(That title sounds like a refugee from yesterday's post. Whatever, anyway...)
As you may have gleaned from my recent HexKit post I am extremely enamored of having a full encounter locked and loaded just in case the standard roll on the random monster table in whatever room the PCs happen to be in doesn't excite me.
I am also fond of cannibalizing printed material for good encounter ideas that can be slotted into existing scenarios if they get dull.
I am also fond of avoiding paying for things that suck by asking y'all what things are like before buying them.
So, here's the Useful Encounter Questionnaire. The point of it is to aim us all toward encounters we can trade around and use, so encounters that can be thrown in almost anywhere are best.
Encounters don't have to be immensely complex to be aces-in-the-hole, they just have to have enough complicating factors that they don't feel just like "you roll to hit, I roll to hit, you roll to hit, I roll to hit". Give the players enough rope and they'll generally make a cat's cradle of things when they show up.
For the purposes of this questionnaire an encounter isn't just a foe, it's
Foe + Environment
Foe + Unusual Nonenvironmental Complicating Factor
1. Name a good encounter in a published source and say what kinds of situations it could be used in.
I like the "three trapped adventurers" in The Grinding Gear and it could fit in pretty much any indoor adventure at all.
2. Describe a good encounter you thought up.
In a small room, there are some harpies on the far side of a pit. The harpies sing and try to get the hypnotized PCs to fall into the pit. In the pit there is a horrific, chaos-mutated unicorn drowning in eyebally chaos-muck. Crawling out of the pit is hard and the unicorn thrashes around, trying to stab you or hoof you while the harpies try to eat your eyes.
3. Describe a good encounter that developed in-play--that is, it wasn't prepared before the game, it just happened in an interesting way.
The first time my PCs met the Narcissus Peacocks.
4. Name a common item that regularly makes encounters more interesting.
Invisibilty potion--used by the PCs or their foes, but only if there are many combatants on the side with the potion and only one of them uses it.
5. Name two other things in the game that, in your opinion, can instantly make almost any encounter more interesting.
-When one of the PCs' main form of self-defense is the Summon Monster spell and you completely randomize what that monster is rather than using the standard charts,
-Using devices or abilities that inflict temporary insanities on the PCs.
6. The PCs are sleeping. One of them is on guard. What's a fun encounter for this situation?
One eye of dread for each PC creeps in. If the one on guard fails a spot check or wisdom roll or whatever, most of them go to work suffocating the sleeping PCs in their sleep. Meanwhile, the guard hears a rustling some distance away, where the last one is hiding and will jump out and attack as soon as s/he is near.
(Also, I know I still haven't parsed the results from the last time I asked you for game materials, but that's because I am actually going to use some of those ideas in a game--and I don't want to give away the surprise to my blog-reading players. After I use it, I'll post. Promise.)