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The party is on an implicitely timed mission: children have been abducted by bad guys and it is now known that they're in danger of being sacrificed in the near future. The module I'm using doesn't give any explicit timeline for this. There's a reason as to why it's not happening right now, but it's also hard to imagine that situation remaining forever.

The party has already rested once but now they're in the final dungeon and it just doesn't seem "right" that such rescuers would decide "hey, let's rest 8+ hours, the kids will wait". It just doesn't make sense. Yet, if they don't rest soon, they will have depleted all their resources and they still have quite a lot of tough encounters to go through to finish the quest. They're already down quite a few spells because of healing requirements... and yet, their health isn't at peak condition, and it's not going to get any better.

How can I reconcile this need for hurry and the need to rest?

EDIT: The adventure is from an official 32 pages Paizo module, Crown of the Kobold King, and I don't have enough experience as a GM to know what the current party can take. There is nothing in the text saying the party is expected to rest once or twice to go through the last dungeon... and yet, it is becoming obvious the current group is going to be utterly exhausted when it's finally time to deal with the BBEG.

I don't want the party to fail because, from my (admittedly still amateur) point of view, they have done nothing wrong, even if they're not the absolute best, most efficient team ever. I'd rather not have them rest in-story because it would kill suspension of disbelief (note: players are aware of the situation and agree).

Here are a few solutions I can think of. I'd like opinions and possibly more/better ones to pick from.

  • Allow a meta-rest (instant refresh for everyone), possibly justified in-story by divine intervention. Not big on the Deus Ex Machina, but eh...
  • Cut down on upcoming encounters
  • Modify/add loot to have more healing items or things that would replace their unuseable spells in battle

The simulationist in me has trouble with the idea of changing content on the fly, but the storyteller in me certainly doesn't think their failing would make for a fun story/game... especially after about 20 short sessions (longest adventure we've run so far).


EDIT(2): I've had a talk with the player (it's actually one-on-one but he controls the 4 PCs) and I've confirmed one thing: he is not fond of having to choose between PCs dying or children dying. Paraphrasing his words: "either would make me bitter".

The inclusion of endangered children was actually a big "would prefer not" in our social contract but the module was interesting enough, so I made them older (more late teenagers) and plan to be careful with them as a GM. It has worked out so far.

While PC death or maiming could be acceptable under certain stated circumstances (really stupid player choices or as important narrative elements), it is not going to be preferred or taken lightly. Basically, we do roleplay-lite and are not looking for heart-wrenching choices in general (nothing grimdark if possible).

As such, I will be more attentive to ideas on how to help the party, as per the original question.

We're playing at a rather slow pace (usually once every two weeks) and the party is not yet with its back against the wall, so the question remains open if anyone wants to chime in with other suggestions, whether as answers or comments.

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Be careful not to invalidate the choices the players make for their characters. Although I understand your concern with not ending up with a TPK, you have deliberately set up a situation where they have to make hard choices. If you then fudge the consequences of those, then it completely undoes the whole point of what you were trying to set up in the first place. –  Phil Aug 5 '13 at 11:09
    
@Phil Edited to explain I'm using a premade module. I had no idea I was getting the party into such a situation. I'd like to keep the tension, but not at the cost of getting a TPK :/ So I think I'm trying to retroactively "fix" the module now that I've realized it seems to have (way too) high expectations of the party. –  leokhorn Aug 5 '13 at 11:21
    
One-on-one changes things. Is there one character (definitely harder to balance out, see all the one-on-one questions), or a whole party, in which case there's no way he can be that attached to all of them and a couple party character deaths shouldn't be that traumatic? –  mxyzplk Aug 13 '13 at 13:06
    
I tend to avoid spoilery details in such questions both to avoid spoilers to unsuspecting players and to make such questions more encompassing and interesting. Would it be preferred if I just layed out the exact situation so answers can be as precise as possible? –  leokhorn Aug 13 '13 at 14:18
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8 Answers

up vote 19 down vote accepted

Good question! And one every GM has to deal with from time to time I would think. I'd probably pick one or two of these:

Keep the pace. Part of your story revolves around urgency. Let them feel stressed out, make your encounters heave for breath, more so the closer the party gets to the final boss fight. Try to make them feel guilty for even the slightest pause, thorough searching etc.

Help them recover. Let the PCs discover an old and forgotten crate with a nearly empty healing wand, some crumbling restoration scrolls and a six-pack of useful potions with faded labels.

Surprise the badguys. Villains also need to deal with changing schedules.

  • An important ritual component is lost or spilled on the floor during preparation and a minion is dispatched to the nearest town to procure more.
  • A pair of blundering ogres accidentally discover the villains hideout and must be dealt with, depleting resources.
  • A cloudy night sky diminishes moon power, so the ritual is postponed for a day or two until weather clears up.
  • The players can mess up the villains schedule. Give them a chance to funnel a swarm of dire bats into the villains part of the dungeon, thus creating havoc and buying time.
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I really like the "surprise the bad guys" ideas as this could be rather transparent. It inspired me the following: I'll have an expedition sent by the villain to gather a missing component for the ritual. Said expedition will face the heroes on its way out (dungeon layout totally enforces this). If expedition is beaten, no component, no ritual for a while. If some manage to get through, party is assured it will take 8+ hours for them to get back, allowing for one more rest before things get hairy. –  leokhorn Aug 5 '13 at 11:03
    
I also keep forgetting about limited-use wands. May use this too if needed. –  leokhorn Aug 5 '13 at 11:04
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I like the "give them a chance to create havoc". +1 –  kravaros Aug 5 '13 at 15:49
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I had a similar situation earlier, for which I asked this question.

Basically, the answers I got were along the lines of "let the players decide". Besides that - there are some things you can decide that might be interesting for the game.

The World Is Not Going To End

If the players get there too late and the kids are dead - yeah it will suck, but it happens. If the players decide they need to rest, then doing so will have consequences, maybe very interesting ones - for the characters. This failure to save the children might be the most interesting thing in the game. Depending on how the characters view the world around them through their alignment and how the players are playing them, They may do any number of things.

  • They could shake it off, kill the bad guys, and return home to the village (or whatever) with the dead children's bodies and not accept a reward, but assure the town that the evil have been vanquished.
  • They could vow to never let this happen again - causing them to start stocking up on many supplies so that time and personal injury won't ever be a cause for innocent death again!
  • This could cause the characters to spiral into depression, start drinking, maybe this decline will lead them to a horrible underbelly of society.

Hanging On By A Thread

The players could decide that this is extremely important to them, and not stop to rest. Doing this would be hard for them, and the would need to carefully plan their next moves, with limited spells and hitpoints.

  • They could resort to stealth, instead of fighting their way through, they could sneak around the enemies.
  • They might use trickery, or bribery to get there way, confusing enemies or bribing lower-level minions into leaving them alone.
  • Fight tooth and nail to the last man. Resolving that the lives of the children are more important than their own.

We Are Not Alone

Maybe another group of adventurers is also on their way to help save the kids, and run into your group who are in need of rest.

  • They could join them - and without wasting any time, together join up to pursue the enemy and you could let each player also play one of the NPC characters just for this quest.
  • They might heal the characters slightly give them some supplies and then rush on ahead - only to die by other minions, after clearing a path for the players of course.
  • They could be coming back from rescuing the kids already!
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Dead children: while a possibility, I'd rather keep that for real screw-ups on the part of the party. I'm otherwise trying to keep things a bit more light-hearted (the module is already pushing my limits what with putting kids at risk like this). Stealth and Tricks: a possibility. I don't know how well the party could pull it off, but it may work. One issue is that the adventure has a lot of ambushes or somewhat forced battles. Other Adventurers: already happened in a sense (some of the kids escaped with help from a treasure-hunter). They also "recruited" some beat-up minions. –  leokhorn Aug 5 '13 at 11:39
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Inactivity (ie. rest) is a screw-up on part of the party. By letting them take their time this time, they'll know that you'll never enforce a time limit in the future. Meet them half-way. If they take a rest, after a few hours, let the party's wizard or cleric sense a great evil, that the ritual is starting. If they leave now, they will arrive in time to prevent any sacrifices. Grant them partial benefit from the rest, such as some HP and lower level spells. If they finish their rest, then they purposely ignored the obvious warnings and fail. –  Hand-E-Food Aug 5 '13 at 22:54
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I like the first bullet point, but like the OP commented, letting the children just die is a bit of an anticlimax, and not usually appropriate for a heroic campaign. However, there are several other options, such as the (rested) party finding the kids alive - but brainwashed by the kidnappers. Or perhaps they find the kidnappers massacred and the kids gone, taken by someone else. Both options are great springboards for the next adventure! –  lisardggY Aug 6 '13 at 5:51
    
One thing you should make sure you do is tell them (out of character is probably best) the consequences of resting and ask them if they really want to do it. Saying something like "the bad guys are going to start sacrificing the kids in a few hours, if you rest at least some of the will be dead by the time you arrive" which doesn't violate the spirit of the badness (dead kids) but allows for less of a binary win/lose state than simply saying "if you rest they all die, if you don't you're stretched thin." –  Colin Aug 7 '13 at 16:27
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Potions and Scrolls

Nobody likes deus ex machina, and nobody wants to see any children die, so what you need are some good old potions and scrolls. It's really that simple!

  • Potion of Cure (Light/Moderate/Serious depending on APL)
  • Potion of Resist Energy (probably Fire)
  • Potion of Lesser Restoration (if they've taken any ability damage)
  • Scroll of Fireball (or whatever damage spell the caster can cast, and set the CL high enough to be useful)
  • Scroll of Haste (or whatever other buffs they like)

A pack of these goodies found on the corpse of an enemy or previous adventurer means that the choice is still in your players' hands, but the decision has gone from

Die trying to save the children, or let them die?

to

Use all these really valuable magic items to save the children, or sell the items for tons of gold (and let the children die)?

This is still a hard decision for (some) players to make, but now it's a much more fun decision!

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I definitely plan to add some such loot. Thanks for examples of what exactly could be useful! –  leokhorn Aug 5 '13 at 14:51
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Wow, that was totally a BioWare moment. I could almost feel that Renegade Interrupt! Honestly, while the concerns are completely valid, I don't think most people would realisitically let kiddies be tortured/sacrified just because they're tired/hurt. If you've got a Cleric, then you may have a God on your side; why not a 'small' (but plausible) boon for doing a Good Deed, and needing that little 'oomph'. Awesome for your team and you; that's when RPG'ing becomes its best, during little cliffhangers like that. –  Jersey Aug 5 '13 at 20:37
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Convenient divine intervention

Sounds pretty forced, I know. But bear with me.

One of my backup tricks is for the party to discover a hidden/lost shrine which will give them an edge I didn't expect them to need: a night's sleep in five minutes, a boost to attack rolls, an insight into the weaknesses of an upcoming monster, or the like.

My favorite gimmick is the "puzzle shrine," where the shrine contains some puzzle that must be solved in order to gain its benefit. This could involve answering a riddle, recalling some lore, proving one's worth, and so forth.

The trick is making the puzzle something the relate to the fiction of the game: I frequently make it an RP opportunity which prompts the party to recall something important from earlier in the campaign that I want to remind them of.

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Make it meaningful.

The question of whether the children die or not is actually somewhat irrelevant. The most important is that the player's choice has an impact on the gameworld and remains meaningful. It's their choice to rest or not. And there are consequences to their choice:

Choice: Rest. Consequence: arrive too late.

The choice to rest is the rational one. If they arrive too late, they will still be able to survive the encounter, and perhaps save more children in the long run.

But the consequences are dire. The children will die, or worse. Make your players feel it. Have the grief-stricken mother lash out at the adventurer. Have the village inns close before the characters. Have them earn a reputation for failure. Roleplay it. Make it hard to live with. Make the world react to their choice. Make villains gloat over them about how they couldn't save the children, so what do they expect to do now. Make people resent their wealth, earnt by spilling the blood of children (in villager's minds). Have the characters overhear a conversation about them in a tavern, where their names are cursed as pariahs.

This isn't nice. This isn't fair. But then life isn't.

The motivation to redeem their names can be a powerful force in the PC's lives, and can lead to some future adventures and eventual redemption. Powerful stuff.

Choice: Push through. Consequence: Save the children but suffer personally.

To be human is not to be rational. We send out five hundred people to look for a single lost person. We send teams into burning building to recover a single casualty. To be human is to be irrational. To be human is to care about each other beyond reason.

How much the characters suffer if really up to you as a GM. It's perfectly acceptable to come to a TPK in order to save some children.

This is the stuff of legends.

A brave band of adventurers, committing the ultimate sacrifice of their lives to save the innocent. These are the moment we roleplay for. As a GM do whatever it takes for the players to die bravely, just as the children reach safety, shielding the innocents from arrows using their own bodies. Fighting with their last breath. Narrate a scene of the villagers mourning the heroes at a shrine dedicated to their memory. Narrate the reunion of the children with their parents. Narrate their lives as they grow up and have children of their own. Make your players feel that their choice led to goodness in the world. Make your players feel it in their bones.

When your player's new characters enter the gameworld, have bards tell the tale. Have people use the dead character's names in every day conversation "I swear it upon Eldric the brave's grave", or "Grow some backbone, men! Remember Safiya's sacrifice! Attack!". Make their choice matter.

Mechanically, if they decide to push through, you can make it clear that this will cost them by giving them all a "Heroic Sacrifice" Feat, which allows them to defer the consequences of injury until their current quest is done, but doubles it when it finally comes. Explain to you player the choice and make the mechanic reflect what you want to create.

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Time pressure is always a tricky motivator in games where PC's need to recover their resources. My solution has always been to reward progress as much completion.

They should be rescuing children as they go. Every major encounter should have one or more of the children at stake. If they're rescued, the party feels empowered and knows that even if they can't rescue everyone, they can at least do some degree of good.

From there, the choice between resting and not resting becomes less about the general goal -- rescue the hostages -- which is being met, and more of a specific one. Perhaps the bad guys decided to sacrifice only one of the children. Why? Because she's utterly selfless. She offered herself willingly and without trouble if the other younger kids would be let go. She threw himself on the daggers of the bad guys when they set on the others. She put herself in extreme jeopardy to facilitate some of them escaping.

With the blood of such a heroic innocent on the line, you watch them throw themselves at that last room with no spells and single-digit hit-points!

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Welcome to the site! Please take a look at the tour and the help; they're a useful introduction to the site. I really like the idea of incremental rescue; gonna have to use that myself some day. And once you have 20+ rep, feel free to join the chat! –  BESW Aug 14 '13 at 14:46
    
Incremental rescue is part of the module as written. Only two remain to be saved. –  leokhorn Aug 14 '13 at 15:44
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These are just a few suggestions, hopefully something will be viable for your current situation.

Backup

If the situation is as dire as it seems, there are bound to be a few heroic souls willing to help you out. Add some friendly NPCs to the party, perhaps the town's captain of the guard, or an old retired paladin that wants to save his little boy. Don't make the party go alone.

Setback Bad Guys

Try to find some way for the party to hinder the baddies before the final encounter. Perhaps the high priest/lead cultist isn't there yet, instead he's conveniently crossing the path of the party. Don't let him die off, but perhaps in his attempt to escape he is wounded, both making a later fight easier, and delaying him.

Creative Respite

No, that's not a power (even if it sounds like one). Work in some way for the party to regain their more powerful abilities without an extended rest. One of my DMs once had us stumble upon a "meditation chamber" of sorts. The room was imbued with magic that allowed characters to gain the same benefit of an extended rest while taking a short rest. If you do this though, make sure they can't use it again, because that type of power is game-breaking.

Free Captives

While this doesn't necessarily help them finish any faster, allow them to free a large portion of the children before the final fight. This will boost party morale because even if they aren't in time, they at least saved some lives. Also, should some henchmen have to run off to try to round up their escaped sacrifices, that's a few less obstacles for the party.

Grunts

Not every enemy has to be an elite soldier. Most of them will be lackies and hero fodder. Minions are great to throw at the party because they can still pose a threat, but they go down very quickly. Besides, it's always fun for a party to mow down hordes of baddies. These guys shouldn't need encounters or dailies to wipe out, and lets the party save their strength for later. Just be sure to balance these guys out with some tough encounters, because they will get old pretty quickly and you want the party to feel challenged.

Reward Exploration

If your party is the type to explore an area thoroughly, great! Let them find a secret passage that will bypass an encounter, or let them get the jump on the enemies and make the fight simpler. If you have the party to rush ahead, try dropping some hints, perhaps part of the floor is made out of a slightly different colored stone, perhaps they can feel a draft coming from a nearby wall, or maybe there's a hole in the ceiling that an athletic character could jump up to and creep around mission impossible style.

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Time enough for a quick rest?

Hopefully the players realize that for every minute they "waste" sleeping, the closer those kids are to dying. You have set that stage wonderfully. Each time they pause to consider their options two that should be fighting for dominance should be do they stop and sleep (thus recovering HP and spells), or do they push forward to hopefully save the kids before anything bad happens to them. RAW state that casters needs 8 hours of continuous sleep prior to their hour of studying spells, thus requiring at least 9 hours of break. One thing I have frequently seen house-ruled was that if the PARTY stops and sleeps for 8 hours, a caster can sit a watch and still get spells. In fact, one time-crunch the wizard studied spells DURING their watch, thereby shortening the stop from 9 hours to 6.

Even Bad guys have to prepare

Are the bad guys just going to kill the kids execution style? Or is this going to be some sort of unholy rite? Since you use the word "sacrifice", I'm going to assume there is a religious aspect to the kids dying. Maybe they need to involve the kids in the preparation of the ritual that will kill them. Perhaps the bad guys need to prepare special Holy Water that has some of each kid's blood (2-3 hp?) in it. Let's also assume that the creation of that holy water takes a day's work of praying to their god(dess) AFTER the blood has been introduced to the water. Maybe the priest who will kill the kids needs to do some sort of observance for the 8 or so hours immediately prior. Now, let's assume that the priest is the only person who can make the holy water. He then needs to make the holy water, then likely rest himself, THEN do the observance before he can start killing kids. This should (hopefully) give the party a few hours to sleep and recoup spells.

Unruly kids, the Deus Ex Machina that is not

Finally, always bet on unruly kids. There are a finite number of minions. Put these two facts together, a minion is either trying to keep the party out of the temple or is on babysitting duty. The only way around this is if the priest then decides to cast sleep/similar spells on the kids... if they are just tied up, what's to keep them from bolting once untied to be sacrificed? Luckily this works in the PC's favor. Either the guards are babysitting (making the approach to the temple easier), or they are on guard (slowing down the priest's plans).

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Each rest being 8+ hours, it seems an unlikely option under the circumstances (I already allowed one and thought it was narratively unlikely but couldn't see the party having any chance of going anywhere otherwise). The Bad Guys are currently stuck until their shaman remembers the ritual, with not even a GM-only explicit time limit. But PCs cannot reasonably count on such a thing. As for unruly children, they've already made an escape. Two remain captured. I could use a renewed escape as a last resort I suppose. –  leokhorn Aug 13 '13 at 14:20
    
Am I missing some quick rest rules in Pathfinder? Or are you suggesting ruling that in on this occasion? I've been looking at Healing Surges and Resting mechanics in more recent D&D games, so I wouldn't be against it. –  leokhorn Aug 13 '13 at 14:22
    
Sorry, I meant "rest" in the short, catch your breath sense they should have an internal debate (and chance for good RP). Edited. Also I recommend a bit of house-ruling the recovery of spells process... and my unscientific polling of DMs would back me up on this one... all 167% of them! :) –  Pulsehead Aug 13 '13 at 19:13
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