Blog Carnival: Deliberately Overpowered Encounters

Posted on : 06-22-2010 | By : Brian | In : Advice, D&D, DM's Journal


Here are your blog carnival rules:

1. Your post must be on topic.

2. The first person in the list of bloggers who are participating who replies to each post will be responsible for writing the next piece. (Don’t reply if you are not ready to write it with in the next 24 hours.)

3. You must add a link to all of the previous authors carnival posts at the end of your post.

4. No name calling.

The question seems to be: do you include encounters in your game that are designed to be more powerful than the PCs can handle.

The answer is: it’s funny you should mention that.

To any of my players reading this post: stop it. Unless you want some spoilers.

In an upcoming session, I have some encounters planned that are, in fact, designed to be too difficult for the players to take head-on. That is, even if the PCs succeed in what they’re supposed to be succeeding at, the bad guys aren’t going to get beaten, and it’ll probably feel a bit like a loss. Specific story spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned, guys.

My players have an airship. Soon, they’re going to be flying that airship into a land that is rough, unforgiving, and very much a frontier territory. There’s lots of nasty monsters in this area, and they’re going to get a first-hand look at this. First, the airship is going to get attacked by a mated pair of young blue dragons, intent on taking the airship and all valuables from the PCs. My PCs are level 8, and while these dragons are only level 6, there’s two of them, and they’re both solos. It’s a hard encounter, made harder by the fact that the dragons are going to be trying to throw people off the ship and, eventually, damage the ship out of spite when they decide that the PCs are more trouble than they’re worth. I’m pretty sure that the PCs won’t kill even one of these dragons, and at best they’re going to fend them off before the airship is completely torn to pieces.

Once they crash land, they’ll get a little bit of a breather before an enraged dire bullette attacks the group. As I’ve said, these are level 8 PCs, and this bullette is level 15, way above their pay grade. It’s got an AC around 35, which is pretty high for players of that level. This is not a fight they’re supposed to win. Instead, they’re supposed to draw the bullette’s attention away from the wreck and their less powerful allies so that their allies can escape, get to town, get medical attention, and get supplies to come back and fix the ship. Once they have the bullette’s attention, they’re going to have to lead it away from the ship and lose it.

So, yes, I guess I do have fights that cannot be won through combat alone. But that doesn’t mean I’m setting my players up for failure. I have a secret, you see: these fights, while they have real monsters with real statistics making real attacks and with real hit points and defenses, aren’t really fights. Both of these ‘combats’ are structured as skill challenges, and neither has the goal of the enemy’s defeat. In the fight against the dragons, the goal is simply to drive them away and survive their attacks. With the bullette, they have to get its attention, then lose its attention.

This is an idea I’ve started experimenting with: fights that aren’t really fights. I think that this is probably a really good way to handle fights that are too difficult for the PCs. It gives the PCs something to do besides whiffing against defenses that are too high and taking massive amounts of damage. It gives the PCs a definite goal. Best of all, even though the PCs may not feel like they’re ‘winning’ the fights, they’ll likely still feel a sense of accomplishment at the end, even if they just barely got away by the skin of their teeth.

So, how do you handle fights like this? Do you even include them?

Other posts in this blog carnival:
never fear! sandbox vs. safety rails.
Phelanar’s Den
The Daily Encounter
Adam Dray
Sarah Darkmagic

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Comments (10)

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