Handling Ambushes

Handling Ambushes

Handling Ambushes

So how would you handle this situation; the players enter a swamp and have to deal with lizard men using guerrilla tactics. I wanted to start off with an ambush but don’t want to make a hard move of “a spear hits you in the back”. If discern realities is used that’s a no brainer. I also know the “do what the fiction demands”. I’m thinking of just doing “a spear flies over your shoulder embedding itself in a nearby tree. What do you do?”. Curious how others have handled sneak attacks, snipers and other lurking dangers.

13 thoughts on “Handling Ambushes”

  1. I started a campaign with the players underground crossing a bridge over a chasm. I told them they had taken cover behind large statues, and that arrows were landing all around them from somewhere farther beyond, in the dark.

    It worked well!

  2. Id’ give hints first, maybe the players spot a spike pit, or the remains of a previous ambushee, to keep them on edge a bit while moving into the swamps.

    Then you can harass them, maybe they spot lizardmen off to the side shadowing them, but lose sight quickly. Perhaps they dodge some flung spears and expect combat but by the time they’ve realized the enemies have melted away.

    I highly recommend tuckerskobolds.com – TuckersKobolds.com for how to correctly harass your party and keep them afraid of even simple enemies.

  3. Perhaps a location move:

    When you wander into an ambush, roll + WIS. On a 10+, you know what’s coming and can turn the tables on the attackers. Gain +1 ongoing against them while they don’t realize that you know they’re waiting. On a 7-9, you know, and they know you know.

    I opted for +1 ongoing “while they don’t realize that you know they’re waiting.” instead of +1 forward. This gives a little fictional space where the PCs can coordinate a complex response, giving each player a chance to do something, as long as they don’t tip off that the ambush is blown.

    This also leaves room that on a subsequent miss, the ambushers might figure it out and rush to exploit the miss:

    “So, you know there’s an ambush waiting to strike you, and start casting a spell but rolled a 4? Yeah… a nervous lizard man breaks under the tension, and his spear comes flinging out of the bushes. You’ve got a spear through your gut; mark damage and let me know what that does to your spell casting.”

  4. btw: The villagers tell you that the lizardmen in the swamp are known to strike from hiding and will ambush you.

    is enough of a soft move to just spring an ambush on them.

  5. I did it with kobolds.

    It’s a location Move. When you’re in the Swamp of the Lizard Men, there’s always a Lizard Man in the worst place.

    You don’t start with a spear in the back. But when the first player fighting the lizard man to the front gets an attack made against them, they get a spear in the back from a different lizard man. Mechanically the same as the usual melee result, but fictionally different.

    Or a lizard man drops from a tree above you, or swings from a rope, or what you thought was a tree hits you with an axe.

    Likewise, a volleyer or wizard in cover in one direction who puts themselves in a spot gets a return fire from lizard men to the side or emerging from a pool beside them; the thief ducking into the covering underbrush finds camouflaged lizardmen were waiting there before him.

    And so on.

    Like always, the rules remain the same, and the fiction delivers the ambush

  6. Go watch Platoon and used whatever ideas you like.

    The players should know they are going to a green hell, as wounded adventurers and coffins line the streets of the town in the border of the swamp, and tell of the lizardman tactics.

    The first shot (arrow, dart, javelin) should always hit a visible tree or rock, giving enough time for the players to duck and cover. However, the guide or henchman should get one in the throat.

    From then, the next attacks can be rolled normally, punishing those that don’t pay attention.

    (Bonus points if they can call in a Flying Carpet air support name “Raider of the Sky”).

  7. Step 1: Point to a Looming Threat

    “About half an hour into the swamp ( muggy, squelching, insect buzz everywhere), you find a pile of polished humanoid skulls. Some are cracked, others just polished clean, but clearly some_one_ stacked them here. What do you do?”

    (maybe they Spout Lore and learn about lizardfolk and their ways; maybe they Discern Realities and learn that the skulls have been stacked over months if not years. Maybe they roll a miss and you advance a grim portent and chuckle, or reveal an unwanted truth. Or, on a miss, you jump straight to an Step 4 and hit them with the ambush, maybe even jumping straight to Deal Damage)

    Step 2: Change the Environment

    “As you press on, the way gets harder and the swamp gets deeper, thicker, harder to navigate. You’re not really sure you’re still following the trail, and night is closing in. What do you do?”

    (maybe they press on, someone defying danger with WIS or INT to keep them on the trail, everyone else defying danger with CON to keep going… softer GM moves here, even on a miss, just cranking up tension: use up their resources, show signs of an approaching threat, advance a grim portent, think offscreen while you’re doing so)

    Step 3: Show Signs of an Approaching Threat

    As a soft move: “You feel this… pressure all around the swamp. The buzz of insect noise grows louder, the head more oppressive. As you press on, you feel… no, you just know that you’re being watched. Especially as you come to this low, flooded out mire, with reeds and trees all over, and you can’t help but think this’d be the perfect place for an ambush, what do you do?”

    (they probably Discern Realities at this point. On a miss, ambush them, hard, straight to Step 4, including damage. What should I be on the lookout for? There’re big, man-sized things hiding in the grass. What isn’t what it seems? The shallow-looking mire that you have to cross, there’s a net trap across the bottom of it, waiting for someone to step init. What is about to happen? You’re about to get peppered by blowguns and spears from the reeds; you see them starting to move and throw, what do you do?!?”)

    Step 4: Put Them in a Spot

    As a soft move: “There’s a blur of motion, a spear lands in the mud next to you and you’re under attack, surrounded, a spear is heading towards Avon and you see one of them with a blowgun at its… lips? Aiming right at you, what do you do?”

    As a hard move: “THUNK! Fwwip! WHOOSH! A bunch of spears and darts just come outta nowhere. You each take 1d6 damage. Did anyone roll a 6? Well, yeah, you got tagged with a tiny little dart, barely noticed it, except moments later the skin where it hit on the back of your neck, it’s just boiling and burning with pain, omigosh it’s bad. Everyone else, you’re surrounded, who knows how many lizardfolk in the reeds, what do you all do?”

  8. Thanks for the ideas. Is there ever a time when a hidden enemy could cause damage right out of the gate due to an ambush or a sniper? On one hand we have “do as the fiction demands” on the other we have “be a fan of the characters”. I like the idea of a location move. This adventure focuses on other aspects of the swamp but I want to cause the feeling of paranoia of constantly being observed and occasionaly attacked with hit and run tactics .

  9. Erik Buchanan one of the GM Moves is “Deal damage”

    When everyone looks to you to see what happens, or when they give you a golden opportunity, or when they roll a 6-, you get to make a move.

    So there absolutely can be times when an enemy could cause damage right out of the gate, if it’s consistent with the GM Principles and Agenda.

    Another thing to consider, since damage can be one of the more boring results of an enemy attack: is it more interesting if the ambush catches the PCs in a trap (put someone in a spot) or cuts off one party member from the rest (Separate them)?

    “As you force through the dense underbrush, you hear a loud snap to your right, and then, immediately after, a cord tightens around your ankle and tears your leg out from under you. You are now hanging upside down, a meter above the foliage, and a lizard man is staring at you from their perch in a nearby tree. What do you do?”

    You’ve spring the ambush and put them in danger, without actually dealing damage. And the other players should have a clear idea that there are both traps and enemies in this area. If they rush into the thicket, charge at the enemy, etc, they may well end up hanging about the ground as well.

    One caveat: off the top of my head, The Thief has an advanced move that lets them never be taken by surprise; i’d make sure that you aren’t overlooking moves like this, as that would undercut the player’s choices and the heroism of their PC.

  10. Andrew Fish nice catch on the advanced thief move. I think I’ll do a location move for the very first lizardmen ambush and just let future ambushes flow organically from moves made. The first encounter will let the players know that there are lizardmen and that they are using guerrilla tactics. What happens next will be on them.

  11. “OK, you made it back to base camp. The Ranger and two of the troopers are down with injuries. About 2am you get woken up with a report that Charlie err… Kitrisk is in the fucking wire. What do you do ?

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