5 Ways To Warn Players Of A Deadly Challenge

From Jonathan Hardin, sojournersawake.com

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1180

Many times the threat that presents itself to characters surpasses their abilities to defeat it.

The encounter is not easy or even difficult, it’s deadly.

Without a warning label, your players may be unfairly surprised that you designed a deadly encounter for them.

To avoid that frustration, here are 5 ways to warn your players of a deadly encounter.

Describe Light, Sound, And Movement

Use character senses to paint vivid descriptions that telegraph the threat level to your group.

Before landing, the dragon flies over you casting a shadow, blotting out the sunlight. Your knees buckle and you risk suffering fright.

Around the corner, the necromancer thrusts his staff into the ground and thunder booms out and you risk losing your hearing.

Within a split second, the giant leaps across the ravine and lands in your path, blocking your way. The ground shakes and you risk collapsing to the ground.

Describe The Foe’s Powers

Note the fantastic abilities and powers of the PCs’ foe.

Then stage your encounter so those powers are on full display as your warning to the party should they engage.

  • Describe the foe controlling the wind and how loose items of not-inconsiderable weight are being lifted off the ground.
  • Describe the antagonist instantly slaying a powerful creature with one strike, displaying that one successful attack might be all it takes to bring a character to death.
  • Describe the enemy summoning a horde of creatures that are about to overwhelm the party.

Forewarn Through Character Powers

While the foe telegraphs danger from their side of the battlemat, weild character traits to further warn players of the great threat the party’s about to face.

The ninja has a feature that helps them see through enemy weakness.
You witness this power and learn that in this place, this monster has no visible weakness.

The warrior has a feature that allows their ancestors to speak to them before a fight.
Your ancestor speaks up in your consciousness, “This foe is beyond any of you!”

The hunter has a feature that increases the proficiency of their general awareness.
Your animal whimpers in fear, your heart pounds, and you sense fatal danger is near.

The magician has a feature that grants them foresight.
In a flash of a second, you see the lifeless and bleeding bodies of your party scattered in the den of this creature.

Describe The Characters’ Awareness

Tell players exactly what is at stake so they can factor in the possibility of death as they progress through the encounter.

One method I love using in my games is calling for a dice roll from each player to help me measure which character notices the threat first. It’s a lot like calling for a roll for initiative.

The player who rolls the highest will be told the clue through the lens of PC’s their skills, knowledge, or abilities.

It goes something like this:

“Everyone, please roll a perception check. The highest number gains the clue.”

I then describe implicitly that this villain has the power to kill very quickly and may even say “this is a deadly encounter.”

If your player characters are paying attention to the world you created, they most likely are watching for dangers. Take advantage of that story.

Describe the NPC Voices

A helpful NPC voice can be the game master’s warning and gently guide the players away from a deadly encounter.

This works well if the party is invested in the NPC’s life.

  • The NPC calls out the lore of the monster and informs the player characters it is too powerful for them.
  • The NPC simply runs away in fear and encourages the player character to do the same.
  • The NPC begs during combat that the encounter is favoring the villain over the characters. This can be done more implicitly by speaking through the wisdom, foresight, or cunning of the NPC.

Everyone wants to have fun playing RPGs, and this includes a deadly encounter every once in a while.

Use these tips to send out a fair warning to your players before they charge headlong to their potential doom.

May your story continue!

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