March 2, 2010

"Rappan Athuk - The Rakshasa Encounter" or "How I Pulled Off a Complex Illusion-based Encounter"

[Updated with some context so this makes sense (I hope) to those without the RA material]

General Rappan Athuk Spoiler Warning

More than anything I posted, this gets a big spoiler-rific warning.  This is for Rappan Athuk DMs only.  Well, my players can read this too, since they already experienced this encounter.  It has some helpful information and should be useful to any DM running an illusion-based encounter.

I originally posted this at the Necromancer Games forums in the Rappan Athuk area under Scramge - Tips for Running this Great, but Tricky, Encounter, but I decided to post it here as well.

On a side note, DMs should really check out the RA forums. There is a ton of useful advice there. Read anything by Greg Ragland (a.k.a. Damien the Bloodfeaster).  He is the author of much of the material that was added to the Rappan Athuk Reloaded edition and is a freakin' Rappan Athuk scholar.  Actually, he is a freaking dungeon design scholar, period.  As for you players out there, do not read that thread unless you are a tool that wants to cheat.


The Scramge the Rakshasa encounter is a classic illusion-based scenario.  The party enters a room and is presented with a series of illusions designed to trick the players (and/or their characters) into believing they are saving someone in need, spotting a bunch of treasure, etc.  Of course, once the party lets down its guard, the rakshasa lays the smack down.  The Scramge encounter is particularly complex.  The key part of the encounter is the rakshasa casting an illusion that causes one party member to look like the enemy while the rakshasa cloaks himself to look like that party member.  For example, when I ran it, the party cleric was made to appear to be a demon, while the rakshasa made himself look like the cleric.  The general idea is that the party will kill one of its own before they discover the illusion.

Anyhow, here is how I ran the Scramge....

The Scramge encounter comes up frequently at the RA forum due to its complexity.  As promised, here is how I successfully ran the encounter:
  • I didn’t worry about whether he was “legal” or not. As pointed out elsewhere, Scramge  is based upon earlier editions of D&D where rakshasa were much more powerful.
  • At the beginning of the session, I told the players that this evening was going to be a bit different than the norm.  It would rely on some heavy role-playing to make the session a success.  Players that role-played well would be rewarded with XP bonuses.
  • When the party entered the room with Scramge and he kicks into gear, I described the scene as stated in the module.
  • I then gave EACH player a note and told them not to tell anyone what their note said and reminded them of the XP bonus (one die-hard player literally ate his note after reading it). 
  • The note for the transported and illusion-covered PC stated:
    • Instead of the description you just heard [i.e., the one I read to the group of players], this happens to you:
    • Suddenly, you are across the room from the rest of the party: you are staring at them and them at you.  Where you stood is a person who looks exactly like you!  The jackal-men stand nearby you and advance on the party.  Try as you might, you can’t seem to communicate with party.  They seem not to understand what you are saying.  However, you can understand them and it appears they think you are the demon!  As you cannot communicate with them, say nothing of this to the group.  Furthermore, when it is your turn, move your miniature as if you were fighting the demon.  The miniature on the table represents the person who looks like you, and he is attacking the “demon”(you).  If your duplicate should die, act as if this has happened to your character.
    • The notes for the rest of the group said “Blah, blah, blah, blah…”
  • I then ran the combat as is.  I made all Will saves in secret and took aside players when needed.  I also occasionally took players aside when not needed just to mess with the group and keep up the confusion (players were told not to tell what they talked about with the DM).
The encounter went very smoothly.  The players really must contribute for it to do so.   Fortunately, I’m blessed with great players who “get it.”

The session was one of the best we had and everyone had a blast with the strangeness of it (e.g., the “Blah, blah,” notes, the code of silence about the notes and DM talks, etc.).

I hope this helps.

Here are links to other threads about it:
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