RPT#648: War-Winning Missions
How to send the party on decisive missions that turn the tide of war
Ever struggle with how your PCs can make a difference in war campaigns while the battle rages on all around them? I have the solution for you today: make them war heroes. Send your party on elite strike force missions to turn the tide of war.
First, figure out the current state of the war. Then send the party on three specific War-Winning Missions. The party strikes at the missions’ critical targets and influences the war’s direction – but whether that’s towards victory or defeat is up to you to play out.
What is the Current War State?
Is the PCs’ side currently winning or losing the war? If you’re unclear on how they sympathize, ask them. It might also be a stalemate, neither side budging or gaining ground. In this case, ask which side the party would most like to help.
Why is identifying the current war state important?
- Sets the tone of epic warfare as the central theme – a bigger-than-the-party event
- Gives the PCs a feeling of agency when they go on specific war tide-changing missions
- Identifies the number of critical missions needed for the party to change the tide of war
Each war state has a different feel in the larger scale of war. A number of major battles remain in the background (i.e., the PCs don’t participate in mass combat), but the specific number of war tide-turning objectives for the PC party is determined by war state.
There are three current war states:
In a winning war state, the war is nearing a positive conclusion for the side the party supports. On a larger scale one or few major battles remain. From the party’s perspective, completing one critical mission will deal a final blow to the opposition and end the war in victory.
In victory, you may decide to fittingly end your war campaign. You could also have time pass to introduce a new war. A new world order shaped by the party is in place, setting the stage for new conflicts.
In a stalemate, the war hangs in the balance. Neither side has managed to make headway towards victory. Both sides have won and lost a similar number of major battles. The party has more work to do to swing the war to their side’s advantage, and must successfully undertake two critical missions to first move into a winning war state and then win the war.
Finally, a losing war state means the party’s side has taken heavy losses in several major battles and is on the brink of losing the war. The party has its work cut out for it and must complete three critical missions to swing the war back in their side’s favor, moving into the stalemate and winning states before finally achieving victory in a third and final mission. Mission failure while in the losing war state means the war does end – but with the PCs and their side as the losers. And this particular new world order might not be to their liking.
In defeat, you decide whether to end your war campaign. However, an opportunity to rise up and fight again after some months or years have passed is powerful motivation for the party. May they be victorious in the next war!
What are the Party’s War Missions?
Decide what war missions the party will go on. One excellent way to do this is to have a notable allied NPC (e.g., a key officer or influential noble) suggest or assign missions to the party.
Wars are won when the party captures or eliminates mission critical targets. There are up to three critical war missions your PC party must undertake to achieve victory. The total number depends on the current war state:
|War State||# of Missions for Victory|
These tide-turning missions feature notable NPCs, essential supplies, and strategic locations. Skim through your notes or the adventure and identify the names and locations of these in your adventure or campaign. For each mission, provide the party with at least one option in dealing with the critical target:
Critical Target: Eliminate NPC
- capture or kill
Critical Target: Disrupt Supplies
- cut off or seize
Critical Target: Capture Strategic Location
- control or destroy
In the Eliminate NPC mission, the party must capture or kill a major enemy persona in the war. Choose an NPC leader in the war efforts, on the battlefield, or in financial circles. These influential people motivate soldiers and sympathizers, sustaining war efforts for days, months or years. Removing this person from the war turns the tide, a stroke that earns the party great recognition and respect.
For example, a soldier of rank (an officer such as a major) is an excellent critical target for the party to locate and capture or eliminate. Alternatively, a wealthy noble or merchant who provides the enemy side with soldiers from her private army is a fine target.
In the Disrupt Supplies mission, the party must cut off or seize a major shipment of supplies for the enemy army. Wars are expensive, and feeding large armies so they have the strength to fight is its greatest expense. Thus, disrupting supplies deals a crippling blow to an army’s ability to fight well while dealing a major financial loss to the enemy side as well. Choose major cities or organizations to receive or hold these supplies.
For example, have the party intercept a major caravan or travel to a large supply store. The party prevents the caravan from making a timely delivery to a large army or seizes the supplies for their side’s armies.
In the Capture Strategic Location mission, the party takes control of or destroys an important location that serves as an excellent defensive base or similar bottleneck. Enemies are funneled or limited in effectiveness in this environment. The location greatly enhances the ability of the controlling side’s ability to fight. The strategic location essentially counts as an army by itself.
For example, choose castles with high walls, mountain passes, a plateau or valley, or towers built into mountains. The party must infiltrate and take over or tear down these strategic locations.
Discretion and Isolation are Key
The party doesn’t need a whole army at its back to achieve mission objectives. Major battles are background flavor or serve as distractions for the party’s missions. Remember, the party is a small, elite strike force. This tight-knit group has special skills beyond the rank and file that swing the pendulum of war.
For strike forces to achieve their objectives, discretion and target isolation are key. Like any special strike force (or adventuring party), they are typically smart, quick, and quiet. If they must fight, they do so briefly and decisively.
If the party is detected, raises an alarm, or simply breaks down the door at every turn, mission failure is the result. The party is overwhelmed, captured, or killed, and the war tide moves at least one step in an unfavorable direction. For example, a stalemate war state shifts to a losing one when the party fails to capture or execute an enemy war hero.
Test Your Might
Here is an example war scenario, described in the journal writings of Kreel, a soldier in the Queen’s army. Read the journal entry and answer two questions:
- Can you identify the current war state?
- What critical mission(s) might the PC party undertake to achieve victory for the soldier’s side?
Your example missions must include at least one campaign-specific named person, location, or item from Kreel’s journal entry. My answers are posted below the journal excerpt.
Kreel’s Journal Excerpt: A War Story
“The Nine Lives War has been brutal, and its battles only grow more costly as winter coats these crimson lands in ice and snow.
Far to the north, we won the Battle of Tor’Laen Tower somehow, though their champion, Vrolg the half-dragon, managed to survive and withdraw to his nearby allied airship fleet. Those gnome fools should be helping us, not them!
Still, victories have been few on both sides. After all, we lost Tor’Laen’s sister tower – Ur’Mahr – across the valley a month prior. Now only a handful of enemy soldiers and the ghosts of the drowned haunt it.
And here we are now just a week later defending Giants’ Pass with the southern army with all our sapping strength. Where are those supplies from the merchant-city of Logdrin? The snowfall must be delaying them.
Still, the enemy hasn’t breached any of our southern mountain fortresses or passes yet, just as we have yet to take any of their nearby walled cities.
Gods, I grow tired and hungry, and miss my wife and little ones dearly. Perhaps what we do here at the Battle of Giants’ Pass will finally push The Nine Lives War forward – one way or the other.”
The current war state is stalemate. Victories have been rare on both sides, and Kreel finishes by suggesting the battle he’s about to fight might finally move the needle on who is winning the war.
Little does he know a small band of adventurers is about to do just that! A stalemate war state means the PC party must undertake any two of the critical war missions to achieve victory for their side in the war.
Example 1: Critical Target: Eliminate Vrolg
The half-dragon currently hiding out on a gnomish airship is a key enemy war figure: he is a “champion” who survived the Battle of Tor’Laen Tower.
Example 2: Critical Target: Disrupt Logdrin’s Supplies to Giants’ Pass
The merchant-city of Logdrin sent needed supplies to Kreel’s forces at Giants’ Pass, but they’re late because of the snowfall.
Example 3: Critical Target: Re-Capture Ur’Mahr Tower
The Tor’Laen and Ur’Mahr towers are described as significant battle locations. A skeleton army – and apparently actual undead, too – now guard the place. A perfect place for the PC party to infiltrate and clear out!
Did you come up with different critical war missions for the party? Why did you choose them? Let us know.
A Few Good Adventurers
You’re now ready to send your parties to war. You’ve learned how to identify a war’s current state and how to GM critical war missions that turn the tide of war – towards victory.
GMing Monsters Part 2: Animated Objects
Jesse C. Cohoon, Fantasy Roleplaying Planes
Animated objects have been around forever with the flying rugs, levitating rope tricks, swords that swing themselves, and the Golem portrayed in Jewish mythology. More recently, there have been the story of Frankenstein’s monster, various self-animated robots, and the castle staff in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.”
Mostly, these have been portrayed as rampaging monsters or played off for comedy. Yet they can be so much more by giving them a personality, back story, and goals; advanced tactics, teamwork, and updated powers; and giving them interesting locations.
Before we begin with the GM tips, let’s define an animated object as an artificial creation that moves on its own accord through spiritual, magical, or mechanical means. Great, let’s proceed.
Animated Objects Lack Personality, Back Story & Goals
Portraying animated objects is difficult. Most times they’re traps, lying in wait until triggered. They’re just some sort of material animated to do the owner’s bidding. But there are ways of adding personality, back story and goals to them, given a little thought.
Personality is the easiest of the three to provide. Give the mostly silent objects some quirk that helps identify them from the rest. It could be something as simple as a design feature – different stones for eyes in a golem, a rope that always ties its victims a little too tight, or a motor mouth that won’t stop.
Maybe it’s a squeaky wheel on an animated wagon, a sword that swings itself in a certain fighting style, or joints that momentarily stick on a golem. Perhaps it has a certain odor it leaves behind, a crawling sensation on one’s skin when it’s nearby, or movement in a rhythmic pattern like a pair of shoes tap dancing.
Background’s a bit trickier, because it has to be shown through exposition, clues laying around, or rarely, through the animated object speaking. In deciding whether an animated object needs to have a background, ask yourself the following questions:
Who made it?
- A spellcaster or mystic of some skill
- A musician, bard, or entertainer of some stripe
- A highly intelligent monster with the appropriate spell
- An ancient civilization or lost race combined their abilities to make it
- An inventor or group of inventors
- A person determined to “stay alive” by any means
Under what circumstances was it made or animated?
- It was meant to be a bodyguard or protect an area
- It was designed to help out with chores
- It was at their death by the person’s will
- It was struck by lightning or another high energy source
- It could be the remnants of a military operation
- It was programmed to come alive (modern robots)
- It has internal gears that make it move
- It was made by accident: a spell gone wrong or a chemical spill
- It was the result of many years of evil building up
How does it move?
- The soul of a person or animal is in there. Or an extra planar entity is bound to it. It might be there willingly or not.
- By mechanical (i.e., gears), chemical, or electrical means
- Animating magic (i.e., a curse), military type magic, or even a world-changing event magic
What are its characteristics?
- It could be a “standard model” of its type
- It could be better made than normal (having more hit points, better immunities, armor, skills)
- They could be smaller versions of the standard model, but many more, operating on swarm tactics
- It could be new or old. Newer models might be shinier, stealthier, and cleaner. Older might mean it could be in worse condition with parts half falling off, rusty, and dirty. The animated object might even look like it’s being held together by “chewing gum and wire.”
- It could be made of a solid, liquid, plasma, or gas
Was its creation location important? If so, how?
- If a person falls into a pool of lava, ice, green ooze their will might be strong enough to bind it together to create a golem of the same type of material
- If many people were tortured and killed in an evil temple, their remains might animate not as an undead but as an animated object
- If a person died by falling to death, their spirit might animate a rug to cause others to do the same or allow them to fly so they do not suffer the same fate
How could it add interest to the story?
If it would give another plot line for the characters to follow, a better chance of defeating an upcoming enemy, or a moral dilemma for them to solve, go ahead and put a few minutes of work into doing it. Even if they don’t discover the information right away, don’t throw it out – figure out how to make it relevant.
How would the players find out?
- If owned by a character, it could give them nightmares or pleasant dreams.
- Letters scattered around the location in journals, books, and records
- A matter of history: magic, military, or of a specific enemy, and with the appropriate abilities, the characters could find out
- The character owning it could get a weird crawling sense and by following the sensations unwrap the mystery
- Revelations by the animated object itself if it could speak or write
Goals are tricky to provide an animated object because they are seen as mindless things. If it once had a mind, then it has been subsumed by the process of being made into an object. The solution? Give the animated object a mind.
The following list is a good start to creating goals for intelligent animated objects.
D20 Sentient Animated Object Goals
- Escaping enslavement, manipulation, or to have free will
- Escaping death or dismemberment
- Equal treatment or opportunity
- To be useful or to know one’s purpose
- To know meaningful work instead of menial labor or as a war machine
- Subjugation of organics or all other animated objects
- Its own destruction, death, or nonexistence
- Creation of others like it
- Destruction of a certain type of creature
- To gather friends or soul mates
- To create, and engage others in creating, great artistic expressions
- To become original, not just a “copy” of others like it
- To be the strongest, fastest, smartest, or most charming possible
- Exploration or adventure
- Creation of a homeland for others like it
- Revenge for wrong(s) done (perceived or real)
- To be near or protect a certain person, group, or cause because of love or loyalty.
- Bring notice of the plight of animated objects to the public
- To serve others in the way they were designed
- To bring peace to the land
Putting It All Together
A cursed animated sword contains the spirit of famous swordsman Phillip Cross who owned it some centuries ago. He was betrayed and murdered by one of his friends.
In the moment of his death, so strong was the desire to get revenge on his murderer, he possessed his sword to fulfill that task. He never did find the responsible party.
Unfortunately, as time went on his senses became muddied and he attacks anyone of the same race as the original murderer. Anyone who owns the sword gets nightmares about the particular race of his friend who betrayed him and, in time, will start to have a negative reaction towards them.
Advanced Tactics, Teamwork and Updated Powers
Another reason portraying animated objects is difficult is because they’re simple in their programming, which consists of basic statements such as “Stay here. Don’t let anything pass, but don’t pursue outside of these boundaries.” Or, “Guard me.”
The problem with these types of simplified commands is they don’t take advantage of the animated object’s many immunities.
If animated objects are immune to most ordinary magic (except those specific to its nature), why should they take damage from normal types of damage such as falling, fire, water, gas? In some cases, certain “ordinary” damage might actually end up healing it.
For instance, a golem might get healed (or hasted) by fire or fire based magic. If the corridor it’s patrolling has a trap that constantly shoots jets of fire, players that encounter this situation have to worry about not only the damage from the fire, but from fighting a powered up golem. It could even be the hallway doesn’t have the fire unless triggered by trespassers, which could be part of its programming. Such switches could be activated by reflection of light, attack, or the golem’s mere presence.
Another example would be a rickety bridge made of animated ropes. After testing it, the party is pretty sure it’s stable enough to let them cross if they do so carefully and in a single file line, being careful not to shake it. When they get to the middle of the bridge, it could unravel and drop them into a pit.
Similarly, if there are movable platforms the animated object can activate and deactivate by standing on or attacking them, it can literally shape the battlefield. The platforms make the terrain an ever-shifting maze of solid platform and sudden gaps.
Animated objects can also use their powers in unexpected ways. An animated rope could be designed to “clothesline” or trip instead of tying up their victims. Some golems have bursts of some sort of power in a certain radius. The word radius also applies to the center of spheres, in which the golem is at the center point, allowing it to target flying foes. Apply the same idea to targeting enemies with rays and cones.
Teamwork also helps. Have two animated objects working together to accomplish the same task, such as an animated rope and an animated pair of shackles restraining an individual. Each piece strengthens the efforts of the other.
Teamwork can show up in other ways as well. Perhaps certain monsters are immune to a specific animated objects’ attack and are able to coordinate with it to face more fearsome enemies.
For example, a juggernaut (a type of awesomely powerful rock type golem) could combine with a maedar (a male medusa) to become a single creature. Similarly, a pair of golems could have attacks that heal one another, and their attack patterns always cause the other to get hit.
Animated objects’ powers can also be updated to give players more of a challenge. If the object would benefit from another state, and it makes sense in context, add the power.
For instance, an ice based golem could have the ability to melt down into a puddle and reform, as Glacius does in “Killer Instinct”, spiking the player on a natural critical hit. While at ground level it’s nearly impossible to damage him. Similarly, the same golem could also become a vapor or steam in which to travel through pipes or vents to access areas it normally could not.
Another way animated objects powers can be updated is to change up their powers, immunities, and vulnerabilities. If your game uses different status effects, change them up.
For instance, instead of hasting or slowing a golem by fire magic, consider changing to “ice and water,” “thunder and sonic,” or “earth” magic for a different effect. In the case of a bio-organic animated object, even poisons might affect it in some way.
While animated objects can show up in a dungeon, they can also show up in a variety of other locations. Consider the following list:
D20 Unusual places to find animated objects
- An entire transport vehicle could be animated to travel to various stops with no conductors necessary
- In a kitchen as cooking implements or at a restaurant serving food
- In a temple performing various tasks associated with the faith
- In a greenhouse or fancy garden as gardening tools
- In a training facility (the X-Men’s danger room or the holo-deck with the safety turned off)
- In a doctor’s office or hospital helping to provide medical diagnoses and treatment
- In a factory helping assembly or in a forge helping to make weapons and armor
- In a warehouse collecting materials to be shipped out
- Working to help put out a fire in a burning building
- On a construction site to help build
- In a spa taking care of the guest’s every need
- As a maid or butler taking care of household chores
- Pretending to be an unanimated suit of armor or weapon on a shelf in a museum or hall of weapons
- As a part of an act with a traveling entertainment troupe or part of an orchestra
- In a tinker’s cart. When sold it steals from the people it was sold to and returns.
- In a king’s treasury to protect the valuables held within
- Fighting alongside soldiers in a war
- Helping to perform road maintenance
- On an enemy giving the benefits of various different magical effects
- In a villain’s lair blocking the PCs while buying time for the villain
Next time you GM an animated object, spruce them up a bit with sentience, goals, and tactics. Also, find interesting ways to include them in other areas of your campaign so they are not pigeonholed as dungeon fodder.
One Unique Thing for your NPCs
We’ve all got them. The random NPCs we just threw in for players to get some information from. They have absolutely nothing to do with the plot, yet the players automatically latch on to them. Often, I feel a sense of panicked bewilderment when this happens. A feeling of, what did I do? Did I raise my eyebrow one too many times? Was it my fault for giving this guy a name? But I give everyone names!
I will accept this no longer! Red Dice Diaries made a really great Youtube video about creating one unique thing for your player character. The basic idea being, add something to your character that sets them apart from everyone else, but does not help you mechanically.
I have created a list of ‘One Unique Things’ for my supernatural/fantasy campaign NPCs. So when my PCs, sinking into my convoluted master plot, decide some random poor schmuck has depth of character, he can have depth of character!
I’ve made plenty of them, so if you like surprises like I do, roll 1d100 and divide by 2 and use the one unique thing that relates to the number:
d50 NPC Traits
- Buried alive and survived
- Isn’t in his own body and needs to get back
- Kept in a closet for half his life (I like to call this one the Potter)
- As a child the NPC had an invisible friend and still sees it sometimes
- Survived a near death experience and now he can see ghosts
- Half of the NPC’s body is horribly burnt
- The NPC kicked an addiction and struggles with it daily
- He escaped a cult (thanks John)
- Unpaid gambling debts
- Someone accidentally died because of him
- The NPC has a stalker
- Parents died when the NPC was a child and he was raised by a cruel aunt or uncle
- The NPC’s lover is caught in a death-like sleep
- He sees people as skeletons and zombies, the world is terrifying
- Survived a mass murder of his family, waking up covered in blood with bodies all around
- Possessed by a ghost trying to take full control
- Used to be a member of a cult, but escaped
- The NPC’s skin reacts to water like acid (the wicked witch)
- The NPC has a second eye growing out of their neck, at night he swears it opens
- Plagued by tiny goblins who play wicked tricks at night
- Has horrible nightmares of how he will die
- In any reflective surface the NPC looks like a skeleton
- Being hunted by a supernatural creature for stealing its young
- The NPC knows someone from one of the characters’ past, but does not want to reveal it
- He is from another time period
- The NPC has formed a creepy fan club for one of the characters and will show up randomly trying to insert himself into the PC’s life
- Kidnapped as a child and still live with their captors
- The character has a tendency to break things by mistake
- Technically a royal heir
- Dogs hate him, cats love him
- If someone says a certain trigger word the NPC goes insane and cannot be calmed until he is knocked out
- The NPC has a large doll collection that whispers to him at night. One morning he woke up bathed & dressed in fine clothing.
- Rooms he is in are always precisely 1 degree colder than the surroundings
- Member of a gang
- The NPC is an identical twin and sometimes he finds it hard to distinguish between his thoughts and his sibling’s
- Tried a strange dish while dining out one night and now he hungers for human flesh
- A selkie who has lost its skin
- Casts no shadow
- The NPC is a result of a genetic experiment and because of gene splicing he is half wolf (instincts, emotions)
- Though an adult, he can regress quickly into being a child
- Owns a ring they can never take off. At night it whispers, “kill….”
- There is a tattoo of an angry fish on his body that moves to a new place when touched, which he received after getting an all-time high score on a Pachinko
- Instead of burping he says things in a demonic language, but doesn’t know what it means
- He was granted three wishes by a genie and only made one wish before losing it. The one wish was to always have perfect hair
- A child prodigy who fell short in adult life
- His fingernail clippings will slowly grow a new version of the NPC with no memory
- The NPC’s most prized possession is a ball collection and he will go to any lengths to gain a new addition
- His finger acts like a mini Tesla coil when flicked
- As a child he was cursed by an evil fairy to be unlucky in love
- The character owns two pet ravens named Hugh and Monty