How would you run this: players engaged in combat while roped together?

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My PCs roped themselves together before entering a patch of swamp and reeds to search for a long-lost helmet. The session ended with them being ambushed by a halfling cannibal defiler in the swamp. Now I'm trying to figure out the specifics of the roping-together and how it's going to affect the upcoming battle, which will feature monsters push/pull/sliding them. I'd like some feedback and advice.

* I'm going to let them slip out of the rope as a minor action.
* While roped, I think they will suffer a small penalty (-1 to all d20 rolls, -1 to all defenses) representing their slightly decreased mobility/agility.
* Forced movement: when the monsters yank on one of the characters, if the forced movement would drag them more than 10' from their compatriots (there's 10' of rope between each one), the monster has to make a Strength (Athletics?) check against a moderate difficulty; if it succeeds, it also yanks the next guy down the rope. Maybe +2 or +4 for each character beyond the first? Hmm...it could be really cool if the monster in question starts whipping around the whole string of adventurers, but there also needs to be a benefit for being roped together.
* This is the toughest one for me to figure out: handling movement. Since PCs don't all move at exactly the same time, what's the best way to handle movement? One guy walks 5 steps forward and is now 35 feet from the guy behind him, who isn't moving til a much later initiative. Even if I make them all delay and move on the same initiative, the problem doesn't solve itself; each PC still gets his full move plus attack before another PC gets to move.

ideas? I don't want to bog down (har har) combat too much with extra checks and such, but I need to do something to reflect their roped-together-ness.
The rope is long enough to provide them free movement.  The monsters can use a move action when they're holding it to potentially knock a PC prone per the rules for forced movement you noted.  If your maps are big enough that the rope length is an issue, it's too big.

If you really want the rope to get in the way, have them start 2 to 5 squares apart, in a given order, and each cannot get more than 10 squares from the next (and previous) in the order.

Just dropping it would seem optimal though.
Harrying your Prey, the Easy Way: A Hunter's Handbook - the first of what will hopefully be many CharOp efforts on my part. The Blinker - teleport everywhere. An Eladrin Knight/Eldritch Knight. CB != rules source.
Yeah, I'd like to kind of just ignore it for ease of use, but it really isn't long enough to allow that (there's four PCs in the swamp and a fifth wayyy back on a rock outcropping overlooking it providing the "anchor", so the 100 feet they have is half used up just getting from the outcropping to the PCs).

I think dropping the rope immediately in combat should be the best idea. However, since they thought of it, I think it will provide an interesting tactical feature. Two of the monsters about to pop out (a chathrang and a giant neo-otyugh) have grab-and-pull abilities intended to yank them away from the halfling defiler "boss". If they're roped, it could be a good foil to that (though they don't know it yet). I think it would be good to put them in a situation where they have to decide whether to deal with the difficulties caused by the rope but be partially protected from being yanked across the board to die OR to abandon the rope and its annoyingness but also be more vulnerable to the pulls.
I had a DM who started us palyers off as prisoners chained together, very closely.  We could not move more than 1 square away from the next person in line. 
A very cool concept, but what it basically did was have us delay our initiatives until we could all basically move as a group, and ready actions to attack if a creature came within range.    Not terribly fun in practice, but definitely novel.  (It was a magical effect and an Arcana check could free one person's bond.  Our Sorceror, and only person trained in Arcana, failed the check 6 times in a row)

A friend of mine played in a Dark Sun game where the players were paired off and tied to each other with 10 foot of chain, so the couldn't move more than 2 squares from each other.  They were in a gladiator pit at the time. DM basically ran it as the players had same initiative, and they could run around and trip up enemies.  

If you really wanted to keep the idea of the rope hindering/helping them, you could always get little pieces of string and literally tie the minis together, or sticky putty and strings for tokens. 
Having the players tied together could prevent an enemy from pulling them away any further than the player could be from the other players tied to.  You'd want to pop that feature out almost immediately, so the players know the benefit of staying tied together.
Could be a surprise round, Otyugh pops up, grabs someone and tries to pull, but can't move him more than 1 or 2 squares.  Rope is strained, but doesn't break.  (DM rolls a save to see if the rope does break, but no further pull)

I've considered combining these ideas for a game I'm running.
hah I like the idea of putting physical string on our minis/tokens!

A saving throw for the rope is a nice simplification over a strength or Athletics check with a bunch of modifiers. I'll think about that.

I really don't want to have them have to Ready actions to attack. They're not THAT restricted. I just am not sure how to run that part of it. Perhaps I will let them all "move" on the lowest initiative, at once, and then resolve attacks in sequence based on their initiative? 
hah I like the idea of putting physical string on our minis/tokens!

A saving throw for the rope is a nice simplification over a strength or Athletics check with a bunch of modifiers. I'll think about that.

I really don't want to have them have to Ready actions to attack. They're not THAT restricted. I just am not sure how to run that part of it. Perhaps I will let them all "move" on the lowest initiative, at once, and then resolve attacks in sequence based on their initiative? 



That sounds like a generally bad idea in my opinion.  Since a lot of characters have ways to do other things with their move actions that isn't, you know, moving.

What I would try to do is something like the tying rope idea.  Give them a penalty and max range for getting away from their buddies.

Player A is tied to Player B who is tied to Player C.

If B moves 3 squares from A he takes a -2 penalty to attacks/defenses.  If they move more than 3 squares, up to 5, they "snap back" to 1 square away from A at the end of their turn.  So they can "stretch" the rope, but it is hard and there are penalties.  Possibly make B make a save v prone.

One other thing I would bring up is making sure this doesn't completely hose one of your characters in the combat.  If the combat is going to involve artillery of any sort and one of your players is a charger this could get really annoying really fast. 
Currently working on making a Dex based defender. Check it out here
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I agree it sounds like a bad idea, but I can't think of a better option! (I don't like the "stretching" option; it's a giant-hair rope, which is supposed to essentially be a chain). I also think it will be easier to abuse "snapping back" than the other option. I also don't want to simply limit how far they can move; the D&D system says people move one at a time but that doesn't really reflect reality, where two people roped together can easily move at a pretty normal pace if they do it at the same time. So to have them waddling 2 squares on each of their turns seems dumb.

Yeah, I have a guy who likes to charge, and in fact announced his intention to charge the halfling defiler at the end of last session (we ended with the combat beginning). They really should just unhook themselves if they need to be charging.

Hmm...I know teleporting can free you from restraints. Can you choose NOT to be freed from restraints? Like, if our shardmind teleports, is he automatically freed from the rope, or can he choose to "bring" the rope with him if he doesn't move out of range, so he can stay roped? I'm inclined to say he can't.  
Honestly trying to rework the game so that it reflects reality better often ends up being a confusing mess.

You make it sound like they will want to be roped together.  From what you have stated that seems to be a bad plan.  Honestly at the point where you are you should either have it be determined by something simple (everyone is slowed, -1 defenses, can't move more than 3 squares from someone else), something they can ignore (most players will.  Especially people who want to charge out into the fray) or something that is completely narrative driven (easy to do and cure-all). 
Currently working on making a Dex based defender. Check it out here
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Need a few pre-generated characters for a one-shot you are running? Want to get a baseline for what an effective build for a class you aren't familiar with? Check out the Pregen thread here If ever you are interested what it sounds like to be at my table check out my blog and podcast here Also, I've recently done an episode on "Refluffing". You can check that out here