It would seem that the Heroes are well and truly Wanted. This presents all manner of possibilities for a conniving GM, including that most beloved of all underhanded tactics: the ambush.

You can keep your hastes and your form of the dragons. For my money, the single strongest buff in the game is the surprise round. Going first in a game of rocket tag is a big deal, and players seem to know this intuitively. Witness their love for tricking gullible monsters into an untimely demise: Reynard! Do your owlbear mating call! Lure it into the pit! That’s because 1) it’s effective as hell and 2) you get to feel like a tactical genius if it works. And while these are good things for players, they can be disastrous on the other side of the GM screen.

When it comes to ambushing players, GMs have to walk a razor’s edge. Make your surprise too effective (More explosions! More spring-loaded platforms! More falling damage!) and you’re one step away from an unfair rocks fall situation. And even if you do keep things mechanically equitable, you’ve still got to remember that all the information that passes to the players passes through you. Act too closefisted with the details and the PCs have no foreshadowing to draw upon, and therefore no chance to foresee and avoid peril. So yeah, a well-planned ambush can help your inner evil GM to feel like a tactical genius, but it has the inverse effect on players: you make them feel like dummies. Checking egos is a good thing every once in a while, but real peril is a bit like dealing with a Sicilian: Never go in when death is on the line. Players have a tendency to rebel when they catch a whiff of unfairness, especially when they have to roll up a new guy as a result.

That’s why I think kobolds are the go-to trap makers and ambush monkeys. They’re evil little bastards, and falling into one of their traps can be extremely hazardous to your health (e.g. Tucker’s kobolds). However, all that cleverness comes with a flimsy body, and it’s usually possible to fight your way out of a kobold trap. On the other hand, if a trio of deadly assassins / bounty hunters / mercs are your enemy, then you may be very screwed indeed.

So how about it, kids? Have you ever encountered an ambush that crossed the line into unfair territory? And on an unrelated note, do I hear any guesses on the race / class combos for the Heroes’ latest antagonists?