Interesting Encounters: Disorienting Cataclysm

Taking items away from characters can be a fun exercise for the party – how do they deal with combat without certain items? Unfortunately, there is usually a lot of kicking a screaming from players when you take their toys away. I understand that, but I also wish there was more trust between players and DMs that would allow for removal of equipment. The solution, I believe, is the temporary removal of equipment, with the understanding that characters can retrieve their stuff in some way. I experimented a bit with this in Escape From The Badder Warren, but I wanted to explore the removal and retrieval of equipment all within the same combat.

Before I launch into this, I feel I should say that this idea is untested. I was supposed to try it on my Gamma world group last week, but we didn’t end up playing. Based upon party choices, they may end up experiencing this during our next play session. If that happens, I’ll let you know how it turns out.

The basic idea behind this scenario involves the characters being at ground zero of some type of cataclysm or other “big” event. Such events might include a giant explosion, a rift opening in front of the party that belches out aberrant monsters, or their passage through a damaged planar gate where they land in the middle of an enemy camp. Magic of some kind is most likely involved. The cataclysm also happens right before a combat ensues; the combat may or may not be connected to the cataclysm in some way. This might be a great time for the campaign villan to make an appearance, but to disappear in a giant explosion of magic, leaving his henchmen behind for the party to fight.

Because of the explosion (or extreme magical forces at work) the party is scattered about and separated from some of their equipment. It’s not blown far away; it’s lying nearby on the battlefield, and simply needs to be retrieved, but the presence of combat at the same time will present some interesting choices for the players.

Here’s how the scenario looks mechanically:

  • Characters lose 1d4+1 equipped items. The DM should generally choose which items go, though with some guidance, there shouldn’t be a problem letting players decide which items to lose. This might give resistant players a greater sense of control over the situation. “Primary” items are the first to go – weapons that are always “equipped,” for example, as well as items that “hover” near characters, like Ioun Stones. Next to go should be items that are worn on extremities – shields, boots, gloves, helms, unequipped weapons, and even rings. Depending upon the nature of the cataclysm, cloaks and armor might not realistically get “blown off,” but if you can justify it to the players, feel free.
  • Removed items are randomly placed on the map by the DM. To pick up an item, the character must move into its square. Picking up and re-equipping an item is a minor action. It is recommended that monsters and bad guys don’t mess with any of the stuff.
  • Depending upon the nature of the cataclysm, characters should be randomly moved/placed on the map. Explosions should push characters away from the source, while moving through a damaged planar gate might simply require random placement in their new environment.
  • Attack vs Fort (attack bonus = level +3) Hit: target is dazed (save ends)
  • Acrobatics check (difficult DC) Fail: target is prone

There are a few ways to represent the “stuff” that has been scattered across the map. If you have the time to prep, you can cut out 1 inch circles of paper, and write item names on them. Then, spread them out on the map. This will give you something to do while the players recalculate their new “un-equipment-ed” numbers.

You could also use player dice as a “non prep” way to represent items. Most players have surplus dice with them that could be used, as long as people keep track of which dice are theirs. By doing this, players can simply choose which item they’re picking up rather than the DM assigning an item to a location. Another advantage to using dice is the ability to shake them up in your hands and just roll them onto the map.

Then start the combat! Remember that a majority of the group is most likely dazed, prone, and/or without a weapon, so a level or level -1 encounter would probably be appropriate.

If you try this, I’d love to hear how it turned out!

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3 Responses to Interesting Encounters: Disorienting Cataclysm

  1. I love this idea. One of the best sessions we ever had was one where the party lost all their equipment and had to improvise. This could make for a really interesting encounter especially with them trying to get their cool stuff back a piece at a time and provoking some very necessary opportunity attacks. I’m totally ganking this idea.

  2. Alphastream says:

    I suspect the earliest example most gamers know is in the Slaver series. One of the adventures ends with the PCs’ capture and they are dumped gear-less into an underground maze. Making a sap out of your loincloth is amongst the suggestions, and the adventure was just amazing to play.

    AD&D regularly (especially Gygax mods) had bits where you lost some items. I recall the trap of sorts in Maure castle where you dump in treasure thinking you will get some reward. And in Castle Greyhawk there is a hallway where one party member just loses a coveted item… because someone wished for it at that moment!

    LG had many “lose your stuff” moments. The worst was probably the Disjunction monolith. That high level table lost so much gear it probably drove them to tears. It sure showed all players that being the highest level table may not be all that cool and worth the exclusivity!

    I do really like the experience, though, especially if later you can get your seemingly precious stuff back. It can be a nice departure. I also like combats where you use alternate rules, such as the Jester’s bar fight rules (I blogged about using them here).

    • Benoit says:

      +1 to the alternate combat rules. I think one of my favorite combats in the Athas mods so far was the one on the moving chariots.

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