View Full Version : Writing an Encounter Checklist

Lord Herman
2007-01-04, 05:22 AM
Hi there,

When writing an adventure, my encounters often seem bland and uninteresting. When I come to think about it, there's a number of things an encounter needs to be successful; just throwing a bunch of monsters together isn't enough. So I came up with the idea of an Encounter Checklist: a number of questions you ask yourself about your encounter, to see if it's any good, and if any aspects of it need work.

There's a few question I thought of myself:
- Can every character in the party contribute to beating this encounter?
- Will this encounter give one character a chance to shine?
- What terrain/dungeon features will play a part in this encounter?
- What sets this encounter apart from other encounters? Why will the players remember this encounter?
- How does this encounter tie in with other encounters?

If you know any other good questions for this list, please post them. When I feel I have enough, I'll compile the list for all to use.

This is NOT a 1001 thread, so please only submit useful, serious entries.

2007-01-04, 05:52 AM
In which way is this encounter potentially lethal for the Party?

2007-01-04, 09:19 AM
- What is the environment like?
-- How will the monsters use the environment?
-- How can the PCs use the environment?
--- Do the PCs have to use the environment in order to stand a chance in the encounter?

Environment is key. Encounters where you bother to think of the environment, and make it a factor in the fight, are much better than ones where you don't. It can be something as simple as the PCs having to fight up a steep hill, or something as elaborate as the rising and descending platforms mentioned in the DMG.

2007-01-04, 10:20 AM
You also might want to consider:

* Negotiation Solution: can combat be avoided via diplomacy, bribery, social engineering, etc.? Do the antagonists have an agenda or goals that don't necessarily require combat?

* Skill/Specialist Solution: can the encounter be avoided or solved through some other skill use or specialist ability? For example, Wild Empathy to convince an animal to move along, or maybe Knowledge: Engineering/Dungeoneering to trick an ooze down a drain.

2007-01-04, 10:44 AM
Don't do totally random encounters. Or if you have fun roling d% and use the DMG chart, try to find a way to explain why in the nine hells is that owlbear there. Making the encounters to fit the adventure's storyline is one of the best ways. In forest campaign throwing some dire panthers in the PC's way is acceptable, and sure they'll remember this, even it doesn't have anything to do with the quest.

If your encounters often seem to be uninteresting, you might consider stronger encounters. If the encounters are dull because the party has an unbeatable tactic to deal with enemies, just remove the possibilty for that. If the party mage is too powerful an it's the reason why the encounters are dull, then take them to an anti-magic zone campaign.

I find your "Can every character in the party contribute to beating this encounter" question a bit different from my tastes. Only make sure that not everytime the same person can't contribute.

My experience is that encounters with humanoid NPC's can be far more interesting than a random moster. But the most important is to give the players a reason why to beat the encounter. "Because it's a random room filled with some monsters in a dungeon" is usually not enough to keep them awake.

What was the list of the encounters in your last campaign?

2007-01-04, 03:40 PM
I wholeheartedly agree about the use of terrain, and furthermore, I would like to add

*.What tactic will the monsters use that will require me to go beyond the rulebooks?

As an example, what's the damage done when an earth elemental bull rushes you into another earth elemental, crushing you between? That sort of thing. I find that little things like this give the players the feeling that they're in real combat, not in a tactical game. It's pushing the edges out, you know?

2007-01-04, 03:48 PM
-How will the monsters make use of terrain?
-If this were an action movie, what cool moves could the PC's pull off in the given situation?

2007-01-04, 03:53 PM
Don't do totally random encounters.

amanodel didn't quite come out and say it, but what makes all the difference for me as a player is foreshadowing. Let's say you have a dungeon with a warrior, a sorcerer, and a beholder in it. If the players discover each one as they go through the dungeon, it becomes room/monster, room/monster. Now as the DM add foreshadowing:

As the warrior dies, he grits his teeth and utters, "You'll never get past Lavitar. Even if you do, the floating eye will ... willl ... " Expires.

Later the party comes across an arcane mark on the wall. The party mage studies it, and grimly pronounces, "The rune is pronounced ... Lavitar. I suggest we be cautious."

The party has a heroic battle against the sorcerer. But as the final blow is put into Lavitar's chest, the magical glint coming from the party fighter's sword ceases as a shadow falls over the group. Looking up into the shadow, you see the horrific eye tyrant, but only for a second as it rises up and out of the chamber...

Fax Celestis
2007-01-04, 03:57 PM
The first question I ask myself when dealing with encounters is "Where is my shotgun?"

In all seriousness, the best thing to do is make your monsters act intelligently. Surround the party. Attack from all sides and in overwhelming numbers. Gang up on one party member at a time. Have long-ranged and flying creatures swing for the casters first. Avoid attacks of opportunity while taking as many as you can yourself. Heal your monsters with a friendly cleric. Let your monsters use the good gear out of the horde.

2007-01-04, 03:59 PM
Why are the characters having this encounter?

What do the characters get out of having this encounter?

What do their enemies hope to get out of fighting the PCs?
What will they do if it appears certain the PCs will win?

What would the PCs do if they were playing the monsters in this encounter?

2007-01-05, 12:55 AM
Another big one and tie in to using the environment is if the encounter is semi-intelligent, would the encounter even attack the party? A group of 7-8 bandits on the road might not attack 4-5 armed people. The bandits might wait until night or another easier group to attack. Like with the displacer beasts in OotS, not every encounter is encountered.

Inside a dungeon a rogue might stumble on the party and hide quickly, then tail the party until the right moment to strike. The suprise and added difficultly to what should have been an easy battle really spices things up.

2007-01-05, 10:52 PM
How many ways can the encounter be solved?-Is the only way of getting past the gaurds of gate X through battle, deception, glamours, or stealth?

What will happen when the PCs try...?-How hard are the gaurds to deceive? How hard are the walls to scale? How good are they in a fight? etc.

How many challenges are the PCs going to face?-Encounters where the PCs fight on unstable locations. Fights and chases on uneven rooftops make some interesting encounters, and picking locks and dealing with traps can becomes much more tense when the builing their in is quickly filling with water.