In the 1993 director Harold Ramis brought us the Bill Murray comedy classic Groundhog Day. For those unfamiliar with this movie, Bill Murray’s character awakens every morning to discover that he’s reliving the same day, February 2, over and over again. After watching the movie again last week I started thinking about how to use the Groundhog Day effect in an upcoming D&D adventure.
I saw this playing out in two possible ways.
- The PCs would find themselves in a situation similar to that of Murray’s character in the movie where they actually had to relive the previous day over again.
- The PCs had to face the same encounters a second time after defeating them once before.
Both scenarios allow the players to learn from their previous mistakes. How often have you used a daily power in the first encounter and then realized that it would have been more effective against the creatures in the second? How often have you held onto a daily power and then regretted not using it? The same thing goes for actions points.
The Groundhog Day effect, in essence, gives the PCs a do over. Once they realize that they’re facing the same encounter again they can choose to alter their original course of action.
I must caution DMs before attempting the Groundhog Day effect that some players will not be happy with this avenue. They’ll see it as the DM being incredibly lazy and just reusing a previous encounter (or two) again.
My recommendation to any DM who’s interested in playing out the Groundhog Day effect should only do so when there’s something important to gain. This can be an incredibly exciting scenario if a PC was killed during the encounter the first time through or some other devastating thing happened.
For example, during the D&D Open Championship in 2009 one encounter had an exploding chest as a key part of the encounter. As a mini-skill challenge the PCs had to disarm the chest and stop the explosion otherwise everyone would be killed. The longer they put off disarming the chest the more hazardous that task became. If the PCs failed to complete this encounter and been killed, a good way to let them try it again is to use the Groundhog Day effect. The only changed variable is knowledge. That in itself is a huge leg up.
The other possible use for the Groundhog Day effect is to basically reset the previous day’s encounters. This seems to have an obvious use in a dungeon adventure. The party has to fight their way in to accomplish a goal or retrieve a valuable. In doing so, they deplete their resources and need to take an extended rest. When they try to leave the following day they have to face all of the encounters again – this time in the revere order. But as in the other example, they are now forearmed with knowledge. Knowing what they’re going to face will help them decide what powers to use in which encounters.
When using either variation of the Groundhog Day effect, it’s up to the DM to decide how forthcoming to be about the replayed encounters. I’d recommend that the players have some way to learn that these encounters are indeed identical to the ones they’ve faced before. If the PCs waste time second-guessing whether or not the encounters are the same, they’ll likely loose a big part of the advantage that their foreknowledge potentially provides.
When reusing an identical encounter the party will also get a chance to discover which characters can actually hold their own and which characters are just lucky. For example, I have a level 17 Daggermaster Rogue who crits on an 18-20 for over 100 points of damage. In a recent game he critted four times in the first encounter. During the next encounter he only critted once. The luck of the dice made a huge difference in the first encounter but not so much in the second. Think of how the first encounter would differ if he didn’t crit at all. Loosing that 400+ points of damage from one striker could drastically alter how things play out.
The Groundhog Day effect is something that I wouldn’t recommend DMs use very often, but it is something that I’d encourage DMs to try at least once. Just be sure that it makes sense for your story arc and your campaign. The reason for the repeated encounters can be logical (like the dungeon scenario described above) or incredibly wacky (a god of chaos was bored and rewound time).
Have you ever replayed an encounter or used the Groundhog Day effect in your campaign? How did it work? If this is something you’d never previously considered, how do you think your gaming group would react to the chance at a do over?
Before there was the movie Groundhog Day there was the book Replayby Ken Grimwood. In Grimwood’s excellent novel the main character relives his entire adult life from 18-40 over and over again. I give it a solid 10 on a d10 and can’t recommend it strongly enough.