Posted in Gaming Advice, Set Piece

Set Piece: Market Terror

“You got any power cells for a Model 44?” Caleb asked the Toydarian vendor, as he perused the creature’s stall.

“Bolwola ticati” came the reply.

“Ohh, good.  How much….” 

“Caleb…” Renda called as she tapped on Caleb’s shoulder. 

“Hold on.. I’m doing business…   15 credits a pop?  These things are 15 credits mint in the Core and I know what you have isn…”

“Caleb.” Renda tapped more insistently.

Caleb looked over his shoulders toward the Rodian, she made a gesture toward the center of the market.  Caleb followed the gesture and saw a trio of Stormtroopers conversing near the market’s gaudy imperial statue. 

“Yeah Stormtroopers, I see them.  Be cool they’re not on to us.”

“Not the Stormtroopers, looks closer.”

Caleb scanned the crowd and found what had Renda spooked.  Four armed men were posted throughout the market.  They were anxious, Caleb could see the one closest to him was fingering his blaster’s trigger.  They kept glancing at the Stormtroopers in the center and they were also keeping an eye on the few on patrol.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” whispered Renda. “Somethings about to go down.”

“If it does, our mission gets a whole lot harder.”

Caleb watched as the man with the blaster gripped it firmly and started walking purposely toward the nearest trooper.

“Hux and Niner,” Caleb said into his com. “abort.  I repeat abort.”  The man with the blaster walked right up to the Imperial Trooper and shot him in the back.  A few people in the crowd screamed.  Then the statue in the center of the square exploded.


The following scene is about an attack that occurs in a crowded public space.  Given the state of things in the real world, this scene may not be suitable for some tables.   I originally wrote this scene a few years ago for the GamerNation Holocron. I have run this scene quite a few times in a star wars game, with warring Hutt factions, rebel vs Imperial faction, even Hutt vs Zann Consortium factions, each time the player took completely different routes.  I have also run this is a Numenara game and it turned out quite interesting.


Players are walking through or shopping at a busy open-air market, when a local gang, or resistance fighters, or rebel cell decided to attack the place. Their attack should be against another local faction or authority but could be against the PC’s directly if desired. Continue reading “Set Piece: Market Terror”

Posted in Gaming Advice, Set Piece

Set Piece: A Ship in a Storm

The deck bucked to the starboard as the wave crashed into the ship’s port side.  Sabastian could not keep his balance and slid across the quarter deck on his rear.  The jackline was the only thing that saved Sabastian from a watery grave.  He held onto the line with all his might as he slowly tried to get his feet below him. 

The captain was yelling orders from the wheel but Sabastian couldn’t hear a word of it above the wind and the rain and the churning seas.   This is bad.  The worst storm he’d seen.  Lightning arched across the sky above them, the thunder that followed did little to mask the load Crack that came from mizzenmast.  Even with sails stowed the mast had taken on more stress than it could bear.

Sabastian looked up just in time to dodge the tangle of rigging falling toward the deck.   Sabastian picked himself off the deck and found himself staring at the wave,  it was larger than their ship and was about to hit them once again on the port side.  It was then that he realized he no longer held the jackline. 

(image from The Perfect Storm ©2000 Warner Brothers)


I’ve been reading a lot of the 7th Sea Second Ed. Corebook lately and it’s got me jonesing for some high seas swashbuckling action.  A storm on a ship is a great encounter for the players to fight the elements rather than an enemy. (though having a ship battle in a storm is action extraordinaire) Now don’t think this Set Piece is only for ships at seas.  I’ve run this more times as a spaceship in an ion storm/nebula/fill in the blank/ type storm than I have one at sea.  I’ve even done this encounter with the players in an airship.  It’s always a fun time.


The players’ ship his run afoul of some nasty weather, can their ship survive? Can they stop themselves from going overboard? Continue reading “Set Piece: A Ship in a Storm”

Posted in General Writing, Set Piece

Set Piece: The Collapse

Zetov let out a primal roar as he swung his battle-axe at the chest of the Elder Lich, the axe head arced with lightning as it connected with the phylactery the Undead Lord wore brazenly around its neck.  The Gem shattered and the axe buried itself into the ribcage of the emaciating being. 

The Lich let out one last curse as it crumpled to the ground, the magic seeping from its bones.

“We did it!” Tholonious cheered as he put the arrow he had notched back in his quiver.  “How’s Tamra?”

“I’m… ok.” Tamra said with some effort as she gathered her spellbook off the floor and what components she could find that got scattered. She stumbled once more as the ground started to rumble.  “It’s not over…”

“Yes, it is.” Said Zetov, “he’s dead.  Truly dead this time.”   The ground shook once more and a few rocks fell from the ceiling.

“Tholo, help me,” Tamra ordered with concern. “We’ve got to get out of here.”

“Why? What’s happening.” Tholonious asked as he made his way over to the injured mage.

“The Lich’s magic was all that was holding this place together.  With him gone this whole temple is coming down.”

A large CRACK came from above them.

“But what about the Lich’s Treasure? We have to find it.” Zetov insisted.  Just then a rock from the ceiling slammed into the statue above the alter.  Zetov had to dive out of the way to avoid the massive rocks.

The floor under Tamra started to slip away. Tholonious quickly grabbed the mage and  they started running towards the exit.  “You can have the treasure or your life Zetov, but We’re leaving.” The elf replied.

(Image from Raiders of the Lost Arc ©1981 Paramount Pictures)


The players are in a mine, temple, burning inn, castle, cave, underground facility, space station… whatever, when something causes it to no longer be structurally sound.  It is coming down on the players and it is time for them to run.


Chaotic retreat is the name of the game.  Escape should not be straight forward there should be many many obstacles in the player’s path.

Setting future obstacles up ahead of time will pay dividends at the table. You know the place is going to collapse, so as the characters make their way in, describe large pieces of furniture, huge ceiling fixtures, chandeliers, statues, whatever you can think of that fits your setting.  On the way in the players will appreciate your attention to detail, then understand when that details become hazards as they make their escape. As they flee keep your description’s fast pace as you move quickly from one player to the next.

Don’t let “I run..” be an action the player can make. They need to be “I leap over the fallen statue” or “I try my best to prop the door for the others”


The environment is the biggest threat.  The oxygen seeping out of a hole in the hull, the boulders falling from the ceiling, the traps(or trap parts) the players bypassed on the way in, the big crevasse on the floor widening every turn, whatever fits your setting.  Make a short list of environmental problems the collapse can cause before you begin, so you can pull them out with a quickness to challenge your players.

Want an added threat?  What if this collapse happens when the players were confronting a rival group.  Maybe after one side  grabbed a McGuffin.  Having antagonistic NPC also in the mix makes for a very memorable scene.  (remember the antagonist want to escape as well though.. Make sure the players see them struggling to survive the environment along side them, not just attacking the PCs)


Skill checks rule the day in a scene like this.  There is many ways to run a scene like this.  You can set it up like an old school skill challenge (Ex.  Players need 3 successes before 2 failures)  Or you can go by a round timer (ceiling is going to collapse completely in 8 rounds, it takes 5 rounds of movement to get to the exit, failures in round means no or half movement).  Or the third options is going full narrative and have the thing collapse completely when it’s dramatically appropriate.

Failure to escape doesn’t have to mean you die.  You take damage, sure, knocked unconscious, most likely, but you could just find yourself buried in a whole lot of rubble trapped until the rest of the party digs you out.   Or maybe you stumbled upon a hidden passage.


This kind of scene can take 15 minutes to run or 45+ it really depends on the type of thing that is collapsing.  Try your best, however, to keep it brief.  It should be a desperate escape, not a long drawn out affair.  In that regard try not to make the rounds seem like combat rounds.  Your players aren’t rolling dice every turn, only when something gets in their way and makes it a challenge to progress further.  If you run the scenario like combat rounds it can wear out its novelty before the players have reached the exit forcing you to ‘fudge’ final run and collapse, making things a tad anti-climatic.

Let the players describe their actions. “I slide across the floor through the legs of the oversized sofa.” So that you don’t have to think up all the cool things, let them be descriptive.  If your players are inclined even ask them “What do you see up ahead that blocks your path?”  While they are describing the obstacle they are also thinking a cool way to get past it, which can make the player feel more heroic.   To keep other players engaged you can ask them “What difficulty does Jake encounter next?” allowing them to make it harder for each other.  This type of narrative involvement doesn’t work for all groups.  Try it, but don’t force it if it falls flat.

The PC will have to think fast, make your players do so as well.  Demand snappy answers.  If the player can’t think of something quickly say “you stumble on the shifting ground” and move on to the next player.  Go back to the stumbling player after the other players have gone.  (some players don’t like this kind of pressure or really perform poorly under stress… if you see this happening offer suggestions on what they can do, allow other players to as well, do not, however, decide for them or allow another player to… It’s their character)

The “BBEG dies and now you have to run”, and “you grabbed the McGuffin and now the place is collapsing” are pretty standard tropes, use this sparingly only once per campaign.  However, there are many different reasons why something the players are in is collapsing so you can use this few times.  “The Keep is on fire and collapsing around you” feels a lot different to “the temple is falling apart as it falls back into the sea”  So while different scenes, you can run them the same way.

If you are worried about being railroady, set a parameter on the collapse. “If the players do this ____ it will cause the place to collapse”  Make that ‘thing’ something that is ‘likely’ to happen but not mission critical or a definite. If you want  maybe put in a hard roll for the players to “spot” the trap before they spring it.