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D&D General TPK or Imprison

TPK or Imprison?

  • TPK

    Votes: 19 35.8%
  • Imprison

    Votes: 31 58.5%
  • You're History's Worst DM

    Votes: 3 5.7%

  • Total voters
    53

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billd91

Hobbit on Quest
Because they don't actually know they're there and logic would dictate they wouldn't be.
Well, they wouldn't necessarily know they are right there. But they would know they're in the vicinity, not in their best shape, and potentially vulnerable to a counter attack. That's worth a group going to investigate if nothing else.
 

pming

Hero
Hiya!
Some people claim to be able to compartmentalize to such a degree that they can make choices without influence by the metagame information the GM has at this point. But the GM knows, at this point, if they are signing the PC's death warrants. The players will know the GM knows, as well.
...I'm not seeing the problem.

So, while you can hold up, "I was just a neutral arbiter" as a shield, if the GM goes for the TPK here, everyone at the table will know the GM knowingly chose that path.
Again, don't see the problem. Well, unless the GM is in the habit of coddling the Players so they don't loose and get their feelings hurt or ego bruised. The DM isn't being a "jerk" by doing what a DM should do...be a neutral arbiter, as you put it. The only time I see this happen (or, rather, read/hear about it) is when the Players are expecting to win all the time or "usually, if it's not an important 'thing' in the game" (re: not if it's a random encounter, or a fight they picked with an obviously...or supposedly...weaker foe, etc).

"But that's what my character would do!" is not an excuse for a player being a jerk at the table. Nor is it an excuse for the GM.
"But that's what my character would do!" IS a valid excuse for the player... "being a jerk", as you put it. It's just that I don't think a Player is being a jerk if he has his PC do something that messes up another Players Character... IF IT MAKES SENSE AND EVERYONE AGREES! Meaning, if the PC is known for absolutely destroying any thief/brigand due to an intense hatred of thievery...and another PC "accidently" steals from the party...well...sorry to Mr.Lightfingers there, but them's the breaks. But, if the Player suddenly just decides "I kill him. I don't like thieves", and, up until that point, that PC has never hinted at any particular hatred of thieves...that's when we have a problem. Everyone at the table will know that the Player is being a jerk for attacking another PC for "stealing a 50gp gem from the party" for who knows what reason.

Same sort of logic for the DM. If the DM is known for not running a world that has "consequences", but suddenly decides "Yeah, you killed two guards...even though they attacked you first. Everyone now has a bounty on their heads and assassins and adventurers are going to come after you...", when the group has killed dozens of guards over the campaign from various other towns/cities with no real consequences...that's a problem. The DM is being a 'jerk'.

But, a DM who is consistent, fair and actually is ALWAYS a "neutral arbiter"? Not being a jerk when he knows a TPK is coming...and so do the Players. Sometimes you get the owlbear...sometimes the owlbear gets you.

Now, that said, if the group are all friends, there is nothing wrong with the DM feeling bad and saying "Dudes, you're all going to die. Because [insert behind-the-scenes info]. Do you want to play it out as is and just see if MAYBE you can live? Or do you want to just get captured or something and we can do that?". There is nothing in the rules that says "being fair" as a DM means never talking to your players about what's going on, what's almost guaranteed to happen, and getting their input. I have done this on very rare occasions myself. But my players know me, my DM'ing style, and their own preferences. They usually opt for the "Lets just roll dice and game it out...see how many we can take with them!", because they KNOW that I wasn't "being a jerk" or that I was "out to get them" or "being unfair"*. Only a handful of times have they said "Yeah...lets have a do-over" or "Yeah...how about captured? I don't want to stop playing this PC and story. I want to see how it turns out".

EDIT: To clarify, they think this even if I *didn't say "Dudes, ....". If I just played it and they TPK'ed, they don't think I'm being a jerk, because they know I could have cheezed it and had the completely evil bad guys 'capture them'...but I've done that once before. Man...did they feel cheated! They were annoyed that I "kept them alive"...they knew they all should have died, but I had them get KO'ed in stead. They felt cheated for sure. Absolutely cheated. So I've never done that again! Just a bit more "FYI" there. :)

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 
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I was going to vote "you're history's worst DM" until I realized the vote meant you, not me.

It really depends on the situation. I've had intelligent bad guys take prisoners, usually with the intention of sacrifice or interrogation (torture), then setting up an escape opportunity. Low/non-intelligent enemies won't take prisoners though, especially ones they consider food. I lean towards imprisonment, but won't ruin the moment by breaking verisimilitude.
 

Reynard

Legend
Hiya!


Serious question: Why are you deciding this?

Honestly, that's not your job. That's up to the Players. You simply present the world, play the inhabitants as you think they would "naturally behave", and let the Players do their own thing.

Live? Imprisoned? Dead? That's not up to you. You're just the DM.

(and it should be obvious how I would handle it; let the chips fall where they may...)

^_^

Paul L. Ming
While I understand the philosophy inherent in your question, and generally agree with it in theory, in practice that is not what GMs do by and large. We present situations, locations, personalities and so on, and let the PCs loose on them. But it is hardly a hands off action. We created all that stuff in the first place. Also, there is no "naturally behave." All that is is the GM making decisions and justifying those decisions. The reality is still the GM choosing to do things, using their own preferences, the players' actions and the dice to inform those decisions. It is a good practice but I don't think we should fool ourselves into believing there was ever some natural or right decision waiting to be discovered like a sculpture in a block of marble.

My original question -- TPK or imprison -- is really one about approach. There is no rule or requirement that either would be the "right" answer for the question "what would the duergar do next?" That question, and the idea that there even is a "right" answer for it, is just cover for the real question: what do I, as GM, think would be the most fun for this group of players, given the tangled mass of everything that has happened up to this decision point. It is the same question we ask ourselves, as GMs, every moment in the game.

Or, at least, I ask myself. I suppose it is possible there are real world GMs that always only care about verisimilitude, but I doubt it. If a GM doesn't recognize that there are other people across the table from them, I don't think they would be very fun to play under.
 
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DEFCON 1

Legend
If it was me... I'd just do the "three waves of enemies" method. Send the duergar "scouting party" through the circle first... the weaker-but-sneakier group of duergar that were expecting to arrive and then scout the area for the party without being seen... only to discover the PCs are right there at the circle. Have this even happen before the group has fully bedded down, so the party is still in armor and such. This fight should be quick and easier for the group because these weren't the big guns.

Should most of the PCs survive this encounter, they can identify this group as merely scouts they've killed, and at that point can make another choice whether or not to still stay and sleep here (now having more concrete info that if the scout party does not return to the BBEG, the BBEG knows there's a real problem and will send an even greater force shortly) or that they should take the barbarian's advice finally and leave the area. At that point, if they sleep here at the circle anyway, then the larger military force arrives as they are out of armor and resting-- and kicks the crap out of the party and probably TPKs them. Too bad, so sad, you had two chances to make a better decision.

But if the group does leave the area to take a long rest... the military force arrives, sees their scouting party dead, knows something is up, and successfully reclaims the outpost and sets it up expecting an assault. When the fully-rested party comes back, the outpost is now fully armed and on high alert ready for them. Then if the PCs succeed in taking out the military force at the outpost as well, they then can make the decision to use the circle to go to the BBEG's lair and take BBEG on as the conclusion. And at that point, whatever happens, happens.

That's what I'd do.
 

pming

Hero
Hiya!
While I understand the philosophy inherent in your question, and generally agree with it in theory, in practice that is not what GMs do by and large. We present situations, locations, personalities and so on, and let the PCs loose on them. But it is hardly a hands off action. We created all that stuff in the first place. Also, there is no "naturally behave." All that is is the GM making decisions and justifying those decisions. The reality is still the GM choosing to do things, using their own preferences, the players' actions and the dice to inform those decisions. It is a good practice but I don't think we should fool ourselves into believing there was ever some natural or right decision waiting to be discovered like a sculpture in a block of marble.
I think we are just misunderstanding each other a bit.
I don't see anything a DM does as being "hands on action"...at least not past the point of him needing to actually, well, do DM stuff. What you said had me think of someone asking a painter, "Paint me a picture of something beautiful. But don't want a painting". You can't "do painter stuff" without touching a brush and paint. When you do start painting a flock of butterflies over a flower field, people can't claim "You did that on purpose! That's not your job...you were supposed to just 'do it without affecting it'". Makes no sense.

So when I draw two levels of a ruined Keep, then start doing all my DM stuff of thinking who built it, why, when, how did it become ruined, what lives there now, etc...I don't see that as the DM being "hands on". When I hear of OTHER DM's that have the preferred method of "Building to the PC's"...well, now we have distinctly "hands on" action. The DM is specifically placing two ogres in that room, and not five cultists because the DM knows the PC's are strong on martial, weak on spells, and there's only 3 of them.

Same idea with regards to how to "run a monster/npc in a natural manner" (as pertains to the game milieu as a whole). It would be "hands on" for a DM to play the cultists as just as stupid as the ogres, because in the game, they shouldn't be (all things considered). Now, a DM that plays the ogres as dumb brutes who love violence and suffering, or the cultists as fanatical zealots who work together...that DM isn't, imnsho, being "hands on". He is, in fact, not "justifying decisions"; he, the DM, didn't, at that very moment, decide to make ogres stupid brutes. They just are (assuming 'normal by the book' ogres, obviously).

My original question -- TPK or imprison -- is really one about approach. There is no rule or requirement that either would be the "right" answer for the question "what would the duergar do next?" That question, and the idea that there even is a "right" answer for it, is just cover for the real question: what do I, as GM, think would be the most fun for this group of players, given the tangled mass of everything that has happened up to this decision point. It is the same question we ask ourselves, as GMs, every moment in the game.

Or, at least, I ask myself. I suppose it is possible there are real world GMs that always only care about verisimilitude, but I doubt it. If a GM doesn't recognize that there are other people across the table from them, I don't think they would be very fun to play under.
I get that. My point was that you, as a DM, from MY perspective and experience, should put more emphasis on "what would be the most logical for the campaign world and situation", and less on "what would be the most fun for this group of players". But this is definitely going to be a "Group Style" thing, for sure! :) As I said, with my group, if the situation looks like it's going to be a TPK, and then it isn't, because the orcs who were rampaging the countryside suddenly have "knock out gas and shackles", and the PC's all wake up chained together to a post in a big cave...well...lets just say I'd get a lot of the Stink Eye Cantrip! ;)

You know your players best; if you think they'd be more happy if you let them live, then go ahead and do that. The drawback to that is what I've said in other threads; once you start down that dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny! Meaning the Players will start to expect you won't kill them if there is some kind of 'out' you can take....and then, when you DO refuse to give them that out and they all TPK (or even just one or two die in a single battle), then they WILL blame you...because at that point, you most definitely chose to 'kill them'. It's obvious at that point. Save, save, save, save, save, TPK! Save, save, save, save, TPK! Etc. ...versus... TPK, TPK, semi-TPK, Save, semi-TPK, Save, Save, TPK, etc. If the Players know you WON'T save them, they appreciate it more...and they can't "blame you" for their deaths. If the Players know you WILL save them, they expect it...and then if you EVER 'let them die', they will "blame you" for their deaths.

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

I get that. My point was that you, as a DM, from MY perspective and experience, should put more emphasis on "what would be the most logical for the campaign world and situation", and less on "what would be the most fun for this group of players". But this is definitely going to be a "Group Style" thing, for sure!
I am deeply confused here.

If it's a group style thing, wouldn't even choosing the 'logical for the world' approach from that angle be 'doing what's most fun for the group'?
 

jayoungr

Legend
Supporter
I voted for imprison because that's what I'd do in a similar situation. I like the comment above about giving them one more chance to fix it.
 

Reynard

Legend
If it was me... I'd just do the "three waves of enemies" method. Send the duergar "scouting party" through the circle first... the weaker-but-sneakier group of duergar that were expecting to arrive and then scout the area for the party without being seen... only to discover the PCs are right there at the circle. Have this even happen before the group has fully bedded down, so the party is still in armor and such. This fight should be quick and easier for the group because these weren't the big guns.

Should most of the PCs survive this encounter, they can identify this group as merely scouts they've killed, and at that point can make another choice whether or not to still stay and sleep here (now having more concrete info that if the scout party does not return to the BBEG, the BBEG knows there's a real problem and will send an even greater force shortly) or that they should take the barbarian's advice finally and leave the area. At that point, if they sleep here at the circle anyway, then the larger military force arrives as they are out of armor and resting-- and kicks the crap out of the party and probably TPKs them. Too bad, so sad, you had two chances to make a better decision.

But if the group does leave the area to take a long rest... the military force arrives, sees their scouting party dead, knows something is up, and successfully reclaims the outpost and sets it up expecting an assault. When the fully-rested party comes back, the outpost is now fully armed and on high alert ready for them. Then if the PCs succeed in taking out the military force at the outpost as well, they then can make the decision to use the circle to go to the BBEG's lair and take BBEG on as the conclusion. And at that point, whatever happens, happens.

That's what I'd do.
Yeah, I think this is probably the best choice for myself. I will have a scouting party come through to give the barbarian the opportunity to gloat, then let the PCs decide whether they want to stand and fight, retreat or even plunge headlong into the BBEG lair. They are down on long rest resources but they have enough hit points that most of them should be able to survive an initial wave/scouting party, giving them a real meaningful choice. And, if things go sideways, it's TPK time...
 

pming

Hero
Hiya!
I am deeply confused here.

If it's a group style thing, wouldn't even choosing the 'logical for the world' approach from that angle be 'doing what's most fun for the group'?
Well, yes and no.

It's the intention/reason of the DM for "choosing to do something specific"...in stead of just running the game as they normally do, which everyone finds fun.

It's all about consistency. If the DM is running the game 'normally'...meaning, for me, running it "logically for the world as a whole", then I am not 'specifically choosing' something I think at that moment as "I could do A, which would be logical, or B, which would be fun, so I'll choose B, even though it's not very logical for the world/situation". If I do think that, I will choose option A...because even if B would be 'more' fun at the moment...it would ultimately harm our enjoyment of the game in the long run. This would cause us, as a group, to enjoy gaming less and less unless I then constantly start choosing the "instant gratification". And that is a loosing proposition. Eventually everyone's going to have this sort of "numbness" to what was fun...and need an "even MORE fun" thing to happen in order to feel excited again.

Kinda like an adrenalin junky...always trying to "1-Up" the last 'high'...eventually getting to the point where nothing really does it for them.

Same kind of idea. Stick with "long term fun" over "immediate gratification" and the game will be fun and last a MUCH longer time...and, imnsho, be much more satisfying and rewarding.

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

Neither is a great option but given some choices my players have made recently, it looks like it has to be one or the other.

So -- should I have the PCs captured and have an opportunity to escape and also finish their mission (they would be imprisoned in the BBEG fortress) even though there is no real reason for the bad guys to spare them? Or you the dice fall where they may and if it turns into a TPK, so be it? TPKs are a bummer, though,a nd the campaign almost always ends on a down note. Of course, it could also be both, as they TPK while trying to escape.

These both sound like great options to me :)

I think for me it depends. I used to shield my parties from TPKs with the classic: you wake up in a cell. Over time I came around to the idea that the excitement of death from random dice rolls and combat just not going your way actually made for some of the funnest gaming if you are open to it (I reached this conclusion when I realized most of my group's best gaming stories revolved around unexpected disasters and unexpected successes). I found it both for myself as a player as a GM. But it does mean the group has to be down with it. For me, whether to go TPK or have them captured really comes down to the person who is delivering the TPK and what they want.

TPKs don't have to be the end though. They can serve as a prelude to the next group of characters (especially if they assemble a team of loved one's motivated by revenge). I've even run campaigns in the afterlife when stuff like this happens (TPK is ideal for an escape from hell campaign if you want to honor the TPK but don't want it to derail the campaign----sending them to some kind of afterlife where they can try to escape back to the world of the living to finish the adventure they died on, can take a TPK and end it on a high note if that is your concern).
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
Hiya!

Well, yes and no.

It's the intention/reason of the DM for "choosing to do something specific"...in stead of just running the game as they normally do, which everyone finds fun.

It's all about consistency. If the DM is running the game 'normally'...meaning, for me, running it "logically for the world as a whole", then I am not 'specifically choosing' something I think at that moment as "I could do A, which would be logical, or B, which would be fun, so I'll choose B, even though it's not very logical for the world/situation". If I do think that, I will choose option A...because even if B would be 'more' fun at the moment...it would ultimately harm our enjoyment of the game in the long run. This would cause us, as a group, to enjoy gaming less and less unless I then constantly start choosing the "instant gratification". And that is a loosing proposition. Eventually everyone's going to have this sort of "numbness" to what was fun...and need an "even MORE fun" thing to happen in order to feel excited again.

Kinda like an adrenalin junky...always trying to "1-Up" the last 'high'...eventually getting to the point where nothing really does it for them.
I get what you're saying and mostly agree re: logical choice.

BUT

Often there is more than one "logical choice" for the BBEG to make, and in that case going for the "most fun" of the logical choices is, well, the logical choice.

Sorry if that's overly pithy, but the point is - the DM is, rarely, faced with binary options - so going with the most logical, most fun choice is often the actual best goto.

Same kind of idea. Stick with "long term fun" over "immediate gratification" and the game will be fun and last a MUCH longer time...and, imnsho, be much more satisfying and rewarding.

^_^

Paul L. Ming

There is a confound here, in this particular situation. the OP doesn't really want the adventure, or even the group, to keep going. I think he's more looking for the most expedient end point and done.
 

pming

Hero
Hiya!
Often there is more than one "logical choice" for the BBEG to make, and in that case going for the "most fun" of the logical choices is, well, the logical choice.

Sorry if that's overly pithy, but the point is - the DM is, rarely, faced with binary options - so going with the most logical, most fun choice is often the actual best goto.
Oh, no offense taken. :)
Yes, I agree with you; if the DM has the option of A, B or C, and A is logical, but so-so for fun...and B REALLY fun, but maybe not logical, and C is 'logical enough' but also 'fun enough'...then the DM has a decision to make. Personally... A or C, depending on campaign repercussions down the line. (meaning if I go with A, and that allows for some really fun stuff later...or C now, but less fun later...what do you choose?)

It is all about DM choice...but I don't think the "choice" is that the DM is deciding what is or isn't "going to happen", specifically, to the PC's. The situation they are in (in the OP case... likely TPK or 'save/capture'), is what it is; a situation the PC's presumably got themselves into. The Players may not know the exact "wrong turn" lets call it, that they made...but once they start loosing, it may become apparent. Players are a crafty bunch! ;)

There is a confound here, in this particular situation. the OP doesn't really want the adventure, or even the group, to keep going. I think he's more looking for the most expedient end point and done.
Ahh... a drawback to not reading EVERY single page/post I guess!
In this case...definitely TPK. 😈 Gotta use up those Skill Stickers and put them on the GM Shield, right? (...any who know Hackmaster 4th Edition know what I'm talking about... ;) ).

In all seriousness though, if he's looking to end the campaign...then "choosing" isn't all that important; the DM's decision is only going to affect this group of PC's and this particular campaign/story. If I was in this situation, I'd opt to choose things that let the PC's go out in a blaze of glory! Sword swinging, spells flying and all manner of whizz-bang spectacularityousis! :D At least the PC's go down swinging and heroes...and even in death, they will be remembered!

(case in point, we royally messed up a Cthulhu adventure onces...Cthulhu woke up, was released, and, well, yeah...my Swedish Wrestler with a copper headband [it was his 'thing] had to make SAN checks....and I kept rolling 01 to 03, and never lost more than the minimum SAN every time Cthulhu waded out of the ocean, destroying, devouring and generally being a big poo-poo head; so, the ONLY sane person in miles, right at Cthulhu's feet, what did I do? "Ok. I walk right up to him, and scream... 'You gonna kill me? Do it! But you are a GOD! You will never forget my name! I am Sven Copperhead, and I am not afraid!"... then I head butted his big toe. He ate me. But, Sven Copperhead will forever live on in the memory of Cthulhu as "that crazy Swede who never bowed to me and head butted my toe!". Sometimes dying in a spectacular and defiant way is the worst thing you can do to an enemy! :)

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

The bad guys can always have a reason to spare the PCs since it's a game of imagination and the DM can make something up that works. Ideally, this reason is telegraphed ahead of time so that it is not unexpected. "Keep at least one of them alive for questioning!" says the villain's lieutenant as combat breaks out.

I don't think TPKs are a bummer personally. They're just another turn in the emergent story and a potential outcome of the players' choices. I have no particular preference for how a story turns out. Sometimes it ends in death for the heroes and new heroes picking up where they left off.
As much as I do resets if the entire group gets TPKed, this late in the campaign, I would just allow it to happen. Sometimes stories do not end well.
 

S'mon

Legend
I voted TPK, but really it depends on the sub-genre of the game. I ran a Wilderlands campaign with a deliberately pulpy Thongor of Lemuria vibe, where the evil wizards did take the heroic Barbarian PC prisoner.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
I voted TPK, since it was the closest option to what I would do. But there's a little more to it.

Here's what I do when I know the party is about to get wiped out: I give them a chance to flee for their lives. Something distracts the monster for one round, or maybe a wall collapses and an exit appears, or maybe the wizard's spell backfires and it somehow stuns the monster just long enough to get a headstart, whatever. Then break the fourth wall and point-blank tell them that this is their chance to escape.

If they take that chance and run, do your best to keep it exciting but let them get away. And make it expensive: maybe they dropped important stuff that they'll have to go back for later, they suffered grievous wounds, they take 2 or 3 points of exhaustion, and/or they consumed some valuable potions in the getaway, etc.--you don't want this to become a habit. But let them get away.

And if they don't take that chance? That's on them, not on you. Let the dice fall where they may. If this is the sort of monster that takes prisoners (like humans or elves), maybe they're captured. If it's the sort of monster that doesn't (like zombies, oozes or plants), they're killed and eaten...we raise our glasses to the honored dead, take a break, then bust out the d6s and blank character sheets.

EDIT:
Long story short, they allowed two separate enemies to escape, are extremely low on resources (and have even lost one party member) and are planning on taking a long rest right next to the unsecured teleportation circle leading to the BBEG lair. They have convinced themselves through a circular argument between players that the bad guys will lay in wait for them to come through, ignoring the fact that the second escapee knows they are in their weakest possible state and nothing is stopping a force to come through the portal to attack. One player has been adamant that they should leave the location to rest and go the overland route to the BBEG lair (which is a good idea and would work) but other players have argued him down.

Oh, well in that case I agree with @Umbran completely. You should give that player the satisfaction of being right. We all hate it when our good ideas get shot down by the majority at the table, and then have to suffer the entirely avoidable consequences.

Here's an idea. Maybe when the enemy comes through the portal, Mr. Good Idea gets knocked unconscious and rolls underneath a bush or something. Everyone else ends up getting captured, but Mr. Good Idea was hidden by the bushes and was missed. Now, while the rest of the characters languish in their cell, Mr. Good Idea heads back into town to recruit some temporary characters to mount a rescue.
 
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NotAYakk

Legend
Well, they wouldn't necessarily know they are right there. But they would know they're in the vicinity, not in their best shape, and potentially vulnerable to a counter attack. That's worth a group going to investigate if nothing else.
It is worth responding to.

Your outpost, which has a direct link past your defences, has been defeated. The front line of attackers, at least, is depleted.

You should respond to this. A few reasonable responses include:
(a) You risk a scout to determine if the enemy has retreated after defeating your defences.
(b) You send an entire attack force through the link, hoping there is no reinforcements and no effective ambush at the choke point.
(c) You cut the link, sacrifice the outpost, and regroup.
(d) You set up an ambush at the teleportation link, including a "deadman" switch to destroy the link if the enemy pushes overwealming force through.

All 4 are reasonable responses to the outpost being over run.

(b) is honestly the highest stake option here. It relies on the enemy being stupid. Now, you should never assume your enemy is never stupid, but risking a large force on the chance your enemy is an idiot is a great way to lose a battle.

The PCs where idiots, in that there they left themselves open for disaster, but the NPCs don't know that, and they don't know the specific ways the PCs are idiots.

When playing chess against a competent foe, you don't keep waiting for your foe to make a simple error on their own. You force increasingly difficult problems on the foe and force errors.

---

From the NPC side, assuming intelligence on their part, they should have a plan for what to do if the outpost is overrun. It has a teleportation circle in it, and that is a serious strategic problem. This plan would be made before the PCs ever arrived, and cannot rely on "PCs are exhausted and might do something stupid".

So what is the NPCs plan for an overrun fortress?

Mustering a counter-attack force:
a) This only works if the enemy doesn't disable the circle
b) If the enemy doesn't disable the circle, they expect to be able to beat the fortress forces, or don't know about the circle, or are idiots.

Break the link:
a) Safest option, but costs you the fortress and the bridge-head.
b) Least interesting story-wise

Ambush:
a) Expects that the enemy over-estimates their chances
b) Gives up tempo to the foe, as they pick when it happens.

Scout:
a) If the enemy are idiots, could let them know you are doing to counter attack (etc)
b) If the enemy doesn't know about the circle, lets you do a counter-attack and save the link.

---

Myself, I'd go with "if your fort is overrun, break the link. But when the fort is attacked, first send someone for reinforcements; only if the bridge-head falls do you break the link."

If the fort has high value, then "immediate and rapid attack through the bridge-head with everything you can get ahold of, to prevent the link from being broken". If that fails, you break the link. In this case, the PCs have no chance to start a short rest, let along a long one.

If the portal is hidden, then you go with scouting quietly, and returning if you know it is unfound, then build up a counter-attack, while maintaining an ambush and hair-trigger link break on the other side.

I can't think of a situation where you'd let the citadel completely fall, wait hours for the people to fall asleep, then do a massive overwhelming counter attack as part of the plan. It relies on the other side being utter idiots.
 

Reynard

Legend
It is worth responding to.

Your outpost, which has a direct link past your defences, has been defeated. The front line of attackers, at least, is depleted.

You should respond to this. A few reasonable responses include:
(a) You risk a scout to determine if the enemy has retreated after defeating your defences.
(b) You send an entire attack force through the link, hoping there is no reinforcements and no effective ambush at the choke point.
(c) You cut the link, sacrifice the outpost, and regroup.
(d) You set up an ambush at the teleportation link, including a "deadman" switch to destroy the link if the enemy pushes overwealming force through.

All 4 are reasonable responses to the outpost being over run.

(b) is honestly the highest stake option here. It relies on the enemy being stupid. Now, you should never assume your enemy is never stupid, but risking a large force on the chance your enemy is an idiot is a great way to lose a battle.

The PCs where idiots, in that there they left themselves open for disaster, but the NPCs don't know that, and they don't know the specific ways the PCs are idiots.

When playing chess against a competent foe, you don't keep waiting for your foe to make a simple error on their own. You force increasingly difficult problems on the foe and force errors.

---

From the NPC side, assuming intelligence on their part, they should have a plan for what to do if the outpost is overrun. It has a teleportation circle in it, and that is a serious strategic problem. This plan would be made before the PCs ever arrived, and cannot rely on "PCs are exhausted and might do something stupid".

So what is the NPCs plan for an overrun fortress?

Mustering a counter-attack force:
a) This only works if the enemy doesn't disable the circle
b) If the enemy doesn't disable the circle, they expect to be able to beat the fortress forces, or don't know about the circle, or are idiots.

Break the link:
a) Safest option, but costs you the fortress and the bridge-head.
b) Least interesting story-wise

Ambush:
a) Expects that the enemy over-estimates their chances
b) Gives up tempo to the foe, as they pick when it happens.

Scout:
a) If the enemy are idiots, could let them know you are doing to counter attack (etc)
b) If the enemy doesn't know about the circle, lets you do a counter-attack and save the link.

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Myself, I'd go with "if your fort is overrun, break the link. But when the fort is attacked, first send someone for reinforcements; only if the bridge-head falls do you break the link."

If the fort has high value, then "immediate and rapid attack through the bridge-head with everything you can get ahold of, to prevent the link from being broken". If that fails, you break the link. In this case, the PCs have no chance to start a short rest, let along a long one.

If the portal is hidden, then you go with scouting quietly, and returning if you know it is unfound, then build up a counter-attack, while maintaining an ambush and hair-trigger link break on the other side.

I can't think of a situation where you'd let the citadel completely fall, wait hours for the people to fall asleep, then do a massive overwhelming counter attack as part of the plan. It relies on the other side being utter idiots.
Very good analysis. One thing: the BBEGs have intelligence as to the state of the attackers. The escape lieutenant very specifically observed until his force was overwhelmed and then escaped He knows how beat down the party is and that they lost their healer. He doesn't know what decisions the party made after he left, but as beings that exist in the world, they can make some guesses. If the PCs don't push immediately through the portal (he can guess they know where he went) then they can surmise they are too worn to try right then. But if they haven't broken the link, they can surmise the party plans to use the portal. Either they are going to flee the fortress and escape, or perhaps rest and then return, scouting themselves or possibly coming in with overwhelming force (the party could be the vanguard of a larger force, after all).

So, to me as DM, it makes sense that the duergar will send a scouting force back into their outpost after a couple of hours -- not long enough for the invaders to get fully rested or muster a very large force, but after enough time that the scouts should be able to ascertain what the plan is. If the scouts don't return, the BBEG will likely just break the link -- there is just too much uncertainty about what is happening. But potentially, the scouts can finish off the interlopers and bring back one or two for questioning to find out what the Council of Speakers knows about the duergars' plans.
 


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