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RPT Newsletter #011 | Top 6 Ways To More Compelling Encounters

Stephan Hornick

Community Goblin
Staff member
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Top 6 Ways To More Compelling Encounters
From Da'Vane | updated February 21, 2019

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #011

I believe encounters (some roleplayers also call them “scenes”) are the workhorses of roleplaying. Campaigns are simply the sum total of all the individual encounters that you plan for and play out. So, the theory is, if you make every encounter an exciting, memorable event, you will have a stellar campaign.

Here are several ways to tweak encounters for maximum tension and enjoyment. Feel free to print this list out and keep it with your gaming notes for inspiration during sessions.
  • Choose a compelling location. Encounters become boring if they all take place on wide city streets, in the middle of a plain or in 10 foot wide corridors. For example, place the scene on the edge of a cliff, in a beautiful garden, on a rickety bridge, beside a raging river…

  • Mix-up the weather a bit. Is it always bright and sunny? Change the weather every so often to: very cold, extremely hot, windy, foggy, hailing, or a fine scotch mist. How does the weather assist or impede the characters’ actions? Also under the weather category can be placed such things as rainbows, northern lights and ball lightning!

  • Alter the lighting: dusk, dark, too bright, glowing red, strobing colors. While different lighting can affect game mechanics and character actions, it can also be used subtly to just make the encounter memorable for your players.

  • Change the footing. Just like lighting, you can change the ground so that it helps or hinders the party, and you can use it to help make the encounter stick in your players’ minds for a long time to come: loose gravel, muddy, sandy, puddles, deep moss, pot holes, slime…

  • Put the reward on the end of a stick. It’s fun hiding treasure to make it tough and exciting for the characters to find it. But try putting the reward or treasure in plain site on occasion to provide extra and immediate character motivation. For example, hang the treasure from the ceiling well out of arm’s reach, put it at the bottom of a clear pool, have the foe wear it or use it, put writing on the wall for all to see “Here Be Treasure”. Then put something in between the characters and their displayed reward and watch the fur fly.

  • Put more than one challenge, foe or conflict into the encounter and hit the party from all sides. Panic is a result of feeling overwhelmed. Allowing the players to focus on just one challenge at a time will not overwhelm them, so add additional simultaneous challenges to help create panic:
    • Multiple foes (i.e. another foe drawn in by the sounds of battle)
    • Impending doom (i.e. the ceiling’s slowly dropping)
    • Impending calamity (i.e. she’s tied to a log that’s headed straight for the screaming saw blade)
    • Cut-off the party’s escape
    • Add a time limit (i.e. return before sundown or…)
    • Add bad weather, bad footing and bad lighting!
What other ways can you think of to spruce up encounters to make them memorable and exciting? Please send me your ideas.
 

Stephan Hornick

Community Goblin
Staff member
Wizard of Adventure
Wizard of Combat
Wizard of Story
Comment by Andrew Noffke:

One of the different element I had heard of before was adding a precarious terrain such as ice and require PCs to do balance checks if they move more than 5-10 ft or fall prone.

This can make even easier encounters against scrubby enemies take a new level of difficulty


Comment by Samuel Van Der Wall:

I love it (both as a player and GM) when I’m not sure what is more dangerous, the NPCs or the environment? Which scares you more, the orcs you’re fighting or the river of lava below you?! Great tips!


Comment by Ragnar Dee:

One method I have used in the past to add spice to the encounters as well as a side track to the whole campaign is this: Not all encounters that result in a fight need to result in the players killing or subduing the opponents. Sometimes, it can make things interesting by having the opponents steal something valuable from the party and then run off, leaving clues or a trail as to where they went. Making the party find these clues can depend on what the party makeup looks like, but mostly it is a side track so shouldn’t take hours for them to solve and they get the bonus of some excitement and possible new discoveries.
 

Stephan Hornick

Community Goblin
Staff member
Wizard of Adventure
Wizard of Combat
Wizard of Story
Exactly, Da'Vane! Great tip.
I usually try to make every encounter memorable, by location (including footing if interesting for this scene), environmental elements (including weather and objects), NPCs (of course!), inhibitors (even at first hidden ones in a roleplay situation), and meaningful choices. I generally mix it up to not always describe the weather for example, and not always have an NPC hint towards a secret. But it is ALWAYS my main agenda to make the scene memorable. I just can't not envision how it becomes memorable when thinking of a scene.
 

JochenL

CL Byte Sprite
Staff member
Wizard of Adventure
Beta-Tester
Gamer Lifestyle
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I wonder if we could create simple checklists for encounter and adventure creation - as reminders and with links to articles that explain the points in the list in case you don't remember. Would be a nice resource project here on CC!
 
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