Vehicle Race Combat

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In my next D&D session I run (which is in the Dark Sun setting), the PC's will be boarding a sand skiff and venturing out into the desert. I have planned for on their way, they get attacked by tribal people riding giant worms (Dune, anyone?) and have to fend them off. What I have planned right now, is that in order to fend off the worms, the PC's have to jump from the sand skiff onto the worms, and then beat through its armor, and then attack its soft flesh beneath while fending off the worm's handlers.

They can tether themselves to the sand skiff, but that limits their mobility. While there's an NPC there to do it, the PC's can (if they wish) drive the sand skiff, manipulating the sails to alter speed and direction (there's a primal wind/sand spirit helping them, so don't worry about that). The skiff has a certain amount of HP, and they can ram the worms for damage, but also lose that much HP of the skiff.

During the race, there will be obstacles and terrain that they can attempt to use to their advantage. Rocky outcroppings, large dunes, etc. That they can choose to steer into to get an advantage, but possibly at the expense of their skiff's HP.

I'm thinking of giving them a finite supply of thumper-charges that distract the worms, explosives, and various other throwable things or useable items to make the fight more interesting.

I'm going to work the entire encounter by drawing nothing on the map itself, but rather having physical, moveable objects represent terrain and such- I even made a sand skiff shape out of cardboard, paperclips, and tape that will represent the PC's sand skiff.

Does anyone have any suggestions or ideas? Any resources?

You might want to look up Xenogears - had a nice scene with sand ship battles, and Chrono Trigger had a good model of a "Race".

Within; Without.

Nice. My first thoughts: 

Will the players be able to knock the tribals off their worms and take the reins, so to speak? Because that's what I would try. Think Nature checks to get the worm under control, for example. 

How is this a race, exactly? Do the skiffs keep moving all the time, and will the worms pursue? Your description doesn't make that quite clear. 

If so, what happens if someone gets knocked off their skiff or worm? Do they get left behind? How fast ar the vehicles moving at any rate? Consider giving all combatants the opportunity to get back to a vehicle with two run actions. In that case, speed 12-14 would seems appropriate. Resets the battlefield every round too, which is pretty cool.

How do the worms react when they become bloodied? Do they even have actions and statblocks, and what do they do during the fight? I'd think a dying sandworm could go into quite the destructive rage (or simlpy dive below the sands, giving everyone on it one round to get off or be buried alive).

Can the players distract or manipulate the worms so that they'll crash into obstacles?
Don't forget the environment. Add specific scenes on the route where the PCs can use the environment against the opponents or the other way around. For example, the PCs might choose to cut a corner by skipping over a rock outcropping. Doing so requires some excellent steering, with failure resulting in a partially damaged ship and PCs or the opponents getting closer. Success means the worms have to skirt the rocks (only burrowing throught the silt). Don't hesitate to let the players know the skills and DCs. It gives them a choice about risk:reward of a specific action.
You might also make use of repair or engineering skills to repair damage in between encounters, or have the ship "take a bump" giving everyone balance/reflex and other associated checks. You can have monsters jump out of the sand and attack the players, or you can have a large animal bone hit the ships rudder forcing a brief "stop break" for repair.

You might even have them find a wreckage of another sand ship to determine to explore.

I would break the "Legs" down into their own "Scene", each "Scene" would present 1-3 environmental hazards (such as heat checks, removing water rations and things like that, sandstorms clogging the engine, etc), and about 5 skill checks to outpace the opponent.

You might have "Two out of Three" rolls for navigate, 1 roll for engineering/repair, 1 roll for spot (look for hazards to avoid or be taken by suprise by something).

I would have every "Scene" begin with 1-2 skill checks, a hazard everyone is aware of, and 2-3 encounters. Then, I would "zoom out" and have the players make a few "Left-Right" choices. On the left, is a shorter path with rough terrain on the right is a longer path with smooth terrain. Then, zoom back in and to the next scene.

Good luck and tell us how it goes!

The Anime "Green Legend Ran" has some scenes you might be interested in also.

Within; Without.

I would break each scene into a complexity 1 skill challenge. You sound like you have lots of content already, just build the mechanics around what you have.
Check the back of the Eberron Campaign Guide.

There's a travelling combat almost exactly like you describe. They're on a small airship being pursued by enemies. Instead of giant worms, it's... for a lack of a better term, "hoverboards." (Eberron calls them "soar sleds," which is not a better term.)

I think there was a tip or two on handling the map, and movement. There were even rules for jumping onto the hoverboards and throwing off their riders.

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?


An insightful observation about the nature of 4e, and why it hasn't succeeded as well as other editions. (from the DDN General Discussions, 2014-05-07)

Rundell wrote:


Emerikol wrote:


Foxface wrote:

        4e was the "modern" D&D, right?  The one that had design notes that drew from more modern games, and generally appealed to those who preferred the design priorities of modern games.  I'm only speculating, but I'd hazard a guess that those same 4e players are the ones running the wide gamut of other games at Origins.

        D&D 4e players are pretty much by definition the players who didn't mind, and often embraced, D&D being "different".  That willingness to embrace the different might also mean they are less attached to 4e itself, and are willing to go elsewhere.

    This is a brilliant insight.  I was thinking along those lines myself.  


    There are so many tiny indie games that if you added them all together they would definitely rival Pathfinder.   If there were a dominant game for those people it would do better but there is no dominant game.  Until 4e, the indie people were ignored by the makers of D&D.


Yep. 4E was embraced by the 'system matters' crowd who love analyzing and innovating systems. That crowd had turned its back on D&D as a clunky anachronism. But with 4E, their design values were embraced and validated. 4E was D&D for system-wonks. And with support for 4E pulled, the system-wonks have moved on to other systems. The tropes and traditions of D&D never had much appeal for them anyway. Now there are other systems to learn and study. It's like boardgamegeeks - always a new system on the horizon. Why play an ancient games that's seven years old?


Of course, not all people who play and enjoy 4E fit that mould. I'm running a 4E campaign right now, and my long-time D&D players are enjoying it fine. But with the system-wonks decamping, the 4E players-base lost the wind in its sails.

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