Building Encounters! Combat and Beyond!
As a new Dungeon Master, it is your job to create Non-Player Characters, maps, story lines, and the world around the players. You’ll also be responsible for creating and directing the encounters your players will have.
Encounters are events in the game that slow the party’s progression throughout the campaign. You will draw the players into action, whether it be combative or not. Here’s a quick breakdown of what we’ll talk about for building encounters in dungeons and dragons:
- Combat Scenarios
- Traps and Puzzles
- Social Encounters and Political Intrigue
Let’s get started! Shall we?
This is the most typical kind of encounter you will see in any campaign of Dungeons and Dragons.
It’s also quite self-explanatory. You will bring in some NPCs that are hostile toward the party to initiate a combat sequence. It’s important to keep in mind where the party is geologically and what creatures dwell in that area. Of course, the creatures involved don’t have to be wild, primal forces of nature. They can also be humanoids that have come across the party before in the past and had some bad blood. Perhaps this group of humanoids has tracked them across the land to seek vengeance. Just be sure to keep in mind what characters the party has crossed before, and if the time is appropriate for these individuals to make a reappearance.
When creating combat encounters, it’s best to have your resources nearby.
Typically, your campaign notes and reference guides for lore and geological distribution of species, and the Monster Manual for creature stats and abilities will be enough. Be sure to cater the encounter to the story and setting for maximum immersion.
When playing out combat, do your best to imitate the creatures involved. If they don’t speak the common tongue, try to come up with phrases that sound foreign and that only party members that understand that language will be able to translate. Describe how the hits occur. “Your arrow finds its’ mark, seeping deep into the left shoulder of the Orc. You see a small spray of black, brackish blood spew from the impact as the Orc rears back. He then glares at you angrily with a snarled, toothy maw.” Helping to bring the battle to life by giving some narrative to it will help keep the players immersed, and make them feel like a badass.
Traps and Puzzles
Traps and Puzzles are a great way to break the menagerie of combat situations your party will face.
Try and find ways to create traps and puzzles that can help utilize certain skills and traits that party members possess. For example, if it’s a trap that is designed to detonate by means of a physical latch or mechanism, perhaps your rogue can roll an investigation check to discover the way the trap works and then roll to disarm it. Or there is an item your party was tasked with retrieving in the middle of this room with three magical barriers. Each barrier can only be unlocked by answering a riddle correctly, and each riddle has to do with ancient lore. Your wizard or scholarly bard can roll a history check to see if they know the answer.
Perhaps your party stumbles across a large metal door with 5 locks. Each lock has a number of magical runes across them, all written in different languages. Some locks may be trapped, or perhaps they all are, and in order to get past this obstacle, the party needs to unlock each lock in the right order, or suffer the consequences. This is a good example of both a puzzle and a trap that will make use of multiple party members, as no single player character will be able to read all of the inscriptions.
Your traps can be as simple as a pressure plate that sets off a series of wall darts to complex as spinning columns that have blades tipped with poison that spew fire and harmful magical energies.
Be sure that when you design the trap that you make it challenging yet possible to overcome and the success will feel rewarding to your party members.
When creating puzzles make them interesting and fun. Design them to engage the whole party if possible. Make each one unique from the last, and be sure they are not too easy.
Social Encounters and Political Intrigue
Not all encounters have to be a source of immediate harm to your players. Social interactions and political intrigue are fantastic ways to engage the party in a tense social environment. These situations can challenge your players ability to show patience and cunning. There are many situations that could entail this, so use your imagination. Perhaps there is someone they know to be evil or untrustworthy, but they are at a social event hosted by the current ruler and they are the ruler’s welcomed guest. It would be very brash to straight attack or accuse the person of evil with no proof and at such an event. The ruler may end up arresting the party for acting out of line. Therefore, the party should proceed with a more delicate touch. Which leads us to the next topic…
This is by far one of my favorite things to do in a campaign, playing spy games. Learning about important NPCs in the story to gain the upper hand, surveying them to discover habits, strengths, weaknesses, personality traits, allies, enemies and much more are ways to incorporate espionage. Perhaps you have tasked your players as an NPC to spy on another NPC that is causing trouble or meddling in certain affairs. Turns out the NPC that hired them may actually turn out to be the bad guy. They set up the party for a fall by spying on an innocent man or woman who was attempting to stop the evil of the NPC that deceived your party. Of course, the person your party was hunting could be the evil-doer as well, and they find a way to intimidate or even subdue them.
Perhaps you have a puckish rogue within the party that notices something peculiar about an important NPC that has been helping the party throughout the campaign.
As such, the player wants to see if he or she can do some reconnaissance to see if their trusted NPC is hiding something. You can allow them to do so, making a lot of stealth, perception, and investigation checks along the way. Just be sure to warn them before-hand that if they are caught spying on a prevalent member of society that there will be consequences.
Although this may be unexpected, it can work towards your advantage as a Dungeon Master.
Perhaps this NPC that has been so close to the party and has given aid has some alternative motives for giving their help. Or they are hiding some very dark secrets behind closed doors; something scandalous that if the general public were to know, there would be an outrage.
Keep in mind that not all party members will be able to carry out the actions of a regular spy.
However, encourage your party to be creative. Perhaps the party has a powerful magic-user, you can remind them that if they know the spell or have it prepared, they can scry or use a divination ceremony to look into the past dealings of the NPC of interest. A druid that specializes in shapeshifting can turn into a small animal. Then they can stealthily follow the NPC to keep a close eye. A spellcaster can cast a polymorph or seeming spell on themselves or other party members to be an animal or a seemingly unimportant individual. There are endless ways to use some fun flavor spells and class abilities when it comes to espionage. Remember to encourage your players to be creative in these circumstances and I promise you will all have a boat-load of fun! Check here for certain things you should not do as a Dungeon Master.
Thank you all for reading! I hope this has helped you in some way to improve your understanding of building encounters! Please don’t forget to comment below and subscribe to our newsletter for more tips and tricks. Happy building!
Author: Ven’Orik (Zach)
I’m just a regular nerd with a passion for storytelling and fantasy. Growing up I read books by Tolkein and C.S. Lewis, and this solidified my love for the genre. I first started playing D&D when I was 13 and have been pursuing it since. I’m just here to share my knowledge and hopefully learn a thing or two from all of you as well!