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Q&A

What kinds of encounters besides for combat can I include in a game?

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I'm looking at starting to DM a game in the near future, and I'm trying to prepare myself as best as possible (I've only played as a player one time, so I'm not the most experienced RPG player out there). One thing I'm looking at is encounters.

My players are fairly young (teenagers). I'm trying to think of interesting events where the players can interact, plan, strategize, that are not combat scenarios. Combat is fun and interesting, but when it's the only type of encounter that the players have, the game isn't very interesting.

What other kinds of encounters, besides for combat, can I throw at my players to spice things up?

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seeds (1 comment)

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Puzzles!

The players stumble into a cave, and are greeted with… some sort of gatekeeper? (…that’s way too powerful for them to fight.) Or maybe nothing at all except some confusing symbols etched into the ground. Either way, the way forward is blocked and the players must figure out how to proceed.

There are all kinds of puzzles - the ones you choose to include will probably depend on how much your party likes puzzles. Most common are riddles, though there can be all kinds of riddles, from the solution being a single word or object to a series of particular movements or actions the characters have to perform.

Or maybe the puzzle isn’t obvious at all, and you slowly reveal it to them if they ask to examine things. Insight/perception checks could be used to reveal hints if needed.

Be creative! It’s really all up to your imagination. Incorporate DnD elements into popular puzzles with your own twist. Some examples that come to mind include physical minesweeper (which really becomes quite interesting when you have a movement speed) and the potion puzzle from the first Harry Potter. (Or even the chess puzzle if your players are so inclined.)

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I love throwing my players a good ol’ Goblin Tollbooth. It’s an idea I found on Reddit some time back; alas I lost the link.

You approach a big city, preferably one that’s walled with limited entry points. As you draw near the gate, you see three goblins. Two are holding a plank of wood across the path, and one is standing on the side with a sign: “Pay Toll.”

Your players, of course, are free to attack the goblins or just go around them. But that’s no fun.

“How much is the toll?”

The goblins nervously look at each other, whispering frantically. “Five,” the one holding the sign concludes.

“Five what?”

“Five.”

If your players pay (mine paid with pebbles), the goblins will attempt to extort more out of them. Keep it going for as long as you can. After they first raised the price, I had them poorly calculate their current sum (“five…six…four… One! One!”) and simply get lost in their celebrating as the party walked by.

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Or maybe some trolling? (1 comment)
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Everything that can happen in a story or in real life can happen in a game. Is life mostly fighting? No. Are the exciting things in life mostly fighting? I hope not.

  • There is a village below a dam. The dammed river provides power for a mill, fishing and transport. But the dam is starting to crack. Will the group help? Can they help? How?

  • There is a town with a powerful enchantment on it: all intentional damage is reflected back to the attacker. This hasn't stopped the town from being taken over by a militia which enforces their orders by dragging people over the border to beat them or execute them.

  • A mining operation has broken through into an ancient labyrinth. Several miners have disappeared, and nobody is willing to go down. But the local economy depends on mining for trade goods...

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I suggest thinking non-player characters, places and objects rather than encounters.

Since you write about "dm" and have "dm tips" as a tag, I assume you are running some edition of Dungeons and dragons. This does not yet tell much, as every edition of it is a very different game. The approach I suggest here should work with most of them; maybe not so well with fourth edition.

Dangers, treasures, characters

You are running a game in cooperation with several other people. You have a different role than the others, but, ideally, this is still a cooperative effort.

I suggest your role in this cooperative effort is to create fantastic places, items, magical effects, etc., as well as strongly motivated non-player characters that might or might not be monsters. The characters should have conflicting goals and they should be pretty obvious, but the players have to have some freedom in whom they agree and disagree with, for and against whom they ally. Places should be on a map and items somewhere or with someone.

In play, you let players choose where to go, describe what is there, and play out the non-player characters both on the screen and off-screen. By "play" I mean you decide what they do based on their motivations and capabilities.

What happens is that you will get several different types of situations. You don't know what they will be, exactly, because you have not created them. Some stuff you prepared will not be seen, while some other stuff will have seen much more play than you expected. Much of the actual content will be emergent. Techniques like random tables and reaction rolls are very helpful.

So: don't plan encounters, plan a small piece of a varied and fantastic world.

Interesting adventures

Place adventure locations with interesting fictional content into your small but growing sandbox world. You know best what kind of content you find interesting; I am partial to a lot of stuff moving around in the OSR spheres, myself, as I find it to be full of new ideas. Even a few such ideas can carry a campaign, since they will take life when players interact with them in a sandbox context and this binds them together, creating new and interesting situations and problems. Consider, for example, the false hydra: https://goblinpunch.blogspot.com/2014/09/false-hydra.html

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