Free Fall Combat in Eberron
So for the second session for my first Eberron campaign, I decided to have a luxury skyship explode. My players would then fall through the air, and have 10 rounds before they would fall onto a floating land disc encircled by a powerful magical shield. And — you guessed it — if they hit the shield their 4th level characters would be obliterated and die. Throughout the entire free fall, they had to fight against 16 warforge led by a warforge savage by the name of Caliber, who were all working for a disguised Rakshasa.
Had I gone drunk with power and did not fully understand the responsibility of being a DM?
People outside of my gaming group thought I was crazy for coming up with the idea, like I was on a mission for TPK. To appease the naysayers I pointed out that I had a back up plan in place. I didn’t announce this to the players of course: I really wanted them to believe they were 10 rounds away from sure death.
Right after the skycoach exploded, Matthew brought out a makeshift multi-tiered grid that presented the different levels the characters would fall through during the encounter. The look on my players’ faces was priceless.
For those interested, here are the rules I put together for the encounter:
I closely followed Mike Krahulik (of Penny Arcade fame) awesome free fall rules. Mike’s own rules was a combination of 4E’s flying and swimming combat. I threw in true Eberron flavor by adding bits from the Eberron Campaign Guide (specifically, Encounter 7: Fight in the Skies).
- Players had 10 rounds before becoming a mile wide smear against a magical shield.
- The players would fall at a rate of one level every round. Unless they had wicked physical skills, in which case they could slow down their descent or speed it up.
- Every round, the players would have to make an athletics OR acrobatics check (DC 15). If they scored 15 or higher, they would be able to move their full speed horizontally , OR they could move to a square directly ABOVE or BELOW. If they failed it by 4 or less, they could move at half speed horizontally. If they failed the check by 5 or more, they lose their move action for that round.
- Additionally, the characters had access to 18 soar sleds. The only problem really, is that those soar sleds are being used by 16 warforge, 1 bad ass warforge, and a Rakshasa pretending to be human.
- In order to obtain a soarsled, the characters would have to (a) make a successful atheletics/acrobatics check and then (b) bull rush whoever was occupying a soar sled. If they were able to knock the rider prone, they could kick off the rider and commandeer the soarsled. If they failed the bull rush, they would fall prone on the sled, wherein they would occupy the same space.
- If a character obtained a soarsled, they could fly a maximum of 8 squares as a move action.
- Originally, they were supposed to HAVE to move their soarsled at LEAST one square each round or else they would start to crash. I completely lost track of this as a DM though, rar. (To be fair, I had murderous warforgd, a gun-wielding Rakshasa, and two damsels in distress to worry about.)
In order to calculate range, “Look at the distance between the two creatures as if they were on the same elevation, counting squares as normal. Then count the difference between their elevations (each level of the free fall space is separated by 4 square, or 20ft). Use the higher number to determine distance.” (Mike Krahulik).
At first I thought the encounter wasn’t challenging enough because most of my players were able to procure sleds within the first round…but ah, things really got complicated after that. Deliciously so. As the players and the valuable NPCs they were tasked to protect fell through the levels, the tension began to mount in the room.
Did they survive? It was a close one, but they did more than just survive.
Three levels away from the magical shield, the warforge minions were defeated, Caliber the warforge lackey was smashed into pieces, and the Rakshasa was burned by a holy fire delivered by the team’s Deva. Plus, they saved the damsel(s) in distress. I was so proud of my boys that I almost shed a tear. My backup plains were left unused, and my players earned an obscene amount of XP.
The real reward for me was when on my players said, “That was the first time I wasn’t afraid for my character to die. I mean, it would suck, but man, to go out in such a cool way! It’s the story that matters.”
I plan on bringing out free fall combat again sometime in the future…and raising the stakes. *Evil DM grin*
What do you guys think? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
If you enjoyed this post, kindly consider supporting us by purchasing any number of products from Amazon.com such as The Splendid Magic of Penny Arcade or the 4th Edition Player’s Guide and 4th Edition Campaign Guide for Eberron.