Welcome to the fourth part in my ongoing series: Getting the Most Out of Your Skill System. In the last part (Four Things You’ve Never Heard of That Make Encounters Not Suck), I told you all about four things that… well… you know. Actually, I wrote that article so I could write this article.
This article is what you have been waiting for. This is the one where I actually put the pieces together and build an encounter the Angry way. Which is the AWESOME way. Together with the last one, this article concludes my obligation to Twitter friend @Clampclontoller who started this whole mess by asking me how to use the Angry (Awesome) method to build a cool chase scene. So, in addition to talking about encounter building in general, it also focuses more specifically on building non-combat action scenes and obstacles. Throughout, I will be using The Chase as an ongoing example of how to apply the ideas I’m discussing.
As before, you can Download this Article as a PDF because I don’t write short. Study it well. Once you have mastered my lessons, grasshopper, we will move on to building and running social interaction challenges. Coming soon!
The Seed: “From Tiny Acorns…” or Some Hippie Bulls#$^ Like That
If an encounter is like skiing off a cliff (see the previous article), then building an encounter is like planting a tree on the slope. Partly because when the PCs come skiing by, you might be able to break their legs, but mostly because you start by planting a seed. Or an acorn. Or pine cone. Or whatever the hell ski slope trees grow from. I’m not an arborist. But I am a DM and I know how to make an encounter.
The encounter seed is simply the starting point. The idea. The first thing in your head that starts off the whole pain in the a#% process of building and running an encounter. A seed could be anything at all: a specific monster (a dragon), a specific location (inside an active volcano), a dramatic question that needs answering (can the PCs learn the identity of the assassin who burned the prince to death, ate his body, and flew away), a specific adventure purpose (an encounter to soften the party up before they get to the dragon), or just a cool scene or set piece you want to build an encounter around (a flying carpet escape from a volcanic eruption caused by a dragon corpse falling into the caldera). Anything can be a seed.
But it is important to remember that a seed is not an encounter. Just as a fir tree seed needs water and sunlight and plant food and… whatever plants need to grow, an encounter needs to be nurtured and cultivated to blossom into a beautiful flower. Tree. Whatever. You may think it gets you off the hook if you are a heavy improviser and just show up with some stat blocks and pine cones to the table, but it doesn’t. The only difference between preparing an encounter ahead of time and improvising an encounter is the amount of time you have to prepare everything you need to run the encounter. You still have to create a damn encounter.
Ongoing Example: The Chase
The chase is simple. The seed here is “chase scene.” That’s all I was given to work with. I am going to flesh it out just a little bit and say I want the PCs to chase after and try to catch an assassin and I want an urban chase scene. That’s the seed. The pinecone. The berry. Now to fertilize it.