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Half of my PCs have been imprisoned by some devil worshipers and are being held beneath their temple. The other half will stage a daring rescue attempt next session. It should be great. The problem I'm having is what should I do with the imprisoned PCs?

They are a cleric, a paladin, and a rogue. They are in a tight spot.

The cells are in an anti-magic field. The rogue didn't min-max so there is no way he can pick the masterwork manacles without tools. The guards are highly trained and disciplined knights (i.e. not easy to fool and not careless).

How do I make it fun for them? What opportunities should I give them?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by KorvinStarmast, ShadowKras, fectin, Oblivious Sage, minnmass May 9 '17 at 21:41

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Idea-generation questions don't really work in the Stack Exchange site format. As a rule they result in a list of ideas with no obvious way for voters to tell which answers are better than others. If you have a specific problem that can have a right answers we could help with that. Otherwise, you may just actually want a chat room or discussion forum instead of a Stack. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie May 10 '17 at 1:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Sorry! Thanks for the tip. I did get a lot of great ideas though. \$\endgroup\$ – Kris May 15 '17 at 19:41

11 Answers 11

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One of the problems with higher level characters is usually that they "forget" how they solved problems earlier in their career. The fact that they are in manacles in a locked anti-magic cell is great, as it forces them to stop solving their problems through brute force or through magic.

Historically speaking, there were lots of prison breaks where the prisoners were in a highly secured facility yet were still able to break out without magic (at least I'm assuming they didn't have magical abilities). Give them some opportunities to escape!

  • It's not the cell that's anti-magic : Maybe their manacles work a bit like dimensional shackles, except that they block magic instead of planar travel. The players have no real way to know this if they are always manacled, but removing the manacles becomes a much clearer goal for them if they ever do. Since the rogue apparently can't pick them, give the PCs a way to destroy them (jagged rocks or something), that way you don't have to deal with PCs armed with anti-magic manacles. Alternatively, this could make for a cool reward for them if they manage to find the keys...
  • Prisoner transfer : someone wants to torture them, so they need to be sent to the torture room. Maybe the rogue manages to swipe a key ring on the way back? Maybe he can grab something that will help them escape or that can be traded to other prisoners in exchange for some favour?
  • Prison food is gross : Describe their stale bread as being super extra floury. Combined with some of their water, they could make some homemade glue. What they do with it is up to them, but there are lots of opportunities here. They could jam locks, they could take a few light objects and glue them together to make a "pole" allowing them to reach something through a window or through cell bars, etc. Who knows, maybe their cell is the one right by the door to the cell block, so there's a key ring on a peg on the far wall, and it's about 6 feet away. Maybe they can make a longish stick and reach it?
  • Prison riot : Maybe some of the prisoners there have it easier than the PCs and can occasionally go out for some exercise and what not. Perhaps the PCs could convince them to riot and stage a distraction for them while they put their plan in action? If they agree to release some of the prisoners when they escape, that's awesome, because now you have a legit excuse to send a crazed serial killer to their home town to make them realize that their decisions have consequences.

And that's a few I could think of on the spot, but there's bound to be a lot more things you could do to make it possible for them to escape. If the PCs are known to these devil worshippers, their daring rescue attempt should have the gaolers increase security, since they know they're coming for the imprisoned members of the party. This leads to interesting stuff, as the PCs on the outside are unknowingly making it more difficult for the others to escape. But meanwhile, everyone gets to be in the spotlight at the table and it keeps the game fun for everyone.

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One option is to just not have the imprisoned PCs' players present. Tell them: "Feel free to arrive to the next session about an hour late, because the rescuers won't get to you for an hour." Or just let them know to bring a book or something.

Another option is to give them something to do. You've written:

The cells are in an anti-magic field. The rogue didn't min-max so there is no way he can pick the masterwork manacles without tools. The guards are highly trained and disciplined knights (i.e. not easy to fool and not careless).

but those are just things you've decided. Rather than decide this, decide the opposite. Maybe the guards didn't search the rogue thoroughly, and he can make a skill check to hide his thieves' tools on him. Maybe the guards aren't as highly disciplined as you originally thought, and they can be tricked or bribed by a high social roll. Maybe the anti-magic sigils are drawn into the floor of the prison, where someone could sabotage them somehow.

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It's a conflict of interest, but...

If your players can handle the separation of player knowledge from character knowledge, then you can offer them an adversarial role. Offer them the option (but don't require) to play the guards during the rescue attempt.

Pros

  • You don't have to run the guards.
  • The players have something useful to do.
  • It creates a sandbox way to have PvP that won't impact their regular PCs

Cons

  • There's the chance that players will get mad at each other.
  • Players have to keep player knowledge separate from character knowledge. Not all players manage this well.
  • the "red team" group must be willing to play the bad guys accurately. (Not just surrendering immediately, not being intentionally easy to defeat, etc.) Not all players are good at bad guys.
  • You probably need to have at least a short talk with the "red team" folks to set their standing orders / tactics / how you expect this to go down / what they've trained for.

How it works

You let the captive PCs' players leave the room with character sheets for their guards. They might be playing 2 or 3 guards each, since these are short-term events and not deep Roleplaying. They spend some time going over their tactics, the map of the prison, etc. to master their response to the coming threat. They have the advantage of knowing the location and having trained for specific attacks. They shouldn't know when or who or how many they'll face.

While they're out of the room, the rescue team plans their attack. Since the guards aren't in the room, there will be less chance that they'll already have the perfect defense in mind...

During the prison break, as GM your role will be to play any guards the players don't take on, plus mediate / referee the fight between them. Remember, the guards aren't true PCs, so if the players start going "off script," it is okay to reign them in.

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    \$\begingroup\$ In addition, give the imprisoned PCs Xp based on how well the Players played the NPCs. \$\endgroup\$ – aslum May 9 '17 at 20:47
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Some of this might not fit with other things you have in mind, but hopefully something here will be useful.

The first and most obvious possibility is to provide a way for them to escape. Two things make this tricky: 1) balancing the situation so that the escape is neither too difficult nor too easy, and 2) not simply reversing your problem and undercutting the PCs who managed to avoid being captured instead. Since this depends heavily on the details, I'll assume you can figure out if you want to go this route and won't dwell on it here.

The devil worshippers could use the PCs for slave labor, creating an opportunity for them to role-play. The paladin especially is likely to have a problem being forced to construct something for the bad guys. Maybe they can find ways to sabotage the construction - it might not ultimately matter, but it could still make for an interesting story.

Depending on the tone of the group and how the PCs interact, another way of opening up role-playing opportunities would be for the cult to try and turn the PCs against each other. They probably know that the paladin and the cleric aren't going to turn, but the rogue might seem like a great target for them - after all, what's he doing hanging out with those goody-two-shoes anyways? Surely he'd prefer the kind of luxurious lifestyle that their devil masters offer, right?

If the cult has any secret plans, being captured provides a good opportunity for the PCs to discover them. Maybe they can trick a guard into saying too much, or eavesdrop on a meeting during slave labor. Perhaps they learn that the cult plans to summon a powerful devil on the night of the escape, forcing them to push deeper into the temple after they regain their gear rather than simply rushing to the exit.

Perhaps you can use this opportunity to set up the next adventure. For example, in prison the PCs meet an NPC charged with escorting a holy artifact to a shrine. Now when they escape they need to retrieve the artifact first, then join the NPC to ensure it arrives safely at its destination.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Great ideas. The imprisoned PC's could be tasked with building part of the temple's defense. If they plan their sabotage well and roll it well, the rescuing PC's could have an easy rescue mission. If the sabotage fails, the imprisoned PC's get sent back to their cells without dinner, lose the ability to easily eavesdrop, and possibly send the temple into high alert. \$\endgroup\$ – Robert Columbia Jun 18 '17 at 12:25
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I was once imprisoned while my party staged a daring rescue. During the rescue, I was given control of a minor NPC who would be helping out with some specific aspects of the rescue, but my character was also given some time in the spotlight, as I was interrogated by my captors. We would switch focus to an interrogation scene whenever there was a slight break in the action, and it led to some interesting events which ultimately changed the course of the rescue mission.

Your characters are being held for some reason, rather than being killed. Play that reason up, and you could have some interesting events, character development, or opportunities for something greater. I'd also allow the captured players to play NPCs that are involved in the rescue, but remember that the story is about the players' characters, not any NPCs, so they should not steal the spotlight.

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Have NPCs (played by the imprisoned PCs) take their place in the party for the rescue, and then have some trap (or guards) viciously murder them as soon as the PCs are rescued. It's a bit cheesy I know but sometimes cheese is fun

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If you don't want to allow them to escape on their own, then you're limited in what you can do.

How about getting them to play a game, like poker or blackjack, but in character, betting in-game gold/items on the hands? Say the guards threw some cards in to shut them up or something. Gives them time for some role-playing, and something (fun) to fuel that roleplaying, but doesn't require you to babysit them when you could be DMing the rescue party.

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One sensible way to deal with it is to give the prisoners equal spotlight time, in which they can make attempts to escape (since they won't know their buddies are planning a rescue). They might convert items in their cell(s) into makeshift weapons, conspire with other prisoners or among themselves, plan how to distract or take down guards -- they might even come up with a plan that lets them actually escape their cells, only to wind up in a worse mess (out of the frying pan and into the fire).

If your players aren't good at avoiding meta-gaming, you might actually physically separate the two groups, though that has some logistical issues.

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I'm intrigued by why the cult has held them captive instead of just killing them. I think if you answer that, you would have a good start for building the story for your captive players.

There's an intriguing possibility with the mix of a paladin and cleric being held by cultists. Maybe the paladin or cleric could try to convince one of the members to follow their deity instead.

Perhaps there's a special artifact that the cultists need to get that either the rogue knows where it is, or would be the best one to be able to get it. So the rogue would have to try and resist whatever coercion methods they use to get the info.

Along those lines, is this devil they are worshiping somehow related to the deity that either the paladin or the cleric serve? Maybe they could try to get info about the cult, or recover a stolen artifact from their deity (with the rogue's help) while the other team is working to free them. Give them a mission within the compound that they have to complete. They can't leave the Death Star before getting the plans, that kind of thing.

This sounds like a great opportunity to break out the non-combat skills. Try to investigate what these cultists want. Try to find a less-than-devout member, and sway them to help. Try to avoid breaking under torture/coercion (if you don't mind a darker story line).

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How about adding some low level monsters in the cell as well? There could easily be a crack in the wall to allow rats or spiders to creep in periodically throughout the rescue, and since the players are shackled it could result in some interesting/humorous battles.

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There is an important rule for role-playing games: Never split the party. It results in awful game sessions. You constantly need to shift attention between the two groups, and there rarely is a way to keep one half of the players occupied while you focus on the other. The result will be a session where all players are bored half the time.

But in your case, there isn't anything interesting to do for the imprisoned half of the party. What you can do to keep the players interested is to give them replacement PCs to play who take part in the rescue. When the party is reunited, you can turn the replacement PCs into NPCs.

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    \$\begingroup\$ -1 splitting the party can be fine if it's handled right, and depending on the game. In PF it's generally a bad idea to split the party, but that's a bad idea for the players, not something the DM should prohibit, and depending on the story there are plenty of times the party SHOULD split up. \$\endgroup\$ – aslum May 9 '17 at 20:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Some of the best game we've played the party was separated between 2 or 3 groups; each groups acting separately without knowledge of the others; It is also a mean for the PC to use some specifics skills, a scoundrel (SW) or a thief can use the stealth to follow or spy. A paladin can't do that. Alternatively, some players may have different objective, a disciple of Nurgle may not want the Slanesh guy to know his objective. In L5R we had a magnificent session where one of the player had the objective of getting the content of a chest, whereas the rest of the team had to bring back the chest. \$\endgroup\$ – Alkano May 10 '17 at 12:00

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