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I have thought of a few methods they might accomplish this. In this question, I am wondering about a potentially more controversial option. I am considering having them attempt to monologue or engage the PC's in dialogue (e.g. offer for them to join his side, explain his plan, answer questions, etc) with a timer running, then increase the battle rounds based on the amount of time they were able to enthrall the PC's with their speech.

I can see some problems with this:

  • I haven't used this "on the clock" method before and the players may not recognize what's happening (kind of the point?); I've loosely enforced limiting speech to your turn to maintain a suspension of disbelief
  • This could cause balance issues with planning the time depending on if they catch on quickly or not as all (see below)
  • It would require significant setup, coordinating clues that may let them read into what is happening while also maintaining a monologue
  • Our game is online, so it may be more difficult to implement this strategy

Some details about the campaign/fight (major spoilers for Paizo's Ruins of Azlant AP)

- The BBEG is a veiled master with 6-7 Destined Sorcerer levels. (CL ~18)
- I am increasing their Sorcerer levels to accommodate that I have leveled the party faster than the AP; I can do whatever I want with these levels
- I am willing to alter its spell list a bit, but not completely rewrite it
- Ditto class feature options; the bloodline must remain
- As written, the BBEG's plan takes 20 rounds from the time the PC's enter their floor
- As written, the device takes 20 rounds to charge and is quite visible while doing so. A party member must spend 3 full rounds to disable the device; I am willing to alter the number of rounds before the device triggers, but think the time to disable is good (I already upped the options that takes 2 rounds with no significant drawback to match the other options)
- Attempting to disable it and failing resets the timer

The party will already be in initiative when they arrive in his area (they have to fight or bypass a couple 'mooks' before reaching him) but in our circle of gamers there is a precedent for NPC's to interrupt combat rounds with speech. In this campaign, that even includes the players taking up another potential enemy's offer of working together instead of fighting. In the past, however, it hasn't been relevant that the clock continues moving.

My goal is to cost them a handful of rounds if they are willing to listen to the creature, who is manipulative by nature. I feel this is thematic but unlikely to make the difference in their success or failure in regards to the creature's plan, but I think it would be an epic moment if it does (or comes down to the line).

Is this a bad idea? Has anyone had success doing something like this, and what was needed to pull it off?

Directly related to my question about doing it with spells.

Reminder: per "Good Subjective, Bad Subjective", to answer this question, one would either need direct experience using such a delay tactic or have experienced a GM doing so with them as a player.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: Is there a spell to make a PC stop talking while a spell caster delivers a monologue? \$\endgroup\$
    – MikeQ
    Sep 3 '20 at 4:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Does the BBEG's plan have any key steps that he could trigger at the end of his monologue? \$\endgroup\$
    – fectin
    Sep 3 '20 at 13:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ No, it's a set-and-forget timer. They just need the 2 minutes (or whatever) for the thing to charge. They trigger it as soon as the PC's arrive and begin to stall by whatever means they can (hence the two questions). \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Sep 3 '20 at 13:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ I just realized some good context as well; a previous enemy (a Large Bad Evil Guy?) interrupted combat mid-initiative to offer the party a method to not fight him. They actually took up LBEG's offer and are loosely working with them to face BBEG. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Sep 3 '20 at 17:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ I worry that this seems very much gm vs. players. That eventually makes the game fun for nobody. \$\endgroup\$
    – NomadMaker
    Sep 4 '20 at 2:04
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It can work, if you are able to signal to the players what you expect from them.

Recently I attempted something in the same vein with my group. The party had come across a major villian and pursued him to his hiding place. Unbeknownst to them, the villain had begun a long-winded ritual to teleport away. The party heard him chanting, with the 'magic in the air slowly building'.

Unfortunately for me, I was not being obvious enough and the players drew the wrong conclusion. They figured that the sound would somehow influence them, plugged their ears and proceeded cautiously - and slowly. The villain got away. The players appeared slightly miffed at being 'cheated' out of the encounter, so we had a brief talk about it after the session.

The lesson here is that it is important to set expectations. Err on the side of being more obvious. Have him making grand, exaggerated gestures, clearly nervous about something. Have him glance at the magic circle behind him from time to time. Have his speech make less and less sense as he obviously has to improvise.

Which is more fun? Having the players quickly figure out that the BBEG is stalling and moving to interrupt him with some choice words or actions? Or spending a lot of time monologuing, then springing it on the players that by not acting and patiently listening to the monologue they've made things worse?

Being more obvious also helps with signalling to your players that they are expected to react. As already pointed out in the answer by indigochild, your players will learn from the consequences of their actions. If they are 'punished' for waiting for you to finish they may become less likely to let you finish monologuing in future scenarios, regardless of whether or not you intended for them to interrupt.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Excellent point and excellent summarization at the end. Regarding you last point, it is also worth to note that PC's may feel punished from letting the GM dialogue with the players through their BBEG, and this could lead to issues for the GM in the future. Imagine spending a lot of time writing an epic BBEG speech for the conclusive battle of a year long campaign, and then have an impatient PC firering off a stray arrow, to ruin everything... \$\endgroup\$ Dec 3 '20 at 13:30
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Although I have not attempted this particular kind of challenge, I have experienced one problem that I see happening here also: you are challenging your players to ignore their ingrained table etiquette.

Many players (especially if they play face roles) have had experiences where their character would like to interrupt an important NPC dialogue/monologue, only for their GM to stop them. Players internalize these messages by learning when it is appropriate to interrupt the GM and when it isn't.

So what's the problem? You are building a puzzle that conflicts with that socialization. In order to succeed, they need to interrupt you, which they have already learned is an undesirable behavior. Many players will simply not do it, even if they suspect something is amiss, because they value collegiality more than "winning" the encounter. This is all heightened in the world of online gaming, because sharing screen time in Zoom (or your app of choice) requires a bit more coordination.

What can you do? One option is to use this mechanic often enough that your players recognize it. It sounds like you are already past that point. In that case, consider splitting the out-of-game and in-game elements:

  • The villain monologues until the PCs stop them. Make note of how long this takes.
  • Allow the PCs some kind of skill check to determine how quickly they were able to discern that the villain was delaying them. There are a variety of mechanisms that can make this an interesting skill challenge. Based on your subjective judgment of how long it took the players to interrupt, award bonuses or penalties to these rolls.
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    \$\begingroup\$ Great input! I think my group would be able to interrupt me without feeling like they cheated the NPC of its time (I usually allow them to interrupt any NPC and only continue talking from the NPC pov if they didn't interrupt them in-game). Conversely, I will have NPC's complain at them for interrupting if the NPC is offended at the interruption. Maybe this means my group is well suited to this... I'll have to look through other answers. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Sep 3 '20 at 11:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you want to make sure it gets driven home, a useful technique is to take pauses to nudge the players - pause in the middle of the monologue to make comments like ‘He seems like he’s going to keep going for a while’ and ‘you notice the glow behind the villain intensifying as the ritual progresses’ to egg them into interrupting. Use a low threat side-villain to set expectations if you don’t want to give the game away on your big bad \$\endgroup\$
    – Pingcode
    Sep 4 '20 at 0:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Pingcode That sounds like the beginning of an answer; my plan, outside of advice driven by experience from here, would be to verbally say his monologue but have pre-typed messages about the ritual's progress to post to chat. I do feel like it will be a dead giveaway and as soon as I say that, the 'jig is up'. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Sep 4 '20 at 12:15
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The player groups I've been in regard a villain starting to monologue as an opportunity to seize the initiative by attacking immediately. I've always avoided this tactic as a DM, having seen too many speeches break down in "... puny mortal - argh! pewpewpew BOOM urghhh..."

Setting them a challenge that they can bicker over has been far more effective, in that it works about a third of the time. Something like this:

"Hold! There is no need for violence! If you can answer my riddle, you may have the quest object and depart in peace. Simply tell me, setting-dependent ambiguous question."

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The monologue would actually be him freely offering information about his plan and/or targeting specific party members in an attempt to turn them against the others. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Sep 3 '20 at 11:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Would the characters have any way to tell if he was being truthful about the plan? The simplest assumption on their part is that he's stalling, or trying to divide them. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 3 '20 at 12:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ That is actually the goal. Delay them for part of the timer to give him the least chance of them interrupting, but have the group realize that he's stalling (preferably after an amount of time that increases tension but does not make it mechanically impossible. Of course they can still roll Sense Motive, as normal, to try to get a feel of the situation. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Sep 3 '20 at 13:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Their best response remains "attack in response to monologue." Something less conventional, which takes advantage of the predictability of sound basic tactics, seems like a better bet. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 3 '20 at 13:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is excellent advice for designing a final encounter. Most TTRPG players are exponentially smarter than your average action movie hero (or shounen lead) and will take advantage of every opportunity they can without breaking in-game limitations to get an edge in the final fight instead of sitting there politely while the villain does whatever it is they want to stop him from doing or repeatedly powers himself up. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 3 '20 at 14:50
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As others have remarked, this is difficult to pull off without risking disappointed or angry players, as it goes against many typical table conventions (including yours, from what I can gather from your question).

Break up the monologue with actions

The timing of speech is (intentionally) vague and varies between tables. Social encounters often take place outside the rules framework for combat, with defined actions and rounds, and with only minor nods to passing time.

Interrupting the monologue or dialogue at various points and doing something else can change the expectations of the scene from a social one, to a challenge to be overcome. For example, the villain (or their minions) might move around, light a candle, draw a weapon, draw something on the floor, cast a spell,... Spells are particularly well suited because their timing is well known, e.g. it takes a standard action, which you can do once per round usually, which immediately reminds players that they can take actions too.

Each such interruption provides a natural point for a player to interject their own response to the action, which might be to start combat.

Less obvious would be to ask questions or directly prompt PCs to act, which also passes the initiative (socially, not mechanically) to the players.

If they don't act during this moment, well, the timer ticks and the next (short) round of monologue follows.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm concerned that splitting it up with actions will invite them to start combat and they would then refuse to stop, realizing the mechanical cost of listening to him. Have you tried this yourself? \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Sep 3 '20 at 21:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Using a cantrip to light or extinguish a light source seems like a non threatening way to show that an action is being used. Maybe have him periodically light up torches (scounces) as they enter the room. \$\endgroup\$
    – Simon
    Sep 4 '20 at 6:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, giving them a chance to start combat once they figure it out is kind of the point here, isn't it? You do not have to make it as obvious as calling for initiative rolls for the villain's actions or explicitly describing them using combat mechanics ("as a standard action, they cast a spell, as a move action, they walk over there"). What actions to choose depends on how you want to clue in the players on the fact that there is a timer - which you need to do somehow. If they already know/suspect, the villain's actions can be much less obvious. \$\endgroup\$
    – Surpriser
    Sep 4 '20 at 7:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ok that's fair. Thank you \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Sep 4 '20 at 12:16
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Not as good an idea as it sounds

Not really a complete answer, but my experience with a similar encounter:

I can't recall the specifics of the encounter, but while I narrated I gave increasingly specific indications of danger, and I noted when the players reacted. When someone did, I noted the time and told them to hang on, we'll handle their reaction in a moment. I made sure to pause frequently enough that there was time for them to interject.

Most importantly, I didn't allow my players to break my narration but just to indicate that they wanted to react. This allowed me to retain the etiquette of "Don't interrupt the DM while he's revealing something" while also allowing them to act faster if they caught on faster.

Then, once the monologue/narration was done I gave the players a bonus or penalty based on how long it took for them to react, with the player who reacted first with a slight advantage.

It worked, sort of. It turned out to be one of those things that sounds good on paper but doesn't really play well. Narrative time doesn't mix well with combat time (especially if you're describing the surroundings which are taken in in a glance).

Were I to do it again, I'd have the villain converse with the players rather than monologue - perhaps bargaining for his life (lying through his teeth) or something, but making sure that the players have plenty of opportunities to act. Then the feeling of "the BBEG delayed you long enough to enact his plan" would actually be justified, and I think both you and your players would enjoy it more.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I have to admit, I thought of the word monologue, but intended it to be a dialogue. I have updated the question as such. Could you add information if you remember any of the players' complaints? \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Sep 4 '20 at 17:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Ifusaso The players didn't complain, but largely because it wasn't impactful. It's kind of the opposite of a Quantum Ogre - you need to strongly telegraph how much their reaction changed things or it doesn't have the desired effect. As it was my first time trying something like this, I went easy on the mechanical effects and my players just shrugged and said (in effect), "He'd planned to give us only this much time." At the same time, you can't tell them in advance what you're planning... It's hard to both express how much urgency the players need to have and try to delay them in character. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 4 '20 at 21:38
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At the risk of providing a mechanical solution to a potentially social problem:

The BBEG(not just you as the DM, the BBEG) is trying to trick the PCs(not necessarily the players, the Player Characters) into not acting, waiting until the "timer" runs out.

This to me is an enemy action, resisted by character statistics: I.e. a scenario for rolling dice. Normally, this would be would be (I believe, its been a while since I played Pathfinder) an opposed skill roll, probably Sense Motive(PCs) vs Bluff, Diplomacy or Performance. There are two potential issues with this:

  1. The Veiled Master has none of these skills. This can be fixed by giving the Veiled Master a "herald" or "mouth" to speak through, who has these skills to make the monologue on their behalf, if you don't want to make it too easy.

  2. A dice roll on the player's part can tip them off, especially if you do what I do for extended skill usages and have the PCs "roll" repeatedly, or every turn in initiative. You could take a note from D&D 5e and make it a "passive" check: The Veiled Master rolls, against a static DC (e.g. 10+the PCs appropriate bonuses).

Additionally, if you want the first couple "rolls" to succeed, or very likely succeed, you can have the based value change over time, starting low and increasing every round (e.g. start at 1, and increase this "roll" of the PCs by 1/2/5 each round, depending on how fast you want this to grow, rolling normally for the Veiled Master.

If you really want to be sneaky, and get more use out of your "pre-combat" minions, give them feint skills and have them try to feint the PCs so you can record their Sense Motive bonuses (perhaps giving them a home-brew feat forcing the feint DC to be 10+Sense Motive, rather than the option of 10+AttackBonus+Wisdom).

If you want to reward individual characters who have high sense motive, you could have it so that if some PCs "pass" and others "fail", the passing PCs get the insight (and presumably "start combat", even if already initiative), while the failing PCs start surprised/flat-footed the first round, as if it were a surprise round.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a pretty good idea. My group uses open character sheets, so I could just request their Sense Motive modifiers if I decide to go this route. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Sep 4 '20 at 15:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you done something like this (or had a GM do something like this) that you can cite for experience? \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Sep 4 '20 at 15:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Ifusaso In pathfinder, no, not to my knowledge. (I haven't DM'd pathfinder, and back before the pandemic, my old pathfinder DM was more of a "tactical combat" rather than a "investigate the mystery" DM). I have done something similar to this in regularly D&D 5e, where passive checks are a RAW mechanic. The only "passive" check equivalent I've found in pathfinder is the feint mechanic. Note that I wouldn't do it exactly the same, due to mechanical differences between the systems (Pathfinder has lots of bonuses and penalties, whereas D&D 5e relies on "bounded accuracy"), but in spirit, yes. \$\endgroup\$
    – sharur
    Sep 4 '20 at 15:53
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No one likes Failing for Lack of Information

If the DM says "The unknown creature is red." And I end up dead because I was supposed to figure out "red" meant fire-elemental, and I needed to chug a potion of fire resistance and deal cold damage, I'd be upset. I didn't have enough information to make a good decision.

If the DM describes the unknown creature as smoking, and charring the foliage, that's a different story. Now I have information that at least suggests "fire damage is coming."

In your case, there's already one information asymmetry in the situation: the PCs don't know how the timer works.

Your idea throws another knowledge gap into the mix: the timer continues while the BBEG is talking.

For this to work, you probably need to leave very unsubtle hints.

Example:

  • Fight starts: At the end of each round, the McGuffin rings like a bell, and glows more brightly
  • Hints that once the McGuffin is bright enough, bad things happen
  • Now the BBEG starts talking
  • ** You continue to mention that the McGuffin rings like a bell and the glow increases at the end of each "round"**

In this case, the group is going to lose 1 round of progress when they politely stop fighting to listen to the BBEG. After that, they ask: Do I want to waste time to hear what BBEG has to say?

This is functionally equivalent to: Do I want to use my potion of fire resistance to survive the unknown fire-elemental?

They have some information, and they balance the resources and risks as best they can, and make a decision. If you are silently incrementing a counter in the background, then they don't have enough information and will feel cheated if/when they fail.

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Have the villain monologue inside initiative

  • Go into initiative mode.
  • Give the villain some ability to allow them to go first.
  • Tell the players that for this situation, talking is not a free action.
  • Have the villain spend their action monologuing instead of attacking.

Then when it's the players turn, the villain can try to goad them into responding, perhaps by challenging them at the end of his speech to explain why they're here and why they think he has to be destroyed.

Giving the villain some abilities that let them shrug off an attack or two ('counterspell' might be nice here) would also be good--it's unsettling to have someone not only not attack, but ignore your own attacks, and not retaliate.

The other advantage of declaring that talking is not a free action for this battle means that if someone spends their turn trying to figure out what's going on, you pass them a note with what they figure out, but also tell them they can either act on that information or warn the other players on their next turn, but not both. And either way, you get another round of inaction on the part of the players.

Finally, if your players attack anyway, have the villain run/fly away, perhaps turning invisible in the process. Leading them on a chase is equally effective in having them not disrupt the device.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm pretty sure 'adding an ability to let villain go first in initiative' is a fairly big deal that may be problematic at some tables. Have you tried doing that or seen it done? \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Sep 3 '20 at 17:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ There's a small problem that declaring initiative is very tightly entwined with combat. A lot of tables, once initiative is declared, are going to be struggling with reasons to not attack. "Picture the 'Big Stupid Fighter', when their initiative comes up, for example. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kevin
    Sep 3 '20 at 17:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ For what it's worth, the villain is perfectly capable (as everyone in the system) of talking outside of their turn. The party will already be in initiative because of the nature of the encounter. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Sep 3 '20 at 17:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm concerned that splitting it up with actions will invite them to start combat and they would then refuse to stop, realizing the mechanical cost of listening to him. Have you tried this yourself? \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    Sep 3 '20 at 21:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ As a player, I can say the second you go "Talking is NOT a free action here", I know something's up, and my ears will block out the BBEG. Even my current player (a charismatic smart ass bard).... I would try to roleplay him and try to banter, but me as a player would be VERY aware something's afoot. I'd say it ends up turning the idea, which is fun, into a direct fight... Although I love the "chase" idea, if I'm to be honest \$\endgroup\$
    – Patrice
    Sep 4 '20 at 16:53

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