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In my last few game sessions, my players have begun adopting a strategy which is working wonders in the campaign we are playing. In this Planescape campaign, we are on the Outlands, which has a lot of open terrain in place of enclosed dungeons. As a result, we are experiencing something a little out of the ordinary for D&D, which is large open encounter areas.

The players are using a strategy that exploits the fact that reloading a ranged weapon in D&D can be done while fully mobile and with no penalties for shooting while/before/after moving. Quite simply, over the course of levels 1 to 6 they have all acquired the Dash feat and put lots of specialization into weapon proficiencies with a bow. They have been able to level encounters on the Outlands without taking a scratch by simply running away before or after shooting. Their movement exceeds most average NPCs, making them effectively archer cavalry minus the horses.

I am conflicted about this one.

On one hand, their strategy is pretty effective and quite clever. But on the other, it's making combat long and predictable.

I am not inclined to forcing the players to change their strategy. I am curious about ways I could throw in some curve balls at them without being a "screw YOU" DM. I want to break the monotony without breaking their strategy completely. Essentially, I want to take responsibility for this situation as the DM.

What can I do to break the monotony without obviously countering them? We are pretty tactical players. We like combat mechanics. Anything with a solid reflection on combat mechanics in your answer is really welcome.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ What is your typical encounter starting distance? Maximum longbow range? 100 feet? Five squares? Are the enemies typically coming to the PCs, or are they defending a strong point? \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon Sep 8 '14 at 21:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ What is their tactic against enemy archers? Is the idea that they start their turn at 1095 feet away, shoot and then withdraw so the opponent can't return fire? If so, are they are taking the -20 range penalty to shots taken from this distance, and actually paying for, and capable of carrying the arrows they need for this tactic? \$\endgroup\$ – Scott Sep 8 '14 at 22:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Maybe look into enemies that defeated Mongol horse archers? \$\endgroup\$ – user2357112 supports Monica Sep 9 '14 at 1:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related/inspiration/funny: giantitp.com/comics/oots0216.html \$\endgroup\$ – Willem Renzema Sep 9 '14 at 20:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Please do not answer in comments. Comments on questions are for clarification and improvement of the question itself. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Oct 17 '14 at 15:20

18 Answers 18

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AngryGM Says Something About This

Once your characters are obviously going to win, end the encounter/fight. That's tough, but I'm going to sum up what he said. (You should still read it, though) You need to figure out what the main question the encounter is trying to answer, and when the answer becomes obvious, end the encounter! Yes, I know AngryDM's advice talks about encounters in 4e, but you can apply this idea to 3.5e.

Flying Creatures

Open areas favor those who are mobile. Flying is a super easy way to be mobile. Use creatures with fly speeds! Is this a "hard counter" to your players? It can be seen that way. Especially if you have loads of them, because the increased mobility of flying creatures can make the PCs the slow ones!

Fight Fire With Fire!

Certainly, playing like a Mongol horse archer isn't something unique to your players. Other people would be smart like your PCs and would specialize in this tactic. This has the potential to make encounters sprawling things, covering very large distances, but that does happen.

Tower Shields, Terrain, and Spells

Grant cover from ranged attacks! Yay! A few people together could effectively block those archers. Terrain can grant cover, too, even in flat areas. Consider the great plains of the US. They are "flat," but not flat enough that a horse can run directly from any point to any other point. There ought to be variations and things to hide behind. Additionally the flat(er) terrain can give someone on top of a modest hill the chance to spot the PCs coming.

What about clouds of fog? Firewalls? Those are all things that can shut down this fighting style. If your villains know the party, and truly wish them harm, they will employ tactics and set up ambushes where the party will lose their mobility. Palisades and ditches can be used in place of magic.

Consider the Hard Target

Additionally, this hit-and-run style is really bad against "hard targets" like castles, forts, and other entrenched positions. Sure, you can scare the defenders inside, but you need more than arrows to break it. These could very easily require the PCs to (gasp) dismount!

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    \$\begingroup\$ I thought about this AngryDM article, too. Don't let the battle drag out. It's clear they're going to win?--narrate the close of the scene. \$\endgroup\$ – GamerJosh Sep 8 '14 at 21:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ A long running battle between two teams of archers, covering large distances, seems like a cool and dramatic scene. "Finally, the last of the enemy horsemen drops off their mount. You stop, riders and horses both exhausted, and look back at where you started this battle, already out of sight over the horizon. It's a long walk back but the victory makes it a sweet one." \$\endgroup\$ – Greenstone Walker Sep 8 '14 at 22:12
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It's been a while since I dealt with 3.5, but couldn't enemies armed with missile weapons just ready actions to "shoot them when they come into range"? That's certainly not a "screw you" approach.

As a way to mix things up, you could also introduce terrain that makes this strategy less viable (much reduced line of sight, for example.) or NPCs who are prepared to retreat and cover the ground in caltrops. (Though THESE should obviously not be overused.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Held action was my first thought. If there are no such mechanics in the rulebook, make them up. You can't pop up, take a shot, and get back into cover (or out of range) without getting return fire no matter what your (non-supernatural) movement rate is. This answer also doesn't require any nifty spell usage etc.; it's simply what your opponent would do. "Hold your fire till they are in range. Hold... hold... FIRE!" \$\endgroup\$ – DevSolar Sep 9 '14 at 12:55
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Think in terms of how you—as a player, not a DM—might tackle an opponent doing what your players are. There are several things I can think of.

  1. Spellcasters with Protection from Arrows and Slow or Grease are good start points. Protection from Arrows removes their attacking options while Slow and Grease, among other spells, are excellent for taking away their speed advantage.

  2. Historically, the phalanx was the answer to high speed archers. Use tower shields not just large shields, as they can be used as total cover which offers enemy fighters total protection from your players' characters.

  3. And of course, there is always the fight fire with fire approach: build similar style rival NPCs—optimized for speed and archery—and pick a fight. The important thing here is that you can always have NPCs do exactly what the players have done, and may even one-up them with careful selection of classes and spells.

  4. And, as always, there is the overwhelming option. Either overwhelming power (dragons, demons, and other beings close to home who happen to totally outclass the party) and overwhelming numbers—it doesn't matter if they can kill 6 people in a round if they are facing an army of people.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The phalanx was the answer to high-speed archers? The Wikipedia article describes high-speed anything as the phalanx's weakness. \$\endgroup\$ – Brilliand Sep 9 '14 at 17:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ Right. Big shields only work from one direction. If the archers surround the unit then they have no cover. They might be able to "form square" but good archers can still drop arrows into the opposite side of the square. A SUPERBLY TRAINED phalanx/legion could form a square and the center hold shields vertically, AND march, but I imagine such units are very rare elite troops. \$\endgroup\$ – Zan Lynx Sep 10 '14 at 0:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ah ha here we go: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Testudo_formation \$\endgroup\$ – Zan Lynx Sep 10 '14 at 0:48
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Nothing stays the same forever. The players won't be expecting to 'get away with' this tactic much longer. If it was my group, I think I'd let them enjoy it while it lasted. When the campaign was ready to move away from the wide open terrain into tight, cramped dungeons, I think we'd all laugh about the good old days on the wide open Outlands and enjoy watching them try to survive something they can't run away from. That's not to say I'd be mean, I'd just enjoy the change, and so would they.

No tactic, however successful, will continue to entertain a group of players for very long. Success is boring if the achievement of that success is the same every time. Even greedy players will eventually tire of it and be grateful for a change of pace, environment, and combat style.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for "Let them enjoy it while it lasted". Players should be rewarded for coming up with cool solutions. \$\endgroup\$ – Greenstone Walker Sep 8 '14 at 22:09
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As a lot of answers are covering on the logical aspects, I will focus on a more mechanical approach to your problem. From what you wrote, your player are level 6 which means that opposition would have by now access to a fair amount of magic/spells. I would like to improve the previous spell list:

Spike Growth is a pretty handy solution to your problem, long duration, okay/good range, do some damage and hamper movement on the long term. It can be used in a lot of way:

  • as an ambush mechanism by casting it before hand (Magic trap with a DC 28 to spot).
  • as a way to shut down the retreat of your player by casting it during the fight.
  • as an offensive spell by dropping it right on top of the player (6x 20"squares should more or less hit the whole group or at the very least a good part of it). I would recommend caution with this use as it could shut down and easily lead to a TPK if your players are not able to escape it.

Wind wall is another idea, less efficient than the previous one, short duration, no long lasting effect on players mobility. But it will more or less shut down your player ability to shoot your evil minions without moving around it and your minions can shoot and hide behind it. The big problem remaining the duration.

Blindness is a way to go if you want to solve the issue in a definitive manner for one character only. A word of caution as it may be a bit on the heavy handed side if cast at a character with weak fortitude saves.

Tiny Hut This one is hilarious but extra careful! as your player may start to use it against you as well. Tiny Hut is supposed to be an alternative to magic rope but it is more commonly known for its ability to give a party a total concealment! If you mixed it with tower shields, I doubt your player will even be able to put a dent on your baddies.

Use specific monsters that are naturally resilient to pointy sticks:

  • One of my favorite monster in wide open ground where cover is likely hard to find is the "jerk beetle", commonly know as Ankheg. They make for awesome ambusher and they have the nasty habit of retreating below ground with a grabbed prey if wounded and not killed! Pretty much any burrowing monster will do the trick, Ankhegs are just really good at it. Charging from underground, a more than likely flat footed player, give them a good chance to grab then retreat below ground with a now helpless player (remember no usable tunnel unless you feel generous, enjoy suffocation rules for the unlucky player!).
  • If you pass by a forest Ettercap could work, web tangle and shut down movement. With a few spiders they can make up for a good ambush. Dext poison being a good addition to their predicament.
  • Monster with DR are also an alternative but they may be hard to come by and even harder to explain what they are doing in the region.
  • a pack of Blink dogs with (a) master(s) could also make for a good encounter. The dogs can blink cutting escape routes while the master can close in leaving the party with the decision of focusing on the dog to recover their mobility or focusing on the real danger the master(s)

Other mundane solutions also exist:

Tanglefoot bag if you manage to hit a player you can at the very least slow him down for 2d4 round. Pro: it is effective and not gamebreaking Con: expensive (50gp a pop), need to hit (touch attack mitigating it but the 10 feet increment might hurt)

The good old traps like a pit or a snare could also help but it is a static element and can easily be returned against yourself as it more or less make it a two way avenue (neither you or them can cross it without triggering the trap).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a pretty excellent contribution, again, focusing on game mechanics. We like game mechanics in this group, because we are pretty tactical guys. \$\endgroup\$ – Tanthos Sep 10 '14 at 6:06
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Always reward players for being clever. That said, it seems like the previous battle have done so. Now, it's time to hamper that tactic. There are a number of ways to do so:

  • A stationary hard target like a castle, tower, or keep. Baddies use it as a hideout, and have possession of something the PCs need. This can however be partially mitigated by sniping a few guards and then retreating, then repeating.
  • High winds that give all creatures a +X to AC vs ranged. Fairly common in flat open places. Just make sure that the opponents in this case are also partially hampered by this so that the PCs still have a chance. This is an obvious and hard counter to them, it probably won't make your PCs very happy.
  • NPCs that are faster than the PCs. A worg has a speed of 50ft. Double move or charge 100ft and run flat out 200 ft without any bonus feats. A pack of several of them would take some losses closing a significant distance, but if there are enough of them, some would make it to close combat. As in life, if you live by speed, beware of someone who's faster than you. For added challenge have shortbow wielding goblins on their backs.
  • NPCs, preferably undead, with DR/Bludgeoning. Since arrows do piercing damage, they will have a tough time doing enough damage to kill them while the undead just double-move or run toward them. A skeleton double-moving will approach 60ft per round as the PCs move 35 with dash and fire ineffectively. Once within 60ft, the undead charge. Eventually, you could have the PCs start making CON checks of some sort to keep up the pace. The undead pass these automatically since they never tire.

In some of these scenarios, I am relying on the double-move and run actions to close large distances and the charge special action to close the last bit (twice the creature's speed) and still get in an attack. All are in the PHB in the combat chapter.

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This might inspire you: The Battle of Ain Jalut was the first definitive defeat suffered by the mongol horde.

In short, the Mamluks used a feigned retreat to lure the Mongols into the highlands, were they were flanked by hiding Mamluk soldiers. When the Mongols fell into the trap, the Mamluks were able to encircle the Mongols, denying their mobility.

Of course, even if the NPCs manage to encircle the PCs, single units are much more mobile than armies and could escape anyway, perhaps just suffering a single opportunity attack, so the NPC's should have some way of restraining the PCs, such as nets, caltrops or tanglefoot bags.

In addition to that, you may houserule movement costs to changing running/facing direction for characters on foot. Mongol mounted archers employed this techinique because they could shoot on the opposite direction their horses were facing, but in reality, an archer on foot would have to stop, turn around, shoot and turn around again, making it actually much slower than his straight running speed. It would also be very tiring, so houserulling some sort of fatigue would also help.

But as stated by Zibboz, it shouldn't be done to punish the players, only to further challenge their tactical skills.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for mentioning the fatigue aspect of this play style. The DMG's rules for a chase scenario address that pretty well without even a need for a house rule. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Henderson Jun 7 '16 at 21:12
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What are the reasons for these encounters? I would normally say there needs to be a reason for narrative consistency but maybe you're not doing RP for the story. However as many people have alluded to, the reason for an encounter can largely inform the methods of countering strategies.

Guard: Their job isn't to kill anyone who might be an intruder; it's to keep them from intruding. If the PCs run off, don't have the NPCs chase them. Put them into Total Defense, behind cover, and/or give them a hold action to attack.

Brigandage: In most cases you're going to be looking at an ambush situation. If the brigands specialize in ambushes, this should be a pretty hard check to make. Ideally, this would involve encircling the PCs in such a way that they can't run away. Grappling could be a good way to ensure this, but "every other square spacing" with Combat Reflexes (for lots of AoO as they try to leave) could work too. If the PCs enter into their standard tactics then they would likely move to Survival as a motivation.

Survival: Again, if the motivation for the encounter is simply survival than the goal should be to break line of sight with the PCs. If this is your motivation, you should put the encounter in line-of-sight to some sort cover; whether that be an abandoned village, a forest, or a tunnel complex. Otherwise, you should do your best to use the PC's "run and shoot" strategy to your advantage, by having your NPCs do the same. If the PCs are withdrawing, have the enemy take the opportunity to run away. If the PCs are trying to catch up, have them wheel around and double-move (or charge!) themselves. At the least, the PCs will have to start altering their movement speeds, which changes up the combat.

Kidnapping/Assassination: Maybe the PCs have someone with them the enemies want (or want to kill). If the PCs give in to their standard tactics, the NPCs just have to grab/kill the target and then switch to Survival tactics.

Combat: Whether its a group of marauding berserkers or an opposing army, sometimes the goal really is just to kill the PCs. In this case, there are plenty of options to make the enemy just as fast and/or mobile as the PCs; whether they're mounted or naturally fast. As others have indicated there are lots of ways to make characters as fast or faster than your PCs.

A final note: The keyword here is "attrition". This is essentially the strategy your PCs are using; but it can work just as well against them. The PCs have a limited number of arrows and once they're expended, they'll have to cut and run or switch tactics. Any time you can get the PCs to be the aggressors this will make it a lot easier to force them into close combat situations. Even something as simple as putting the fight inside a structure will eliminate most of the PCs advantages.

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Hum wait... I'm not sure about my answer because it seems quite obvious to me and nearly no one had it as main answer, maybe there is a in-universe limitation but...

Keep on galloping

If the Outlands has a lot of open space, my opinion is that local culture should have adapted to warfare in these environments. And, unless I'm wrong, open field call to horsemen.

It is not openly countering them if it makes sense. In what universe do people stick to walking when there is a lot of flat land to cross?

Honestly it won't kill all the strategy for your players, I mean, in an open field, skirmishers (your players) are stomped by cavalry, but in woods or town, they have the advantage. Keep in mind that horses have better speed than human, but accelerate slower at the beginning and don't change direction as easily.

I think that the fact that D&D3.5 manuals are mostly made for in-doors adventure explain why they lack of horsemen profile and no one seemed to have this answer but I'm sure you can find fantasy horsemen (warg riders goblins?).

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If I may make a suggestion...

Don't punish your players

This may be very tempting after seeing them win so many encounters over and over again, but this is exactly what you've set them up for. Their characters trained and practiced and learned to adapt to this environment, and it is working for them. Don't punish them for this - they're adapting to the campaign setting and this is okay.

What you should do, however, is put their adaptation to the test.

Many, many other answers have given you suggestions here on what you could throw at them - flying cratures, well-fortified troops, tower shields, other expert archers, even some men who actually are on horseback would give your party a real challenge.

The objective here, you should realize, is not to punish them for picking a winning strategy, but to adapt your own strategy to theirs, and press them on it. To ramp the challenge upward, and give them a fight equally suited to both the environment and to their skill.

You've got a group of players who have learned to work together and create a winning strategy in a campaign-specific setting. Let them have their victories...but give them even bigger challenges still to come.

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Ankegs and Spiders hiding underground and using tremor sense can be an effective trap, even for those on a horse. Even in the plain (maybe espesically in the plain) or near areas of higher traffic.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Monster-specific ambush is a great idea. I'm still running this campaign and now we are at the point where we are having a blast with their tactics. I will try this out. Probably with blink dogs or something like that. \$\endgroup\$ – Tanthos Jan 26 '15 at 16:50
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There are plenty of ways to counter the tactic without being too over the top. Teleporting enemies (a number of demonic creatures can teleport at will), grappling, invisible enemies, heck, even a fog cloud would put a cramp in their style. Entangle? Grease under the horses? Fireballs? Scorching Rays? Enemy archers?

All of which ignores the simplicity of having a village or building for the group to explore and encounter things in.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Note: no actual horses involved, it's all personal move speed increases. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Sep 9 '14 at 17:05
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Other answers covered points, but I saw nothing on a little bit of equipment for your NPC's. You would have to assume that any NPC's on the outlands are used to engaging in fights on the open terrain, and therefore would come equipped for it.

  • Bolo and other immobilizing weapons (nets?) Hard to run away when you can't move. Forces the other PC's to come in and help.

  • Spears and javelins In more 'historical' terms, skirmish tactics were often employed vs archers...they may not have the range archers do, but they can still pack a punch. Consider sundering at this level...breaking an archers bow is as good as a kill in war terms and it was a very readily used tactic vs archers (little mean in a DnD sense, but one or two sundered weapons will force PC's to new tactics until they can re-equip). Weapons such as 'pilum' were designed to bend after being thrown to hinder movement around them as well.

  • Horses and other mounts Mounted units that possess charge would quickly tear through a group of dedicated archers no matter how fast they run around.

  • tower shield.
    Who needs cover when you carry your own?

And a couple tactics the NPC can resort to:

  • Lay down. NPC lays down, archer receives minus to strike a prone target, assuming they can see even see them. Bonus points to NPC rogues that can potentially turn these into surprise attacks.

  • Run them into a surprise. two NPC fighters moving slowly towards them and pushing them back into two NPC rogues just waiting for the PC's to be forced back into them

  • Grapple. If there is an opportunity to tackle an archer, take it!

ANything else I can include is already in other answers.

Edit:

Flank and pincer style tactics should challenge your PC's a bit as well. Dedicate one (or more) NPC's to running up along side of your PC's on their flanks with the ultimate goal of getting behind your PC's while the slower NPC's progress up the middle. Any NPC that is engaging people on the badlands should be quite aware that they'll need to encircle their opponent in order to catch them.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Being equipped for the plains and the dropping prone tactics are two things I had not considered. I like that. Same with grapple. Using game mechanics is always welcome. We like tactical combat. \$\endgroup\$ – Tanthos Sep 9 '14 at 21:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd also really make sure their ammo is well tracked and considered...an archer is going to have issues carrying more than a couple quivers afterall. Going to edit in one more tactic for your NPC's as well...grapple works really well since a bow isn't considered armed, so no attacks of opportunity there. \$\endgroup\$ – Twelfth Sep 9 '14 at 21:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ A bow could be considered armed as it's little different from a quarterstaff or club, but if you go that route don't forget the high chance of breakage. \$\endgroup\$ – Perkins Sep 11 '14 at 22:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's considered unarmed for the purpose of attacks of opportunity (though feats can change this). A well balanced bow would be badly weighted for use as a club, no? \$\endgroup\$ – Twelfth Sep 11 '14 at 23:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ A well-made bow can be used to jab somewhat effectively, but it makes a very poor club or staff. Blocking with it can work like one, but any sort of damage to the bow is likely to result in its destruction on the next draw of the string. \$\endgroup\$ – Theo Brinkman Jan 27 '15 at 15:04
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The answers here are all pretty good, but most of them are simply reaching for the Monster Manual or the spell list to try to stymie your player group. There's one other thing you can pull out of your 'bag of tricks' to make the players have to adjust their tactics or come up with something new: terrain.

Yes, you've said that the players are moving through a wide open area, but wide open areas generally have things in them. A copse of trees for instance, that hides bandit ambushers. Rocky outcroppings that can give your NPC's cover from arrows. Rough ground could add a 'stumble' chance for anything other than walking pace movement. Chaparral (low dense bushes) is nearly impenetrable for people on foot and could be used to either pin the characters in place or confine their movements while allowing mounted opponents more freedom of movement.

Since you've said you like tactics and combat mechanics, these things combined with some of the other suggestions could make for some interesting encounters.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You have just given me a lot of new terms to look up. Chaparral, eh? Sounds cool. Could you update your answer with a couple references on how this compares to the D&D movement rules? I'm not up to speed on terrain rules. \$\endgroup\$ – Tanthos Sep 11 '14 at 4:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ The big thing to remember is that 'open terrain' and 'large open encounter areas' are not synonymous with 'flat, featureless maps'. Plains are full of hills, patches of scrub brush, tall grasses, short grasses hiding patches of rough terrain, or even sink-holes. \$\endgroup\$ – Theo Brinkman Jan 27 '15 at 15:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Use difficult terrain liberally. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Henderson Jun 7 '16 at 21:14
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Caltrops, "bramble rope", web nets, and other area/path traps. I agree you must not act against the party, because it is not your job. That is the job of a brother, sister, or parent of one of their "victims".

Their very success is the fire that forges the weapons against them. Some groups search rumors for clues about possible quests persons to rescue evil plans afoot. Your party is now so successful that some of those evil plans must be in action. If the party roleplays well enough that they have made friends, don't be afraid to have one over hear rumors about evil plans to get the party.

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If the party's been this successful, word has probably gotten out about their tactics. Therefore it would make sense for an enemy party to try tactics specifically designed to counter those tactics. As long as it happens once (rather than every single fight) you could explain it as good tactical planning by the enemy as opposed to DM "screw you." To foreshadow this, you could have people with whom the party has never interacted start congratulating the party on their tactics. This would be a sign that unfriendly ears may have learned the party's tricks like friendly ears did. Some ideas:

  1. An Invisible caster (with Protection from Arrows) with the ability to cast 4th level Sorcerer/Wizard spells (7th level wizard) could try to trap one or more of the party in a Wall of Ice (hemisphere) or Wall of Fire. That same caster could use a scroll of a 5th level spell (with a small chance of failure) to trap them in a Wall of Force or a Wall of Stone or to fatigue them (with Waves of Fatigue; no running while fatigued!) to let the rest of the party charge in.

  2. Have a group of melee fighters specializing in grappling waiting invisibly where the group is traveling; it's hard to run with another person wrapped about you. Close in, grab, and hold on while trying to choke them to unconsciousness.

  3. Incorporeal or invisible enemies (ghost, invisible stalker) can get close to the party and can lead to a cat-and-mouse game, particularly when combined with a corporeal, visible group of enemies. Does the party continue firing at the visible threat that's approaching or prepare to deal with the invisible/intangible threat that's in their midst?

  4. Change of venue. The party must have some sort of home base, even if it's just a friendly town where they go for a drink and a night at the inn. Have their enemies attack the party while they're at the inn (ideally after a night of drinking -- what's the effects on combat effectiveness of intoxication or a hangover?) Ranged weapons will be of much less use in the confined rooms and short hallways of an inn; and if they're forced to run out of the inn (through doors OR windows) a running battle through the streets of town with characters who were so rudely awakened would bring a little more excitement to the party (especially if the characters weren't able to grab all their equipment first.)

When or if the party escapes the ambush, give them a clue as to the person or group that planned it. That will likely move that person or group MUCH higher on the party's "Priority to deal with" list.

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I can think of 2 tactics.

  1. The ambush.

    1. The monsters/minions of a villain have something the PC's want.
    2. They 'unwittingly' let the word out, and then reveal that the villain wants it. This could be in a bar or inn, or just a rumor the PC's hear multiple times.
    3. The players (hopefully) follow them to the villain's stronghold, and are then ambushed in the woods/hills/other non-plains landmass nearby. One location could be on a bridge over a deep chasm or roaring river, and the players get ambushed on the bridge from both sides and are forced to fight. Alternatively, the bridge could be lit on fire on one end, and the minions try to keep the PC's on the bridge. These could be suicidal goblins or monsters that fly. This creates a sense of chaos as the bridge get smaller and the distance the enemies must travel to reach the PC's grows smaller, and the item is getting away. The delaying monsters don't even have to be high level, depending on if you want the item to get away or for them to capture it close to the gates.
  2. The property attack.

    Another tactic you could use is to have a nobleman, grateful to the PC's, give them a large parcel of land with an estate or something. The PC's can store stuff here, rest here, etc. After they get attached to the estate, then circulate rumors that marauding monsters are burning down large, expensive estates. Then, the players can't run away from the monsters, because they want to guard their estate. The monsters come and have an epic duel or something.

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The anti-party can also cast slow on the party, while casting haste upon themselves. This party can be one that a former enemy of theirs came up with to deal with them, so he or she can do their vile plains and get away with it! (Or not.)

Also, what about bad guys in covered camouflaged holes to ambush the unwary! This vile group could be called the antlions—you know that tiny insect in the desert that causes its victims to slide down to them for their meal. There are rumors they just moved into the area, that they're hard to defeat, that a cavalier unit died by their hands, and so on, and so on.

Also remember an opposing party doesn't need to be evil, yet not want to work with anyone else, and of course they get in the way going after the same goal!

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