Dungeon Mastering

DM Tools - CREATE YOUR FREE ACCOUNT       About Us       Contact Us       Advertise                   Subscribe to Dungeon MasteringSubscribe

Tie Their Hands and Steal Their Swords!

Written by Nicholas - Published on September 24, 2009

Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.

Players make a lot of assumptions. They assume things about their character’s abilities, availability of supplies and the sorts of threats they will face. You make make unique campaign moments and really make players questions themselves by challenging these assumptions. Take away what they never realized they took for granted.

Challenge Their Supplies

Most players buy a week of rations and a waterskin and assume that covers them forever. Most DMs find it easier to agree, myself included. I can handwave it away and say that they are replenishing these supplies. But what if you put the players in a situation where they cannot replenish? There are no towns around, the land is famined, frozen, scorched or barren. There are many reasons why food or water might not be available. Suddenly PCs are committing their a portion of their resources just to feeding and watering themselves, assuming they are lucky enough to have the skills and spells to do so!

Going a step further, what if the casters cannot replenish their material components? Perhaps a random roll every time they cast each particular spell to see if they have used their last components for that spell? The spellcasters suddenly must ration their spells in a whole new way.

No Rest for the Weary

One of the fundamental assumptions in modern D&D is the idea that the group can go off and rest up. What if there are no safe havens to sleep? If they cannot leave the dungeon? What if conditions are just too harsh to sleep. Extreme weather, an area flooded with constant light or an extremely noisy place can all rob characters of their sleep. Without sleep they don’t get their hit points and spells back. Suddenly even minor fights and obstacles are a major issue because they cost precious resources.

Spacial Challenged

Generally players can position themselves however they like in combat. The melee fighters get themselves in the front. The ranged fighters keep themselves in the back. Everyone is happy where they are, so shall we shake them up a bit?

Particularly elusive enemies can mess with the party’s battle plans. Those who can fly, teleport or have some sort of insubstantial form can get straight up into the caster’s face. Alternatively, you could never let your characters get into position in the first place. Large patches of difficult terrain, battlefield full of obstacles, varied elevations or teleporting gates in the room can really mess with the players’ assumption about getting into their spots.

Victims of Society

Not all restrictions are environmental or villainous, some of them are legal. Perhaps the city where the party is do not allow anyone to carry weapons around with them. Perhaps some or all magic is banned within the kingdom. This can really push some alignment buttons. Even those who don’t mind breaking the law will have to be sneaky about it. They wouldn’t want to land in jail, they would be even more restricted!

How do you challenge your players assumptions? Tell us about the curveballs you throw them in the comments.

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by Nicholas

Nick DiPetrillo is the original author behind the games Arete and Zombie Murder Mystery available at http://games.dungeonmastering.com

Nick is no longer active with DungeonMastering.com, however he is an accomplished writer and published his first game in 2009.

GD Star Rating

Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.



7 Responses to “Tie Their Hands and Steal Their Swords!”
  1. Yohkai says:

    I definitely make use of the Spacial Challenge. My favorite was pitting my players against a bunch of Barghests. It didn’t help that there were many trees and underbrush for cutting movement. But one of my players thought it would be an excellent chance to use Entangle to wrap the beasts up in foliage to keep them in place. This caused a few of the players to become entangled as well.

    But luckily for the Barghests they could Dimension Door at will. xP

  2. Forte says:

    I’ve challenged supplies in a campaign before to good effect. The party was aboard a ship heading to establish a colony on a new continent across a large ocean. Storms and sea monsters left the surviving colonists stranded and with little surviving equipment when their ships ran aground. A further challenge for the party during the landing was the knowledge that they could either choose to help survivors struggling in the water or they could get to their capsizing ship and salvage more supplies.

  3. rook103 says:

    I have used most of these tactics at various times. I am fortunate to have had a great group of roleplayers for PCs. They took each of the challenges in stride and complained about them later. My favorite is reversing choke points in combat. Plate armor is great so long as you can slide through the caved in doorway and make it into combat. Also, using bends and column make for interesting ambushes and limitations for ranged/line of sight attacks.
    In addition, just because Town X hired your party to save the Mayor/capture the bandits/slay the zombies doesn’t mean you’ve endeared yourself to the local sheriff/town watch/or town guard. While you may be a hero to the people of Town X, the local law may feel you are a little to big for your britches and require the whole party to surrender their hardware while inside the gates.

  4. JohnL says:

    “…and steal their swords” I ran a dungeon with a lot of lethal traps. The creator of this labyrinth of death was kind enough to leave a ritual of raise dead hidden at each trap location The only thing was that the ritual component had to be residium. After a few bad trap encounters the party was forced to use a ritual scroll and shell out the residium. They didn’t have that much residium, so they had to start sacrificing magic itmes to the disenchant item ritual. To get 500 gp in residium you have to disenchant 2500 gp worth of magic item. See where this is going. They soon realized that they didn’t have any mundane back up weapons with them and it wasn’t long before they were weighing the value of their dwindling magic supply versus the value of the character that needed raising. By the time they left the dungeon they were using make shift weapons (that’s why there are rules for those) and running away from as many combats as they could. At the end they hated me but loved the session and still talk about it whenever the subject of equipment comes up.

  5. Nicholas says:

    @JohnL: You are an evil, evil man. I love it!

  6. Bradicus says:

    I liked this post, as I do stuff like this all the time – you certainly don’t need large hordes of monsters to challenge even a well equipped and powerful party. I believe it truly ok for the GM to move the Player (Pieces) and take things away. If it is your world, even a stock world (Forgotten Realms/Greyhawk) I think the GM has the right to do whatever he wants to make it interesting, as long as he does it in a manner that is reasonably respectful to the party. This could include removing class powers/abilities temporarily, boosting/empowering well known “weaker” monsters, i.e. a high level kobold or something, or even nerfing rolls that would wipe the party out completely.


Check out what others are saying about this post...
  1. […] Tie Their Hands and Steal Their Swords! Are your PCs walking through everything you throw at them? Having a hard time challenging them without reducing yourself to throwing in the Tarrasque, his big brother and ancient mother at them? Take some of their items from them! Have their vital gear stolen or reduced to nothingness, and wrap an adventure around the process of them returning themselves to former glory. More details can be found in the post over at Dungeon Mastering. […]

 Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!