8 Tactics for Mooks

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #448

8 Tactics for Mooks

From Ian Winterbottom

Encounters in the early days of campaigns are harrowing and exciting. Nothing beats the feeling of accomplishment that comes from overcoming a real threat by the skin of your teeth.

As your PCs get more powerful, though, this old zest might fade. The joy of desperation and the excitement of winning begin to disappear as the group cruises through encounters without feeling threatened. There is hope though, as you’ll see below. Following are a few ideas for making mooks deadly for even tough parties.

Wear Down Resources

Use strategy, tactics and missiles to whittle away PC health while causing pain and frustration. This makes the character’s fantastic +5 Holy Avenger into overkill; smiting the evil ones is suddenly using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Make them also waste spells, magic, oil, holy water, etc.

Have whoever gave them directions to get here be hopelessly wrong or even evil, but now out of reach.

Maximise frustration, minimise abilities. Have the mini- enemy insult the character, and also have him beaned by a rock; only one hit point is lost, but the player feels singled out. Make sure the monster seems uncannily accurate.

Make the most powerful character, who thinks himself indestructible and invulnerable, feel vulnerable and even targeted. And make his ripostes seem useless; there is nothing worse than getting shot at when you cannot fight back effectively.

This has the added advantage that each foe they dispatch –at possibly high cost to themselves – nets them a relatively low reward in terms of treasure and the experience.

Contempt can also be a useful tool. If players despise the lowly attackers, they are more likely to get careless and more likely to allow lost tempers to cloud judgment – how dare these pesky little blighters challenge real men?

Terrain and Traps

Have the contemptible mini-attackers use missile weapons, ambushes, or preset traps towards which they herd the PCs. Caltrops, rockslides, collapsing floors and pits.

Have archers and crossbowmen use cover and surprise, lie down or kneel, and open fire from a high and impregnable position. With any luck your PCs will waste time, hit points and energy trying to take a position by frontal assault, before trying to figure a way around it.

Combat Maneuvers and Strategy

Charge and swarm tactics by even the smallest or lowliest of opponents can take down an overconfident character. Above all, remember there are a lot of them.

Nets, ropes, and tripwires can immobilize characters or render them helpless.

Small characters might be swift to claim their bonus to avoid being hit by larger characters. Who’s to say that smaller, swifter, sneakier goblinoids don’t enjoy the same advantage versus that hulking fighter?

Even an extra point, or better, two, in defense will make them that much more elusive.

An Edge

Give your monster some relatively tiny advantage – what the old-time gunfighters used to call an edge.

Perhaps they can fly, if only for short distances. Some form of camouflage ability; can they Blink, or just Hide in Shadows, even become invisible for a short period?

Any of those render them capable of a surprise attack, possibly while a PC, who should be able to shrug off their attacks, is busy attending to several of their mates. Remember that flanking and rear attacks often get bonuses to hit.

The Battlefield

Have the battle occur in some place that maximizes the creatures’ advantages and minimizes those of the PCs. If some obstacle such as magma or a chasm is separating the PCs from their adversaries, have the baddies maximize its use.

Even better, if the enemy is atop a mesa or cliff, the PCs need to climb to reach their adversaries, leaving them at a disadvantage when they reach the summit; they must spend at least a few moments reorganizing themselves before battle is joined. Have the monsters attack while the PCs are busy climbing and sorting themselves out.

Forethought

Planning ahead doesn’t only apply to dragons. Just because they’re only kobolds doesn’t make them stupid.

They will know the terrain in which they live, and will have taken steps to fortify it. They might set up cover, pre-laid traps, or blocked escape routes or attack routes that nevertheless seem inviting.

If the PCs don’t take enough trouble with reconnaissance, it is their own fault. Secret passages can be a two-edged sword; as well as leading the party in behind enemy lines, they can quite easily lead to an attack on your own vulnerable rear.

I Got Friends

Maybe the crafty kobolds have befriended someone or something a lot bigger than they are. Who’s to say that just around the corner from their hidey-hole, in what looks like an inviting route to sneak up on the pesky creatures, they haven’t installed (or at least made a pact with) a brutal and bestial ogre?

He, she or it is willing to cooperate to some extent because the kobolds have promised him that if he lays off them, they’ll do their best to lead succulent adventuring parties right to his front door.

They might even promise him the lion’s share of the loot. If you are only two feet tall, a double headed axe twice your own height is not much use to you, nor is a two handed sword; but the ogre could use it, if only to trim his fingernails.

Illusion

Not necessarily magical. Remember these little buggers know their home turf, and have had plenty of time to think out ideas to defend it, and to make the lives of those invading it nasty, brutish and short.

Perhaps there is a cave somewhere where the voice of even a kobold echoes like that of a god? One could hide there, hurling the most vile of insults; “stunty” to a dwarf, “pointy-ears” to an elf.

Don’t overdo this, but if some fact about the adventurers is in your opinion obvious from their appearance, let the voice use it, giving the impression of supernatural knowledge.

To further that illusion, might they not leave the aforementioned axe or double handed sword in plain view, fostering the impression that whatever is making all the noise is big or mean enough not to need such a weapon, and has simply discarded it?

And while the party’s attention is focused in the direction of the disembodied big voice, the friend from above can attack from the other direction.

Graphic of logo used as divider

For Your Game: Magic Item Backstories

Rifle of Magic Missile

From Tommy

Two factions are about to begin fighting and tensions are high. During this period forces begin to arm themselves as best as possible. An alchemist or mage offers the PCs’ side certain rifles that never miss their mark. This suddenly shifts the advantage towards the one side.

This is a problem. The mage/alchemist is an enemy of the PCs and by selling his rifles he is going to gain large amounts of wealth and power. This is something that would definitely be harmful in the future.

The PCs are therefore left two choices: allow him to gain power and face him in the future, or confront him now and risk him switching sides. They should also consider if they can beat the other side without have his help.

Ring of Sustenance

From Brandon Echols

A talented sorcerer decides to call it quits after a youthful career of adventuring. Having had enough of life on the road, he retires to his home community for a life of peace and quiet. There’s just one problem: his beloved ring of sustenance.

Over time, he’s become so used to having it that he finds it nearly impossible to readjust to requiring food, or drink, or more than a couple hours of sleep every night. Taking it off throws his entire life into chaos, and so he resolves to simply keep it on.

Who wouldn’t, when such a problem presents itself? After all, a ring of sustenance is a great little item to have. Of course it is; as long as you’re keeping watch every night in the wilderness, going days without food in a dungeon, and crossing great deserts by night.

Living in a small town is a bit different. The common folk – not knowing the ways of magic, especially sorcery – being to make subtle warning signs when he passes, because they never see him eat or drink. The lamps stay lit in his home all night. When he dines at someone’s home, he acts as if food and wine are foreign concepts – as if he has not eaten in a long, long time.

He is never seen in the local food market. There is no garden at his house. Eventually, the rumors start. People begin to suspect that something horrid happened to him on one of his adventures. Local “experts” on the subject suspect he might be some sort of undead creature, or that some fell power has taken hold of him.

Slowly – so slowly he barely notices – he becomes an outcast within his own community. The somewhat bizarre behavior of sorcerers does not help his case, and it doesn’t take much for a mob to form after a few men get particularly drunk and brazen in a local tavern. Taking farm implements and torches to his home, they crash through the gate and drag him into the street.

Although he tries to explain that “it’s just my ring!” the people are in no mood to have their suspicions allayed, and he ends up being driven out of town by the horde of armed citizens. A hundred spells come into his mind, but he is too good of a man to use them on the townsfolk. Later, he watches from a nearby hilltop as his house and all his treasured possession are turned to ash.

That’s when something dark and twisted awakens within him, and he vows to get revenge. He decides he’ll never lose anything, ever again, because of his simple-minded morality. He begins to wonder if such things as “law” and “ethics” and “common decency” are what have been holding him back for so long.

All because he did not want to take off a simple, innocent, little ring.

Dwarven Cure Potions

From Brent Jans

Far and wide the dwarven people are renowned for the strength and unique tastes of their brews. While everyone can name at least one dwarvish ale, porter or stout, few outsiders are aware this same love of brewing is present among dwarven clerics.

Competition – friendly and otherwise – is fierce between the clerics of the various dwarven deities to see who can brew the most flavorful, and above all, potent, potions.

Although each faith can lay claim to superior brewing of one or two more exotic (expensive) potions, it is the humble curative potions that inspire the hottest competition. Clerics vie continuously to create better tasting and more powerful curative potions than their brethren of other faiths.

Holy festivals are held so that each church may present its best brews for judgment. In this way churches gain prestige both for their brews and their deity.

The Hook: Shortly before one such holy festival, the Head Brewer of the Church of Moradin goes missing. He was working on a secret curative brew that he had assured his superiors would win them the festival competition.

Naturally, suspicion falls on the other churches. Not that they would hurt a fellow cleric, no; but they might “misplace” him until after the competition. But was it one of the other clerical orders, or is there something more going on? And what the heck is in that secret brew?

Food-fixing Buttons

From Aaron Bianco

The wine waiter at the expensive restaurant rolls over a small cabinet with several wine bottles inside. He offers the patron a sip of a bottle and ask if it OK, or if he would want something slightly sweeter, or dryer, to suit his tastes.

As this expensive restaurant is all about style, atmosphere and wealth, the waiter tugs on his cuffs to bring down his sleeves and reaches in to grab another bottle for the patron to sample. Once the patron is satisfied with the sample, the waiter again straightens his appearance and then bends his knees to get the unopened new bottle from the bottom rack of the mobile cabinet.

Unbeknownst to the patrons, the wine waiter is adjusting the dryness of the wines using the magic cufflinks.

This is not the only magical jewelry that operated in this five-star establishment. However, one of the owners has gone missing and taken the other pieces with him.

Each of the other items was a button on his shirt which, when activated, changed the food in one of several ways. Each button on the shirt has a flat face with the following symbols: an orange, a honeycomb shape, a type of pepper (almost like a zucchini), a spider web pattern, several round circles with very numerous circles of smaller and smaller shape.

These buttons, when pressed, affect food in the following ways:

  • Increase the “orange” flavor in a food or drink
  • Sweeten a food or drink with a honey flavor
  • Increase the spiciness (heat) of a food or drink
  • Detect poison
  • Made a drink effervescent

Alas, the owner who always “sampled” a food from the kitchen to make sure it was to the “personal tastes” of the patron, has gone missing. It is important to not only find out what happened to him, but to get the buttons back.