GM Advice: PCs Taken Prisoners or Captive


Advice


Whether part of a well executed NPC plan, or as a "out" to salvage your game from an apparent TPK, many of us have put our PCs under lock/key, rope/knot, etc.

What ideas would you share with a new GM about how to do this?
Did you allow any weapons to be missed during the pat-down?
How liberal were you with the PC escape plan?
What did they use for weapons or was it a stealthy escape?
Is it a good idea to have an NPC, even a 0 level commoner, prisoner with them to help provide planning ideas if the group is struggling?


As a general rule of thumb, I assume the guards are of average competence. So they're not just going to hand over the keys if asked pretty please with a cherry on top. However,if the players come up with something clever, or something I've seen work in a movie before I'll generally allow it.

As for any method that doesn't involve f*@%ing with the guard, I'll generally plot out one course of action (Leaving the keys within sight of the PC sorcerer with mage-hand)that the players can use if they actually sit down and think about it.


This is a hard one to resolve generally and depends very much on the in-game circumstances. My usual response is to let the players suggest different ideas and work through them. I'm often surprised by their inventiveness.

Some classes are better than others when deprived of equipment - eg the Monk and the Sorcerer are fine, the Fighter is okay, Rogues are probably okay too; Wizards are usually screwed.

All classes should have time to take 20 on any skill checks, such as escape artist or disable device. Is there any opportunity to gain some improvised Thieves Tools, or anything the strong man can use as leverage, such as wrapping the manacle chains around a door handle to give a bonus to his Take 20 strength check to break the bonds.

Have the players ever given any thought on how to escape if they were ever captured. I once had a Rogue insert a small dagger and Thieves tools into an open wound and then have it healed. He could force the items out, suffering damage in the process if he was ever locked in a cell.

I once had a PC pretend to switch sides. He tortured another captured PC by etching acid markings across the other's body. Actually he was drawing sections of a coded map and writing notes in a language none of his new 'friends' could recognise. Once the trust had been gained he quietly opened the cell door and the other prisoner escaped. Later, once the party came back and launched a surprise attack at the most opportune moment. Aided by the PC who betrayed his new friends.

Lantern Lodge

The Way of the Wicked evil AP starts with a prison break. The prison is a backwater and the jailers are incompetent and distracted. If they don't come up with any ideas on their own, you can always give them opportunities by moving them from one place to another, or having some powerful entity extract them from the situation in exchange for a favor to be repaid at a later date (many plot hooks can attach here)


My first suggestion to newer DMs would be that how you pull off the PCs ending up imprisoned is by far the hardest part.

If the players feel like it was forced on them and they had no chance of avoiding imprisonment, they're likely to rebel loudly.

If the players feel like you simply didn't want to kill their characters and so you imprisoned them instead, often same as above.

If in addition to being imprisoned the PCs also lose their gear, be prepared for a full scale mutiny.

Sovereign Court

What Tormsskull says is unfortunately correct. It takes a lot of trust from your players to pull this off.

I think it may be easier to state outright: "The next adventure starts with you all captured by X, and is about escaping. Let's talk about how X managed to capture you, what it cost him to do so, and what gear you managed to retain." Making it clear that the capture is a plot device and not a punishment for the players "failing" something.

Pathfinder is extremely gear-heavy and gear is often specialized. This is very different from movies where an escaping hero can just pick up any weapon from a guard and be fine; in PF it has to be that particular weapon you're specialized in, your own spellbook and so forth.

You could set up a game to prevent this from the start; use some of the variant rules for automatic bonus progression etcetera to reduce reliance on specific items, and encourage players to focus their weapon feat choices on campaign-typical weapons that you're more likely to acquire from the body of knocked-out guards. That way, not every escape has to involve original gear recovery. But that does mean changing fundamental game assumptions (WBL).


Pathfinder Lost Omens, Maps, Rulebook Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Speaking as a player, it can be very disheartening to get arbitrarily captured after multiple rounds of combat. If a GM was to include getting captured as a plot device, I would rather they skip the combat and just make it clear it's a plot device rather than giving the illusion of agency.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber

As a player and a DM: have the players roll against opponents until they are overwhelmed. Use things like poison or spells to disable or incapacitate them. Let them play it out and even give them a glipse of hope before bringing in more reinforcements/having the BBEG and his cronies step in and capture the heroes. If well executed you won't have any complaints (unless the kind of people you play with always expect to win no matter what the odds are, but there's no way to solve that particiular problem besides leaving them without a GM to toss dices at each other) and it could be a very good opportunity to set up a BBEG your characters will learn to hate (making it so much more satisfying to finally defeat him after they freed themselves and foiled his plans).

Edit: Also, if you don't mind rearranging encounters lowering CR, consider allowing one or two characters escape, so they have to plan to save their friends (while said friends try to escape...). To run two different scenes is double the work for you though. Could be heavy but also rewarding.

To those who think "rigging" enconters is bad: the GM constantly "riggs" encounters. There's no logical reason the Ancient Red Wyrm shouldn't come out of his lair and hunt down your lvl 2 pcs after you defeated his kobold servants. A DM doesn't not do that because you would die without any chance of survival so you "magically" always meet enemies you can actually defeat. If sometimes the DM decides the story needs the characters failing before suceeding, please keep in mind it's all done in order to provide you with a better RP experience.

Sovereign Court

Rogar Valertis wrote:
As a player and a DM: have the players roll against opponents until they are overwhelmed. Use things like poison or spells to disable or incapacitate them. Let them play it out and even give them a glipse of hope before bringing in more reinforcements/having the BBEG and his cronies step in and capture the heroes. If well executed you won't have any complaints (unless the kind of people you play with always expect to win no matter what the odds are, but there's no way to solve that particiular problem besides leaving them without a GM to toss dices at each other) and it could be a very good opportunity to set up a BBEG your characters will learn to hate (making it so much more satisfying to finally defeat him after they freed themselves and foiled his plans).

This is terrible. When players catch on (and they will), they'll just stop caring. "It doesn't matter what we try, the GM has already decided on the outcome anyway. Let's just give up without a fight because we won't be allowed to win anyway."

The other risk is that players will refuse to let their PCs be taken captive and just keep fighting. Unless you use very specific tactics (which will be blindingly obvious), in PF's combat system there's a big chance you'll accidentally hit someone from positive HP to dead.


As a DM, I can't remember the last time I had PCs being taken prisoner a specific, planned part of a scenario. I'm sure I've done it sometime in the last 30-odd years, but nothing jumps out at me.

However, I do tend to have my NPCs/Enemies behave with an appropriate level of intelligence, planning, personality, goals, etc. I don't have a problem with an encounter taking prisoners if the situation warrants and allows it, and the creatures in the encounter would reasonably do so. Not every encounter is made up of creatures as blatantly intent on murdering everything as the typical Good-aligned PC party is, ironically.

Once there are PC prisoners, I try to have the enemies continue to act in a manner that is believable and reasonable. A rabble of Goblins probably aren't going to have the same kind of "jail" as an outpost run by Hellknights. Some enemies are merely keeping the PC alive so they'll be "fresh" when it's time to eat the PC; others are saving the PC for ransom or interrogation; others will attempt to sacrifice the PC to dark gods; while still others are merely holding the PC captive as retribution for perceived crimes by the PC. I consider all of these things and more when determining how the captors will act and what options the player(s) will have to free themselves (or be freed by allies/other party members).


Pathfinder Lost Omens, Maps, Rulebook Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber
Ascalaphus wrote:
Rogar Valertis wrote:
As a player and a DM: have the players roll against opponents until they are overwhelmed. Use things like poison or spells to disable or incapacitate them. Let them play it out and even give them a glipse of hope before bringing in more reinforcements/having the BBEG and his cronies step in and capture the heroes. If well executed you won't have any complaints (unless the kind of people you play with always expect to win no matter what the odds are, but there's no way to solve that particiular problem besides leaving them without a GM to toss dices at each other) and it could be a very good opportunity to set up a BBEG your characters will learn to hate (making it so much more satisfying to finally defeat him after they freed themselves and foiled his plans).

This is terrible. When players catch on (and they will), they'll just stop caring. "It doesn't matter what we try, the GM has already decided on the outcome anyway. Let's just give up without a fight because we won't be allowed to win anyway."

The other risk is that players will refuse to let their PCs be taken captive and just keep fighting. Unless you use very specific tactics (which will be blindingly obvious), in PF's combat system there's a big chance you'll accidentally hit someone from positive HP to dead.

Agreed, I as a player don't expect to always win but I do expect the opportunity to give it my best shot. If I manage to successfully defeat the enemy despite overwhelming odds, it feels quite cheap for the outcome to be arbitrarily altered. "Let the dice fall where they may" is something I personally prefer to go by.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber
Ascalaphus wrote:
Rogar Valertis wrote:
As a player and a DM: have the players roll against opponents until they are overwhelmed. Use things like poison or spells to disable or incapacitate them. Let them play it out and even give them a glipse of hope before bringing in more reinforcements/having the BBEG and his cronies step in and capture the heroes. If well executed you won't have any complaints (unless the kind of people you play with always expect to win no matter what the odds are, but there's no way to solve that particiular problem besides leaving them without a GM to toss dices at each other) and it could be a very good opportunity to set up a BBEG your characters will learn to hate (making it so much more satisfying to finally defeat him after they freed themselves and foiled his plans).

This is terrible. When players catch on (and they will), they'll just stop caring. "It doesn't matter what we try, the GM has already decided on the outcome anyway. Let's just give up without a fight because we won't be allowed to win anyway."

The other risk is that players will refuse to let their PCs be taken captive and just keep fighting. Unless you use very specific tactics (which will be blindingly obvious), in PF's combat system there's a big chance you'll accidentally hit someone from positive HP to dead.

Sometimes things aren't "fair", period. If the characters did something to upset certain powerful figures they should expect a reaction and sometimes that reaction is something they just can't handle. If the players instigated the local peasants revolt why should the local evil duke send just a few barely experienced men after them instead of unleashing 50 of his best men plus experienced bounty hunters to capture the PCs and bring them to "justice"? He has the resources. Why shouldn't he use them efficently? And that's a good way to create a narrative, sometimes things get bad before they get better. Sometimes the heroes fail before they gain the experience, skill and power to overcome previously unsurmountable obstacles. And unless your players just want to roll dices and easyly kill the bad guys they'll understand this makes the game better not worse.

Edit: any half decent GM doesn't need to rob you of a victory. There simply won't be any victory to be had. You won't be able to win, because the encounter will be built in such a way you won't win. Your party manages to defeat the first 3 groups of bounty hunters sent after them. They run through the woods with other pursuers hot on their heels thinking they have won the day once again, as they run out of the woods their retreat is suddenly stopped: the duke's troops had been waiting for them and all 50 of them, wizards and clerics included are ready to bring them down. Meanwhile the pursuing bounty hunters close the distance and suddenly there's no way to escape anymore. The players can do the sensible thing and surrender or they can decide to go down fighting. What they don't know is the Duke wants them alive to make an example out of their execution so their opponents are ready with the appropriate measures to take them alive even if they want to go down fighting. Under these circumstances, do you think things don't make sense? Is this "not allowing the players to give their best shot"? On the contrary, they are allowed to give their everything, to be brave, stoic, selfless. To be heroes and to make an epic last stand. This will build a great scene actually. But in the end it won't matter though, because sometimes it doesn't. No matter how valiant they'll be, the players will go down, but will have another chance soon to reverse things and snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat.


For me, I've only played 2 times outside of campaigns with friends and family, even in my 1E days, so I've had a good trust relationship between who I'm GMing for or being GM'd by. I trust the GM to work with us players in the collaborative story, and I do the same with campaigns I run.

If the direction the GM's nudging the story requires us to be taken prisoner, I'd rather not spend a few hours of session in multiple fights we won with some hot dice, just to eventually fall. Perhaps a few rounds of combat against obviously insurmountable odds which allows either to parley, or go down fast, or even just narrative from the GM that we fought and slew many before being grappled and overwhelmed and knocked unconscious. Cut. Next scene, "you awake in xxxxx, bound, in the dark, and with only your tunic around you....."

Its just cleaner for the story and all of our time in the session, and quickly gets past that bit of railroading. And even though I only run sandbox, there are times when I've had to do some minor or major RRing from time to time.

POST Script: If we can all stay focused on the thread topic and avoid poking holes in other GM's styles or ideas posted it'll be more useful. Every table composition and style is different, so an idea that you would personally think is terrible or would hate as a player, is just an idea that doesn't fit your style; not necessarily an inherently bad technique.


I agree with Rogar to an extent.

Players need to understand that there will be reasonable responses to the party's actions, and sometimes that response might be overwhelming. I've discovered that, often, players seem to believe that all of the party's actions operate in a vacuum completely divorced from the rest of the campaign world.

Sovereign Court

@Rogar: perhaps I got the wrong impression from your first post. That read to me a lot like "I've already decided on the outcome of the situation. I'll tell the players that their actions totally matter and that the dice fall where they may, but in truth I'll just keep respawning enemies and rerolling dice until things happen the way I want them to."

Your second post suggests that wasn't quite how you meant it, but that's an impression players will easily get. Especially if it's happened to them before, with another GM.

The whole thing with imprisonment of PCs is that it requires the *players* to trust the GM. But some other GM may have already abused that trust. If there's no trust, you'll have players ragequitting because "nothing they do matters anyway" or fighting to the death because "once your gear is gone it's better to roll a new PC" or stuff like that. You need the players to trust you to provide a fun game if they let the capture happen.

One solution is to openly ask for that trust. It can be entirely beforehand: "I want to start the next adventure with you guys locked in the dungeon." Or in the middle of the game: "They're calling on you to surrender rather than fight to the death. From what you know, their lord is honorable and ransoms prisoners at fair prices." Asking players to surrender with no guarantees about treatment whatsoever is hard; you're asking something unreasonable. Why would you surrender to Sauron?

I think the somewhat OOC way is better when you're still building new trist because stuff like equipment recovery is such a big thing. When surrendering IC, it rarely makes sense that you'll get your gear back. But we know OOC how annoyingly important WBL is. So you may want to assure your players that if they surrender now, their character won't be forever gimped by it. That surrender is not worse than rolling up a new character.


If you're going to have players end up in prison in a manner they cannot conceivably avoid, it's really best to just start out the campaign (or a new act of a campaign after some time passes offscreen.)

I don't think you should plan encounters in the middle of the narrative arc that are supposed to end in the PCs being captured. Capturing the PCs in the event that the dice don't come up in their favor though is a good alternative to killing them, but only really works in the event that the antagonists either have beliefs that are incompatible with killing the PCs for no reason, or have some other use for them. If you really want to have a prison-break in the middle of your narrative arc, keep in mind that you don't need to capture *all* of the PCs, just enough of them that "let them rot" isn't an appealing choice. Everybody who's on the outside can help orchestrate the breakout, but make sure the people on the inside have enough to do.

In all honesty I would rather end up with a PC who is imprisoned by or owes a big favor to someone they thought was their enemy, than a PC who is dead and needs to be replaced. "So-and-so is dead, so we need to recover their corpse for a resurrection" is kind of the least interesting narrative you can spin from a character falling in battle.


I would avoid an escape all together. Most PC's without gear aren't getting far. A successful escape would probably wind up feeling "free", which makes being captured in the first place pointless. On the flip side, making an escape too hard could very well make it impossible, resulting in the Players sitting around the table saying "Well, I guess we stay in our cell all day. Again."

Instead, why not use their capture as a story hook? An NPC with the power to get them released needs a favor. In exchange for their freedom, they need to help him.


Well this happened in the first 3.5 campaign I played with in my current group. We got captured. The DM tried an interesting tact of having a party hired by the one character that got away to rescue us. However, the replacement characters were all pre-gens, and half were evil. There really was no reason for us to be together or stay together, other than, if we don't, the campaign ends and we don't get to play our regular characters again. It could have been cool if it worked, but we got PWNd, and our replacement characters got captured. My replacement, a Marshal, challenged the leader of the slavers....and proceeded to get PWNd, partly from my own foresight, but...

Silver Crusade

Generally, I would not recommend having the players end up in prison with or without a chance to break out.

And I have not done so--at least not since my days as a high school DM in 2nd edition.

In the last two decades, the only time I had a PC captured, I had the bad guys kill him, animate him as a wight, and impale him with cold iron spikes, affix him to a tree and leave him for his companions to find later.

That said, it is one of the written possibilities in the Red Hand of Doom adventure I'm leading up to right now so I've given it a little bit of thought. To answer your questions:

Quote:
What ideas would you share with a new GM about how to do this

1. Don't do it.

2. If you must do it, explain it to the players and have it be an actual fait accompli without rolling it out.
3. If you insist on rolling it out, one idea that I've thought might be fun would be to have a bunch of potential PCs--2 or 3 per player--and roll out the battle. The ones that are captured end up being the ones the players run in the breakout sequence. The rest either escape or are killed depending upon the players' choice and how the dice fall.

4. Obviously the above don't apply if you're using "Captured!" as an alternative to TPK. Then the capture is not planned; it's a long-shot to keep the PCs going after an unplanned failure.

Quote:
Did you allow any weapons to be missed during the pat-down

Sleight of Hand vs perception with a requirement for a plausible hiding location. (No, you can't hide the greatsword behind your back. Strapping a shortsword or a dagger your thigh or hiding it in your boot--plausible; roll for it). That said, if it's magic and you didn't make plans to hide the aura, they will probably find it with a detect magic unless you're in a low magic world.

In general, however, this is a question of preparation. Did the characters hide weapons on themselves? Any sneaky character should have a number of hidden weapons, lockpicks, etc on their person--most likely following something like the "one for them to find, one for me to keep" principle. Wizards of the appropriate level should have made contingency plans for things like this. (I've always thought that Drawmij's Instant Summons and Laern's Secret Chest were intended for just this kind of situation. In a pinch, Item could be used to disguise contingency plans too).

Quote:
How liberal were you with the PC escape plan?

This is asking the wrong question. A better question is "how obviously did you telegraph the escape possibility that you built into the plot? And how many different escape possibilities did you write in?" If you depend on the PCs to come up with an escape plan against a static set of precautions that you came up with, you are asking for disappointment. It might be appropriate in an adversarial sandbox game, but in most adversarial sandbox games, captured PCs would probably either be set free with gifts (or geases) or executed in short order.

In most games, you will want to think of several ways that make sense for the PCs to be able to escape and let the PCs take the opportunity that appeals to them the most. For example, if you decide that the reason the bad guys did not kill the PCs is that they want to offer them as sacrifices in payment to a demon they are summoning through a gate, the PCs might have several opportunities to escape:

A. While being transported to the gate artifact site, there are fewer guards at night. If the PCs can escape from their bonds enough to free the wizard or sorceror and undo his gag (assuming the bad guys didn't just cut out the wizard/sorceror's tongue), he can use mage hand to get the keys to the prison cart during the night and the PCs can unlock themselves and try to fight their way out.

B. If the PCs wait for a good opportunity, the prison caravan will be attacked by a pyrohydra. An errant breath weapon will scorch the bars, enabling them to break out during the fight. Getting the key/escaping their bonds, getting weapons, and getting away are up to them.

C. If the PCs manage to fail everything, they might have the presence of mind to break the summoning circle while their captor is negotiating with the demon. At least some of them might escape during the ensuing carnage.

If the PCs come up with something on their own, adjudicate it based on what you have decided about their captors, but you know that they will have those opportunities.

Quote:
What did they use for weapons or was it a stealthy escape?

This is going to depend very heavily on the party and circumstances. It's not quite a capture situation but as a player I was once in a situation where the party was beaten, robbed, and left for dead at the side of the road. My party went to the watch and was deputized and provided a selection of normal weapons from the armory. Another party that played the same adventure grabbed some tree branches (clubs and quarterstaffs) and went right back for revenge.

Quote:
Is it a good idea to have an NPC, even a 0 level commoner, prisoner with them to help provide planning ideas if the group is struggling?

In general, I would say no. Even more than the multiple opportunities scheme I proposed above, having an NPC suggest plans reeks of railroading--especially if it's a level 0 NPC/level 1 commoner whose only purpose is to be the DM's mouthpiece. A mysterious organization that wants something out of them in return might be appropriate. Depending upon the tone of your campaign, a guard who could be seduced might be appropriate or a guard who secretly opposes the regime but needs assurance that he will be able to succeed and that his family will be protected might be another possibility.

However those are more "escape plan possibilities" than people who can provide planning ideas. If you really really want a DM mouthpiece, I'd suggest an actual capable prisoner who is a full-fledged NPC and who has enough personality that he is not just "voice of the DM. For added narrative bonus, giving him uncertain loyalties and motivations or having him introduce moral complexity to the situation would things better. For example, he claims to be a powerful wizard and will help free you if you will agree to do one task for him. (In Greyhawk, maybe he is Rary (or a servant of his) in disguise and he is using this opportunity as a chance to gain some agents he wouldn't otherwise have access to. The agreement will naturally be magically enforced). Or perhaps if the party was captured by Hellknights, there is an evil demonpriest in prison with them. He says he's got an escape plan but needs the PCs' help to pull it off. Maybe he's planning to betray them and sacrifice them after the escape. Maybe he's planning on using the PCs as sacrificial cover to make good his own escape. Maybe he's really being straight up with them and the PCs (who are good or lawfully aligned--it's less interesting if they're not) have to decide if they're willing to help this bad guy escape/use his powers to make their escape easier or not.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber
Ascalaphus wrote:

@Rogar: perhaps I got the wrong impression from your first post. That read to me a lot like "I've already decided on the outcome of the situation. I'll tell the players that their actions totally matter and that the dice fall where they may, but in truth I'll just keep respawning enemies and rerolling dice until things happen the way I want them to."

Your second post suggests that wasn't quite how you meant it, but that's an impression players will easily get. Especially if it's happened to them before, with another GM.

The whole thing with imprisonment of PCs is that it requires the *players* to trust the GM. But some other GM may have already abused that trust. If there's no trust, you'll have players ragequitting because "nothing they do matters anyway" or fighting to the death because "once your gear is gone it's better to roll a new PC" or stuff like that. You need the players to trust you to provide a fun game if they let the capture happen.

One solution is to openly ask for that trust. It can be entirely beforehand: "I want to start the next adventure with you guys locked in the dungeon." Or in the middle of the game: "They're calling on you to surrender rather than fight to the death. From what you know, their lord is honorable and ransoms prisoners at fair prices." Asking players to surrender with no guarantees about treatment whatsoever is hard; you're asking something unreasonable. Why would you surrender to Sauron?

I think the somewhat OOC way is better when you're still building new trist because stuff like equipment recovery is such a big thing. When surrendering IC, it rarely makes sense that you'll get your gear back. But we know OOC how annoyingly important WBL is. So you may want to assure your players that if they surrender now, their character won't be forever gimped by it. That surrender is not worse than rolling up a new character.

We probably come from different gaming environments and have different playing groups. When I GM I always go out of my way to make the game world feel organic and present events in a logical and not arbitrary way and I want my players to know there are always consequences for their actions. In my mind a real RPG experience is a simulation of reality with different rules (magic and monsters really exist for example) but with its own inherent logic. The PCs actions have consequences, their decisions matter. Personally I found out a lot of my players through the years learned to appreciate this way of managing the gameworld and I like to think they enjoyed deeper RP experiences because of it.

Sovereign Court

@Rogar: I can't really say how our playstyles differ without coming over there and doing a comparison :P

That said, I do believe a campaign with internal consistency is more enjoyable and immersive, but I draw a distinction between consistency and realism. I want things to be consistent with the premises of the game world. I also want a certain outcome. Sometimes that means going back and figuring out which premises will result in the outcome I want.

I've GM'ed and played in several campaigns where enemies tend to have a large support apparatus and should be able to apprehend plucky adventurers with ease; Vampire the Masquerade and Shadowrun notably. I've been complimented by my players that I really conveyed the oppressiveness of the Elder regime in Vampire very well. However, my players also became very risk-averse because any mistake could be punished so severely.

After a while my tastes changed. Both of those games feature a significant "punk" element with the idea that punky PCs are playable and enjoyable. They'll get caught sometimes, but not all the time, and even while caught can get out in various ways. So I go back to my premises and institute new ones that make it plausible these consequences happen;

- BBEGs have finite resources, too, and a finite amount of competent henchmen. Anyone who's complained about the incompetence about colleagues or the way the company never has budget for the important thing should see the plausibility here.
- BBEGs have rivals. If they go all-out on the PCs they have to cut spending on defending and attacking rivals. If a rival catches wind that the BBEG is having trouble with these adventurers, the rival may offer aid to the PCs.
- Nobody's able to coordinate that perfectly. Sending double the henchmen doesn't result in double the result. A lot of those henchmen will be doing redundant work, trying to compete with each other for a promotion (sabotage!) and so forth.
- Pluck is rewarded. Super-cautious secretive PCs have a hard time making allies because nobody even knows who they are. Noisy flashy PCs can get fans willing to aid them discreetly. We're talking the security guard who actually hates his boss and decides not to report suspicious activity if it isn't directly his responsibility.

---

As regards my caution in taking PCs prisoner: I've spent consecutive game sessions paralyzed for a single unlucky mandatory die roll. Yeah, I've had bad experiences. We have a Dutch saying: "trust comes on foot, but leaves on horseback".

It seems you have your players' trust that if their PCs are captured, it's a setback, but that ultimately it'll result in fun for them in the long run. Consider how precious that trust is :)


I've only ever taken one PC prisoner.

One of my players couldn't make it to session one week. I had a kidnapping scenario planned in advance in case someone couldn't make it. I cleared it with him beforehand, and luckily his PC was already planned to be on watch duty that in-game night. So, his PC got captured.

The next two sessions turned into setting up and executing a rescue. It turned out pretty fun for everyone, as even the captured PC got to join in on turning the tables on their captors.


GM 1990 wrote:

Whether part of a well executed NPC plan, or as a "out" to salvage your game from an apparent TPK, many of us have put our PCs under lock/key, rope/knot, etc.

What ideas would you share with a new GM about how to do this?
Did you allow any weapons to be missed during the pat-down?
How liberal were you with the PC escape plan?
What did they use for weapons or was it a stealthy escape?
Is it a good idea to have an NPC, even a 0 level commoner, prisoner with them to help provide planning ideas if the group is struggling?

It doesn't matter what the GM does, what matters is how you sell the idea to the players.

Conventional wisdom will tell you to maximise player agency. I've played in completely open sand box campaigns that were dead boring. On the flipside I've played in utterly hopeless situations where the GM just kept piling on the monsters until we all died that were absolutely epic.

At the heart of every great game is a great story and in every great story bad things happen to the heroes. Revenge stories make for good reading and good games. The most boring stories are those where the heroes always win without anything really bad happening. Bad things help get players emotionally invested in their characters.

And sometimes the heroes don't win and they are often the most epic stories of all. That last stand where they fought on knowing it was hopeless, watching each companion fall one by one, that story is told and retold by bards down through the ages.


I'm running my group through this right now so it was on my mind when I started the thread.

Had a APL+4 encounter, although the group had been through similar this one involved some unique setups and terrain so I knew it would be very tough on them. If they won, being able to track the group of ogres and goblins to their cave for a big loot haul (I've been stingy and they're behind on WBL). If they lost, taken prisoner, and still an option to get all the loot, and their gear back.

They lost, mostly due to two rolls on the sword fighter (the other is archer based) that put him down fast. Group woke up in pitch black dank cave with drip of water in the background (great sound effects on youtube). I left them with two weapons (The rogue always had a "middle of the back dagger" and Cleric/Sorc's wrist sheathed wand of MM - goblin rolled a nat 20 to find it -1 perception....player rolled a nat-20 with +3 bonus to conceal it.

The ogres and goblins had blocked up that end of the cave with rubble, then laid a wagon bed over the remaining hole and put large rocks on that. Every time the group spoke loud someone would come down (dark-vision) with a short bow and lob an arrow into someone telling them to shutup. A few statements made it obvious they'd be meals for the following days. (2 goblins speakers in the party)

They also found a merchant, his wife, and 3 kids in the cell and a rogue....who's voice the party rogue recognized from her previous career associations. The other rogue is in the groups arch nemesis organized crime ring. She'd also been returning from the Maplefest where the group was and her group had been sacked by the ogre bandits the day before (and the merchant's family). This added dimension of having to collaborate with a member of the party's prime antagonist made for some fun RPing.

Lastly, a garden fairy (about the size of a Meadowlark butterfly) had stowed away in the Cleric's backpack (he'd spent a night trying to sleep in the fairy garden and made friends while staying at the archer's family's house during Maplefest.

I looked at the fairy and extra rogue as resources they could use to plan. Once the party asked, the fairy went on recon for them, gave them them #s and cave layout, while the rogue (who also had a dagger) would be an asset during the breakout - depending how long she worked with the group (and the obvious twist).

Last session the group spent at least 90 minutes working through options for escape, involving a lot of whispered discussions about spells the cleric could take and how they'd be useful. They're relatively new players so a great opportunity to also learn about some of the ways spells could be used for battle field control as well. They've ultimately settled on Silence and Hold Persons (take out the couple guards when they come to get the next "breakfast meal" - and silence will let them do it w/o alerting the other guards; and hold-person to try to slow the last ogre down long enough for the two rogues to lay waste with a lot of sneak damage), and the fairy will light the way along with the cleric's light cantrips. They've also crafted slings from the rope used to tie them up and some leather from the rogue's sheath, and salvaged the 2 arrows that were shot into the cave as improvised daggers/shivs.

They also know the layout of the cave when they escape, where goblin and ogre weapons are laying around the main chamber, and where their own gear (and a lot of other loot) is stored once they're out of the holding area and assault what's left of the group.

They're also vocally nervous about their chances of success, so its adding to the suspense of our next session.


Deepmar could also become a 'go to jail' adventure.

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