Every Game Master is looking for an encounter idea, always.
And we want them to be unique. And we want them to be challenging. And we want them to be emotionally taxing. And we want them to be fun. And we want them to be perfect – we want them to be everything – and that’s the problem – every encounter can’t be everything.
In this article, our contribution to the RPG Blog Carnival that we’re hosting this month, let’s focus and give our encounters a specific identity with an encounter mission statement. This will begin giving you ideas immediately.
Step 1 – Write a Mission Statement
You’re going to use this as your mission statement formula: “I want to create an encounter that feels like (X) using (Y), similar to something like (Z).”
In this formula, fill in the blanks with the following:
- X = Tone or feel – use a genre, a mood – anything that you want your encounter to “feel” like.
- Y = The thing you’re going to use to accomplish the tone and feel laid out in X.
- Z = An example film, book, video game (or any other media) that you borrow the tone and feel of while you fill in your own blanks.
As simple as it sounds, quantifying your exact tone and feel with this simple statement gives you a target to try to hit. Without a goal, we meander; with a goal, we thrive, and the ideas flow immediately. This also keeps our encounters from being overstuffed, or feeling disjointed because they’re suffering from an identity crisis.
Here are three examples of completed mission statements:
- I want to create an encounter that feels like (survival horror), using (zombies), similar to something like (The Walking Dead).
- I want to create an encounter that feels like (a high octane action sequence), using (a train rescue), similar to something like (The Expendables).
- I want to create an encounter that feels like (high-stakes political intrigue), using (a tense throne room trial), similar to something like (Game of Thrones).
(Did you imagine all of those scenarios? I sure did. And that’s what leads us into the next part. Let’s write what we see!)
Step 2 – Tone + Feel List
This step is the fun part. Read your mission statement out loud, and then immediately begin to list any words or phrases that spring to mind that remind you of it. Remember, nothing is off-limits. This is just brainstorming. You also don’t have to stay within your genre or game system – just go wild here.
Tone + Feel for a high octane action sequence using a train rescue:
- Runaway train
- Dusty dessert
- Wild west
- Rescue mission
- Broken bridges
- Deep ravines
Step 3 – Turn Tone + Feel into Fragments
Now, drawing from the words you just listed, start targeting three main things that inspire you. The ones that really stand out from the list. We’re going to place these things into the encounter, and we’ll refer to them as fragments. These fragments are pieces we place in the encounter to give it an identity that lines up with the mission statement.
I chose the following fragments:
- Runaway Train
- Dusty Desert
- Broken Bridges
Now I know that I’m going to be running a high-octane action sequence, using a train rescue similar to the Expendables. It’s going to feature a runaway train, a dusty desert, and some broken bridges as my fragments (or pieces that I place in the encounter).
4 – Turn Fragments to Mechanics
Now that I know my overall tone and concept, and have chosen my pieces, it’s time to add some mechanics to the fragments that I just created. These can be anything that match your mission statement. I’m going to use mechanics from Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition in my example.
- Runaway Train = The train is moving so quickly that to walk along the top of it, you need either a Strength or Dexterity check to move full speed, if not you move at half speed.
- Broken Bridge = In 2d6 + 2 rounds, the train is headed for a broken bridge. And that’s not good.
- Dusty Desert = Each round, roll 1d4. On a 4, a hard wind blows, doing 1d4 damage to everyone who doesn’t make a Con save (DC 12).
Now add some monsters to that, and the fact that the players need to get to the engine car to save their friend before the train careens off of a broken bridge, and you’ve got yourself a super fun encounter!
5 – Difficulty + System Tuning
The above section uses examples of mechanics, but this method is largely agnostic. You can easily tweak the fragments to include challenges and elements from your favorite RPG rules system.
That’s it! That’s how you use an encounter mission statement to make concentrated, focused encounters that are interesting and destroy writer’s block. Let us know what you think of this article below, and please share any example encounters you create using this method.
This article is part of the magnificent and prolific Blog Carnival, and the topic for this month is Encounters. This month other fantastic bloggers will be exploring things like inventive ways to come up with encounters, different ways to run encounters in play, and even explore using encounter concepts across multiple systems to surprise players and breathe new life into your game.
See links to their articles below in the comments as they write them.
Here’s a video of this technique at work.
Art Credit: Koyorin