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Roleplaying Tips Weekly E-Zine Issue #12

Top 5 Ways To Use Encounters To Build A Compelling Campaign


A Brief Word From Johnn

Last week, in Issue #11, I wrote my top 5 ways to tweak encounters so that they become more exciting, entertaining and memorable. I have just put a page up on the web site that provides examples of each tip for you to use on-the-fly during your sessions.

The page is free and you may print, copy or redistribute at your leisure.

I've got one request for you though: please send me your examples! I'll add all examples to the page so that everyone benefits from a growing library of encounter add-ons--a great resource for all gamemasters. Please visit the page at:

In my opinion, encounters are the building blocks of your campaign so we're going to focus on them again this issue. The better your encounters are, the better your whole campaign will become!

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Top 5 Ways To Use Encounters To Build A Compelling Campaign

Encounters are like pieces of a grand jigsaw puzzle that you build with your players over time into a story. Imagine then, if some of the pieces didn't fit? What if some of the pieces were missing entirely? How would your puzzle turn out if all the pieces were round? Or how strong would the puzzle be if all the pieces were square?

To thoroughly kill this poor puzzle metaphor now, I believe our job as game masters is to give our players a complete set of well-fitting, high quality, very colourful, very interesting pieces so that they may build a wondrous and unforgettable puzzle.

If we liken encounters to puzzle pieces then, an encounter's purpose is equivalent to a puzzle piece's shape. Here are five ways to make the most interesting and best possible encounter "shapes":
  1. Plot development. Have the encounter move the story forward. Not only from your perspective as the GM, but also from your players' perspectives. They must *feel* that something was accomplished and that they have moved closer towards their goal.

  2. World development. Use the encounter to explore a significant aspect of the characters' world--either on a local or global level. Over a period of time your world will come alive for you and your players by consistently turning over rocks and exploring what's underneath during encounters.

  3. Character development. Focus the encounter on one or more characters so that the players learn more about them, or so that the character(s) improve in some way.

  4. NPC development. Not all encounters concerning the bad guys need involve combat or narrow escapes. How about a visit with the evil wizard's mom? Seriously though, you can use encounters to reveal motivations, histories, weaknesses and other interesting stuff about the characters' allies and foes.

  5. Break the mood. "When you see 'em yawn make'em roll initiative" I always say! It's good to break things up for variety's sake. If you're playing a serious story, try an encounter about compassion. For combat intensive sessions try some dry-witted parley with a few friendly NPCs.

Bonus Tip:
  1. Try making some encounters fulfill more than one purpose. That will help build a truly exciting puzzle!

Have more fun at every game!

Johnn Four

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