Friday, December 4, 2009

Ace-In-The-Hole Encounters

(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

or, perhaps

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.)


  1. Awesome stuff. I have a folder I keep various odds/ends, copied magazine pages, printouts for those last minute "I need stuff". The 5 room dungeon PDF is also a good one for that as well.

  2. When I am running a hex-crawl style wilderness adventure I make sure that I have several encounters ready to drop in anytime I feel the need for it. Here is one that I used recently in my Mutant Future campaign; it could easily translate into D&D.

    The encounter takes place in any wooded area. The PCs enter an area where the trees are blighted, covered with a white mold. Soon they run into trees infested with giant aphids. These bugs are around 2 to 3 feet in length but otherwise resemble regular aphids. A golden orb that looks like honey is secreted from each aphid butt. Any PC with experience gardening should be able to identify the white mold and blighted trees as being caused by the aphids. The liquid being exuded from the aphids is honeydew, a sugary secretion that makes a great "energy drink". You can give some minor positive effect from drinking it if you want, such as a bonus to initiative rolls or a one time bonus to an attack roll. The danger in the encounter comes from the giant two-headed ants that farm the aphids, place them on trees, protect them and harvest the honeydew to feed their queen. If the PCs kill an aphid or touch any honeydew, the ants will be enraged when they arrive on the scene. The ants will be able to smell the honeydew residue or the guts of any slain aphids and track PCs by this scent trail.

    This encounter works well with players who like to interact with stuff in their environment; if the aphids are ignored, the ants will prove no threat (although the PCs may be freaked out when they see giant two headed ants), but if the PCs decide to save the forest by killing aphids, or if they are curious about the honey, they may find that they have gotten more than they bargained for.

  3. Oh, I forgot - a key to this encounter is to only have the ants go after the PC or PCs who actually killed an aphid or touched the honeydew. The ants are tracking the offender by smell, and will ignore innocent PCs unless directly attacked by them. This makes the encounter more interesting than a simple hack and slash against the ants - when I ran it, one of my players ate some honeydew right off the bat and then ended up running around with the ants following him as the other players tried to come up with ways to save him.

  4. Zak, an off topic comment, but, I'm not sure if you're still checking the Nov. 30 post. I misunderstood what you were looking for, in regards to MU spells per day. In 1e there's no such animal. Spells may be re-memorized after a necessary period of rest. Page 40 of the DMG gives the details, under "Recovery of Spells."

  5. I once used a party of ranger-gnolls bounty hunters who used invisibility potions in order to pretend they could teleport. So each turn half the party would drink the potions and disappear and the other half would show up shooting the PCs down flat-footed. Even though their damage/turn isn't at its apex they'll be untouchable by melee if you do it right, and you'll make the PCs wonder why they have so much HP at some point.

    Oh, and I shouldn't have to mention it, but they target the party's wizard first, as he probably poses the greatest threat to their tactic.