Do I or Don't I... That is the question

By jman5000, in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay

laying down the beating on my PCs that is...

Quick scenario.

the party is off to a prison island. they are all chained to oars, rowing the prison boat. the boat is swarming with henchmen ruffians, with a rank 3 mercenary as the captain. the PC's have managed to unlock one of the chains holding them fast.

their plan is this:

should anyone "notice" that the chain is now unlocked, they spring and attack, in an attempt to take the captain hostage and hopefully bargain for their freedom.

there is no way in hell they can win. the game session ended with the captain noticing the chain is undone and is coming over to investigate...

so, my natural inclination is to pretty much TPK the party since this is WARHAMMER, but I'm not sure if that is actually in the spirit of the game. another option is to KO the party, and then go all dark and grim on them for a while. There is simply no way they can win this battle, the odds are so against them, and I warned and warned them... What I'm really reluctant to do, which is my normal inclination is to fudge and make them "win" because that is cool and exciting storywise and for the players.. it just seems to me when the odds are so utterly stacked against you, the last thing you do is boldly declare an all out attack unarmed against 40 soldiers... I mean, really.... :)

what is the proper warhammer way of playing this out?

why can't PC's ever just sit still and let the story flow around them for a minute without trying to "do something" :)




(who sure had fun statting up his rank 3 merc with all kinds of skill training, action cards, talents, and party sheets to buff him up with)

In every situation I have always given the characters a chance. I do not plan TPKs or even KOs. Should the characters go against three watchmen unarmed I just advice them that it highly unlikely that they will make it. If they still try to I let the dice decide. It is much more interesting when the characters actually DO make it against the odds.

But if you really need them on the island I would go with the total KO then some extensive torturing. Other prisoners might even try to help their captors in hope of some minor relief for themselves.

I agree with Doc, KO is the way to go.

I mean it is likely that they won't die from the fighting if they do not rack up on critical wounds and then they will just be knocked out and at the mercy of the mercenary captain. Beatings, whippings, less food/water and longer hours of rowing are all viable penalties. Everything to set an example for the other rowers and to show them what happends if you try to escape. It is also likely that the characters are kept separate from one another so they can't try anything else (rowing at different times of the day, sitting far from each other etc). With all these punishments they should be constantly fatigued (and maybe stressed) and allways have a wound or two and that would probably desuade them from trying anything similar a second time during the trip, and would emphasise the grim and perilous feel of Warhammer, and they run the risk of insanities and maybe even disease (even if diseases are probably equals death on a ship, as they will rather dump you in the ocean than risk that the disease spreads among the crew).

Killing them would be a bad option, both from a gaming standpoint and from an in-game view, killing the whole group would leave the mercenary captain with 4 or 5 less rowers and that would probably make the journey slower. But don't fudge it let the dice decide, maybe one of them dies in the fighting, or maybe one of them kills one of the ruffians/soldiers on the boat and needs to walk the plank/hang or just give the person a permanent severe injury as the captain cuts off an ear/plucks out an eye or similar as a punishment for the killing. I would recommend that you use attacks that do not cause that much critical (let the captain shout something like "I want them alive! Subdue them." as the mercenary captain wants to keep them alive so they can work and be made an example of during the rest of the voyage.

Also upon arrival to the prison island the characters should also suffer some penalties for their crimes on the boat, such as beeing put in isolation and/or forced to work longer hours (and again running the risk of insanities due to fatigue and stress).

That way you "educate" your players and show them just how grim the world is and that they should not attack a superior foe like that. And by not killing them you get them to the prison island where I guess you have an adventure planned for them.

Doc_Cthulhu has the right of it i.m.o. Play your mercs to their full potential. However, you need to decide beforehand what their motivations are in keeping the PC's alive. If there is money to be had by delivering them (hearts slightly beating) to the prison, then that should give you an idea of how far to stick your boot in their posteriors. If they are just waiting for a chance to murder a convict/pc...well...dust off your dice and let it rip.

You could also shock the party by not responding immediately with violence. Any veteran player should get very very nervous whenever their plan seems to be working flawlessly sans dice, but some players are so busy patting themselves on the back that they don't realize they've stepped in a very large pile of dragon poo. Your Rank 3 merc is a stone-cold s.o.b. and he might just get very calm and business like when the PC's "take him hostage." It can then put some roleplay stress on the players because...what is their plan once they have a hostage? Are they going to just sit in the boat with the captain until doomsday comes? Are they really thinking that the other prisoners (if there in fact are any) are going to magically be on their side? I'd personally sit the heck down if another inmate on my boat started going all bat-s crazy. Who's steering the boat while all this is going on? Watery prisons tend to be built in rocky places that can be a real b--- to just float around in a renassance era boat. Who's rowing the boat now that they have decided to re-enact Con Air? The mercs? the other prisoners? The whole time the hostage negotiation is taking place make sure you are in encounter mode so that if a fight does suddenly start it could happen an anyone's initiative point (as you've already rolled and set it up).

Basically I see a lot of potential for a cool tense/action filled game session if you lay it out for the PC's to play it out. You can also never underestimate the power of a player to go completely off the reservation. The one free character may decide to simply dive overboard and leave the other characters behind....which will leave a lot of blinky confused folks both in and out of the water (good luck not drowning! lol).

I've found it's a lot easier to do a TPK as long as the players have a back-up character ready and it /looks/ like the GM has made the TPK all part of a plan.

If you don't have a character-replacement-house-rule (one that doesn't suck that is), you are asking for a hurting in group displeasure.


As k7e9 says, unless some are already almost "topped up" with critical wounds being KO'd won't likely kill anyone never mind all of them.

The only way they all die is if (a) they're very, very unlucky in fight (stacking up crits and then being KO'd) + they roleplay they keep fighting even when in that situation [so on their heads be it]; (b) they're ko'd and NPC's decide to kill them, which is unlikely in my view. They've added to their sentence, earned a week in the "cooler" (checks against Disease and Fatigue loss), earned a flogging (wounds), or earned being assigned to the "suicide squad" of most dangerous forced labour (the slave miners keep vanishing, something carrying them off etc.).

I wouldn't hold back at all then. The only time "losing a fight" really means KO=death and end of character is when the foes are beasts or other creatures that eat their prey etc. (ghouls etc.).

Always "say yes" to Players who want to try stuff, properly reward cleverness but never "go easy" and never let them be "exceptional" (how many groups of prisoners escape this way) without them really earning be exceptional, that would be my general advice.

If they fail and are beaten soundly etc. you can give them a small "cookie" for the attempt in the form of respect among those other prisoners inclined to resist (fortune dice on interactions etc.). That sort of side gain makes them not feel completely pointless.


Some thoughts:

• The captain probably won't kill them. He's most likely getting paid per head delivered, so a TPK affects his bottom line. If the party starts killing his men, though, he may reconsider and cut his losses.

• Is mutiny possible? A ship like this is probably going to have some potential dissenters looking for a few shillings more. 40 soldiers means a lot of potential problems between them and the (probably also large) crew. Maybe some of the salted pork spoiled, and rationing is tight. Maybe a soldier got drunk and got into a fight with a sailor, and grudges are simmering. Maybe the Bosun has been eyeing the captain's spot and see's this insurrection as his chance to sway the crew to his side. No operation that big is monolithic, and putting different groups together and then isolating them is always asking for trouble. Where the PCs fit into this is up to them and their actions.

• How far off land are they? If they are willing to risk death to escape, they'd probably be willing to jump ship and hope for the best as well. Of course, they have to think of this. Maybe the captain has them jump ship as punishment rather than spill blood on-deck. This opens up the possibility of another ship picking them up which has a load of new storytelling potential.

• Can they free other prisoners? There should be more prisoners than guards and sailors, so eventually they could win through numbers if they want an all out fight. Maybe they get freed as part of a mutiny. (If they win, then you can have a pirate game, and all the backbiting politics that come with it!)

Overall, you should avoid putting players into situations where their choices are meaningless. If you really need them to get to the prison island, and any insubordination on the boat is met with death, then just fast forward past that point to a place in the story when they can actually affect their environment. Otherwise, they are just forced to sit back and be useless while listening to the GM read his novel.

wow, great advice everyone.

really like the "stone cold killer" idea, just play it cool

totally agree that I should let the dice fall where they may...

I just never thought that 4 pc's, who just had their characters made, have no equipment or weapons, on a boat with 40 guardsmen and a clearly dangerous captain would try and take over the boat themselves :)

the major failing is mine however, as the GM, I forgot the first rule of player characters, which states:

"A player character will never wait for later when they can do something now"

my "boat ride" was meant to last several days, during that period there was to be some story exposition taking place, prisoner faction establishment and hooks created for about 12 gaming sessions. I forgot the first rule, and hence before the ship even moved from the dock, they were already planning their escape and flight to the main land :)

What had me stumped was how WH would handle this. D&D, they would most likely "win" due to "balance", this encounter is clearly designed to be not balanced.



Also - don't forget the golden rule of GM: "Don't bother planing anything." As the players are bound to screw everything up anyway.