[RPG] How to help the party survive a rather tough adventure


The party is on an implicitely timed mission: children have been abducted by bad guys and it is now known that they're in danger of being sacrificed in the near future. The module I'm using doesn't give any explicit timeline for this. There's a reason as to why it's not happening right now, but it's also hard to imagine that situation remaining forever.

The party has already rested once but now they're in the final dungeon and it just doesn't seem "right" that such rescuers would decide "hey, let's rest 8+ hours, the kids will wait". It just doesn't make sense. Yet, if they don't rest soon, they will have depleted all their resources and they still have quite a lot of tough encounters to go through to finish the quest. They're already down quite a few spells because of healing requirements… and yet, their health isn't at peak condition, and it's not going to get any better.

How can I reconcile this need for hurry and the need to rest?

The adventure is from an official 32 pages Paizo module, Crown of the Kobold King, and I don't have enough experience as a GM to know what the current party can take. There is nothing in the text saying the party is expected to rest once or twice to go through the last dungeon… and yet, it is becoming obvious the current group is going to be utterly exhausted when it's finally time to deal with the BBEG.

I don't want the party to fail because, from my (admittedly still amateur) point of view, they have done nothing wrong, even if they're not the absolute best, most efficient team ever. I'd rather not have them rest in-story because it would kill suspension of disbelief (note: players are aware of the situation and agree).

Here are a few solutions I can think of. I'd like opinions and possibly more/better ones to pick from.

  • Allow a meta-rest (instant refresh for everyone), possibly justified in-story by divine intervention. Not big on the Deus Ex Machina, but eh…
  • Cut down on upcoming encounters
  • Modify/add loot to have more healing items or things that would replace their unuseable spells in battle

The simulationist in me has trouble with the idea of changing content on the fly, but the storyteller in me certainly doesn't think their failing would make for a fun story/game… especially after about 20 short sessions (longest adventure we've run so far).

I've had a talk with the player (it's actually one-on-one but he controls the 4 PCs) and I've confirmed one thing: he is not fond of having to choose between PCs dying or children dying. Paraphrasing his words: "either would make me bitter".

The inclusion of endangered children was actually a big "would prefer not" in our social contract but the module was interesting enough, so I made them older (more late teenagers) and plan to be careful with them as a GM. It has worked out so far.

While PC death or maiming could be acceptable under certain stated circumstances (really stupid player choices or as important narrative elements), it is not going to be preferred or taken lightly. Basically, we do roleplay-lite and are not looking for heart-wrenching choices in general (nothing grimdark if possible).

As such, I will be more attentive to ideas on how to help the party, as per the original question.

We're playing at a rather slow pace (usually once every two weeks) and the party is not yet with its back against the wall, so the question remains open if anyone wants to chime in with other suggestions, whether as answers or comments.

Best Answer

Good question! And one every GM has to deal with from time to time I would think. I'd probably pick one or two of these:

Keep the pace. Part of your story revolves around urgency. Let them feel stressed out, make your encounters heave for breath, more so the closer the party gets to the final boss fight. Try to make them feel guilty for even the slightest pause, thorough searching etc.

Help them recover. Let the PCs discover an old and forgotten crate with a nearly empty healing wand, some crumbling restoration scrolls and a six-pack of useful potions with faded labels.

Surprise the badguys. Villains also need to deal with changing schedules.

  • An important ritual component is lost or spilled on the floor during preparation and a minion is dispatched to the nearest town to procure more.
  • A pair of blundering ogres accidentally discover the villains hideout and must be dealt with, depleting resources.
  • A cloudy night sky diminishes moon power, so the ritual is postponed for a day or two until weather clears up.
  • The players can mess up the villains schedule. Give them a chance to funnel a swarm of dire bats into the villains part of the dungeon, thus creating havoc and buying time.