by Mike Shea on 14 March 2011
You've heard me talk a lot about Dave the Game's "Out". Though a bit of an advanced trick, once you get your head around building "outs" into your encounters, they will run smooth and fast and every one of them will be unique. Understanding how exactly outs work, however, isn't so easy. Today we'll show five specific examples of outs so you can get a feel for how they work and how you can build your own into your own battles. Let's jump right in.
Intimidating the Wraiths
In this example, we have a room with five wraiths attacking the party. The wraiths, once concubines of a long-dead king, seek to draw the life out of any who enter their lair. The lair itself continues to hold their ashes in large urns in the corners of the room. A fountain in the center of the room steals the their very minds. The fountain is actually a trap that randomly targets one PC within 5 squares with a dominate attack.
The Out: There are two ways to end this battle early. First, when a wraith becomes bloodied, it can be sent away with diplomacy, bluff, or intimidate checks. Depending on how the player chooses to send away the wraith, you might make it one or more skill checks. How easy or hard it is to get rid of the wraith depends on how the player chooses to do it and how you feel the pace of the battle is going. If it's better to be rid of the wraith, make it easier to do so.
The second out focuses on the urns themselves. Four urns in the corners of the room are connected to the wraiths. PCs trained in religion can sanctify the urns and inflict damage to the wraith connected to the urn. If the battle is dragging on, they might be able to destroy the wraith outright once the wraith has become bloodied.
Now we have two additional ways to end this battle besides simply killing all the wraiths.
The Necrotic Pipes
In this example we have a chamber containing a skeletal tomb guardian and four piles of bones. Necrotic gasses flow down from tubes in the corners of the room to the skeletal bone piles. At the end of the tomb guardian's turn, up to four skeletons spawn and activate at the bone piles due to the necrotic gasses. Anyone beginning or entering a square adjacent to the bone pillars takes 5 necrotic damage.
The Out: A complicated mechanical contraption in an alcove in the room controls the necrotic gas that flows in on the bone piles. Someone trained in thievery can manipulate the contraption with three standard action thievery checks. He or she can do these as minor actions instead but risks triggering traps and taking damage. Once the three thievery checks are completed, the gas stops pouring in and the minions stop spawning. Depending on the pace of battle, this might reduce the tomb guardian's hit points as well.
If the skeletal tomb guardian is killed, the skeletons also stop spawning and the gas stops pouring in.
Like other "outs" this example loads the damage and risk of danger in the first few rounds. As the battle reaches over the tipping point to clear success, it can end very quickly. You get to decide when the battle is dragging and ensure the group has multiple ways to end it early.
Also, note how the players have a choice of adding actions and risking damage by using minor actions for skill checks instead of standards. This gives players a choice to put an immediate threat on the PC without taking any extra time at the table. It's a great trick.
The Chamber of Serpents
In this example, a large crack or pit in the center of the chamber houses hundreds of poisonous snakes. When the party enters, the eyes of three serpentine statues on the opposite wall begin to glow and fire beams of radiant energy at the party. The statues also begin to whisper and hiss, drawing four of the more powerful serpents out of the crack. The party must fight the serpents while dodging the beams firing from the serpent statues.
The Out: A squat statue in one corner of the room is covered with arcane runes. A few minor action arcana checks reveals a strange series of sigils on the statue's face. Someone trained in arcana can perform three standard action arcana checks to disable the beams and quiet the hissing statues. When quieted, the serpents slither back into their pit. Instead of three standard action checks, the arcane-trained PC can use minor actions but risks arcane damage on failed checks. You might even replace these skill checks with a puzzle of some sort such as a Strimko puzzle with numbers replaced by symbols.
Multiple options for ending combat early
These are just a few examples of "outs" you can build into your encounters. The key is to always give yourself and your players options to finish up a battle without simply stepping out of the game and calling it over or sticking around to the bitter end. In-game skill checks, alternative goals, and battle-ending puzzles can give you a few different options for keeping your battles fast, unique, and fun.
If you liked this article, take a look at Sly Flourish's Dungeon Master Tips and Sly Flourish's Running Epic Tier D&D Games. You might also use these links to buy the Dungeon Master's Kit, the Deluxe Dungeon Master's Screen, the Dungeon Master's Guide 2, or use this link to buy anything from Amazon. Good maps can come in just as handy in a challenge as they can in combat. Take a look at the Gamemastery flip maps at Troll and Toad, an official Sly Flourish sponsor.