In trying to find some inspiration for adventures and plots, I find myself revisiting classics to try and find new ideas and new twists to throw in. In a Shadowrun game, I had my players do a strike on a drug lab after watching Robocop 2, which is a pretty basic example of inspiration but for something more complex, after watching the first Mission Impossible movie, I had the idea of what if there was a second team that was already on site. Granted, I took some liberties with the idea and turned it into a story where the second team was already infiltrating the facility the characters were going to, but it kept the players on their toes, especially when the guard caught one of the characters surveilling the building and thought it was part of the other team and tried to catch him.
So, as you can see by the above and may know after reading this blog, one big thing that I believe in is that players don’t win all the time, and it may not be the belief of many GMs out there. I don’t directly stack the deck against them ad obvious as that example may seem, but I got the idea as a twist on the ‘Stealing the Pinch’ bit from Oceans Eleven where after an off-camera steal of the item they have to rescue their collegue who went in after them and got noticed.
As I referenced a few times in my blog, I love a challenge. I play Roguelike Survival games where death can happen at any time because I like to be put into situations where I have to make tough choices like ‘Do I risk going into an area for a supply I need but could get killed going for?’ I use the same mentality on my players. As another example, I had a random encounter with a small party of slike level 5 characters going against three giant elephants. The elephants didn’t care about the players, they were just around the water hole and one of the players attacked it which got the others attacking. They then built, as Spoony calls it, The Conga Line of Death. The elephant charged and basically could have slaughtered half the party in the single attack given the damage dealing. After the one hit, my players ran and I explained my world view of ‘Adventuring is a Deadly Pastime’.
To bring all these examples to a point of an article, I was rewatching some classical favorites of mine, the old Disney animated movies. I want to talk anout ‘Art of Avoidance’ using Aladdin as a perfect example of this in the One Jump Ahead song. As the song progresses, we see Aladdin using his acrobatic skills (and luck) to dodge danger until the climax where he gets cut off on the street and then at the tower, leaving him one way out by jumping.
This sort of attitude is something I very rarely see from PCs, as once they encounter a target they will try to figure out how to beat it in combat. Usually, they’ll straight up fight hoping on their stats to win. If they fail, they will state they never thought of running. I think part of this comes from the mentality that it has always been that way, both in video games and in encounters in tabletop. From a player point of view, I can understand the reason for it, but at the same time it can be a habit GMs may want to break.
How can we break it? One way is by throwing enemies en masse and giving them really only one way out that they won’t get tgemselves killed. There was a scene in the early bits of Final Fantasy 7 where Cloud was surrounded by enemies and then jumped onto a passing train which was his only way to escape. Another is by showing a cohesive force, especially an intelligent one. Tucker’s Kobolds are a great example of this sort of mentality, but a police force is another example as they operate as a unit and link together their actions. Play them that way, even if you have to brush up on police tactics. A large enemy can be one as well, sure, like a dragon or another creature with a large amount of HP and armor like the Godzilla type of creature.
Another example that we can do with this is start by utilizing the horror tropes of eliminating their avenues of traversing, slowly closing it so that they only can go in certain directions. Locked doors, collapsing tunnels behind them, flooded areas they would need to swim through, areas swarming with monsters, one way passages (ladder broke, floor gave way, zip line away, waterfall ride, etc). You don’t want to railroad them into a specific path, so you want to pick some choke points and come up with ways to limit its usage, by commenting on things like the rusty ladder and the rickety bridge. This can cause players to think strategically, as they will be wondering if their next action will cut them off from another resource.
A perfect design of this is a network of nodes all interconnected, like rooms in a mansion to use a horror example.
One may be a secret tunnel through a grandfather clock that leads to a slide down to a lower level, so players cannot get back the same way.
Another could be a ladder in the clock tower that rusts and breaks after they climb it (up or down) and now need to find another way through.
A fight in the library causes bookshelves to block a doorway, making you have to go around, or now allowing you to climb up them as a ramp to reach a now revealed door.
Sometimes it may be a secret door or combination of secrets as you can see in “Hidden Spaces” episode on Richard Garriott where there are some unique access to hidden areas set up.
However, all the while you have monsters closing in on them. You could make this a survival ‘Last until Dawn’ sort of thing or a mystic artifact they need to find or simply they must find the way out. The idea is they cannot kill these monsters enough to save themselves from death. Maybe even have an NPC get captured and show what happens.