SITREPs (Situation Reports) are an encounter design tool used in the mud-and-lasers RPG Lancer. They assume that an encounter between two opposing forces is usually centred around an objective that one or both parties need to achieve. SITREPs can take many forms, but in Lancer we’re given a few particular examples: Control, Escort, Extraction, Gauntlet, Holdout, and Recon. In Lancer, generally, the encounter ends once an objective is satisfied. Rather than waste precious play time reducing every foe in an encounter to zero hit points, the group can narrate and roleplay out the end of the conflict once the objective is achieved.
For the most part, SITREPs are self-explanatory and you may be able to make some easy assumptions about how these may be used in tactical combat encounters, but let’s look at some examples of how they could be used in different modes of play: combat, social, and exploration. Framing social and exploration encounters as SITREPs with concrete objectives can give us inspiration for creating tension at the table.
One of the best uses of SITREPs is to put pressure on the party and give them an in-game time limit. That time could take place over a matter of rounds, minutes, days, or even weeks depending on how you pace the narrative. One assumption that Lancer makes when it comes to combat encounters is that an encounter should never run longer than a set number of rounds. By using clear objectives with achievable conditions under a tight time limit, your players should be encouraged to focus on working together to achieve the objective rather than just out-damaging the competition.
Each style of encounter has some different rules that allow us to frame the narrative and track success, let’s take a look:
One or more parties want to have control of an objective. This could be possession of a powerful magic ring, a watchtower overlooking a merchant’s route, or a magic circle inscribed on the ground. One party may be trying to get the objective while the other wants to defend, destroy, or use it themselves. Generally, Control missions require the PCs to maintain control of multiple different points on the map for six rounds. Maybe these are gun batteries, transmission towers, powerful leyline crystals, or chests of treasure.
In a social encounter, Control could be about gaining the attention of or persuading a number of neutral NPCs to the party’s point of view.
The Good King’s Council members are key guests attending a royal wedding. They need to be persuaded to rally forces against a surprise attack coming from the neighbouring kingdom of Hooktown. Emissaries sent by the evil king of Hooktown are also attending the wedding and are working against the PCs to monopolise the Council member’s time. Once the wedding reception is over, the chance to persuade the disparate council members is done.
Each of the council members has different likes, dislikes, and personal vendettas or needs. Discovering what each council member wants and how to persuade them is all part of the action as the PCs must split up to make sure no council member is left alone with Hooktown’s secret agents. Track how many of the council members are swayed by the player character’s opinions, and how many get their time monopolised by the Hooktown agents. To add in some intrigue, you could have the agents be undercover, intermingled with normal guests. Players may try to suss out who the agents are and distract them, or may just focus on a lively debate with each of the council members, hoping to influence their votes.
The dreaded Escort mission is the bane of gamers everywhere. The objective must be safely moved from one end of the map to another, usually while being beset on all sides by ambushing enemies bent solely on the objective’s destruction. Get the objective to the extraction area, and you’ve completed the mission, but with the added complication that you have to get there before being overrun. This could work as a series of combat encounters, where the party needs to get a caravan through a mountain pass controlled by stone giants or try to break a prisoner out of a heavily guarded dungeon.
To make this a social and exploration mission, Escort could be about winning the favour of a particularly obstinate informant:
Giggles, the gnomish street urchin, is the sole witness to a daring and deadly heist in which dangerous magical items were stolen from the city’s auction house. Giggles can’t be persuaded to give up the information for free, however, and instead of wanting money Giggles wants to live it up for just one night. The thrill-seeking gnome insists she be taken out for a night on the town “to live as the big-wigs do.” She wants to feel rich, and famous, and see all the best bars and entertainment the party can offer.
The party must simultaneously entertain Giggles and plan for a fantastic night on the town. Can they gain access to the most exclusive taverns and underground parties? Can they coerce the morose bard to play something more upbeat and lively? Do they have the budget for the drinks Giggles seems to toss back like water?
Of course, the crew that pulled off the heist may have caught wind that a particular street gnome saw or heard a little too much, and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to silence her.
Extraction missions require the player characters to use speed and manoeuvrability to dominate the battlefield, dashing across the map to retrieve an objective, and then get back to their starting area with the prize in tow. This makes for intense combat encounters that ramp up in difficulty as more enemies enter the field over time, attempting to stop the players from escaping with the objective once they’ve gotten their hands on it. For a combat encounter, players may have to pull a dragon egg out of a mineshaft while zealous kobold cultists assault them, trying to stop the PCs without either party damaging the egg or collapsing the ceiling upon them.
For a social encounter, we have to put ourselves into the most dangerous of all social situations: the ballroom dance floor.
The beautiful and tenacious Princess Helga has been, finally, brought to court by her family, showing her off to the gentry, intending to find her a suitable husband before the season is through. Helga however, dreams of a life of adventure and would very much prefer to ditch the party entirely. She hires the player characters to occupy as much of her time as possible during the party, so that she doesn’t have to play nice with any of the annoying nobility her parents have invited.
The ball has strict security, which means no weapons and no spellcasting! Guards are keeping a close eye on anyone coming and going, and the Good King’s favour must be kept intact, as he is after all a prominent patron of the player characters. Being successful means protecting Helga and the King’s social reputation, keeping her away from the wandering Queen Mother, and avoiding the most boring party-goers and suitors.
When the player characters arrive at the ball, they spot Helga at the far end of the dance floor, already pale-faced and trapped in a conversation with a dim-witted nobleman from the boonies. They must get across the floor, dodging their own barrage of annoying NPCs, extract Helga from the conversation she’s in and then dance her back over to the punch bowl where they can keep her isolated from boredom and ill-suited suitors.
The dance floor is a good place to throw complications at the party: a moustache-twirling suitor who wants to marry Helga for his own nefarious political purposes. A subtle spellcaster with spells like Hideous Laughter and Irresistible Dance. Adoring fans that want to pry the player characters off to ask about their adventures, and of course, the ever suspicious Queen Mother who has a different nobleman ready to introduce to Helga every time they turn around.
Use a six block action clock, starting the clock at 3. Every time the player characters fail to distract, avoid or turn off a dreadfully dull conversation that impedes their progress to the punchbowl, increase the clock. When they are successful, decrease the clock. When the clock hits zero, Helga has made it to the punch bowl and can ride out the night with a drink in hand and good company around her. When it hits six, the Queen Mother arrives with probably the worst bachelor of them all: Kyle. Helga is truly stuck now, you guys. Game over man.
Gauntlet missions are intense drives for an objective when all the chips are down and no other options are available. Deep in unfriendly territory, your enemy holds the resources or position that you require. They are better equipped and fortified, and you have to run the gauntlet to come out on top.
Sounds like the doors are unlocking on Black Friday, doesn’t it? Yeah. Let’s run with that:
Greyson and Sons Haberdashery is known around the county as the best source of materials and components for powerful alchemical concoctions. The shop has just received a small shipment of a potent additive that, when added to just about any drink or potion, provides short-term boosts to physical fortitude, cognitive functioning, and loquacious charm. The player characters have been directed by a benevolent Alchemist to collect six doses of Tincture “B” and in return, they will each earn themselves a free sample added to a level-appropriate potion of their choice.
Greyson and Sons is an honest mercantile that is well-liked among the community, and the employer is insistent that the procurement of the Tincture be above board and done without damage to Greyson’s shop, his customers, or his reputation. That means no heists and no threatening of the employees.
Naturally, there is a rather large line-up as the party arrives in the morning. It quickly becomes apparent that everyone wants Tincture “B”, but that the supply is most certainly going to crumple beneath the demand. Players must bribe, cajole, and con their way to the front of the line without setting off a physical altercation that could damage the shop or send a townsperson to the local cleric for healing.
For each spot in line the party manages to jump, award them one dose of Tincture “B” once they reach the till, up to 6 doses maximum. The Alchemist wants to keep 2 doses for his own work and rewards the party with one modified potion for each Tincture procured beyond the second.
Tincture “B” – magical alchemical additive
This thin hourglass-shaped glass tube snaps easily at the neck, allowing a single dose of bronze-coloured oil to be dispensed. Added to a magical potion, the Tincture improves the magic of the potion. Any potion with a random numerical effect (for example, a healing potion) rolls twice and takes the better result. Any potion with a duration effect lasts twice as long. After consuming the potion, the player character gains advantage on their next d20 roll. This effect overrides any misfortune, disadvantage, or curse for that roll (for example, if the character was poisoned and suffered disadvantage on all rolls, the tincture would allow the character to still roll twice and take the better result on that single roll).
Holdout missions test the party’s mettle when it comes to making a stand against overwhelming odds, defending a position against oncoming forces. Think Rohan and the Fellowship holding Helm’s Deep against Saruman’s orcs, the Colonial Marines defending Ripley and the others from attacking Xenomorphs, or a group of survivors trying to make it through the night as zombies clamber over the walls of their fort. But I have another idea…
There comes a time in every RPG group’s lifespan when your players don’t want adventure, they want to play house and roleplay running their own tavern… Well, this is a perfect time for a Holdout encounter!
The furniture is in place, the food and ale are ready, and the banner is about to be cut on the opening night of the party’s brand new tavern. Everyone takes up their places behind the bar, but will they be able to handle the rush of hungry, thirsty townsfolk that burst through the door at opening time?
The PCs must serve drinks, deliver food while it’s hot, and settle arguments before they turn violent. Use an action clock (or thermometer) to gauge the mood of the crowd. If things get too boring, the night will be a disaster as people leave for more excitement, but if the drinks flow too quickly and tempers get too hot, the tavern may earn a less than stellar reputation as a dangerous place to wet your whistle.
Of course, the tavern down the street isn’t just going to roll over as new competition moves in on their turf. They may send a few troublemakers over to make sure the night doesn’t go as planned.
Whether you’re gathering information, surveying the enemy hideout, or planting a virus into vulnerable server databases, Recon missions are about getting in, finding the correct piece of information, and getting out. In Lancer, the battlefield is populated with a target as well as red herrings. These are objects or zones that the players need to use their wits, powers, and observation skills to determine which is the real target, capture it, and keep it until the timer runs out.
In an exploration mission, you could work this mission into a sort of hex crawl. The party must explore a wilderness (or urban) area, discovering secrets about its various regions as they go. Ultimately, they must decide where to make their base, where the secret entrance to a dragon’s lair is hidden, or which portal to the netherworld is still functioning despite their apparent disrepair.
The lonely and heartbroken Fairy Queen has lured the party into her vale after entrancing the town of Roseville into an endless slumber. She’d be willing to rouse them from their dreams, but only if one of the PCs could truly make her feel hope and love once again. What will possibly thaw her frozen heart?
The party explores the vale and the surrounding woods, encountering a number of the Fairy Queen’s subjects. Some of them don’t want to see the people of Roseville ever awake, while some are more sympathetic to the mortal’s plight as well as to the Fairy Queen’s broken heart. Does the Queen yearn for a beautiful song that reminds her of true love’s first touch? Or the smell of a daisy that only grows in the swamp hag’s herb garden? Discerning the true desires of the Queen will take some good investigation skills as the party encounters and interviews as many of her subjects as they can…
As you’re planning future adventures, think about how you can use alternative win conditions to make more tense, dramatic encounters! And then, think about how that same thinking could be applied to other modes of play. After all, if you’re thinking about your NPCs and monsters as living, breathing creatures with their own motivations and objectives, you have to remember that they want to survive the battle just as much as the player characters! What are they willing to lose to get what they want? How would they try to defend their secrets from those nasty heroes? Got any cool ideas? Share them in the comments or in the Discord!