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Pack Tactics: Roc and a Hard Place

Pack Tactics: Roc and a Hard Place

It’s time again for the Kobold Press advice column, Pack Tactics! For the next few months, we’ll be taking questions from players and GMs. A crack team of Kobold Press regulars has gathered to answer them, bringing their own perspectives to answer questions on how to play and run a better game.

Our roundtable experts this month are Ben Eastman, Basheer Ghouse, Phillip Larwood, Ben McFarland, Brian Suskind, Sebastian Rombach, and Mike Welham. You might recognize some of these names from Kobold Press products like the recently updated Tome of Beasts 1 and the recent Campaign Builder: Cities and Towns. Together, they represent more than 100 years of gaming experience and know-how.

Whatever questions you have about running a game, handling tricky metagame traps, and ruling edge cases, they’ve got an answer. Sometimes several!

David Katzman asks . . .

My group of five 7th-level PCs launched a plan to lure a roc from their goal location by stealing one of its eggs. We left off with two PCs strapped to the egg and ready to jump from the nest. They plan to escape off a cliff with the egg via a spell combination of levitate and feather fall.

If I just allow the escape with the egg, they never even get to meet the roc and the narrative tension I wanted is diffused. If I have the roc return to catch them red-handed, then that most likely starts a simple fight. Since the options are A. get away without encountering the roc, or B. just fight the roc, I feel stuck in a binary (and unexciting) situation.

Any suggestions on how to expand this situation beyond a simple fight or egg robbery while the roc is away would be much appreciated!

Basheer Ghouse. The clear approach here is to complicate the extraction in ways that aren’t a fight, with the looming threat of a returning roc parent. For spell shenanigans, feather fall drops you 60 feet per round for 10 rounds, meaning you have 600 feet of safe drop, but it takes you a minute.

More worryingly, if you land anywhere during the drop, the spell ends. You are extremely exposed for long drops. As such, you can ask them to try things like hiding as they fall, pushing off of the cliff face, and avoiding outcroppings as they go. Turn the entire thing into a sort of stealthy wingsuit skill challenge, and you’ll have a more memorable sequence than a clean drop or a simple fight.

Sebastian Rombach. What if the egg hatches in midair? Would the loud newborn roc attract attention from its parent while it clings to the plummeting egg thieves? Would it imprint on the thieving PCs? Or maybe it attracts a hungry, opportunistic third party. I wonder what creatures love to eat roc eggs/young? Wyverns or some sort of drake maybe?

Ben McFarland. Wyverns would work! I would complicate it by putting an extra egg or two in the nest, a reveal just as they’re pulling off the heist. Then, as the PCs are falling (60 feet per round is a lot slower than the roc’s 120-foot flying speed), have the roc scoop them up and bring them back to the nest. There, waiting, would be a group of wyverns who are either trying to destroy or steal the eggs because of the players’ distraction. That gives the PCs a dilemma; they can make an ally of the roc or help the opposition and eliminate the roc.

Brian Suskind. To build on that, perhaps the roc is nearsighted and old, and it believes this is its last viable egg. When the roc rescues its falling egg, the two PCs are pinned in the roc’s talons and are restrained as the Roc flies off to a secondary nest. This leaves the rest of the party scrambling to catch up and rescue their companions.

Optimally, you’d want the remaining party members assaulting other nest locations (the challenge there being a physically demanding climb, other nest guardians like symbiotic giant fleas, or those hungry wyverns) while the captured PCs in the primary nest have to fight newly hatched roclings.

Basheer Ghouse. Hatching could work. A third party trying to steal the roc egg, and intercepting the other PCs or the initial thieving pair on their way down, is also exciting, though riders on wyverns (like kobolds or dragonkin) fit better for theft than wyverns themselves (who might simply want to eat the egg in midair rather than steal it).

Phillip Larwood. I need to point out the big thing that doesn’t make sense . . . the PCs are trying to lure the roc away from a place they want to go to by stealing one of its eggs. Does that mean they plan to hide the egg somewhere and forge deeper into the nest/surrounding area while the roc is busy looking for its egg? We are talking about a glorified giant bird here—

Ben McFarland. —a RAW roc has a 3 for Intelligence.

Phillip Larwood. —right, so eggs that fall out of the nest or are stolen are pretty much written off by almost all birds, even the more intelligent ones. They don’t go looking for them.

Ben Eastman. To be fair, the roc is as simply designed as they come in 5E. It has a lot of hit points, a low armor class, uncomplicated attacks, and no additional actions or features. Mechanically, it’s a flying ogre. So having it act like a real life bird without clever motivation makes sense.

Mike Welham. Then what if you spice up the roc by giving it a trait or action from some other creature? The Reckless trait makes sense for a creature desperate to retrieve its egg, as does a charge or action that knocks the target prone and deals extra damage as the roc covers extra ground.

Ben Eastman. Emphasizing the roc as reckless or desperate does highlight a central motivation of the scene: ensuring the egg’s survival. That’s what the roc wants. For that reason though, I would have it act more careful rather than less. Though possessing just a bestial Intelligence score, its average Wisdom is probably enough justification to have it realize that attacking PCs mid-descent could result in cracking the egg. I suspect the roc would even be helpful in getting the egg to safety. That should give the PCs enough time to figure out what stops the roc from pecking their friends’ entire skulls off when the egg’s danger is averted.

Ben McFarland. Yeah, so unless you’re treating it as an awakened creature or something special like a “clever girl” velociraptor, big brain moves like saving the egg and the PCs holding it seems out of character. Making the roc more intelligent makes for an interesting encounter but adding a third party might be the better route.

Sebastian Rombach. Well that highlights the differences between Intelligence and Wisdom nicely. Playing off that dichotomy in-game might lead to something fun and unexpected during the improvisation of the encounter. My final suggestion though would be to include some clearly visible but precariously placed treasure to distract the PCs. A glittering crown dangling from a branch or a weapon stuck in the roc’s hide could be all the motivation you need to divide the PCs’ attention and cause new, unexpected fun.

What Do You Think?

How would you handle this situation? Let us know in the comments!

Do you have a question for the pack? Let our pros weigh in on your tough questions. Then check back first Friday of each month for more Pack Tactics!

about Sebastian Rombach

We can neither confirm nor deny that Sebastian is actually three raccoons in a trenchcoat. His freelance contributions can be found in Tome of Beasts 2, Tome of Heroes, and more. You can roll dice with him at https://startplaying.games/gm/dontbreakthedm or follow him on Twitter and Instagram @dontbreakthedm.

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