So, following up yesterday's conversation about setting Win/Loss conditions for your encounter, lets talk about a specific one that both sets a Win/Loss condition while adding further and drama to your encounter. That's right, as the title says, lets go over what can happen when the NPCs (or the PCs) have hostages in the mix.
Right off the bat a hostage situation changes the whole game. There are people, people that at least one side, and often both, do not want to get hurt. This means that in any engagement shots need to be chosen carefully, and wide area explosives like grenades, missiles, and fire balls can not be used. Precision becomes the word of the day, and whichever group is capable of being more precise is likely going to come out on top.
However, we're getting ahead of ourselves a little bit here. Before we can talk about the resolution, we need to talk about the set up. I'm going to assume it is the NPCs with the hostages for this, meaning that you - the GM - have set this up to further challenge your players with a bit of added tension. So, what makes a good hostage? Honestly, that depends on what you are going for and the type of game. However, the closer the relationship to the PCs the more tense the situation gets. The NPCs have 5 random nobody NPCs? Sure, it can be tragic and the PCs may want to go for the win, but if someone dies it sucks but oh well. Not like you knew them right? Now look at that same situation where all 5 hostages are people the PCs know and care about. Things just got real, and in a big way.
There is a danger with using hostages that are close to the PCs though, those character will often be better defined than other characters, and could have means of escaping or expectations. This isn't a bad thing, just something to keep in mind. Don't force a hostage to act out of character for the moment, just use it to make the situation more realistic.
So, now you have your hostages, now what? Well, now you need a location for everything to go down. Hostages need to be held somewhere, so put them somewhere. Next, let your PCs find out about it, have them sent in, and be sure to tell them that the hostage's lives are in the balance. The PCs can choose how important that is to them or not, but you should let them know. All that is left to do is see how it plays out.
See, once you've told them about the hostage situation, the ball is in the PC's hands. Do they go in the front door? Try to sneak in? Try to gather information? Just ignore it? These are all things the PCs now have to handle, and if you've set things up right they know that just going in guns blazing can cause problems. Once the PCs do go in though, get the hostages involved. Use them as human shields, put the decision on the players, and watch what happens.
The fun part comes in though that technically the PCs don't have to kill/beat everyone, they just have to save the hostages. The NPCs on the other hand, can win by denying the hostages to the PCs or by killing the hostages. Either way, the situation can also set up future encounters, especially if the PCs let the hostages die and the local police decide that those results are unacceptable.
The fun thing about hostage situations is also that they can be a session in a can. A good way in a Super or Police type game to cover for a session you weren't able to prep for too heavily. Just put hostages in a building with the bad guys, shake, and serve to 4-6 players. The lengthy duration of them, and the fact that by the time even someone like the flash got in the front door someone could be killed done wrong means the Players need to stop and think things through. Challenging, quick set up, and good for a session when done right, I think you can see why this can be a good friend to the GM.
So have fun with it, and Happy Gaming.