My PCs are charged with uncovering a cult's motives, however they will engage a deadly encounter which lead them (unknowingly) to a troll city.

I thought it would be intresting to include a social combat challenge once they get there, where the PCs try to convince the troll leader to spare their lives in exchange for information.

In order to insert some drama and uncertainty I thought up the following mechanic.

  1. The PCs are in wooden cages and below there's fire. The troll leader along with a shaman are in front of them, interrogating them.

  2. At each question, the troll leader turn pulls a lever and 1 cage drops a notch closer to fire.

How do I implement mechanics to make this combat challenging and fair to all PCs?

  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ This looks like encounter designed for charismatic, talkative characters. Why should it be "fair and challenging for all"? Why can't you let fighters shine in battles and talkers shine in negotiations? \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 11:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Trolls would not have fired for the same reason we don't live near piles of Uranium - we like to keep away from toxic materials \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 21:01

1 Answer 1


I don't think the interrogation needs to be done as combat turns, but as a generic encounter. That lets the talkative characters come to the fore without having to try and fit words into 6s intervals.

The troll leader is probably only going to drop the cage more if the PCs aren't giving him the information he wants, so use that as a threat in response to misleading answers, or simply answers he doesn't believe, presumably based on being caught out in outright lies or a failed persuasion check. You could have there be room for three wrong answers ("the flames are now coming around the base of the cage...those on the edges take d4 flame damage"), to give it the tension required.

In the DMG, there's a section on "Social Interactions" (pg. 244) about NPCs' attitude towards PCs. IIRC, there are three basic levels: unfavourable, neutral, favourable. As the PCs pass or fail checks they move up and down the scale. You could use something like that to track how they're doing with answering the leader's questions.

If the leader gets really annoyed at their answers, he drops the cage the rest of the way, it bursts open on landing, characters take a bit of damage and then fiiiiight!

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ The section is "Social Interactions" starting on pg. 244 in the DMG. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 15:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ That was the main dilemma for me as well. I thought the following rule. "PCs are able to use "help" as an action to give speech to an other PC. If they do so, they cannot speak on their turn". That would embed interaction of all PCs in order to escape. It's harder to coordinate and keep a pursuasive flow (real life egoism) than remaining silent. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 9:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think if you were to have the troll definitely drop a cage at regular intervals then the combat structure would work, but otherwise it's social. Also, what character is going to be keep silent if they're chosen for a drop? \$\endgroup\$
    – chooban
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 12:10
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ To add to this answer: you could just describe the situation, then put a small hourglass/egg-timer on table in full view of all the players. This will let them know they need to act fast. Every time it runs out, one of the cages is lowered. For the challenge itself, the charismatic characters can try to be persuasive/deceptive/threatening, but the other characters can try to break out, or swing their cage away from the fire, or do a slight-of-hand check to subtly cut/untie the rope that binds the door, so they can leap out if necessary. \$\endgroup\$
    – Liesmith
    Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 3:08

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