Encounter deconstruction: the Wagon Race

This past weekend I ran a brand new encounter that I’ve never run before: a wagon race. In it, the PCs had to make their way across half a city to an old church. I’m going to break down how each challenge went, how I tied each together, and how it was resolved.

1. The Lead Up

In the previous session, I’d revealed that there were some evil jerks who were heading to the church to meet up with another NPC who was looking for something. The players got a sense of urgency during that reveal and while they fought his underlings (a distraction), the head of the evil jerks took off for the church. The session ended with the fight concluding and the players knowing they had to return to the church.

2. The Guard Tower

The area of the city the PCs had been in when they countered the meanies was off limits and heavily guarded to keep people out. When they made their way back, they discovered that the gate was open and there were no guards anymore. The nearby guard tower had a blood trail leading to it and inside was a pack of goblins who had killed the guards. The players made their way to the top floor of the tower and took in the sights. Being the first night of Deepwater Day (a celebration in the city named after the game Lords of Waterdeep), they saw that there were people everywhere and fireworks going off.

As they got their bearings and began to see familiar landmarks, they saw the church on the horizon and as they watched, there was a massive explosion that blew the back half off the church. One of the players used the spyglass she had in her backpack (hooray for using all of your items!) and got a closer look. It was far away but I wanted her to see that the head jerk was there.

The PCs were inspired to get to the church as fast as they could.

3. The Performers

A group of performers were playing music nearby. This group, a family of gypsies, had been helped earlier by the PCs during a group skill/talent check. As the PCs approached they noticed that the family had a second wagon with some horses and asked to borrow it. After a bit of back and forth they family let them take it and they were off.

4. The Crowds

Being the first night of Deepwater Day, they soon realized that the square was full of people and they had to use their skills (diplomacy, some spells, etc.) to clear the square so they could get underway. While the others were doing that, I had them decide who was driving the wagon and made them make Ride checks (or Handle Animal, whichever was highest) to make sure they started the ride ok. A quick roll and they were off!

5. The Wagon

When I was designing this moving dungeon, I realized I had a huge problem. I had an 4” by 8” tile (dwarven forge) and two simple minecraft-style horses leading it. It took me a few minutes to figure out how I was going to move the wagon across the battlemat: I wasn’t going to.

When I was a kid going on long car rides, I used to imagine that we weren’t actually going anywhere, but that the horizon and all the things on it were coming to us. I applied this to the encounter and told the players that everything that was going to happen was going to come to them. Unless we all said so, the wagon was always moving forward. Its speed wasn’t important, just that it was moving.

I had the team position themselves as they wanted to on the wagon. Three of them took the front bench as shotgun and two drivers. The rest stood up near the benches in the back.

6. Slow Moving People

I wanted to impress upon them the number of people nearby so I tossed in a challenge where the driver needed to steer the wagon around a pack of partygoers so they don’t hit them. The roll was made fine, but I had the others who were standing in the back made strength checks to see if they remained standing. Most did but two failed, sliding one square in the direction of the swerve and one PC flew right out (nat 1, FTL). I allowed the PC who got a nat 20 on their strength check try a dexterity check to grab him as he went by but he missed and the sorcerer tumbled out. The team stopped the wagon, he climbed back on board and they took off.

7. Creating Urgency

I wanted to punctuate their travel with reminders of urgency to both keep them moving and also distract them from what they could do and what powers they had. Basically, to just create a dangerous scenario where quick-thinking could win the day.

During this next phase, I had it so that a rain of sniper arrows rained down onto the wagon as they raced along. There was no time to stop (and it was more safe to keep going, really) to deal with it. I would roll a d20 and pick someone to get hit with an arrow. For every one that hit, 6 missed. This was scripted, not rolled. I wanted them to be fearful of unknown attacks.

The Paladin put up his shield to protect the driver and deflected a few more arrows and we moved onto the next part.

8. Racing Raiders

From the crowd nearby came 3 goblin dogs being ridden on by one or two goblins. One dog came in from behind the PCs’ wagon and the other two came in from the sides. One of the goblins who came in from the side made a successful jump and leapt onto the wagon which caused the players to panic a bit. As they dispatched him, I created urgency by asking some of the players to move the dog tiles (containing the goblins) closer and farther away from the wagon so they’d feel like there was lots of action going on.

After the hijacker was dispatched by the rogue, the team took potshots are the dogs. After they missed, another goblin leapt onto the wagon but grabbed the wagon wheel and got crushed by it.

The jolt of the wagon going over the goblin took us back to #6 Slow Moving People and I had the players make strength checks to avoid being jostled by the sudden bump. The Paladin failed and flew off the wagon. Another goblin leapt onboard with a bomb, lobbed it under the front seat and dove back off the wagon, only to die as he didn’t land back on the dog.

The dogs all backed off and ran away while the wizard (who was out of spells after the previous session) knocked the bomb off the wagon with a golf-like shot. It exploded nearby, leaving a goblin face with its tongue sticking out in the air like fireworks do. This explosion caused the Ranger to fall off the wagon and land on the Paladin. Both took damage and the team stopped the wagon to get them back on board.

9. More Urgency and Mindgames

We were at another low point in terms of speed when wagon stopped and I wanted to pick it back up so I tossed in some more rooftop snipers. All of the missed (on purpose) as the group avoided people in the crowds.

They came to a fork in the road and had to make a decision which way to go. I explained that to the right was a market with lots of stalls and people and that to the left was more people and it looked like a better path. They went left. I laughed and said, “Perfect. Exactly where I wanted you to go.” The PCs freaked out a bit but had nothing to worry about - it didn’t matter to me what happened, the story would continue as normal. The intention here was to build and maintain that sense of danger and speed.

10. Masters of Disguise

During the previous sessions, the team had been made deputies of the city guard and they all wore gold medallions around their necks to signify that. They came in handy as I had members of the city guard who were in the streets keeping people safe start pulling people out of the way and holding the crowds back so they could go faster. After going into detail about this, they rounded a corner and found a group of city guards people waving at them and pointing to a side street with no one in it.

The PCs turned down it to keep the speed up. But as quickly as they entered the street, it ended in an alley. It was a trap and the city guards people took off their cloaks to reveal that they were affiliated with the big jerkbag from the start of the game.

Combat ensued as archers on the tops of nearby buildings shot them with arrows and bruisers on street level began to rumble. While they dealt with that, an evil cleric appeared and fought the paladin one on one. With a few boons the paladin almost felled him on the spot. The cleric channeled some evil energy, did some damage and fell the next round.

In the middle of the fight, one of the bruisers stabbed one of the horses making the team suddenly panic that they wouldn’t be able to arrive at the church as fast as before.

When they finished off the jerks in that alley ambush, the encounter ended. The intent was to create a sustained sense of urgency as they raced to the church and it seemed to work.

End Notes

To come up with the ideas, I just sat down and thought about all of the things I could do and narrowed it down to just five:

  1. Race
  2. Combat
  3. Snipers
  4. Ambush
  5. Pursuit

Then I fleshed out each one with a specific scenario and was ready to go. If you’re curious, these are my final notes for the encounter (which I called Road Race):

I hope this helps you build one of your encounters and consider making one of your dungeons mobile and fluid with multiple things happening at once rather than a series of rooms.

- Mathew out!

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