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There's famine in the region, and a convoy of merchants arrives in the character's walled town while pursued by undead monsters created by this famine. The players are effectively informed of the famine, and the de-facto leader of the town's defenses tells them that the priority would be to set up a trade route with another town, which is apparently doing better. Before departing, the merchants of the convoy explain that, on the road to get to the PC's town, they were attacked multiple times: first by goblins, then by bandits, and finally by the undead. They also say that more than a third of the convoy was wiped out between the goblins and the bandits. They then mark the positions of the attacks on the party's map. The party departs and decides to follow the same route of the merchants, despite being slower (no horses) and less in number (the merchants were dozens of people).

The PCs get near the bandits' attack zone, and not far from it they find a big multi-family farm. They send the rogue to scout ahead and investigate, he notices that the farm doesn't present any sign of battle, but all the windows are barricaded and there's no one outside. He gets to the stables and sees from afar 2 people calmly tending to two horses. He can see they're armed, but can't make out their equipment exactly. He returns to the party, which decides to approach the farm. The farm is big enough to be divided in several buildings, so they get near one of them. They knock, no answer. They then get to another one and see there is smoke coming out of the chimney and a little noise inside. They knock and the noise stops (the people inside are slowly and silently getting ready for a possible battle, alerted by the knocking). They then get to the stables, but this time not stealthily, and the 2 people inside the stables get out while drawing their weapons. A short dialogue commences, and the 2 people order the party to drop their food (revealing themselves as bandits). The party lies saying they don't have any, then the bandits order them to then drop their weapons and armor. The party tries to lie again to get the bandits to think there's an entire army unit nearby, but the far-fetched lie does not work. The party warrior then insults the bandits, and one of the bandits calls for reinforcements from the nearby building (the smoking chimney one). Battle commences when the same warrior from before charges the bandit. The party takes their turn, and the first 2 bandits "waste their first action" telling the party to surrender while 8 more get there in 2 turns. The party refuses to surrender until only one of them is on his feet.

Now, the party knew the bandits were not far from where they were, had the chance to notice that something was wrong in the farm, that there were armed people inside, that those same people were too relaxed considering there were undead and bandits roaming around the zone, that the first people (the ones in the smoking chimney building) didn't interact peacefully (or at all), they were also given 3 chances to surrender without a battle. Is it clear or not that the PCs should not have tried to fight? And if it's not clear that they should not have tried to fight, was it at least clear that they were approaching a suspicious and almost surely dangerous situation?

P.S. The right arm of the bandit leader even showed up for one turn, but said to the bandits "You can do this on your own, you don't need my help" and left immediately after.

P.P.S. The general course of action predicted was that the party should have gotten to the farm later, first talking to the city's authorities to set up the trade route and then cleaning it up, when they would have had more equipment, experience, and maybe allies. They could have even tried to talk to the bandit leader instead of fighting, but insulting the lackeys is not a diplomatic choice.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The PC's or bandits shouldnt have tried to fight? \$\endgroup\$
    – Fering
    Commented May 30, 2021 at 14:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ The PCs, they were overwhelmed by numbers and had reasons to believe it was a bad choice. \$\endgroup\$
    – Snakehelm
    Commented May 30, 2021 at 14:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ What's the setting? How much detail did the players have of the setting before the adventure commenced? The reader isn't informed of any alternative choices that could've been made; did the players have options that the reader doesn't know about? Should the PCs have adventured more or sought allies before confronting the bandits? Were the PCs supposed to quietly infiltrate the camp and kill the bandits in small groups or while they slept? What would've been the better or preferred course? \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 30, 2021 at 15:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ It looks like this question's headed for closure, so let me offer an alternative. Because the PCs you had didn't do what you think they should've, consider editing the question to present What you wanted to happen then, separately, What actually happened. The details that are important are not about the attack on the camp but how PCs decided on that course of action—present those details. Then ask for advice about how to make it clear to future PCs that in this adventure what you want to happen should happen. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 30, 2021 at 15:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ In other words, instead of asking for a thumbs up or thumbs down on the adventure's design, ask for advice on how to improve what might be—having now played it—one of the adventure's weaknesses. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 30, 2021 at 15:51

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No, the signals were not clear. You told the group about some bandits and they said "oh, I guess we're supposed to fight those."

You expected the group to go set up a trade route, but that sounds like a worse plan, even to me. First, if they set up a trade route without killing the bandits, the bandits will just plunder the merchants. Second, an adventuring party is a group of heavily-armed warriors who are good at killing people; killing bandits is something they're expected to be good at, and negotiating trade routes is something you should send a merchant negotiator for.

You told the group a lot of bandits were coming, but how were they supposed to know how strong a bandit is? For all they knew you were expecting them to win a fight against ten bandits.

The way to clearly signal this would have been to give them a winnable-but-difficult fight against two or three bandits, and then tell them "and there are twenty more of those guys in that house up ahead".

An even better plan would have been to accept that the group was going to want to fight the bandits, and design the encounter to make that reasonable.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ First of all, setting up the trade route means talking about it, making sure the other party of the negotiations is alright/has conditions, etc... not starting to send caravans to the slaughter. Second, of course you could not know, but having played the one-on-one session they knew that surviving in the region meant being extremely numerous, smart or strong (or a balance of the three). Third, I can't give them a fight against two or three bandits if they explicitly go to their base and alert everyone. \$\endgroup\$
    – Snakehelm
    Commented May 30, 2021 at 21:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ And finally fourth: it was meant to be foreshadowing, if the players start fighting everything they see or hear about it's gonna be impossible to survive. And building everything to accomodate a LVL 1 party is dumb, IMO \$\endgroup\$
    – Snakehelm
    Commented May 30, 2021 at 21:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with your answer but it looks like an unsupported opinion. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Commented May 31, 2021 at 0:16

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