And by let’s I mean I will and you can read along as I do it. Because you’re too lazy to help out. Dickhole.
Alright time to get started
Step 1 and 2, find your hook and define it in narrative or mechanical terms.
So… What’s my hook gonna be? How bout a fight in a spinning room, like maybe a train car falling off a track. We’re basically look to recreate something that feel like the inception no gravity fight scene. I’m most interested in the mechanical aspect so I start with that.
We want the effect to happen continually so once per round on a specific initiate count, a flip should trigger. Since it’s not exactly regular, roll a d20 at the end of every round to figure out when it triggers. This will keep it unpredictable. The exact effect should be a force movement of the players. Roll a d8 to determine the direction everyone falls. Then roll a d20 to determine the force of the impact. They have to make a strength save(perhaps acrobatics prof) to keep their feet.
Sweet, I got the basics. Time to give it some narrative weight. So, We need them in the train car, and fighting when it blows. We could just start them there, but I think it’s better if they get in with the action building. The iconic thing for trains is a chase over the roof. So lets do that. They are on the train, a group of robbers come on and starts holding up the train. If the party doesn’t rise to the bait they take something the party needs/wants. Party gets aggressive, Robbers flee. Alternatively, robbers flee because “We need to make the drop point.” Party needs to follow if they want their shit. They get to the car and the track is supposed to blow after the car has passed but they fucked it up and the car is blown off the track(as is the whole train).
Step 3 and 4, Set and Fuck with narrative and mechanical expectations
So, we have the elevator pitch lets set the bones.
First the type of encounter, Chase to Combat. So, it’s really 2 in 1. Calculate 2 sets of XP, and since we really want to get to the combat make the chase easy. I would say it’s a 300 ft chase, should give us Approx 5 rounds(60 feet per round). I’d skip the chase table, just having a few jump tests for the edge of cars and a tunnel(acrobatics check) on round 3. That should give the flavor. Based on how well the party does, I’d give them bonuses when they get to the encounter. Let’s say for each person dropped we halve the HP of one of the guys fighting. For every round they get there before 5, give them that number of rounds to fight without the car spinning and falling. I’d be unclear on the number of robbers, having people appear from view and disapear from view alot. If anyone drops a robber during the chase, it was a minion, regardless of which one they dropped.
When they get to the combat, calculate XP using Bandits and Bandit Leader, adjusted for level. I don’t have level nor do I care here, so we’ll ignore it. It’s not a lair, there are no traps, and the enemy should have standard abilities. Everything besides the hook should be standard mechanically. That and the terrain.
If the train car is bouncing, it’s probably rolling. Which means the wall or ceiling might be down. Make 4 maps of the same size, each representing the floor, wall, or ceiling. Label the grid with A-Z on one axis and 1-100 on the other and label each map 1-4. This way when you change maps you can just map a person to the right spot then apply the right falling movement. Every time you force players to move, roll a d4. If the number is the number of the map you’re using, it just means the car bounced. If it’s a different number it means the car rolled. Place the new map and proceed.
Step 5, Apply narrative logic to mechanical effects and Mechanical logic to narrative situations.
So narrative logic says that this car can only fall for so long. Now realistically that should be a matter of seconds, but that would only be a few rounds, if that. We’ll keep the basics and say 6 rounds. You have to be 6Km up to fall for 36 seconds, but we’re gonna say bouncing off the mountain is slowing it down a bit, plus it may roll once it hits the valley below. So on round 6, Make an athletics check. Failure we’ll call falling 50 feet. Saving halve damage. so 5d10. That’s brutal at low level but don’t forget to apply it to the NPC’s. It’s entirely likely everyone drops and is out for a few hours. That can make an interesting social encounter as both sides are too hurt to fight and need to trust each other to get out.
We don’t really need to add mechanical logic to narrative, since this is mostly narrative focused but I suppose we could. So that first explosion that blows the train off? It’s a fireball. Make everyone(NPC’s included save). And since we only care about the boss as a character, who needs to make it to the final battle to make it more inserting, lets use the 4e minion rules for minions during the chase. Any hit drops them, probably off the track.
Step 6, Create an additional easy mode and hard mode
Alright we need to boost this in case the party does super well and it looks like you aren’t gonna get to the fireball explosion. Easy solution is a second wave of minion NPC’s show up late and the Boss says finally and triggers explosion. But how bout something more interesting? A second tunnel, allowing the robbers to hide in the darkness(even with dark vision it’s dim light which lets them hide). Or foreshadow the fall mechanic by having the conductor slam on the brakes. DC 18 to keep your feet.
Now, if the party is failing all their falling roles as it spins and you need to make it easier? Simple, 1-4 minions fail enough to fall out a window. It makes the encounter seem all the more dangerous while actually making it easier.
Step 7, Create the enemy strategy and pre plan a few sets of actions and reactions
The big thing to remember here is they are robbers not murders. They want to get away with loot. Things that will hinder the party from following are great. So mechanics to bind, restrict, or if you have injury options to cause limps are good to use. Once it lands, the robbers who are up will beat feet and a new chase might begin.
I’d say have the boss be a distance guy trying to buff his friends. We made him the Bandit leader but maybe give him the spell bless 3xday? and a few healing potions to toss out at good measure. The minions should try and attack the biggest threat as a group, possibly try and grapple and bind them if you allow that at your table. It’s definitely not a mage killing party, seeking the weak link, nor will it go after big armor guy, unless he’s the one that appears like he’s gonna put out the most damage. These guys are all about neutralizing threats and trying to survive.
Step 8, Clearly define the outcome for victory and defeat.
Victory, they capture the leader(or kill him) and there is exposition leading to a bandit group opening up a new quest line.
Defeat, The robbers knock them out and run. Maybe take clearly valuable shit.
Step 9, Apply finishing touches
Normally I’d use this to go through the actual numbers, but since we don’t have any I can’t. Also I’d write a few box text options for descriptions of when the fireball goes off, lines the boss will say, minions falling off the train, the train car bouncing and spinning, ect ect. But No real need for it here.
So yeah, we’ve just built an encounter. Go us.