Prisoner's Dilemma

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Not THAT prisoner's dilemma.

How do you successfully do a jail scenario in 4e? You want to throw your players in the clink to advance the plot, but that means divesting them of all their weapons and armor, to make them wait it out or escape daringly.

Can it be done well?
58286228 wrote:
As a DM, I find it easier to just punish the players no matter what they pick, as I assume they will pick stuff that is broken. I mean, fight after fight they kill all the monsters without getting killed themselves! What sort of a game is this, anyway?
Make it a magical prison, where the jailers decide who gets to leave through the magical forcefield surrounding it. It doesn't matter if heroic level adventurers still have their gear, they can't break through the forcefield because it's being maintained by a squad of powerful wizards and prevents teleportation. Inside the prison, there's a whole miniature ecosystem of gangs who control the different areas.

In the Forgotten Realms, there's a prison city named Wheloon built around this concept.
I've done it on a few occasions, here's what I think is key.

Give the players something to do, some way to affect their situation, roleplay, etc while in prison.   Make sure they know their gear is somewhere nearby, and make absolutely sure it's possible for them to recover most, if not all of it, at some point.

 - maybe they learn some info from other inmates
 - maybe they can bribe/con/intim a guard
 - maybe they can find some makeshift weapons
 - maybe they learn about a possible escape route
 - maybe they could be separated, with 1 or 2 PC's in adjoining cells, scattered among all the cells
 - maybe they meet an inmate who was already planning an escape attempt, or an overwhelm the guards attempt, and he just needed a few more able bodies
 - maybe they are forced to do slave labor, during which they find makeshift weapons or fellow prisoners who will help, etc.

Don't have them helpless for long real-time stretches.   Don't take away all their abilities by having them shackled and gagged.   Let them be able to affect their situation in some ways.

I ran an adventure during last summer where the party had been tricked by some shapeshifting wererats.   They were stripped of their gear and put in a crude prison with others and forced to work a salt mine.   They were able to gradually (took about 10 game days, one real-time night) to learn bits and pieces of info from other prisoners and convince most of them to help in an escape attempt.   One thing about prisons, the prisoners always outnumber the guards by quite a bit.
They wound up, after a couple of hours of roleplaying and strategizing, enlisting the help of a few dozen other prisoners, attacking guards with shovels and small shivs, tables and table legs, and overpowered them.   My players loved the adventure.

Hope that helps, best of luck.
 
I like the idea of a prison city, you get kind of an Escape From New York feel and the players would keep their gear and have a lot of freedom of movement while still advancing the plot of needing to escape, but its a whole different animal from the prison and cells, so it might not fit what you want
What level are they?  Remember that even without weapons and implements, people can still make unarmed attacks (and fist counts as a weapon for keyword purposes) and can still use implement powers without an implement.  You may want to have some sort of magic collar that prevents the invocation of anything other than at-will powers.

Without armor and implements, most characters will only lose their enhancement bonus to attacks and damage, and proficiency bonuses.  Armor Class will suffer the most.

But I get the feeling that you don't want them to really fight their way out.  So that means they will be using their skills.  And for that... just wing it.  Design the prison with DCs appropriate to their skill level.  Allow them to make contacts, learn about the layout of the prison, plan their escape.  Will they recruit other inmates?  Can they be trusted?  Are there guards they can bribe?  Are there allies on the outside who might visit... and might be willing to help them escape?  Do they make enemies of other prisoners?  Of the guards?  Do the heroes already have a reputation?  Can the rogue makeshift some thieves' tools to remove the magic collars?  Can the party keep the collars after escape as treasure?  Will the party be able to find their equipment?  Is it even still in the prison?  Maybe the government is planning to sell their stuff at the equivalent of a police auction.  Are they starting from scratch?

Once you limit them to at-wills I think the escape scenario can work really well. Also, keep in mind tha once they escape, they will be fugitives.  Can they clear their names?  Will they flee the jurisdiction?
Not THAT prisoner's dilemma.

How do you successfully do a jail scenario in 4e? You want to throw your players in the clink to advance the plot, but that means divesting them of all their weapons and armor, to make them wait it out or escape daringly.

Can it be done well?

Yes, if you collaborate with the players and have their buy in. If they're simply told that this is going to happen, count on them not enjoying it. If they worked with you on it, and agree with the particulars (because they helped craft them), count on them going along with it.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

I am an LFR veteran.

I enjoyed a few of the nods to Kurt Russel in the module "Gangs of Wheloon." Overall, I felt it was a fairly weak mod, if you didn't have the pop culture foundation to make it an enjoyable scenario.

Wrecan is closer to probably the original core of my question. It's mostly a thought-exercise, actually, but my group is creeping towards the paragon line quickly, so I'm not sure anything short of a Wheloon-style prison scenario would work if I pulled it on them.

This was mostly just me wondering if it could be done at all in 4e with, as Wrecan pointed out, people still having the presence of dailies and encounters, when in older editions... You had your shiv. Maybe. Without holy symbols/weapons/spellbooks, you had nothing but a toothbrush and your wits.
58286228 wrote:
As a DM, I find it easier to just punish the players no matter what they pick, as I assume they will pick stuff that is broken. I mean, fight after fight they kill all the monsters without getting killed themselves! What sort of a game is this, anyway?
Not THAT prisoner's dilemma.

How do you successfully do a jail scenario in 4e? You want to throw your players in the clink to advance the plot, but that means divesting them of all their weapons and armor, to make them wait it out or escape daringly.

Can it be done well?

Yes, if you collaborate with the players and have their buy in. If they're simply told that this is going to happen, count on them not enjoying it. If they worked with you on it, and agree with the particulars (because they helped craft them), count on them going along with it.



It is very possible for players to enjoy an adventure without being in on the creation.   My players like contributing to my world in terms of creating towns and backstories and NPC groups, but they dislike being in on the adventure creation itself.   I know for a fact they hate knowing anything that's upcoming that their characters wouldn't know.   They don't want to know they might have an adventure in jail, unless the current story suggests that as a likely possibility.

I've no doubt that you have players who enjoy the style you espouse, but don't state it as a blanket fact that their enjoyment is certain to be diminished if they are not also in on the adventure creation.   It's wrong for you to say "count on them not enjoying it", when that is far from a certainty.   My players had no idea whatsoever and they loved the adventure, counting it among their favorites.


You want to throw your players in the clink to advance the plot, but that means divesting them of all their weapons and armor, to make them wait it out or escape daringly.

Can it be done well?

Only with player buy-in.

Can it be done well?

Yes, if you collaborate with the players and have their buy in.

This has been my experience. The only times I have been able to use prison in an adventure is when I have the decision to be in prison be agreed upon by me and the players. And in every case we have done it this way (perhaps 5 times in 30+ years), it was fun. The times I have tried to force the PCs into prison with in-game actions only have all failed. Either the PCs overcame the threat or ignored the consequences, the the outcome the same: not fun.
Here are the PHB essentia, in my opinion:
  • Three Basic Rules (p 11)
  • Power Types and Usage (p 54)
  • Skills (p178-179)
  • Feats (p 192)
  • Rest and Recovery (p 263)
  • All of Chapter 9 [Combat] (p 264-295)
A player needs to read the sections for building his or her character -- race, class, powers, feats, equipment, etc. But those are PC-specific. The above list is for everyone, regardless of the race or class or build or concept they are playing.
I actually had my players thrown in prison in the last 4 sessions.  The campaign is set in EberronHere's the why and hows and the current results:

WHY:

The why is based off of many decisions the party made and a major villains plans.  In the beginning of the campaign the party was hired by the nation of Breland as secret agents.  The module Seekers of the Ashen Crown served as the first step into the campaign.  Unfortunately they never returned the Ashen Crown to Breland or the group they were supposed to be helping.  Instead they ignored the summons from Breland, used and wore the Crown in public view.  Many people also died in circumstances that pointed the blame to the party (who was actually innocent but never bothered to go clear their names).  So Breland declared them traitors to the Brelish crown.

Some time later, the party found itself in the nation of Aundair (a close ally of Breland).  They were invited to the palace for an audience with the Queen who informed them that they had been branded traitors.  The Queen further explained that since Aundair and Breland had an economic trade alliance, she could not simply let the party go since it could harm relations.  She gave them a mission to complete and in exchange for completing it, she would send an official envoy to Breland along with them to help clear their names and vouch for the party.  However the party again failed to complete their mission and didn't return to Aundair or Breland.  Things were getting more and more complex.

Afterwards, they found themselves in Thrane, another nation of Eberron.  They were there for a short stay and yet still managed to cause a major disturbance and burn down nearly 1/4 of the capital.  They managed this by causing a distraction for the city guard while other players set multiple fires in key buildings (read as they identified buildings that would burn better).  They were then chased by the zealots of Thrane.  They crashed the lightning rail between two major cities.  They then escaped into the Mournlands. 

Inside the Mournlands they encountered crazy stuff.  Two players got killed so they needed an out.  The wizard had a brilliant idea.  Using his ritual of Lehmund's Secret Chest he summoned the large box and they took turns going back and forth.  The risk involved was that they didn't know where the chest was since it had been confiscated by Aundair (they had a dead body inside of a Breland spy ... ).  We then had a 2 week break for the holidays.


HOW:

I had two of the party members wake up on a boat, tied to the floor and to each other.  Forced to row for hours and whiped if they did not comply.  They tried to escape but were unsuccesful.  They then spent the next 2 years in-game time in Dreadhold.  The maximum security prison of Eberron.  I gave them a free level for the stay.  The campaign jumped back in as a group of people attacked the prison and in the chaos, the players managed to free themselves.  The two from the boat roleplayed it very well (they had gone semi insane from the solitary confinement of 2 years) and the other players roleplayed their roles very well (they played some of the people attacking the prison).  They escaped after scrounging for weapons and armor in the prison off dead guards and dealing with the crazy prisoners.


So as you can all see I didn't do the whole capture thing, favoring instead to just move forward.  I left that to the unknown and for them to discover or not to depending on if they actually care.  I had the two players wake up on the boat with their last memories of being transported in the wizard's chest.  The two dead PC's have dissapeared (and will return shortly in surprising ways).  The wizard has also dissapeared but her situation was complex to begin with.

Currently they are working at learning the world they are now in.  The next great war has begun.  Aundair has been taken over by the secret police of their nation, it's now a dictatorship and the Queen has apparently been murdered.  Thrane is having an all out war against Karrnath (they used to be allies).  Breland is under heavy economic stress since all of it's allies have turned against them.  Some nations are still neutral and are trying to avoid being dragged into the conflict.  Droaam is trying to be recognized as a nation proper.  And so on...  Meanwhile the villains are growing in power and influence and yet there's an even bigger shadow lurking in the shadows.

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I'm curious what the forum thinks, was it correct to throw them in prison ?
"Non nobis Domine Sed nomini tuo da gloriam" "I wish for death not because I want to die, but because I seek the war eternal"

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Getting *out* of prison is lots more fun than getting in.  The only time I ever used a prison scenario was as the *starting point* of a new campaign, where it was very successful. 

I'd also strongly consider a prison escape scenario as a way of moving the story forward after a TPK.  In that case the "disempowering" event is already in the past, so they're ready to start their climb back to the top. 

I'd be very leery of trying to throw the party into prison during a normal session unless it was their idea (i.e. a scheme to collect the bounty on themselves, going inside to contact or rescue an NPC prisoner, etc).   Most parties would not go quietly, and you'd have to beat them down in combat or just flat out rail-road into the cells, neither of which are much fun for them. 
I would find a prison break a fair response to what might otherwise be a TPK.  Party goes up against a tyrant and loses.  Wakes up in a dungeon.  Seems pretty straightforward.  I'd still probably ask if they want to continue or start a new campaign.  Most of my players would choose the prison break.
I would find a prison break a fair response to what might otherwise be a TPK.  Party goes up against a tyrant and loses.  Wakes up in a dungeon.  Seems pretty straightforward.  I'd still probably ask if they want to continue or start a new campaign.  Most of my players would choose the prison break.

My issue with it would be coming up with a reason (as a play or the DM) why the tyrant didn't just kill them, and instead put them in a prison it was possible for them to escape. Shows and stories have used this cop out so many times, that it's pretty cliche now, and the bad guys just end up looking like morons for not killing the PCs immediately.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

I had a DM once who had us thrown into a pit in a goblin lair, where we stayed for 2 sessions with nothing happening, as we tried everything possible to get out and the goblins urinated on us. Eventually my cleric was able to use command to make the urinating goblins "fall" into the pit, then I'd sleep and recharge it, then use command again, until we eventually built a mound of goblins and climbed out (the stupidest solution every). After escaping, we asked him how the hell we were supposed to escape from there, and he shrugged and said, "I didn't see a way out. I just wanted to see what you'd do." We quit en masse and never gamed with him again.

So...while you should be flexible to the players' original ideas, you should also have several possible escape outlines in your head and provide the necessary clues/items/whatever to use them. 
I agree you need a really need a good reason for them not to be dead.

They could have have some unknown powerful allies.  There could be a contact they need that is in the prison itself, or this could be test for a powerful backer who uses the prison as a testing group for the people her hires.  Whatever the reason is going to be you need one.

The only additional suggestions I have for this type of game if the game you as the DM need to give all the player's  characters a way to be helpful here in some way, espically if breaking out is going to take some time.

I would look at the trained skills and good untrained skills that each player has and make sure they are going to be useful somehow in the game.

Also I would look at your players powers too and see if they are going to need certian gear to make them work.

The issue with prison games is that some players only the negative of being removed of their freedom.  If they have too many unsucessful escape attemps they might just get angry.  If its going ot be hard be sure go give them small victories.
I would find a prison break a fair response to what might otherwise be a TPK.  Party goes up against a tyrant and loses.  Wakes up in a dungeon.  Seems pretty straightforward.  I'd still probably ask if they want to continue or start a new campaign.  Most of my players would choose the prison break.

My issue with it would be coming up with a reason (as a play or the DM) why the tyrant didn't just kill them, and instead put them in a prison it was possible for them to escape. Shows and stories have used this cop out so many times, that it's pretty cliche now, and the bad guys just end up looking like morons for not killing the PCs immediately.



It might be cliche, but you have stated many times on these forums that, as a DM, you allow the players to do what they want.  If they want to find a way to keep going after a TPK, you need to find a way to make that happen.  That usually means, embracing the cliche of capture instead of death.  Would you force an entire group of players to create new characters if/when a TPK occurs, even though the players want to find a way to keep going?


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RedSiegfried wrote:
The cool thing is, you don't even NEED a reason to say yes.  Just stop looking for a reason to say no.
I would look at the trained skills and good untrained skills that each player has and make sure they are going to be useful somehow in the game.

Careful about relying on this. You might see a way for a player to use their powers or skills, but the player might not reach the same conclusion.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

I would look at the trained skills and good untrained skills that each player has and make sure they are going to be useful somehow in the game.

Careful about relying on this. You might see a way for a player to use their powers or skills, but the player might not reach the same conclusion.


Excellent point.

My reasoning is that if you don't look at the players skills and only consider the skills needed some players will feel useful while others will not.
One of the other things here is to make sure you use a prison to mean what it means in the world, not just what we consider prison.

For us prison is just a building where we lock everyone away behind bars and they sit there.

What do they do with their convicts in your setting?  Here are some examples from my setting of what the "prisons" are like:


  1. The prisoners are slaves in the strictest sense.  They do manual labor and the jobs nobody else wants them to do.  They have their memories wiped and constructed memories of an obedient slave put into their heads.  If my PCs go into this area I'm going to have them talk about how the person in charge of making those memories gave them the tools they needed to mentally resist (And why she/he did so)  An example would be a psion in charge of making the memories for everyone but doesn't think the system is right so will use these powerful PCs as a way to bring the system down from within.  Since the system is designed around imprisoning them in their mind and not in their bodies they are free to do as they want, but they are missing key parts of their old persona. 

  2. The prisoners are sent to the front lines.  The idea of "joining the Night Watch" from the Game of Thrones series.  Prisoners are used as cannon fodder for a buffer against the crazy wilds.

  3. The prison is a literal pit.  Nobody cares what happens down there as long as the prisoners don't escape.  The city that created the pit has gotten so huge that the pit itself is a miniature city with it's own rules and adventures.

  4. Lots of other things.  Basically just figure out what the best use of free bodies would be and design around that.

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Not THAT prisoner's dilemma.

How do you successfully do a jail scenario in 4e? You want to throw your players in the clink to advance the plot, but that means divesting them of all their weapons and armor, to make them wait it out or escape daringly.

Can it be done well?


I am curious... how do you plan to throw the pc's in prison as part of the plot to begin with without sort of railroading them?  If they are paragon or epic, that's quite a venture if pc's decide to resist "arrest"...violently.  Once they are in...they are under your control pretty much.  I don't see any problem there.