Caves of Chaos on... what's the opposite of steroids?

I'm going to run a playtest in a couple weeks. I don't know what adventure the new packet will have, but I'm set on Cave of Chaos because of the weird story possibilities with all those humanoid groups being in close proximity.

Problem is, I may have as few as two players, one a complete newbie and one who hasn't played since I think 1e. So I don't want to give them more than one character.

Obviously one solution is to have some decent NPCs, but I'm looking for more creative solutions that might make the game more interesting. Like, maybe just giving them some powerful magic items. Any other ideas? 


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Hrm...might be hard. I played a game with just me and a friend as the only PCs (the other 3 were captured for previous games' shinanigans). We encountered 2 Orcs right off that I killed with one attack each...however one orc stayed up for an extra round and downed my cleric ally. As a rogue I was hard pressed to do anything at all. I got lucky with some sneaking and got to a secret room with that gem barrel (never figured out what was in it, guessing bugs or something but didn't wana risk it being alone and all).

 Never hit a patrol alone so I got in and out an returned to the first orc encounter (a patrol had chased me off as I was reviving my ally, he got captured). We ended the session freeing the 3 other PCs, so that's where we will start off (they are all naked with no gear and I am the only one fully equipped).

Just two players is kinda touch when one roll can lay you low; granted we didn't heal like we should have..but an 8 damage longsword strike against 11 HP would still have forced us to flee for a while to heal.
As Bitharne said, it's a tough nut if you aren't willing to alter the encounters, allow additional characters, or use henchmen (NPCs).

You might consider some sort of roleplay, though, to help the small group, but keep in mind, as soon as you grant boons or otherwise unnaturally aid the group, the playtest results won't be as relevant. That said, consider having them champion some cause for a local lord or deity.  If you RP it up, it won't seem like fudging as much as a part of the story.

Example 1:  The Caves of Chaos (and environs) have been a thorn in the side of the Castellan for a long time, so he finally beseeches one of the southern lords to aid him.  This will be where the characters come in.  They'll be chosen champions of the Duke/Baron (etc). They'll be young (the lord won't want to expend great resources) but with great potential and ready to prove themselves.  Being granted "masterwork" gear to aid them (say, standard armor that isn't "magic" but is +1 better than normal and a weapon that is +1 to hit), along with a small stock of healing supplies (I'd give out a few extra healing potions and a healing kit).

Example 2: The Church of the Coming Sun sees the Caves of Chaos as a chance to prove to the borderlands peoples the power of their deity.  They call forth (the PCs) two chosen heroes to strike at the dens of evil in the caves to show what power the church brings.  As with Example 1, you grant them some boons that will help them survive a bit better.

Even with that, though, it'll be important for the players to still play smart and for you to give them plenty of indications and "outs" for when they are getting in over their head.  The Caves of Chaos isn't just about the caves, there are plenty of areas in the surrounding landside to explore that you could tailor towards a smaller group, allowing them to get a little more seasoning before tackling the more dangerous denizens of that wicked place.

At any rate, good luck and toss about some ideas... I'd be only happy to help as time allows. 

From personal experience I would suggest altering the encounters:  probably by just toning down the total number of monsters in each situation (although you could keep a room full of 40 kobolds that is safely approached somehow, for example, just to let them know that dangers abound).  Adding NPCs is never a good idea because they can steal the spotlight from the PCs and also it's more hassle for you.  I would also not suggest running two characters for anyone who is new-ish, like you thought.


I had two characters run the kobold area and they were effective, but I did cheat a little:  I allowed them to alter their backgrounds to include "stealth" as a skill so they would be able to sneak around more easily.  Also, most of the groups they fought were 2-4 kobolds instead of 6-8... but that was using the original playtest monsters, so I'm sure things will be a little different now.  Also, I ruled that any sleeping kobolds could just be outright murdered, and if you did it quietly, you wouldn't wake the others:  this is how they killed the boss and his retainers.


Giving them magic items would also be a good idea, like you thought.  I'd focus on things that allow them to stealth, or make silent kills, or something to that effect:  trying to pump them up so that they can take on 10 orcs with just the two of them will skew the game in an odd way.


Either that, or go completely diplomatic:  have them take on the groups as a roleplaying situation, and try to convince them to fight each other or work together or whatever.  Maybe some items that allow them to speak any language, or give them diplomacy as a skill.


The main point is to avoid taking on battles in a straightforward way, if at all possible.  Also, you can always have them "get captured" if things go south, and then roll up new characters to go rescue the old ones!

2 man party start them off at level 2, give them a few healing points.

 Fear is the Mind Killer

 

BTW, the opposite of steroids would be... I dunno, sedatives?
BTW, the opposite of steroids would be... I dunno, sedatives?

As long as it's not laxitives Innocent  Although, that might certainly slow down those 40 kobolds Surprised

Also, you can always have them "get captured" if things go south, and then roll up new characters to go rescue the old ones!




This is my favorite suggestion!

I was toying with the idea of kicking the adventure off with combat at the end of an attack on a wagon/caravan that has killed the other members of their group, of course perpetrated by the nasties from the Caves. Maybe I'll have one or two lucky NPCs captured and carried away...
Steroids replicate the male hormone testosterone. Hence they have androgenic effects. Your caves are on Estrogen, the female hormone that inhibits the making of muscle mass. And you also lack the much needed Bcaa's Branch chain amino acids- in this case players to have a full on workout- playtest. Recruit players asap. Maybe you need a supplier. Check your local gym, Gamestore, ask around and he might be able to help you get on cycle. But beware, Iv'e heard that "roid rage' or D.M. fustration and burn out can result. P.S. No more "on steroids" talk please.
I was toying with the idea of kicking the adventure off with combat at the end of an attack on a wagon/caravan that has killed the other members of their group, of course perpetrated by the nasties from the Caves. Maybe I'll have one or two lucky NPCs captured and carried away...

Capture and action scenes to start are great, no doubt, but keep in mind, though, that unless you change your mind about altering the Caves of Chaos themselves, giving them henchmen/NPCs, or multiple characters, they'll still face the same daunting odds.

Originally, my impression was that you were looking for ideas on how to boost the small group rather than ways to kick of a campaign or run an adventure.
Yep it's going to be important to make sure the players know they can't necessarily take on a room full of even size-S humanoids. They'll need to watch their backs and be smart, of course.

If I give them a tough encounter with goblins outside the caves, enough to show them that even a low number of goblins (what, five?) is a tough challenge, hopefully that will stick in their memory when they see signs of a whole lair full of the buggers.

The fact of their relative weakness plays into an idea about the setting that I like: Things are becoming more dangerous because the organization of wizards (or clerics maybe) who usually push back monster encroachments have become less willing to help, more demanding of payment for services rendered, or harder to contact (the bat signal is broken?) -- so it's up to pre-heroic average Joes.

Nukunuku's point about giving magic items to specifically boost their stealth is great. It lets them stay at 1st level, which I really do want to play-test as I think survivability of new characters is one of the biggest changes from 4e. (Except people have been reporting monster to-hit being too low...?)

Capture and action scenes to start are great, no doubt, but keep in mind, though, that unless you change your mind about altering the Caves of Chaos themselves, giving them henchmen/NPCs, or multiple characters, they'll still face the same daunting odds.

Originally, my impression was that you were looking for ideas on how to boost the small group rather than ways to kick of a campaign or run an adventure.



I am getting a little sidetracked by the kickoff question, which is indeed a separate question. Actually though, if I use the captured NPCs deal that could be a good way to start off with the PCs being proactive and having complete ownership of the venture. As soon as they catch up with / rescue their comrades, their tactics can change as they toss aside their stealth mode and starting kicking.
Just to follow up, finally got to playtest and there were just two players in addition to myself. They chose the two pregen fighters, and I had the elf wizard come along with them. When they go to the ravine they snuck around looking at the dfferent entrances - and decided on the gnolls. I'll post the outcome separately but in terms of having a low-powered group, they did okay. They were pretty cautious, and that served them well most of the time. They did ok against gnolls that they surprised, but when they tried and failed to surprise a second group it was a TPK. I had to take advantage of the idea of PCs being sold to the hobgoblins instead of being just dead - not sure I'll do that twice though, so here's hoping our other two players join us next time.
Even with a newbie I would suggest 2 characters each... more work certainly, but if you run too many henchmen or hirelings as a DM, you are doing most of the rolling and the players only for 2 scant actions.  As we all know, there is safety in numbers.  I did this with the very first playtest packet with terriffic results.... granted, with 2 experienced players.  ---If not comfortable with the newb doing this, maybe at least the experienced player can do so.  Barring that, make them LV 2 (as someone else suggested) and run at least one NPC to flesh out the party (& try to have them face challenges closer to a LV 1 party of 4).  Heck, you could even have the players take turns rolling the dice for the NPC.
Id give them a leader that is 2 levels above them as a built in tutorial then drop the leader after you get more players. 
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