Combat Missions

The Mission Stat Block

Below are presented several combat missions. Each uses a stat block designed so you can read, understand, and assess missions easier.

Here is the stat block breakdown:

Mission Name: To help you identify, sort, and find missions in the future.

Mission Success: The mission objective(s).

Mission Failure: The fail state. What constitutes mission failure?

Encounter Elements: Things you need to include in the encounter, and things that might make the mission even more interesting.

Tactics: GMing advice to help or remind you how to run the mission well.

Twists: Unexpected elements to surprise players and make the mission memorable.

Example Combat Mission Templates

Here are our five favorite combat missions, including a short description and advice on how to include them. Consider these missions to be templates. You can run the same mission over and over – just change some of the details each time. For example, the Acquire mission template can be used for quest-style combats several times in an adventure, no problem.

Tip – Time is almost always a factor in missions. Keep typical time limits for mission success to just a few rounds – 1-5 rounds total.

Mission 1: Acquire

“You have something we want…”

Mission Success
The party locates and seizes a valuable object in the area.

Mission Failure
•The party is unable to locate or take possession of the object.
•The enemy takes the item from the area or the item was moved from the area earlier.

Encounter Elements
•Include monsters that hamper or punish mobility, making the acquisition of the object challenging.
•Include enemy escape plans and routes should the party get too close to the object.
•Include treacherous terrain or obstacles such as wards and traps that surround and protect the item.

Tactics
•Enemies will move and attack to intercept and delay any PC advancing upon the object.
•They will also funnel the party into the most dangerous paths to the item at every opportunity, such as shoving the characters into the pool of bubbling acid that surrounds a ghostly treasure chest whose secret contents the party seeks.
•The combat will be dominated by enemy attempts to protect, escape with or even destroy the object.

Twists
•The object is worn by or grafted to the skin of a creature, making this more than a simple item retrieval mission.
•The item is much larger and heavier than expected, making normal means of taking or carrying it impossible.

Mission 2: Escape Destruction

“We’re not gonna make it!”

Mission Success*
The party outlasts or survives an area and time period of massive natural or magical destruction – all while fighting an enemy and competing for safe routes out of the area.

Mission Failure
•The party is unable to exit the devastated area in time.
•The party is captured by the enemy, or is badly hurt, buried alive, or killed by the devastation.

Encounter Elements
•Include monsters with multiple movement modes, such as a climbing, burrowing, or the ability to ignore treacherous terrain.
•Include treacherous terrain or hazards, such as rockslides, avalanches and magical storms.

Tactics
•Enemies will look to force PCs into dangerous terrain or hazards.
•They will seal off or attempt to block exits they take.
•The combat will be a series of brief skirmishes covering a lot of ground, moving towards exits.

Twists
•The devastation can be stopped with a spoken magical key word, found in ancient scripts on a wall slab or in a prior encounter.
•One or more enemy creatures may attempt to help the party escape, taking them to a safe area or to a place where they might be able to slow or stop the destruction, such as a mechanism or the ancient script riddle.

Mission 3: Hold the Line

“We are the 300!”

Mission Success
The party defends a location from enemy attacks for a period of time, protecting a location or chokepoint and preventing enemies from getting past them.

Mission Failure
•The enemy breaks through the line onto the location.
•The enemy takes control of the location or proceeds past it towards the next target.

Encounter Elements
•Include monsters with multiple movement modes, such as a climbing, burrowing, the ability to ignore treacherous terrain, and flight.
•Include siege weapons, on both sides, as appropriate.
•Include an opportunity for the party to prepare for an incoming enemy force, using the extra time to manage their gear and resources and identify ideal positioning points in the area. For example, the party fashions make-shift defenses or traps out of their gear and the natural materials and furnishings around them, or positions scouts and snipers in high and defensible locations.

Tactics
•Enemies will attempt to overrun the chokepoint with concentrated attacks, trying to break the line.
•The combat will be a test of endurance, forcing the party to adapt to bolster areas where they are taking heavy damage.

Twists
•The location is unexpectedly flanked or attacked by an additional force of flying creatures later in the combat, forcing the party to protect more entry points and cover more ground.
•A valuable item (see Acquire) is in the center of the location the party is defending.

Mission 4: Infiltrate

“Mission impossible…”

Mission Success
The party makes their way to a location by disabling foes quickly and remaining undetected.

Mission Failure
•The enemy raises an alarm or communicates the presence of intruders to the larger force.
•The party calls too much attention to itself – they don’t avoid enemy detection or dispatch enemies within one round of encountering them.

Encounter Elements
•Include one small encounter or a series of small encounters with weak monsters that can be knocked unconscious or killed quickly.
•Include terrain features such as pits, cliffs, and bridges where monsters can quickly be eliminated from combat.
•Include mechanisms and items that can be used as mass communication devices, such as gongs or signal fire towers, guard dogs, horns or whistles, or intruder-sensing magical alarms and wards.

Tactics
•Enemies want to raise the alarm first and fight second.
•Most of the combat consists of small windows of opportunity for the PCs to creatively and quickly thwart the enemies from raising the alarm.

Twists
•The enemy has been tipped off. They set a trap or ambush at the target location, and allow the party to infiltrate their way to the hazard.
•The target location is not what the party expected. Illusion magic masks its qualities. Or the person or item (see Acquire) they expected to find is no longer there.

Mission 5: Save the Innocent

“We’re their only hope…”

Mission Success
The party rescues hostages or prisoners, saving their lives and returning them to safety.

Mission Failure
•The party is unable to save the hostages or prisoners in time.
•The enemy takes the hostages to a different location or kills them.

Encounter Elements
•Ensure monsters are in position to easily harm or outright kill hostages or prisoners. For example, include a few monsters standing right over helpless or unconscious victims.
•Include physical barriers, such as prison cells, cages, and manacles, for the party to have to deal with while trying to rescue the victims as quickly and as safely as possible.

Tactics
•Enemies will look to harm or kill their prisoners or hostages first and directly fight the party second.
•The combat will likely play out with the party first targeting foes that endanger the prisoners or hostages the most.
•Enemies will use the hostages as shields, to slow party pursuit, or as bargaining chips if the party starts to win.

Twists
•The prisoners or hostages are in a mobile prison, such as a prison cart, meaning some of the monsters might take off with the cart or send it careening over the nearby cliff edge during the fight.
•Some of the prisoners or hostages are capable fighters, and once freed, help the party kill or drive off their captors.

Apply Mission Templates

Step 1: Review your typical combat grind type encounter.

Step 2: Rewrite each into a Combat Mission by choosing one of the five Combat Mission Templates.

Step 3: Copy and paste your desired Combat Mission Template and write in the details to turn each encounter into a cool Combat Mission:
•Mission Success:
•Mission Failure:
•Encounter Elements:
•Tactics:
•Twists:

Mission Design Questions

We touched on three ideas that form the basis of all your alternative mission objectives:
•Tactical Ops
•Monster Lore
•Adventure Goals

Now it’s time for us to explore these topics in more detail and design our own engaging combat objectives. When you create your own missions, ask and answer the following questions. This exercise will help you fill out your custom Combat Mission stat block.

Tactical Ops

What areas of the battlefield offer key positional advantages? Examples: higher ground, cover, magical phenomena that provide buffs. What areas of the battlefield are particularly dangerous? Examples: pits, bridges, rock slides, smoldering fires, toxic vegetation, or gas clouds. What items or creatures on the battlefield are most valuable to either side? Examples: prisoners, escape routes, treasure hoards.

Monster Lore

How intelligent is the enemy? Smarter enemies use trickier tactics. For example, they’ll be more mindful of exits in the area and employ focus fire on the most threatening party member, such as the most effective damage-dealer, most powerful healer, or leader of the group. What is the typical behavior and ecology of the enemy? How do these creatures fit in the world? In your campaign, bandits and goblins might tend to have some kind of civilized code, while orcs and ogres tend to be more savage and blunt in their approach. Use behavior and ecology to guide foe decisions and add flavor to their combat actions.

Adventure Goals

Why is each side fighting?
•How does this fight tie into current quests and adventure goals?
•What events led to this combat?
•Why is each side engaging in combat?
•What do they hope to gain and what do they have to lose?

Who is each side working for?
•What benefactors, authority figures or power groups are behind the scenes?
•How do they treat the party or monsters?
•How loyal is each group to the cause behind the combat and adventure?

Create Your Combat Mission Stat Block: 6 Steps

Now that you’ve identified key areas of the battlefield and explored monster and party motivations in the context of your adventure, it’s time to translate that information into the Combat Mission Stat Block.

Encounter Name & Mission Type

Give your combat a relevant and exciting name that includes reference to your world or adventure’s key people, places or things. Identify the specific combat mission with a word or short phrase. Your custom mission type should include an action word (see below for details) – the party must do something. More specifically, the party must do something besides kill everything in sight. Example: Tergyn’s Haunted Shrine: Hold the Line.

Mission Success

Identify at least one end condition for success. You expand your mission type name or action word here by fully defining it.

Mission Failure

Identify at least one end condition for a failed mission. Here you make it clear what triggers a mission failure. Failure often means a time limit is reached, such as in the Escape Destruction mission. Failure can also mean the mission has changed or the objective is no longer achievable, such as when monsters with a valuable magic item escape the battlefield in the Acquire mission.

Encounter Elements

Identify monster types and roles that match up well for your mission. Do the same for features of the area, such as terrain and furnishings. Add as much detail to the opposition as you like to further tailor encounter elements to your campaign, including key NPC names, for example.

Tactics

Identify the monsters’ thought process and priorities in the fight. Summarize how you expect the combat to play out – movement, attack effectiveness, typical actions in combat – given the impact of the Mission.

Twists

Add at least one surprise or wrinkle to the mission. Borrow ideas from other missions and combine them, or add an event that changes priorities or plans after mission success or failure. You can also refer to your twists in case your current combat encounter is falling flat in actual play. Twists serve as backup plans and surprises to delight your players and keep combat pacing and excitement high.

Mission Action Words

Use the following list of story-rich action words, classic combat objectives, and mission types for inspiration to create your own Combat Mission Templates:
•Acquire
•Assassinate
•Breach
•Break or Destroy Item
•Capture
•Commandeer a Vehicle
•Cover another Group
•Delay an Event
•Deliver
•Disable or Knock Unconscious
•Distract
•Escape Destruction
•Establish Truce
•Escort
•Force Surrender
•Force Withdrawal
•Hold the Line
•Infiltrate
•Protect
•Reach Before Enemy
•Redirect
•Rescue
•Save the Innocent
•Seal Away
•Seal Off
•Secure
•Split Enemy Force
•Steal
•Stop an Event
•Survive
•Trap
•Trick

Combat Missions

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