts that they shouldn’t. Mark off the edge of the “safe” stones using rope or chalk. To create reusable props, you can cut cardboard, doormat, or lenolium tiles into shape and then place them wherever you’d like. Most stones should be about as large as a shield, but make stones of various size. Some might fit two or three characters, others that can only fit one foot as you skip to another stone.

Players often face opponents while navigating the jumping stones. The creatures which prefer this kind of environment are not effected by the floor, such as bats, noncorporeal undead, or creatures who are immune to the damage type. If the monsters can step anywhere on the floor, be careful of giving them ranged attacks or two handed weapons. Players ability to defend themselves from ranged attacks decreases as their mobility decreases.

Treasure can be hidden in an out-of-reach spot which requires you to step off the stones.

The penalty for falling off a stone or missing a stone should be enough to discourage players from taking a step through it. Here are some ideas for jumping stone rooms:

  • Lavastone – The floor is directly above a lava flow and is steaming hot. If you touch it, you take elemental flame damage equal to the party’s average level. The monsters are immune to fire.
  • Iceflow – The floor is covered in water from the plane of ice. If you touch it, you’ll be instantly stuck as if by a paste of stickiness. A release spell or any flame damage will unfreeze the character.
  • Blightmarsh – The floor is a wet marsh, corrupted by necromancy. If you touch the floor, that limb will be withered. If your torso touches the floor, your blood is tainted. In one corner of the room there is some boonblossom growing (use some plants as a prop). If you can make it to the boonblossom and spend 10 seconds smelling its fragrant air, you will be cured of all necromantic effects. On the other side of the room is a chest that can only be opened if you have no necromantic effects on you. Monsters make liberal use of necromancy. If the players don’t want to use up their spells, they will have to move back and forth across the room to cure their effects.
  • Rapids – the floor represents a rushing river. (For something this dramatic, use sound effects!) The players are fighting their way upstream. If a player falls into the river, he takes damage equal to the party’s average level and must go back to the large stone the players started on.
  • Long Distance Stones – the stones are far apart, but can accomodate several players per stone. The group has two planks they can use to create temporary bridges. There might be a rope hanging from the ceiling they can use to swing across a hard spot.
  • Searching Stones – Some stones have treasure hidden under them. When standing atop a stone, you can spend one minute searching the floor. At the end of this time, you’re allowed to step off the stone briefly to grab any treasure under it. During this challenge, monsters are constantly attacking. Players will have to divide up their party between searching and defending in order to find a key item.
  • Spell Stones – in certain rooms, players might be able to create temporary stones by casting a spell of the opposite element into the floor. The spell packet itself becomes a spot you can step on safely, but only once. For example, a spellcaster can create a safe spot in an iceflow room by throwing a flamebolt at the ground. The spell packet will support one person stepping on it before the area is frozen again. Players might need to use this technique to access something on the far side of the room.
  • Turtle Stone – a hula hoop, “pop circle” or other ring can be slowly dragged across the floor using string. It will stop moving once someone stands on it. Players might have to skip across it in order to access certain parts of the room. They may be able to hit it with a spell to stop it from moving.
  • Color Stones – the room has many jumping stones in it, represented by blue, red, or green paper plates. Players have six colored gems to divide between their party. They may only safely step on the plate if they are holding the gem of that color. Certain regions of the room will only be accessable by certain colors. Players can trade gems during the adventure.
  • Toss the Stones – the room has no jumping stones in it. On one side, the players have a quarry of stones which they can toss onto the floor to create a path across the floor. Players must carry the stones with both hands and can’t toss them more than a foot or two past the previous stone. Once a stone is placed, it is stuck to that spot and cannot be removed.

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Module Writing Tips

A Module is the most dense possible package of what’s great about LARPing. A good module is a complete LARP experience, including story, challenges, team work, role play, and rewards. When players talk about “what happened” during an event, they’re often recalling a module. For many players, modules are the closest contact they will have with the game plotline and the staff members which run it.

In my opinion, the goal of a module is to create an exciting, memorable shared experience. When players leave the module, they should have some good stories to tell about the adventure they just had. A good module challenges players in a variety of ways – they may need to use mental, social, or physical skill to complete the adventure.

The Snapshot Method – One way to design an adventure is the “bottom up” or “snapshot” method of module writing. First, think of a cool moment, then design the module around creating that specific climax. If the moment is a frantic search for a ward key as monsters trickle into the room, try to come up with ways to make that more exciting. A fog machine can make it difficult to search the floor. Tense music and the sound of a ticking clock will set the mood. Or perhaps there is an NPC present who is constantly reminding the players of their task and the consequences for failure.

This snapshot moment might involve props, puzzles, a choice, realization, panic, or an atmospheric element (horror, suspense, mystery, etc). Do everything you can to heighten the experience of this moment.

Challenges – what are the players doing during the module? Most modules involve a challenge that the players must complete in order to advance or succeed. It’s important to design interesting challenges for the players to overcome. Many modules simply pit the players against several waves of combatants – this is effectively no different from any field encounter. In a module, combat should only be one element of the challenge. Players might need to find an object, use a certain item at a certain time or place, navigate a physical hazard, solve a puzzle, communicate with an interesting NPC, or use unlikely game skills.

A good challenge should have the opportunity for failure. The players should be able to “lose” the challenge if they don’t think fast enough or work together. If the fight seems to miraculously end just as the players start to lose, they may feel that they’ve been cheated out of a meangful victory. Give the players concrete objectives and allow them to creatively meet them.

Frame the Challenge – Make sure that the players understand the challenges they are facing. It’s frustrating to be told you ran out of time when you didn’t know you were on a clock to begin with. Odds are, some of the players on the module know what’s going on, but unless you’ve been really explicit about what the module is about, some people won’t be properly filled in. Before the players enter the module area, make sure everybody is aware of any special mechanics (such as jumping stones or trap tiles) and game effects.

Time Limits – When given time to think about things, players will often examine every possible lead, spending too much time discussing and not enough time acting. A time limit is a good way to ensure that the players stay on task and don’t get distrated by errant hypotheses. But be careful – impose too short of a time limit, and players may miss important treasure or information along the way.

A time limit doesn’t have to involve a literal ticking clock. The players might be aware that they have to escape the cave before the volcano erupts, and you can warn them that it’s coming by playing rumbling sound effects at increasing frequency/volume. With recurring modules, you can require that the module is completed a certain number of times before a certain hour. This way, when players take too long, they’re basically stealing time from other teams.

Choices – Requiring the party to make choices is one of the best ways of challenging them. It can be argued that unless players making decisions based on game information and character concept, they are just passive characters in the story. Sometimes players go with the obvious course of action because they believe it’s what’s expected of them. Make it clear that they have a choice to make.  The players may not know that attacking the first orc they come across will instigate a tribal war. Prime them for that choice by suggesting diplomacy as an option during the hook – but ultimately them let them make their own choice how to handle the orcs.

An interesting choice isn’t a simple decision between good and evil. Complex choices force players to use game information, group dynamics, and their character concept to arrive at a conclusion. Some interesting choices might include, “Should we trust the goblins who are offering us advice?”, “Which elemental key should we buy before entering the dungeon?”, and “Should we allow these people to build a home in our barony?”

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