How to Build F$&%ing Awesome Encounters!

July 23, 2013

Structure and Mechanics: All Them Pesky Rules Bits

You might have noticed that I have barely touched on the mechanics of the encounter, except to briefly mention “an endurance-like” check or “some kind of local knowledge” check. Of course, some of you may already have been reading my example chase scene and saying things like “oh, sure, use Streetwise, DC 15” or “he means a Constitution check with a +2 bonus for the Run feat.” Honestly, except for one little piece of the puzzle which I will get to, the example encounter I spelled out above is pretty much what I would bring to the table. The reason I started this series with the ways to adjudicate actions on the fly is because, once you have that part down, non-combat encounters don’t need a whole lot of other stuff. So, when one of my players says “I want to run up that empty cart, grab the eave, and vault onto the rooftops to continue the chase,” I can just go “give me an Acrojumpclimb check, DC eleventy-two.” or whatever. Because I’m awesome. And I’ve helped to make you awesome too. Just not quite as awesome as me.

So, when you are building your encounters, you focus on the s$&% that matters. Dramatic questions, hooks, conflicts, and decisions. But not everyone is comfortable flying so fast and loose with the mechanics. And that’s fine. You can now run through your encounter, write it up nice, fill in the skill checks for the stuff you’ve decided, figuring out difficulty numbers, and so on. If you’ve got the potential for a fight, put in a stat block. If one of the conflicts is a trap, build and stat that. I don’t need to go through that process and I’ve wasted enough pages.

But, let’s do waste some pages on structure elements and unique rules. I told you earlier to make note of any special mechanics or rules or scorekeeping mechanisms you might need to know how the encounter ends, right? Well, now it is the time to build that. Also, it is now time to build any other special mechanics that might have grown out of the process of filling up the encounter with juicy, juicy decision points.

Structure elements are ways to keep score so you know when it is time to bring your brilliant encounter to a conclusion. Unique rules are fiddly little bits that you think you need to pull off a certain conflict or decision point or whatever.

For example, in the spider encounters, I mentioned the possibility of the heroes driving off the spiders instead of killing them. That is all well and good, but I might want a structure element to tell me when the spiders are “driven off.” Likewise, I might want to give the heroes the opportunity to scare off the spiders somehow. I might spend a little bit of time on a unique mechanical element to make that happen.

It is easy to go crazy with structure elements and unique rules, but you want to keep them as simple as possible and expose the players to as few of them as possible. Players rarely need to see the structure elements unless it helps visually build tension. Even if it does, do not explain the structure elements and how they work except in the most rudimentary way. Never, ever allow the players to play the structure element. Make them play the situation. The structure element is a scorekeeping tool FOR YOU. Likewise, extra bits of mechanics do not have to be explained in detail until they come up, though it is always nice to let players know they have options that might not occur to them.

Structure elements and unique rules should always be as small as possible for the use you intend to get out of them. Most of them will last for one encounter and then vanish. Do not spend a lot of time on them. However, if an element is going to be used again and again, you might want to devote more effort. Be wary of reusing structure elements though. They work best when they are tailored to the situation. Universal rules and structures generally force you to hamfistedly cram situations into rules rather than build rules around situations (see again: skill challenges).

For example, I need of way of tracking the morale or fighting spirit of the spiders, right? Well, I could design a complex mechanical system of morale to use again and again with a bunch of things to keep track of, but that is probably not worth my time. Spiders are going to keep fighting until they are risking severe injury or death. Insects and arachnids are tenacious. So, all I need is a simple rule: when a spider has 10% of its hit points left (or less), it will flee if it can do so without getting further injured. Otherwise, it will keep fighting until it can flee. That’s it. Morale system done!

Likewise, let’s say that once the spiders are below half their hit points, someone could scare them off with an intimidate check or something. Again, simple (I know some games include just this sort of rule, but I’m writing for every game right now) and easy. When a spider gets below half its hit points, I might call out to the player that the spider is growing more hesitant and defensive and they might be able to drive it off. We don’t need to talk about rules or DCs. I just need to tell them that it is possible to scare the spider away. If someone does something clever (“I wave my torch in its face, screaming and shouting at it”), I can give a bonus.

So, structure elements and unique rules should be as small as possible and kept out of the player’s way as much as possible. Remember, all of the rules are just tools for you, the DM, to determine what happens when the players do things. I would love to give a simple set of rules and instructions for building structure elements, but there aren’t any. Not GOOD ONES anyway. Because they are unique, the accomplish what you need them to accomplish, and they don’t get in the way by doing more than that. So, you’ll just have to wing it. You’ll get better at them as time goes on. Have fun. The nice part about them is no one but you has to see them, so no one will know if you do a bad job and have to scrap it.

Ongoing Example: The Chase

I am not going to spell out all of the mechanics of the chase in every given system, but I am going to discuss how I would build the unique elements and the structure element. First, let’s review what I need.

First of all, I need to be able to keep track of the race. Specifically, I need to know when the assassin reaches the finish line. And I also need to know how far from the assassin the heroes are. But, looking at what I’ve come up with so far, I actually DON’T need to know when the assassin reaches the finish line. I’ve scripted the whole chase in terms of where the assassin is going to be. Market, Side Street, Horse Street, Winding Street, Bridge to Crimetown, Crimetown Street, Back Alleys, Crimetown Market. That is eight total scenes or “rounds” of play, right? But maybe I want to stretch things out a little. Let’s say the Market and the Crimetown Street are two rounds, so I have a nice, even ten rounds of play. Why? Because I like round numbers. They are easier to work with. Doesn’t matter. The point is, I know when the assassin gets into the bar because he just keeps chugging away for ten rounds, right? If the PCs don’t stop him, he’s gone.

But I need to know when the PCs are on top of him. For that, I need to measure the distance between the PCs and the assassin. I could do it in feet and consider relative speeds and all that crap, but due to the environment, no one is really moving at their top speed unless they are sprinting. The assassin won’t sprint. He’s pacing himself, navigating, and blazing the trail and he isn’t as hardy as the heroes. So actual speeds don’t matter. So, I just decide to arbitrarily measure the thing in “lead.” How much of a lead does the assassin have?

This Simple Image is Why I'm An Awesome DM

Visual Aid: This is What Makes Me an Awesome DM

You know what’d be neat? If I had a visual aid. Suppose I marked off a piece of paper in spaces and put the assassin at the end. Each space represents some arbitrary amount of lead. If I don’t want a visual aid the players can see, I can just use numbers. PC 1 is 8 spaces behind the assassin. PC 2 is 5 spaces behind the assassin. And so on.

Each time the PCs take an action to increase their speed relative to the assassin, they move ahead a space. Each time the PCs take an action that requires them to stop (firing an arrow, throwing a spell, climbing up to the roofs), they lose a space. Simple as that. Again, the players don’t need to know these rules. It is helpful to see the visual aid, but they shouldn’t be playing the visual aid.

If all the heroes drop off the back of the chase (more than 10 spaces away), the assassin escapes. Moreover, if the assassin reaches Crimetown (across the bridge) and no one is in the front half of the board, he tries to vanish. The heroes each get a tricky check to spot him, but if they don’t, he vanishes. The same occurs in the Crimetown Back Alleys. If anyone is on the rooftops, they get a big bonus on the check.

That seems pretty reasonable. So, how much of a lead should the assassin start with? Well, we want him to be catchable, but ideally, we want him to be catchable near the end of the race. What is the minimum number of spots someone can speed themselves up?

Twice in the Market, sprinting on the Side Street, Sprinting on the Bridge, Twice sprinting on the Crimetown Street, and once in the Market, right? As written those are where the heroes have nice, obvious ways to speed up. That’s seven opportunities. But we don’t want to require them to hit all seven. We want to allow for a few failures. So, let’s require five. The assassin starts five spaces ahead of the party.

And that pretty much covers the basic structure of the encounter. Except, what about the person on the roof, if there is one? His main role is to be the spotter. He’ll save the day if the assassin has a lead on the party in Crimetown. And he gives the party opportunities to choose to stalk instead of chase if they think of that. But what else.

Firstly, climbing onto the roofs costs a space. The person isn’t chasing. They are staying still. But suppose, other than that, they automatically gain a space every round as long as they can manage an Acrobatic type check. If they fail the check, they fall to the ground, take damage, and lose a space. If they succeed, they gain a space. So, if someone climbs up on the roof in the first Market spot (right away), they are six behind, then five in the Market, then four in the Side Street, then three in the Winding Street, than two when the party hits the Bridge. Then, if they can dismount the roofs successfully, they can sprint in the next three spaces and win. That works really well. We’ll add a rule about dismounting using an Acrobatic check to hit the ground running and not losing any ground.

Of course, on the other side of the bridge, they can reclaim the roofs at the cost of a space and keep gaining ground for a flying tackle. That’s also cool.

Now, what about actions that slow up or injure the assassin. Someone is going to try to do something to the assassin: shoot him with a weapon, cast a spell, throw a rock, yell ahead for the crowd to stop him, something. We’ll allow any of those actions that seem reasonable and we’ll have them cause the assassin to lose a space which effectively means everyone else gains a space. Of course, most of those actions require one of the PCs to give up a space.

As for sprinting, it really doesn’t require too many mechanics. We’ve limited it with the environment and we’ve made it an important way to win the chase if one doesn’t use the roofs or the secret back route, so we don’t need to make too many elaborate rules. We’ll require some kind of endurance check for it, but let’s make it risky too. If the person fails by a certain threshold (say five or more), they fatigue themselves, slow down, and lose a space. It is important that we do this so that the party can lose ground.

For that matter, we can also decide that someone who stops to save the crowd from the horse or to rescue the drowning guy on the bridge drops completely out of the race. So we can eliminate a couple of PCs to up the stakes. And, when the assassin sets the rampaging horse lose, if the PCs ignore the horse, they all need to make some sort of saving throw or lose a space avoiding the horse.

In point of fact, we probably want to make every attempt to speed up (like dealing with the crowd in either of the markets) cost a space if they fail, just to keep things shifting back and forth and add some excitement. It is a little more advanced topic, but “survive until the finish” is less interesting than “push for victory or be defeated.” In general, you want opposition not just to prevent the PCs from winning, but to push them toward losing. That makes it feel like more of a conflict.

Also notice that the encounter has a number of different endpoints, even if it doesn’t appear to at first glance. If the heroes catch the assassin, they can interrogate him. If they stay close enough to the assassin, they follow him to the tavern where he hides out. They can search the place and try to turn him up or stake it out. If they stay a little farther away, they have a rough sense of the neighborhood he is hiding out in when he vanishes into the back alleys and can start canvassing the neighborhood. This is an important thing to pay attention to when building an adventure. It also means I don’t have to worry too much about balancing every number in the encounter. As long as I get it close enough, the heroes will probably end up with some degree of success.

At this point, we have just about everything we need to make an exciting chase scene work. All that is left is to clean it up. Now, I am not going to give it a complete writeup, but I will spell out the basics for you. Keep in mind, as you read it, that I purposely built a big, important encounter. This is not some middle-of-the-adventure diversion. I wanted to really show off the biggest, most powerful example of a chase that I could. This baby would start off an adventure. Maybe even a campaign arc. It isn’t often you build one this big and complex. 

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22 Responses to How to Build F$&%ing Awesome Encounters!

  1. JohnnyBravo on July 24, 2013 at 12:09 am

    As the Twitter friend in question, all I can say is a million thank yous for decoding the Chase Conundrum as I call it. This outline is logical, efficient and action-packed allowing for numerous decision points (see, I’m learning!) that allow the PC’s to shine.

    Whereas I was fearing opening the next session with a scene that could turn out humdrum, I’m now excited as hell to throw them into the fray. It will take me about 5 minutes to port this into our homebrew setting and have them run wild with it (rim shot here).

    Your posts make anyone who reads them a better DM – simple as that. Thanks for the help!

  2. Face on July 24, 2013 at 2:39 am

    Brilliant stuff sir! Absolutely amazing. Whilst I will attempt to create awesome encounters like this, I’m certainly going to be using this one at the start of the next adventure!

  3. Andy on July 24, 2013 at 8:46 am

    Killer stuff here. I’ll definitely be using this. I’m running 13th Age organized play in August, and the encounters for Crown of the Lich King are a bit, ah, sparse. This’ll help me pull them into something much more coherent, I think.

  4. GoldDragon on July 24, 2013 at 9:12 pm

    Well damn. I’ve been DMing for a hella long time, and I do some of this stuff subconsciously, but this is a very impressive layout of how to do it. Color me impressed, I’ll be keeping up on your future posts, and reading up on your older ones too.

  5. Alphastream on July 25, 2013 at 4:18 am

    Fun read with lots of good ideas! It is really cool to see your process.

    I’m a bit more cinematic up front. In any complex encounter I tend to picture scenes in my mind. If it is a chase, I’ll probably think of Indiana Jones chase scenes, James bond chase scenes, classic cop movie chase scenes, etc. This works well for me because I often like anything like a skill challenge to play out across several scenes. I’ll jot down the various scene ideas and then think about how they can work together.

    With chase scenes I tend to shy away from any transparent meta-mechanic, such as using minis and squares to represent the distance. I find that too often this ends up derailed when a PC comes up with a really clever idea or uses a spell I hadn’t considered. (“Wait, I know they are headed toward the Mage Tower and I was there last week, so I can teleport there!”) Instead, I like a more obscure system where I hold the cards and can more easily adjust for cool player ideas (like teleport). I also like to keep a library of ideas. With a chase scene I would consider the mechanics in the Dungeon Magazine “Cross-City Race” adventure in issue 176, for example.

    In the Ashes of Athas organized play campaign we tried several types of chase scenes. One was a chariot chase (AOA1-3). In this one, a series of scenes each created conflict. The resolution was sometimes similar to a part of a skill challenge, but could include other elements. The adventure actually began in media res, borrowing from a Living Spycraft adventure I liked, which started off with PCs in a car already in motion, chasing another car. The DM pretty much paints the scene, then asks, “which one of you is driving?” Classic! I of course had to steal that. I then added a series of scenes, starting with the defiler on the enemy chariot firing lighting on a rock pillar and sending it crashing toward the PCs’ chariot. This helps PCs quickly take on roles (driver, co-pilot, etc.) and start working together to handle the situation. Checks are made and damage, if any, administered (including to mounts and vehicle). A series of scenes followed, each different and cinematic. One I played with a lot before finding the final version was a giant spider that drops down onto the PCs’ chariot. PCs can use damage or checks to drive it off, then resume the check. As I usually do, we ditched the max failure concept of 4E skill challenges and instead number of failures determined the placement of the chariots in the next scene (a combat aboard the moving chariots). Fail enough scenes and the PCs’ chariot is up against the rocks and the enemy can easily shove them against the wall and cause damage. Succeed and that situation is reversed.

    We also did a cross-city chase in AOA6-1, where PCs learned of someone heading to a particular place and raced to get there first. We took the city-state of Nibenay and provided neat open scenes for various city locations. It doubled as a way to provide players with the culture, architecture, and other characteristics of the city. In AOA6-2 we had a hunt, and PCs raced to escape the city-state of Gulg before hunters could get them. But, if they chose differently they might first start as hunters and then get to escape. Our author came up with a really interesting way of adding map pieces to the table as the PCs moved forward. It sounds strange but really worked well.

    I also like noting how other systems handle these kinds of encounters. Spycraft had a neat system where each side chose a strategy (each had a cool narrative concept, such as redlining an engine), a table was consulted, bonus or penalty administered, and then each side rolls skill checks. This was done until the prey escaped or was caught. It actually was a very imaginative experience for players, and of course the DM would describe what was happening in cool detail.

    The Ashes of Athas adventures can be ordered for free, should any readers want a copy. Just send me a private message on my Wizards page (accessible through the link on my name above).

    • TheAngryDM on July 25, 2013 at 9:22 am

      Thanks for taking the time to comment and pointing to those resources. It is great to search for ideas, but remember that this article isn’t really about chase scenes. It is about helping new DMs learn to think about building ANY encounter. The chase scene was just a running example given by Johnny Bravo (http://twitter.com/clamclontoller). Honestly, it is not what I would have chosen, but it works.

      With regards to visual aids, who gives a crap if the visual aid sometimes get derailed (I refuse to agree with “all too often”). If it gets derailed, throw it away. It took me five minutes with a marker to do that awesome diagram. Five wasted minutes is no big deal. Use visual aids if they are going to increase the tension and help the players visualize the scene. Just don’t let them become the scene.

      Allow me to rant. Not against you, Alphastream, but you got me close enough to a rant topic that the DM Rage takes over. People need to hear this:

      there is an attitude amongst DMs that I have noticed online that if something MIGHT go unused or might have to put aside, it isn’t worth doing at all. I HATE this idea. It is a bad lesson. It might not rain, so don’t bring an umbrella. Your kid might not poop so don’t bring an extra diaper. You might not get shot breaking into that crack house, so don’t wear your bullet proof vest.

      “Your players might go in a different direction from what you planned, so don’t ever prep anything” is the greatest, most extreme version of that attitude and it is f$&%ing moronic. Being a DM… being a good DM… means accepting that sometimes, stuff is going to go unused. Sometimes something you worked on will be discarded, ignored, or destroyed.

      Build the f$&%ing visual aid if you want a visual aid. Visual aids are fun and add drama. Players like them. The moment it no longer serves its purpose, throw it away. Oh well. Gone. Done.

  6. Alphastream on July 25, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    Well, for good or ill, my comment is really about chase scenes. My point is that artificial systems, such as “I’ll create a grid, we’ll place our minis on it, and each square is 5′ distance, and when you make a check you advance between 1-2 squares”, are risky. We are creating a new system, and there is a reason why RPG systems need extensive playtesting. A single spell or unexpected idea can render the system invalid. I recall one of the Paizo Adventure Path series we converted to 4E, where the Shaman had a power that basically rendered a competition (and its special mechanic) invalid. The shaman just auto-won. And the concept was for this to be a big cool scene. To me, that’s an example of focusing too much on a new mechanic over using what the RPG already provides and using that (and storytelling, and visuals) effectively.

    For example, with 4E, the movement rules don’t work particularly well for chases. Nothing is random. We have fixed movement and a few things that can change it (monk class, race, specific powers). Vehicle movement is even more fixed. It would likely be boring to just move around a map in initiative. That’s where the visuals can really help. We can envision what we want to see (dealing with crowds in a market, sudden appearance of a construction zone, 3 nuns carrying a large glass window, etc.) and think on how that can all weave together more as a story and series of events using normal rules and less as a need to create a new system. Moreover, a focus on a substystem can force everyone to play a mini-meta-game, instead of using imaginative play. Players stop seeing the busy market and start seeing “I need to get a +X to speed, so I’ll use tactic Y”.

    When I talk about visual scenes, I’m talking about the DM imagining a scene and then working to create that. For example, I might think about a rooftop portion of the chase where a plank of wood is laid across two buildings. We can start with that visual and do a lot of things with it to make it fun. Sure, players can make different decisions (scale down the building, dimension door across), but they still enjoy that scene and react to it.

    • TheAngryDM on July 25, 2013 at 12:46 pm

      Which is why I very clearly say several times “do not explain the visual aid, do not put the focus on it, do not allow the subsystem to become the game.” It only becomes the focus if you let it. Be we need to beat this mountain back down to the molehill it really is.

      As for the rest, I don’t have a playtesting team. I don’t get the chance to try everything out before I run it. I’m a real DM, not an ivory tower game designer writing for everybody. And that is who I am talking to. But I’m damned well not going to be afraid of the rules. I think what I’ve said is good enough: “identify only the new mechanics you absolutely need, make them as small as possible, only let them do what you need them to do, remember they are for you only, visual aids help, but they are only aids, and so on.” But I am not going to tell people to be afraid of breaking their game. If I was afraid I might break my game because I don’t playtest everything I do, I wouldn’t be here. And I won’t tell other people to be afraid of the game either. Play! Fiddle! Futz! Experiment! Make it look cool! Make it feel cool! Be careful in these specific spots because there are no railings and its a long fall, but if you want to play on the edge, play on the edge! That is how people become better DMs.

      So, I have to disagree. I think what I’ve said is enough for people to make informed decisions. Beyond that, go, play, and have fun. If your game gets broken, you can fix it. Nothing you do at the table can’t be undone or fixed.

      • TheAngryDM on July 25, 2013 at 1:02 pm

        I was being funny… that was not meant to be a dig at you as an “ivory tower game designer.” I was talking about companies publishing products like D&D 4E who CAN playtest the s$&% out of everything. I just can’t do that. I have to wing it.

        • Alphastream on July 25, 2013 at 1:33 pm

          Dude, if I really thought I was anything like an “ivory tower game designer”… I would need to be taken out back and flogged. Okay, I did go to Duke, considered by some to be an ‘ivory tower’ school, so I’ll accept “ivory tower adventure writer”. ;-)

  7. Alphastream on July 25, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    Thinking on this more, the approach I tend to use for a chase scene is really the same as for any encounter. I like to visualize why this will be cool and how it will be cinematic, thrilling, or compelling. The spider example could really be part of a chase scene. You are chasing someone and coming around the corner you find the spider room. There are two exits, and one of them is near the spiders, which so far have not taken action. Players might look for clues (which way did the prey go?), might try to learn about the exits (is the one by the spiders a shortcut?), might try to learn about the spiders (will they attack anyone going near them?), or might just choose a door and plunge through it. That’s cool stuff. But, for me, it starts with my brain picturing a dungeon room, two doors, spiders, and choices.

    By picturing it in my mind I’m then forced to look at the words I write on paper and whether they will capture that scene and make it rich and compelling. One of the tests I give myself is whether I think the players would tell the story of the encounter. “This one time, we were chasing this villain, and we run around the corner into this room. There are two exits, and one is near all these nasty spiders. So, what we did was…”

    • TheAngryDM on July 25, 2013 at 12:57 pm

      Eh. Cinematic, thrilling, and compelling are fun words! They mean the same as “awesome!” They are useless words. There is no value in them as advice. What makes a scene compelling? Dramatic weight: a question that needs answering. How do players get compelled: a solid hook and a call to action. What’s thrilling? Uncertainty and lots of different ways things could play out. Decision points and action resolution.

      As for cinematic: I will never understand why anyone who plays video games or table-top RPGs ever considers this word a complement. A piece of cinema is two hours of completely non-interactive flashing lights. I don’t want my games cinematic. I want players in my games to interact! To participate! To make choices! Fortunately, cinematic isn’t a useful word for instruction anyway.

      Truth is, cinema is about spectacle. Flash in the pan. But people won’t care if you don’t draw them in. Nobody gave a crap about the spectacle in the Star Wars prequels because they weren’t drawn in. They didn’t care. There was no emotional weight. Emotional weight and engagement don’t come from spectacle. They come from creating a scene that matters (dramatic questions), showing what matters and creating a need to act (a hook), then inviting the players to resolve the question through their own free will (decisions).

      Visual scenes? Cinema? Thrills? You can have all that and still build a crappy encounter no one cares about. It is a lot harder to build a bad encounter if you focus on drama, hooks, and decisions.

      • Alphastream on July 25, 2013 at 1:38 pm

        I’m fine with your perspective. I like how you break things down. But, not everyone thinks the same way. Some people are more visual. “Cinematic” for me, is what pulls me out of static situations (enemy in a room here to steal an artifact) and into the compelling (a chamber overgrown with vines, idols constantly whispering horrors, floor tiles marked with ancient runes, a gem-encrusted scepter upon a step-pyramid pedestal, a single shaft of light upon it, the villain at the opposite side, racing to get to it first, the PCs clutching a torn bit of paper with clues and dire warnings regarding this chamber…). Those visual elements then compel me create a great encounter. It isn’t spectacle, because cinematic also includes motivation. The moment in the movie where the hero has to make a critical decision. The novel where mid-way through the battle some event happens to shake up the odds. I approach the design visually.

        • Bryantology on October 8, 2013 at 11:02 pm

          I think you missed the point. All the cinematics in the world aren’t what makes a scene compelling. They are window dressing. They add to movies/books/rpgs/etc. What makes an encounter compelling is the fact that the audience cares about the outcome. No-one cares about what happens SOLELY BASED on the cinematography. The cinematography ADDS to the enjoyment, if done well.
          It’s not a perspective. Great storytelling is based on conflicts and resolutions.

  8. Aaron Dykstra on July 28, 2013 at 9:18 am

    I like how you put this together. I have run a couple of different types of skill based encounters which have fallen into two camps, D&D4e rule book way and the Rodrigo Major Spoilers way. In general, I have definitely preferred the Major Spoiler’s way of handling the skill challenges, but I was not really setting up the framework in such a way where the players felt they had a choice, just that they were moving forward. If I had to summarize your article, “Your skill encounters will be measured by player choice.” This is absolutely perfect in terms of timing. I will be going back to my “Tail the bad guys” challenge and reworking it as a series of choice based events made up small set pieces based on locations they must pass through (which reminds me of every Assassin’s Creed tail missions).

  9. Jaist on August 3, 2013 at 7:02 am

    “ongoing example: the chase
    The dramatic question here is pretty easy: can the heroes catch the assassin before he escapes. Now, reading that over, notice that I have made two assumptions.”

    I think you made another assumption there, that the PC’s will want to give chase.

    What the hell do you do when they don’t take the most obvious hints?
    huh, kings dead? assassin ( yes, they picked up on that word instead of the obvious dragon bit)? wow, that means there’s an assassins school in town, wizards make great assassins! LETS GO BURN DOWN THE LIBRARY.
    If I write 2 possible scenarios, my PC’s will ALWAYS choose neither and do something totally psychopathic.
    how do you plan an adventure for these psychopaths? pretty much every dungeon I have run for my party has ended in me having to retool the entire flavour of the thing due to cluelessness, maliciousness and missed hints.

    I write my encounters to have at least 2 alternate conditions. I call these success and failure or reward and punishment. If the PC’s do something smart, in character or to alignment then they get the reward, if they don’t then usually it means the monsters get an advantage. No matter what the story always moves forward.

  10. thegamespusher on October 10, 2013 at 8:51 pm

    Awesome. Just awesome. I have to stop myself from waffling about the way I run things vs how you do — let’s just say I’m in the process of changing the way I DM and largely because of articles like yours. This page of yours is just fantastic.

    I have a specific question though: Why do you make the PC that wants to take a shortcut do two skill checks? It seems to me, either they know the shortcut or they get lost. Isn’t the second skill check “hitting X to continue” ?

    Ok, so it could fail. But why not just bundle it into the first check? You’ve probably covered this. I’ve read prior articles, but it’s a lot of material :)

    • James on February 14, 2014 at 2:55 pm

      My guess is that in both situations there is a chance of interesting failure. For the first roll, the PC can fail to know of any shortcuts, and the chase continues as planned. For the second roll, the PC is seeing if he gets to the bridge in time, and if he fails, he is out of the race. While it feels like a “Press X to continue” scenario, it differs severely in the fact that if it is failed, that person is out of the scene. In the “Press X to Continue” scenario, there is no punishment for failure, so nothing preventing PCs from continually pressing X until they succeed.

  11. […] How to Build F$&%ing Awesome Encounters by The Angry DM […]

  12. […] in preparation for this including re-reading a few outstanding articles by The Angry DM such as How to Build F$&%ing Awesome Encounters! and Schrödinger, Chekhov, Samus. I am a huge fan of The Angry DM and you should be too. If you […]

  13. Episode 156: Encounters | Idle Red Hands on June 8, 2014 at 6:03 am

    […] In another Lyal-less episode, Chris and Wayne discuss encounters (both random and planned). Should encounters in RPGs be balanced, or should they follow the fiction of the setting? How to plan encounters, and how to make them interesting, balanced or not. This episode was inspired, in part, by an awesome (and angry)  article by the Angry DM. […]

  14. […] rambling introductions. I’ve written about handing actions, running basic encounters, building basic encounters, and social interaction. So, it’s time to wade into a topic very near and dear to the shriveled […]

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