d8 Non-Combat Encounter Seeds for Weak PCs

Before digging into today’s GM tips, I wanted to mention a podcast I was on with Harley Stroh of Goodman Games and Ian Rotondi-Gray from StoryTogether.

Listen to the podcast episode on Youtube here.

It was great talking about Dungeon Crawl Classics, GMing, and creativity.

d8 Non-Combat Encounter Seeds for Weak PCs

Part II, GMing 1st Level Parties Without a Tank

Do you have a first level or weak party of characters on your hands who aren’t combat-oriented?

If so, you have a few concerns. You want to challenge the PCs without a TPK for the brittle party. You want the threat of death to create drama, without leaving the Goldilocks zone: not too easy, not too hard. And you want an interesting variety of encounters and challenges without making the game about combat.

Here are a few encounter seeds that might fit these requirements and inspire some fantastic game sessions for a low-level party who shies away from combat.

  1. The party discovers an ancient library with shelves that rearrange themselves. I’m picturing those massive shelves on wheels, but the ceiling is a maze of tracks that allow the shelves to go almost anywhere in the area. The PCs quest to find a rare tome that itself is a puzzle to unlock and then more puzzles to extract its lore.
  2. A ghost in an abandoned embassy needs help passing an urgent message to descendants. The party also needs this lore. However, the ghost won’t give this quest to just any strangers, The party’s values and integrity must be tested first in a short series of roleplaying challenges.
  3. At a local festival, the party is asked to judge various crafts and performances. This not only requires the right skills or abilities to make good assessments, but it needs a lot of diplomacy and negotiation as well because locals treat the competition seriously. Complications include crafts inadvertently made out of poisonous or explosive materials, a craft that mysteriously involves technology that should be beyond the locals, and a performance that seems like a fiendish ritual….
  4. A cursed village cannot feed itself due to ever-failing crops. The party must use their knowledge and skills to identify and remove the curse source. It turns out that source is a witch who escaped a terrible fate at the hands of the villagers. How can the PCs convince the witch to lift the curse?
  5. The PCs encounter a sphinx or riddler type of monster who guards an important mountain pass or dungeon entrance. The party can pass unharmed if they can create a riddle the creature cannot solve. Allow the party several attempts.
  6. A malfunctioning magic item wreaks havoc in small a town. Weather, communication, the environment, or even the people are transformed by this item’s effects and it’s destroying the town from within. For example, perhaps a Helm of Honour stuck on the statue of the town’s founder forces everyone within one mile to tell the truth.
  7. The party gets invited to a noble’s gala where a precious item they need is on display. The noble will not part with this family heirloom under any circumstances. They must plan and execute a heist to steal the item, use it as needed, and return it later that night or day without raising the alarm.
  8. A party of rival NPCs reversed a powerful monster’s alignment while raiding its lair. The creature now wishes to beg forgiveness of those who it has harmed over the years, and it tries to convince the PCs of its good intentions, asking them to be its escorts and companions in this difficult personal quest.

I hope these ideas can be tweaked and twisted for use in your game. Some would be challenging regardless of party power level methinks.

I also received a couple of great tips in response to Part I, GMing 1st Level Parties Without a Tank:

Fixing a Bad Rep

From Roleplaying Tips GM PigMonkey

Hi Johnn,

I like adding NPCs to a weak party. I call this the Spinal Tap Drummer method.

Murder their fighter [hireling] in the most gruesome way possible, EVERY time they go on an adventure. The party gets the reputation that the tank always gets killed.

By the time the PCs are level 5, no martial NPC will sign on with the party. Have this reputation follow them.

Do it enough times, and when you let one fighter survive they will take them on as a good luck charm. Yay the curse is broken!

Then you kill him too.

More Healing Ideas

From RPT GM Jeremy Brown

I ran an all wizard party of two once. It was helped because I provided that, in the wizard’s school these two belonged to, there were slave bodyguards assigned to the party.

Summoned monsters help as well.

In all honesty, there’s ways of making exciting stuff for weak parties even using normal combat. Just assume the party can’t cope with CR 1 foes. Use a single 1/2 creature with some small advantage to make it challenging, or a couple of CR 1/4 critters, instead.

The main thing, as you pointed out by implication in the article, is to give them time and safe places to rest and recuperate. A couple of nice things in this regard:

  1. A healing spirit. It has a pool of HP the party can draw on until it’s exhausted
  2. Give each character a celestial guardian. At times of dread need the guardian appears, not necessarily to protect or attack on behalf of the character, but to keep them alive.
  3. This one is cheesy if used too often, but having a system of sacrifice to gain a deity’s favor works well here. You give 100 silver to the temple of Boccob in its need and Boccob grants you a +1 to this save.
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Thanks guys!

I hope everyone has a great weekend. Get some gaming done!

Have more fun at every game!

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