How to run a chess inspired D&D4E encounter?

Is there a way that you could run a chess inspired encounter for D&D 4E? I'm thinking like the characters themselves are involved in a human chess game albeit still allowing them to keep some of their abilities or allow them to take on the role of a chess piece but the chess piece has some unique powers. Hoping to give the party something fun and different as an encounter.

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How much I loved Karazhan... – o0'. Feb 15 '11 at 16:26
@Lo'oris Hehe, yeah that was essentially the idea I was going for =) Was trying to think of different encounters that I thought were fun in video games & the Karazhan chess fight I thought was different & fun! Or as we used to call it "Free loot" encounter XD – The Jug Feb 15 '11 at 16:31
this sounds like a trap to me, not really a combat but more of an interactive puzzle/ trap that forces the players to use chess strategy to get across a room. – Rent_ZHB Feb 16 '11 at 2:02
@Rent_ZHB That could also be done! Might be quicker but perhaps not as much exp for it. – The Jug Feb 16 '11 at 14:37

What a neat idea. An old issue of the Dragon Magazine had something like this also the module 'Land Beyond the Magic Mirror' did this too, underwater.

Make the board surface behave so either an incorrect chess move is not allowed or would result in a trap/defensive attack/penalty. The second option encourages the restricted movement that is a part of chess, but doesn't stop a character from 'breaking the rules' (barbarians or knights might make a sacrifice to alter the game). Also if the piece type and position means that a normal chess piece could not threaten or attack a square then the character can't either.

Second: Either randomly assign a location/piece to a character or assign it by class.

Third: The remaining pieces can be NPCs or monsters with set powers. Due to the number of pieces on the board I would scale the difficulty level back to at least one level below the party and maybe two. If you want this as a final encounter/challenge then scale it for that.

When 2 pieces 'fight' you might run a mini-combat just between those pieces. When non-character pieces are involved, normal chess outcomes happen, but when characters are involved, maybe they stay and 'fight' or maybe both 'pieces' teleport to a different location and run the mini-combat. Winner gets to go back to the board, loser has something happen, might be lethal or it might just be a hindrance of some kind and they are out of the game. The remaining party members may or may not know what is happening when someone is out of the game.

Maybe one member of the party must do all the moving or characters move themselves and the group decides for the remain NPC pieces. Your choice here.

The only other thing would be to choose a game in progress or a new one. I would opt for one in progress. this should make the encounter manageable within a single game session.

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Hmmm curious, how should a "mini-combat" go? I like the idea but having just a monster and a PC duel it out might take too long and bore the other players (or they might find it exciting, I don't know!). Maybe restrict their HP to a certain amount to speed up the duel? If they lost they could just reenter the board or maybe they just lose a healing surge and return at full HP. – The Jug Feb 15 '11 at 20:01
Could go any number of ways. Could be a skill challenge with their primary skill or maybe a minion (one hit wonder). If they lose they are out. Maybe the minion has a 'knockout' (stun, held, dominated, unconscious, etc..) type power. Have fun with it. – Acedrummer_CLB Feb 15 '11 at 20:20

Encounter 4: The Trial in the Twisting Halls adventure that is included in the Red Box's Dungeon Master's Book is played out on a life-size chessboard and includes several animated statues and special movement rules.

I ran it a few weeks ago, and it was great for new users to learn about automatic damage and how to use clever moving techniques to flank/avoid enemies.

Using three Essentials, but not red box generated, characters they managed to deactivate the Queen without a shot - that was fun! :-)

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I'll have to take a look into that! Though I was hoping to not have to spend money going looking for something. Not to dismiss the Red Box or anything, definitely heard good things about it. – The Jug Feb 16 '11 at 17:19

I remember an old AD&D module inspired by Alice in Wonderland where the players took on the roles of chess pieces and had to fight their way across the board.

You could try a mechanic where they the players take on roles as pieces, which limit their attack targeting options, and their options to support other characters – i.e., if you are a rook, you can move any distance in your row or file, and can only target creatures (with beneficial effects or attacks) in squares you can move to.

The difficulty is that if you restrict players options too much they may find the encounter frustrating. You'll want to strike a balance between players' roles in the chess match, and their actual character powers and abilities.

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Hah. You beat me to it. :) – yhw42 Feb 15 '11 at 15:58
Linked to the RPGGeek page for that module. – SevenSidedDie Feb 15 '11 at 17:46

I would take an alternate approach of bonuses and benefits rather than penalties.

Consider a room, 10x10, with a chessboard in the middle (and if possible, haul out a real chessboard). Set up black as a complete chess side. Pawns are minions. The board is enchanted such that there are significant benefits if a player moves onto a square and acts according to the piece's movement rules. Of course, the balance to this is the functional equivalent of 2 or 3 standard encounters packed into one.

Every piece may take a move action to shift to any valid location for the piece they are emulating. Make sure to place the piece they are emulating in front of the player, as physical props are always cool.

All pieces are vulnerable 5/10/15 (depending on tier) to damage if it comes from an attacker acting within the rules. They are resist 5/10/15 from other damage.

Every piece may take a minor action to make a basic attack within the limits set by their role. If the attack kills the enemy, they may shift into the enemy's space.

Each piece has a special ability (or two):

• Pawn: If you can manage to promote, you get an insane buff. (+5 to attack rolls, +tierD10 to damage) Defenders want to be pawns. Ignore en passant except if a player brings it up

• Knight: The knight's move is a teleport. Knights have threatening reach to every square they can move to.

• Bishop: All radiant and divine powers are at +1 accuracy, +1d6 damage. Healing keyworded powers heal an additional +tierD6

• Rook: Encounter, may cast a tier appropriate wall. (Choose one that fits the theme). Arcane characters are at +1 accuracy.

• Queen: Doesn't really need a buff, due to the huge range of her minor action attacks. +1 accuracy and +1d6 if female though.

• King: Move action: may grant a free standard action to any piece

Let the characters choose whether or not they want a brawl or a formalized game, perhaps by setting a chess clock. If they want a brawl, use standard initiative rules for the players, allowing the enemy to make one move after every player turn. If they want a formalized game, play the game out like a chess game, with each side taking one turn as per chess. Summon some NPCs that the players can roll for, to keep them engaged.

In this way, if the players want to engage off the chessboard, they are welcome to do so (or otherwise engage in creative manipulations. The more they engage with the rules, the more benefits they get, making the encounter easier.

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I like the unique bonuses for being each piece! I'd love to bring out a real chess board but I'm playing this game online so can't sadly. Still, gonna make the map look as much like a real chess board with chess pieces to simulate as best I can! – The Jug Feb 16 '11 at 14:40
Some speed-simplifications: Don't set up a full set of pieces - one for each player/role and 1 or two enemies for each. Early end: Either side to destroy the King. (I know that was probably implied, but the Red Box version of this puzzle had no King.) – F. Randall Farmer Feb 16 '11 at 15:28
The problem with the speed simplifications is that the players may steamroll the encounter. If youdo use fewer pieces, find a chess problem that fits your required piece count. As a way ofbalancing, try to find 5-10 moves to mate puzzle. This could even make for a fun adventure if your players like chess. (3-5 rooms of these encounters, each done up in a different style from the history of chess, and one that requires cheating) – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Feb 16 '11 at 22:43

Have the tactical space be magical in a way that limits the characters' movements, line of effect, and valid targets to powers based on their position and the "role" (e.g. bishop) that that have taken on. Have it be a non-dispellable artifact effect.

Use an 8x8 room (or multiple thereof) with the floor colored alternating white and black. (Your players should get the hint from that.) Assign the roles based on their position as they entered. Alternatively, you could have them somehow choose their roles.

If they are a "rook", the only squares they have line-of-effect to are those that the rook could legally move to on the chessboard (straight vertical or horizontal). Same for bishop and knight. If they kill an enemy, they have the option to shift into the fallen enemy's square.

You may want to restrict the use of area attacks. Again, you could say that the only valid targets are those on squares to which you could move.

To prevent the players from feeling "stuck" in a role, you could allow a non-standard move at the expense of a healing surge. That would encourage movement within the game, but allow for alternate movement.

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Re the 8x8 checkerboard room: There are dungeon tiles in a few dungeon tile sets that have exactly that :) – Simon Withers Feb 15 '11 at 18:23
The Red Box encounter I describe in my answer has some of these features: limited player movement and the 8x8 grid. – F. Randall Farmer Feb 15 '11 at 22:17