Now that we have finished our DnD group's latest game (a Dark Sun adventure revolving around the heroes defending the city of Tyr from an oncoming Urik army, setting up to make a siege; look back to read them all!), I thought I'd spend some time looking at some of the alternate mechanics I used in the game.Back when the party had to defend the front gate of Tyr against the approaching Urik army, I wanted them to feel a sense of urgency about the operation. I had toyed with the idea of increasing waves of minions, of minions being replaced with more able troops, or other clear mechanical threats, but had decided against it. Depending on who was present at the game that night, the numbers and types of enemies needed would vary greatly. Plus, most players have a tendency to not want to withdraw, no matter what the threat, and instead carve through every one of the soldiers before them. That way could lead to much unwanted bloodshed.
There was an option to have some NPCs included, whom they would need to recover, protect, and defend whilst guiding them back inside the city walls. I still think that could work, but there's a fine line between spending actions to rescue / guide NPCs, and being bored / grumpy because you couldn't use your latest powers. I didn't want to go there, either.
The third option felt a lot better.
I have recently been getting heavily into collecting the LotR Lego sets - because Lord of the Rings is awesome, and Lego is awesome, why else? I started out getting just the Helm's Deep set, trying to convince myself that that was enough. Then, went about collecting them all. At the time of my game preparation, I had just put together (with the help of my daughter, who actually builds most of each set!) my latest set: the Battle at the Black Gate. I wasn't going to draw any analogies between Mordor and Tyr, but both the Lego set and my adventure had a shared focal point: a set of gates!
As I told the group about the situation (the broken gate, the enemy scouts outside, the folk working hard on repairs), I cleared out the map, dumped most of the Lego set at one side, and set up the miniatures. I left pieces together, but broke apart most of the rest of it, so it had both the feel of destruction, and vague hints at what it once was. Then I handed over the instructions, and told them that the enemy would stop (and they could retreat) once the wall was reconstructed.
The enemies they faced were simple enough: halfling forest runners with a headhunter, and a silt shark thrown in to stir things up. Naturally, to go along with the theme, the forest runners were the hobbits (Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin), and the headhunter was a dwarf (Fili, I think). I even found one of my old "Pirate" theme sharks, and enough Lego flat boards to base them all, and the group had the threat of Lego on either side!
Before the game, I had thought of having restrictions on how many players could help with the construction at any one time, but once we were in it, I realised that that would have slowed things down, and largely been unnecessary. There was one player who is (like me) a keen and avid Lego enthusiast, and happily (for him and the other players) took care of the majority of the work. Each round, players felt the tension between wanting to kill the enemy, but also wanting to play it safe and defend themselves long enough for the wall to be repaired. There were enough calls of "Ooh, quickly!" that I felt the building exercise served to heighten the experience, and the feedback was all positive.
In all, the added excitement from a secondary challenge during the encounter worked well. Rather than taking away from PC's actions, it worked by giving players who were not currently participating something else to focus on and work at, which could easily be put down when their turn rolled around. The challenge was different enough that the 'new shiny' worked well, and though fun, is not something I would use every encounter, every session, or even every campaign. But, will I use Lego in my games again? (Have you not read about what my daughter chose for her character's representation?) Well, it just so happens that I have this nice ship... and our next campaign is going to be an Eberron based...pirate game. Stay tuned for more!