RPT #11: Top 6 Ways To More Compelling Encounters
I believe encounters (some roleplayers also call them “scenes”) are the workhorses of roleplaying. Campaigns are simply the sum total of all the individual encounters that you plan for and play out. So, the theory is, if you make every encounter an exciting, memorable event, you will have a stellar campaign.
Here are several ways to tweak encounters for maximum tension and enjoyment. Feel free to print this list out and keep it with your gaming notes for inspiration during sessions.
- Choose a compelling location. Encounters become boring if they all take place on wide city streets, in the middle of a plain or in 10 foot wide corridors. For example, place the scene on the edge of a cliff, in a beautiful garden, on a rickety bridge, beside a raging river…
- Mix-up the weather a bit. Is it always bright and sunny? Change the weather every so often to: very cold, extremely hot, windy, foggy, hailing, or a fine scotch mist. How does the weather assist or impede the characters’ actions? Also under the weather category can be placed such things as rainbows, northern lights and ball lightning!
- Alter the lighting: dusk, dark, too bright, glowing red, strobing colors. While different lighting can affect game mechanics and character actions, it can also be used subtly to just make the encounter memorable for your players.
- Change the footing. Just like lighting, you can change the ground so that it helps or hinders the party, and you can use it to help make the encounter stick in your players’ minds for a long time to come: loose gravel, muddy, sandy, puddles, deep moss, pot holes, slime…
- Put the reward on the end of a stick. It’s fun hiding treasure to make it tough and exciting for the characters to find it. But try putting the reward or treasure in plain site on occasion to provide extra and immediate character motivation. For example, hang the treasure from the ceiling well out of arm’s reach, put it at the bottom of a clear pool, have the foe wear it or use it, put writing on the wall for all to see “Here Be Treasure”. Then put something in between the characters and their displayed reward and watch the fur fly.
- Put more than one challenge, foe or conflict into the encounter and hit the party from all sides. Panic is a result of feeling overwhelmed. Allowing the players to focus on just one challenge at a time will not overwhelm them, so add additional simultaneous challenges to help create panic:
- Multiple foes (i.e. another foe drawn in by the sounds of battle)
- Impending doom (i.e. the ceiling’s slowly dropping)
- Impending calamity (i.e. she’s tied to a log that’s headed straight for the screaming saw blade)
- Cut-off the party’s escape
- Add a time limit (i.e. return before sundown or…)
- Add bad weather, bad footing and bad lighting!
What other ways can you think of to spruce up encounters to make them memorable and exciting? Please send me your ideas.