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Bait & Switch - Making Dynamic D&D Combats

Greetings gamers, today I want to talk to you about a combat setup that I recently deployed that was a lot of fun and that can make for a really interesting encounter dynamic.

I call it the bait and switch, or the Han Solo Play, and it is in part inspired by one of my favourite scenes in Star Wars A New Hope.

The premise is you present your party with a enemy or situation that encourages them to move into a tight, enclosed space, and when they arrive there they realise there's actually a lot more enemies than they realised.

That's the bait. The switch is that this large group of enemies are actually low-level mooks and fairly easy to take on individually, the real meat of the encounter comes from behind the party as you attack them with more level-appropriate enemies, moving the real front line of the combat to behind them, likely to where the squishier members of the party were hiding.

The end result is a lovely rollercoaster effect as the players go from intrigue over the initial bait, then an oh shit moment as they realise they are outnumbered. When they start fighting and realise how easily the mooks are going down they then get this wave of relief, only for the real threat to smash into their back line and completely flip the priorities of the combat on their head.

Example In Play

Let's take a loot at this setup in a real encounter from my most recent session. The Company were investigating reports of monsters in the maintenance buildings at the base of a city dam, and had already fought multiple enemies and burned through multiple resources and taken a short rest.

They had just entered the structure (red arrow) and shortly after entering began to hear the sound of a voice coming from behind a door (green circle).

With a moderate perception check they could hear mook 1 (M1) directly behind the door, as well as several other distinct voices behind the door, but couldn't determine a number of enemies.

Using thieves tools, Diddy the party rogue slipped a mirror under the door and was able to see M1 as a twisted and mutated humanoid, and so the group decided to kick in the door and storm their enemies.

Because only one person could fit through the door at the time, we ended up with a great situation where the first couple of players charged into the room and saw all the enemies, but the others couldn't see what was happening so just had to go off the reactions of their fellow players.

Soon, more than half the party were in the room, leaving only the wizard, Cornelius, and Diddy outside the room. Within a few turns it was clear that the mooks weren't a huge threat on their own, but with their numbers they were starting to chip away at the party's health.

That's when I pulled the switch and a trio of much higher level and more level-appropriate monsters arrived from the rear and presented a new front line for the combat. The wizard was now on the front line taking a beating from these much stronger enemies, and it became a scramble to try and reposition.

George, the party monk sped out into the corridor to aid Cornelius, but took a beating himself, which broke his resolve and he started to flee from the combat. With the monk running, the rest of the party rushed into the room to form a defence around the door, which was quickly blocked by the larger of the newly arrived monsters, and George was hunted down by the other monsters in the corridor and brought to 0 hp and rolling death saves.

For this new campaign we decided that death saves would be completely secret - only I would know the result of the roll so the players couldn't use that meta knowledge to make decisions, and this was the first time it was put to the test. George was out in the corridor bleeding out and the rest of the party were desperately trying to finish off the remaining enemies so they could get out and help him.

They managed to break out just in time. Russell, the cleric hit him with a healing word just before his turn when he was on 2/3 failed death saves.

The players all had a blast and really enjoyed the combat overall, and I thought the changing flow of the combat worked really well to keep things interesting. Every time the players felt like they had caught their breath and settled into a rhythm, something changed and they were having to adjust and change their tactics, which is the mark of a great combat encounter.

Let me know if you've used anything bait and switch plays like this in your own games, or any variations on the idea!

Much love Anto

1 comment

1 Comment

Awesome explanation! The scenario is actually quite similar to the current situation in my campaign. The players ambushed weaker enemies but will get surrounded soon by tougher foes.

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