Encounter Building: Attack at the Inn

Title Unknown. By  Eric Polak . Image Found  Here .

Title Unknown. By Eric Polak. Image Found Here.

If your players live long enough, they will eventually annoy the powerful. This nemesis will (because we are good DMs) take proactive actions to kill or delay the heroes instead of merely monologuing in their Citadel of Doom.

This is not a new idea: in older modules (e.g. Temple of Elemental Evil) assassins were sent after the players blabbed of their exploits. Here is how to set up an small intervention for your players.

Points to Consider
Before you attack the players in their home, you need to consider a few items.

  1. Does this break up a long rest?
    The heroes might be on death's door the night they return from an adventure. If they don't have a chance to rest, you might have a TPK on your hands.
  2. Do you want the town to be a safe place?
    Some campaign styles rely on the town being safe (e.g. Western Marches). If that is the case, you don't want to violate a campaign rule.
  3. Is this traceable to the characters?
    Good thieves keep their mouths shut. If there is no way for the powerful to know it was the characters, then this scenario is unlikely.

Building the Encounter
Select opponents that are hireable: commoners, guards, half-orcs, bandits, et cetera. They should function as a gang. There should be a leader, a stronger person who got the initial contract. Skill choices should favor athletics, stealth, and disguise skills.

Be sure to consider situational factors, for example if you are attacking the players at night, they are not going to be wearing armor.  Did they complete an 8 hour rest or are they still mostly dead from the latest adventure? Did they get drunk at the Inn last night? If your players are mostly dead, drunk, and sleeping without armor, you might want to tone down the encounter. Give your players a sporting chance.

Hurm. There are eight armed men standing outside claiming to be “room service”. Did you guys order something without me?
— Borax the Dwarf, shortly before his demise

The bandits need a game plan for taking on the heroes. The obvious is to attack at night while the heroes are sleeping. But other plans can easily work. This is a chance for you to explore all the traditional tropes associated with assassination. Does the Inn offer room service? What about the cover of delivering a message to player with a noble background?

Direct combat is not the only tool of the agressessors. What if the bandits wedged the door to the heroes' room and then set the inn on fire?

Put yourself in the mind of a low-level thug. You know that these are people that have powerful enough to warrant a hit. How you try and kill the these "heroes" without getting slain yourself? How would you get information from the heroes? Whatever you decide can guide the encounter.

Location, Location, Location
They players know better than you where their characters live. As a DM, you have enough work on your hands so make the players decide if they live together. If they don't, you'll split up the bandits and assign a team to each location. DMing three concurrent battles is a blast!

At the beginning of the session, ask the players to draw out their rooms (on grid if you use it for combat). If you have never done it, handing a marker to a player always elicits a questioning look. Ask questions to get a full understanding your players' vision. Is it a house or a room at the inn? Where are the beds, desks, windows, and doors? Where is your equipment stored?

Pulling it all together (5e Example)
A group of 2nd level characters have annoyed a local lord by stealing something during his fancy party. The local lord retaliates sending a spy (MM page 349) to retaliate. Over several days the spy learns about the heroes (investigation skill) and gathers some local ruffians (a thug [MM page 350] and 3 bandits [MM page 344]). I originally wanted this to be a "deadly" encounter, but since the heroes will be at a disadvantage, the XP difficulty threshold was downgraded to "hard" (DM basic rules, page 57).

The spy, celebrating the characters' heroic deeds, attempts to buy them drinks the night before the attack. People only notice the spy isn't drinking if the spy fails her slight of hand check (vs the players passive perception). They don't. Good times are had by all.

That night, assuming the players don't notice anything, they strip off their armor, stow their equipment, and don't set a guard. They are now at the mercy of the bandits. Luckily the spy fails her to pick the lock, and the heroes awake to slams against their door. They have 15 seconds to respond before it's knocked in. Those that drank heavily need to succeed on a constitution check or be poisoned. Roll for initiative.

If the thug and another person dies, the rest of the bandits bail. The spy, fearing her master, fights to the death. On the spy's body, the heroes find the remaining amount of the spy's stipend (45 gp), and written orders from the local lord. Just for fun, the orders explain how the local lord knew.

If the players are overwhelmed, you can respond just in any normal TPK: Roll new characters. If you want the heroes to live, they were just knocked out and all their equipment is stolen. Another non-lethal option is to imprison them in the local lords manor.


Have your players ever been attacked at an inn? Leave a comment and let me know how it turned out.

Comparing D&D 5e and 4e Monster Attacks