It’s been a while since I posted anything. I blame the flu that’s still hanging on nearly two weeks later.
This past session of Storm Point, I wanted to try something a little different with the group. I wanted to give them a session where the optimal solution to their problems was not combat. Now, this can be a bit of a risk, because this group likes fighting. And bullying. And intimidation. And just generally being jerks.
But sometimes it shades a bit too close to them being an evil party, with the underlying assumption that they can do whatever they want because they’re tougher than anyone else around them*. So, I wanted to capitalize on one of their suggestions in the previous session, which was that they wanted to turn the captive eladrin who had attacked them over to the town watch and press charges of brigandry. For that to be effective, though, they would have to behave, at least for one session, less like brigands than the people they had accused.
The catch is that there still had to be interesting things for them to do, and challenges for them to overcome. I thought about setting things up as a skill challenge, but I wanted things to revolve more around their choices than around dice rolls. And yet I still wanted to give them an experience award for handling things in a non-violent manner.
So, I did what any GM worth his salt does when the rules don’t quite do what we need them to. I made stuff up.
Basically, what I did was set an experience point value for the various challenges based on the party level and the importance of the scene to the ongoing story. Then I planted a few moments in each scene where the party got to make decisions about how to react to something, how to proceed, etc. Combat was an option at pretty much every one of these moments of choice, so I built encounters based on the experience point value of the scene to spring on the characters if they chose to go for their swords. I also worked out the probable consequences of starting a fight in terms of the broader story and the situation in town.
So, for example, they got a letter from the head of the halfling clans in Rivertown, asking for a meeting to arrange a cessation of hostilities. The meet was set at a halfling tavern near the waterfront, and they were warned in advance that Granny Magda, the head of the clans, was going to have a number of guards with her, and that the party was welcome to come armed, as well. The discussion determined that the heroes had no plans to continue their vendetta against the halflings now that Jemmy Fish and his goblin connection were out of business, and that they had no interest in involving themselves in any of the “untaxed businesses” that the clans ran. They parted on relatively good terms, and earned a nice experience reward. There were a couple of moments where they could have reacted badly and started a fight with Granny and her boys, but they managed to control their tempers and not be complete dinks, so I didn’t have to trot out the stats for the fight, along with all the little surprises that were hidden under the floor of the tavern.
Using set-ups like that, we ran through settling the halfling feud, the trial and escape of the eladrin, and some arms-length dealing with the ambassador of the Empire Reborn, all without combat. But the ambassador is an even bigger jerk than the party**, and decided to make one last attempt to take them out using some summoned firebats and hellhounds. AfterÂ the first round of the fight, I was worried that I had made things too tough*** – the auras of the hellhounds and the fiery swoop ability of the firebats dropped the dragonborn rogue on the first round, and bloodied both the sword mage and the fighter. But the group pulled things together, and won, though it was a tougher fight than I had anticipated, thanks to the stacking of the auras and the ongoing fire damage from the bats.
N0w they’ve got a real mad on for the ambassador, but don’t know what to do about it, because he’s got extralegal status in Storm Point, and has also hired a few local dragonborn mercenaries for personal protection.
I’m interested in seeing what they come up with.
*This is not actually the case, but they haven’t gone up against anyone tougher yet.
**Hard to imagine, but there it is.
***Three firebats and two hellhounds, 1200 xp, a level 5 encounter for 6 PCs. My group is level 4, but were fresh, so I expected the fight to be pretty easy for them.