Sara can’t GM this week, and Stuart really wanted to dust off that old Adventure Path. The group is getting together including Jane who is driving over an hour from Bloomington to play. And you get the following text from Stu 20 minutes before the game:
“I am going to be a bit late and my old roommate took the box with that AP in it by mistake. Should I cancel?”
Jane is almost here. And you have a decision, cancel the game or run yourself with virtually no prep. You know the level that the party is at and the enemies that have made in the last seven months. You text Stu back and let him know that you’ve got it covered…
Panic Prep: Ambush Party
The CR system isn’t always exactly perfect but it is robust enough that sometimes you can use it cold. Generally, the party will be exceptionally challenged by something three CRs above their party level. Most parties of four PCs are going to experience this CR for a group of four foes of their equivalent level. NPC gear makes equal level foes end up at an individual CR of APL-1. Extrapolating you end up with something 6 foes of 1 level lower than the same APL being in the plus three difficulty range. Or 8 foes of 2 levels lower than the APL.
This matters because it means a GM can have an instant CR appropriate battle by taking any one of:
- 4 NPC foes of the same level as the party.
- 6 NPC foes of one lower level as the party.
- 8 NPC foes of two levels lower than the party.
This in turn gives you a the structure of a challenge worthy ambush party. If running cold and without an adventure path, module or scenario, you can start the session with just an ambush party. Select a likely organization that would move on the PCs and keep them in mind when you start picking Ambush party members.
There are a lot of places to scrounge up the needed baddies. You can probably even double up (chances of two party members with similar abilities are pretty good for NPCs) meaning you will only need to source half the above numbers to get your ambush party set. Consider the following sources and feel free to mix and match:
- Pathfinder® Roleplaying Game: NPC Codex
- Pathfinder Society Pregens
- Old PCs you have played.
- Third Party Collections.
- Old modules you have run.
Match the members of the ambush party to an established or likely foe group for the area. If using well known NPCs or former PCs consider altering them to fit the organization by changing genders, races and gear descriptions. Generally speaking a group of PCs will have no idea that they are getting ambushed by your husband’s old sorcerer, your old ranger and the town guards from EC6. With good descriptions they are fighting now fighting the royal enforcers of the Chained Empress sent to gather them and impress them into service.
Quick Do’s and Don’t for Ambush Party:
- Do role-play hard with their new personas, it will drive them further away from source stat blocks and old possible affiliations, keeping them new in your players minds.
- Do describe gear and emblems that would help establish a group identity, the patchwork parties can gel in to a single believable unit it they all bare the same brand or all carry the same twisted daggers under their grey robes.
- Do use the time during player rounds to flesh out motives, add possible plot hooks (written kill orders, maps, etc) to lead the party to the next encounter. A CR+3 battle can take a couple hours. If you are working behind the scenes you can script out the rest of the evening while running the ambush.
- Don’t leave signature items in play if you can help it. Reference new weapon stats and distance from the source material.
- Don’t reuse the same figure if you can help it. Just because you have the perfect orc barbarian fig from your old PC doesn’t mean you should use it again with
- Don’t share the sources with other players, sometimes you are proud of your improv ability, but don’t diminish your success but dropping the curtain on it too soon.
If you really need to run, the ambush party can be a life saver and allow a game to happen where there wouldn’t have been one at all. Over reliance on the technique can create a bit of a caricature feeling for a campaign so go take the time to prep some thoughtful encounters after one or two of them.
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