An Experimental Encounter for 5e

I’m going to try something in my Tales of the Old Margreve game. I’m running remotely, and I keep track of relative positions, but I’m not sure this would work if everybody is looking at the actual tactical map.

The encounter, as written, has ghouls mounted on undead horses, with lichhounds, chasing villagers, when the PCs stumble on to the scene.

What I’m planning on doing is letting the PCs know that the following things are true:

  1. The whole area is difficult terrain while there is the crowd of villagers (I’ve done this before)
  2. If the PCs don’t do something to save the fleeing villagers, the majority of them die by the end of round two, and there is no more difficult terrain.

The PCs can help if they do a group check. They have to spend an action to do “something” to help get the villagers to safety to contribute, and the DC is 14 (10 + the CR of the most challenging opponent). Their action can only contribute to helping the villagers (i.e. firing at the ghouls or the hounds can be an action, but it doesn’t do damage, it just angles them away from some villagers).

They can attack or take other actions as normal in the initiative turn, but that won’t contribute to the group check to save the villagers.

The outcomes will be as follows (following the format for group checks in Ghosts of Saltmarsh):

Full Success (Everyone Makes a Successful Check)–The villagers are all safe, and in retreat, they fire a salvo of slings and bows at the attackers. Each attacker makes a DC 10 Dex save or takes 4d10 damage, half if they make their save.

Success (50% or more of the PCs make a Successful Check)–The villagers get away safely.

Failure (Less than 50% of the PCs make a Successful Check)–Half the villagers parish in the retreat.

Complete Failure (every PC fails their check)–All of the villagers die in the encounter, and some of the PCs contacts are no longer available.

I’m interested to see how this works out. As I’m visualizing it, until the end of round two, there are villagers everywhere in range of both the ghouls and PCs, so they don’t need to move to a specific place on the grid to perform any actions, they can just use a standard action to participate in this group check.

I’m also not going to nix any particular skill unless it just really doesn’t make any sense for helping the villagers.

Any thoughts before I unleash this on my players tomorrow night?

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I like the ideas - gonna be interested to see how it turns out.

I’ll report back after I run it tonight. Hopefully it doesn’t go: “We wait two rounds for the ghouls to finish off the villagers, so we have an easier time of it.”


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The biggest hiccup was when the party wanted to use spells in the middle of helping the people fleeing. I let them burn their spell slots if they wanted to detonate fireballs to heard ghouls away from the potential victims, without doing damage. Before they closed the gap with the PCs, I said they could damage the ghouls with the fireballs, but it wouldn’t count for helping the villagers escape. Other than that on the fly adjustment, it didn’t go too badly.

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Any feedback from the players? Were they all “That worked well, but how about X mod for next time?”

Not a lot. I’m not sure I’m going to try it again without some thought. I thought it was pretty clear that if they wanted to attack the ghouls, they could do that, but it’s not helping the villagers. I didn’t want to say, “you can only use this proscribed list of skills,” but there still seems to be a desire to “break” anything that looks like a skill challenge, even when it pretty much makes sense.

They didn’t dislike it, it just felt like it wasn’t an overhwhelming hit.

I really like this idea. Probably looking to roll it into my toolbox. Thanks Jared!

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