Friday, April 13, 2012
Playing Around on the Rafters
Seasoned D&D players always run the risk of metagaming, or thinking about the game in terms beyond what their character would know or think. One's first encounter with a skeleton or devil might leave the player wondering why their weapons seem to be so ineffective, whereas an experienced player might know to keep a small stockpile of silver daggers, cold iron javelins, good-aligned morningstars, and other weapons of various types and qualities for monsters with every kind of damage resistance. An excellent way to discourage metagaming without completely rewriting the stat blocks of time-tested monsters is to simply modify the physical descriptions of, say, those dire rats that everybody knows carry that nasty filth fever disease and shouldn't have more than 10 hit points.
OK, I had to double-check in the Monster Manual to be sure. So maybe not everybody knows.
The imprisoned Seryulin notwithstanding, this trio of cuddly, fluffy rats would serve as a fine introduction to basic combat for first-level characters, with the added bonus of crates and boxes behind which to hide, should any of the characters choose to attack or provide support at a distance. Frankly, I would've let the characters dive into barrels and stealthily Looney Tunes their way across the room, with the rats oblivious to these three storage containers tiptoeing their way toward the ladder on the far wall (with the proper skill checks, of course). That was another possibility--avoiding combat altogether. All the XP, but none of the loot--though none of the risk of a premature and violent ending to the quest, either. I'm all about options, and especially when the challenges are geared toward a party of a higher level, any possibility that avoids excessive bloodshed is a good one.
Hopefully the "aw, it's strangely cute" appearance of the rats would deter the adventurers from charging in with swords...uh...blazing. Actually, they wouldn't likely get blazing swords at all this quest. Charging in with swords...masterworking? Eh, nevermind. More importantly, I felt like adding in stupidly fluffy rats that bopped and hopped everywhere they went. I'd justify it later.
At the far end of the storage room would be a ladder leading up to the rafters. This would be a two-story storage room, with the heroes possibly running around on the crisscrossing support beams above, chasing another bouncy rat à la Chrono Trigger during the first trip to the future. I included a platform with an overturned table and chair at the top of the ladder--the idea was that there had been a previous jailbreak, and either the guards or the escapees were using the table as cover during a showdown. When not being used for defense, the table and chair setup would have been a sort of unfinished office for the official in charge of monitoring incoming prisoners and outgoing personnel; given that the corner of the storage room was rough rock wall and hadn't been neatly carved into yet, I was going for a bit of a feeling like there was still some work to be done in this area.
The key reason for climbing up to the rafters was to reach the platform in the center, which was supported by a tall round pillar and featured a freestanding cylinder with a sloping top and two triangular panels that could be pressed to make this elevator go up and down. Depending on how the adventurers went about getting there, they might get into a scuffle with the dire rat ambling about the rafters, which would squeak and awaken the sleeping swarm of bats in the dark corner of the room that was still more like a cave than a finished storage area.
Now, a bat swarm (or any kind of swarm, for that matter) can be particularly tricky for a band of Level 1 adventurers, seeing as how normal weapon attacks are more effective against individual creatures than a whole moving mess of individual creatures. Area-effect spells and swung torches are two ways to damage a swarm, and there would be torches in abundance on the walls of the jail and storage room--any adventurer with any sense of self-preservation would pick up a freebie torch when there are clearly signs of being in or around a cave. Plus, these bats would have an absolutely minimal amount of HP, so one hit would be all it'd take to disperse them. It's all about options for me, but it's all about balance, too--higher-level monsters are still fair game for lower-level parties if they're not working at peak performance.
Perhaps the trickiest part would be getting onto the elevator from the rafters, as there was enough of a distance that a Jump check from a standing start (over an almost-deadly drop to the floor below) would have been required. Alternately, the heroes could push that overturned table to the edge and form a bridge to the elevator, or even find some rope in the crates below and lasso the control pillar to climb over.
Once aboard the elevator, they'd have the option of going back down to the ground to pick up anything else they'd left behind, or ascending into darkness. This is where my advance planning started getting fuzzy--I'd had the first section of the tower mapped out since before I put pencil to paper, but I hadn't really considered all that much about where the heroes would go from here. I was hoping I'd have some inspiration by the time I got to drawing the first floor above ground.
I drew an empty room.
[To be continued in Part 3.]