View Full Version : Hostage situations in RPGs

2015-10-23, 11:13 AM
Hey playgrounders, long time no post. So I am now almost half way through writing the next chapter of an adventure path for my overarching campaign series. As part of this adventure, my players will be dropped into the political intrigue of the royal court. The political intrigue portion will be put on hold abruptly when sever people they need to influence or manipulate are captured and held hostage during a retreat at a royal manor house. I intend for my players to have to deal with evacuating people, reobtaining their equipment from under guard and eventually rescuing rhe hostages because support will not be arriving for a while.

I was wondering if anyone has experience with hostage situations in RPGs, either with the players
Taking hostages or rescuing. How did the situation work out and what should I be prepared for?

System is pathfinder if it matters

2015-10-23, 11:34 AM
Be prepared for the PCs to fail if the hostage takers are a credible threat at all. Hostage recovery is very tricky, and it takes only a very small step wrong to make the whole situation go south. Make sure you plan for all the outcomes.
One of my players usually reacts to an NPC held knife-at-throat by complaining that he can't just act quicker than the hostage taker and shoot him. Well, maybe he could, but he might be slower, he might miss (since the hostage is likely used as cover too), he might hit and not kill - whereas the hostage taker is nearly guaranteed a kill as soon as he tries. Players may not be interested in trying to negotiate, bluff to get the drop, or any other tactic, and as such they may screw up and have a dead hostage on their hands. Let them, it's their prerogative.

Mark Hall
2015-10-26, 12:58 PM
Be aware of Areas of Effect, and make sure the players are aware of them, too. A poorly placed spell can easily kill the hostages faster than anything else.

2015-10-26, 01:11 PM
In PF and 3.X particularly, hostage-taking is tricky on several fronts.

First, especially if the PCs are directly threatened with being hostages, be aware that it's de-protagonizing, because it forces the hostage into a position where she's actively disallowed from continually attempting to escape. Given a 6-second Round structure, the sheer amount of attempts at escape that a hostage can make means the hostage-takers need to keep all hostages perpetually unconscious or accept that they are going to be actively fighting them, rather than merely holding them. The other option is to hand-wave away the possibility that the hostages continue to try for freedom.

Second, as hymer indicated above, recognize that the 'tense hostage negotiation scene' you may be envisioning is unlikely to play out as you'd expect from media portrayals. Credible hostage-takers can and should kill their hostages at the first sign of trouble from them, via readied-action Coup de Gras, rather than playing at whittling down HPs or monologuing while the PCs attack them.

2015-10-27, 01:20 AM
Sure I have. I immediately shot the hostage-taker dead. It went totally okay. The hostage lived even though he fell from a cliff during my successful rescue attempt.

So, if any of your players have also graduated from the Alexander the Great Academy of Problem Solving, they might try this.

2015-10-27, 01:25 AM
A number of NPCs have taken hostages, to varying extents. There's been the occasional PC to do the same. As for how it ends, it's gone a number of ways. The situation has turned south and ended in dead hostages. The PCs have picked off the hostage takers successfully. The PCs have pulled off the "I don't care about this person anyways" bluff, in a number of different ways, the most memorable of which was aiming straight at the chest of the hostage taker (who was behind the hostage), and casually saying that their shield wouldn't stop a bullet. The PCs have countered with the "You kill them, I kill you" defense, sometimes modified to "You kill them, I detonate these explosives I brought and kill everyone here".

For whatever reason, the games that have had hostage takers have happened to be the ones with the players who most loved just blowing stuff up.

Firest Kathon
2015-10-27, 03:44 AM
Ivia readied-action Coup de Gras
One small relief for the rescuers is that you cannot ready a Coup de Grace, for two reasons:

Readying is only possible in a combat situation (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/combat/specialInitiativeActions.htm), i.e. when there is an initiative. Outside of combat, the question who acts first is decided by an initiative check.
You cannot ready (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/combat/specialInitiativeActions.htm#ready) a full-round action, and Coup de Grace (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/combat/combatModifiers.htm#coupdeGrace) is a full-round action.

Here are ways to change when you act during combat by altering your place in the initiative order.[...]Delay[...]Ready

As a full-round action, you can use a melee weapon to deliver a coup de grace to a helpless opponent.

You can ready a standard action, a move action, or a free action.

2015-10-27, 05:29 AM
The last time I ran a hostage situation, the PCs simply failed to understand the threat. Like, during a side encounter they basically let a lieutenant learn that they were prepping a rescue operation and then let him escape. But instead of running after him as I expected, then went back to town, shopped around, rested, and the next day decided to go free the hostages.

Who had all been killed as soon as the lieutenant got there, of course.

So yeah, make sure your PCs understand that the hostage takers have an agenda and limited patience.

2015-10-27, 05:36 AM
To understand the situation: why were the hostages killed?

2015-10-27, 06:11 AM
One small relief for the rescuers is that you cannot ready a Coup de Grace, for two reasons:

Readying is only possible in a combat situation (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/combat/specialInitiativeActions.htm), i.e. when there is an initiative. Outside of combat, the question who acts first is decided by an initiative check.
You cannot ready (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/combat/specialInitiativeActions.htm#ready) a full-round action, and Coup de Grace (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/combat/combatModifiers.htm#coupdeGrace) is a full-round action.

Which means, of course, that one cannot raise a dagger to the throat of a helpless prisoner unless one is being directly threatened by someone else (or one convinces the DM to call for Initiative when only one side can act), by RAW. If that's how it actually plays out at your table. . . your experience does not mirror mine.

2015-10-27, 08:17 AM
Wow I thought this thread died. Thanks for the responses, to respond to a few posts:

I have no intention of taking player agency by making the hostages - that seems no fun for anyone and seems the sort of thing that would lead to a lot of arguments

I intend to hand wave the rule that you can't ready a coup de grace. If the hostage is tied on the ground with someone standing over with a crossbow or sword then those are the stakes. The players have to use stealth or a distraction and unless their plans for that are truly idiotic I'll probobly let them work.

I also think I'll have some important npcs on explosive collars that can be disabled with skill checks, the detonator can be obtained from an npc or an antimagic field can be used

The city the pcs are in executes criminals publicly by slow agonizing bloodletting, the length of which depends on the crimes. I intend the hostage takers to rig up hostages one at a time and slow bleed them one at a time until their demands are met.

The players will be close by when the enemies storm into the manor house but will be occupied with their own fight while all of this takes place. They will be presumed dead so they have surprise on their side to give them a lot of options

2015-10-27, 09:31 AM
You gotta give the PCs a chance to rescue the hostages. But, you also gotta give the PCs a chance to fail. You don't need to make it like the first Rainbow Six game where if you make even a little bit of noise all you hear is "hostage down, hostage down, hostage down, hostage down". But, if they go with a dynamic entry and end up flubbing the surprise round, well... guess you got some 'splainin' to do.

2015-10-27, 09:42 AM
What are the hostage takers' motivation? Money? Asylum? Release of a prisoner? Have that in mind because the PCs might want to find that out and then play on it in an attempt to talk the antagonist(s) down, or negotiate a hostage exchange/release.

2015-10-27, 02:19 PM
One small relief for the rescuers is that you cannot ready a Coup de Grace, for two reasons:

Readying is only possible in a combat situation (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/combat/specialInitiativeActions.htm), i.e. when there is an initiative. Outside of combat, the question who acts first is decided by an initiative check.
You cannot ready (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/combat/specialInitiativeActions.htm#ready) a full-round action, and Coup de Grace (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/combat/combatModifiers.htm#coupdeGrace) is a full-round action.

Here is something you can do in combat: breathe. That does not imply that you cannot breathe out of combat (despite the seeming beliefs of many murder-hobos). So just because holding an action is something you can do in combat does not make it not an option outside of combat. If you have trouble believing this, feel free to consider it part of the "surprise round", if you must - or consider it that the PCs are joining the "combat" late, if you must. Otherwise, it becomes difficult to explain how the hostage-taker got the hostage grappled with the knife to their throat if initiative hasn't been rolled yet.

But, RAW, Coup de Grace cannot be performed with a held action (by most people). :( Probably best ("best" for the sake of reality / believability; definitely not "best" for the PCs) to house-rule in a rule for this.

As to the OP's question of what we've seen... I've seen plenty of things, from sneaking in to assess the situation, sneaking in to drug or murder the hostage takers, sneaking in to steal things (sometimes the hostages, but not always), negotiating with the hostage takers (sometimes as a diversion, sometimes to spy, sometimes as just negotiation), paying the hostage takers, joining the hostage takers (sometimes as a ruse, sometimes not), trying to convince the hostage takers to take different people instead (sometimes with a PC actually just choosing to lose agency and become a legit hostage), researching the hostage takers + taking their own hostages + trying to arrange a hostage swap, or just plain ignoring it as "not their problem".

As to what I would do? Shoot the hostage. Res them afterwards. Better yet, find out who the hostages are, then nuke the site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure. Then True Res the hostages afterwards. Send the message: we don't negotiate with terrorists.

2015-10-27, 06:05 PM
Depending on the level of magical resources available to the party, and the number of hostages, there are a LOT of potential options for hostage rescue.

A point-blank Fireball or equivalent centered on the hostage followed by a Revivify is an interesting option, though it becomes very costly and difficult to pull off if multiple hostages have been taken.

A Silent Dominate Person/Finger of Death/Disintegrate (Listed in the order that I, personally, would use them) cast from stealth can remove the hostage taker without them even getting the chance to roll initiative. (At least, in the case of Silenced Dominate Person, because the first indication that something has gone wrong would also neutralize the hostage taker if they failed their save. You could argue with Finger of Death and Disintegrate that the hostage taker could conceivably execute their hostage before the ray reaches them, but after it is fired.)

If the party is REALLY high level, the travel option of Wish could be used to rescue the hostage while standing on the other side of the world. No chance of failure (but a high XP cost, of course.)

Even low level parties have some effective magical options-Benign Transposition (Does that exist in Pathfinder?) could be used to replace the tied, vulnerable hostage with an 7-foot tall, infuriated half-orc with a very big axe. Sleep, especially if you have a way of making it Silent, can be cast from stealth to neutralize the hostage taker. Color Spray can also be used as an AoE option- even if you hit the hostage, he'll be fine in a few minutes. Hell, Daze is a cantrip, and it would drop the hostage taker long enough to make executing the hostages impossible.