1d6 Ways To Create Deadline Urgency In Encounters
Add some element of urgency to almost every encounter as a GM habit you develop, if you haven’t already.
When we do this, we get many GMing benefits:
- Urgency adds excitement because players cannot stay comfortable — they must keep pushing and rolling onward. The timer says 50 seconds left and then the bomb goes off!
- Even easy encounters become dramatic with this one GM tactic. Each quickling falls with a single hit, but can you catch them all in time?
- It gives you inspiration while creating encounters because it’s a design constraint. Constraints breed creativity. Can the party complete their negotiation before rivals with greater leverage arrive?
- You help players break boring routines and get them to try new skills and actions, such as teamwork or underused feats. The Draconians have summoned reinforcements and the party must somehow get down into the sunken city now!
- It quickens the pace. This makes your stories engaging and exciting. The hostage is wounded and doesn’t look like they’ll survive much longer.
- It speeds up the game, letting you get through more story every session. It’s funny how it works, but added urgency in-game seems to create urgency at the game table, too. OMG! The ceiling’s halfway down now, everyone! What are we going to do?!”
An effective way to create urgency is to build in a deadline. Have the players and their characters race against the clock. Here are 1d6 ways to do this:
OMG! The ceiling’s halfway down now, everyone! What are we going to do?!”
Instead of static traps that wait to be triggered, have ones that move, self-arm, have good sensors, and are dynamic in such a way as to bring the threat to the player characters.
Rivals Getting the Scoop
Can the party complete their negotiation before rivals with greater leverage arrive?
Give a group of NPCs or a faction the same objective as the party (but for more nefarious reasons). Then, signal before or during the encounter that their arrival is imminent.
Bomb With a Timer
The timer says 50 seconds left and then the bomb goes off!
Key here is making the time limit perceptible. The PCs enter a room and there’s an LED clock with :59, :58, :57 showing. Or there’s an hourglass halfway drained. Or there’s a clarion that’s getting faster and faster, louder and louder.
Each quickling falls with a single hit, but can you catch them all in time?
Either the ones being chased must not be allowed to reach their destination, or the party must capture those they pursue before time’s up.
Prevent destination: Get the thief before he reaches the heavily armed guild safehouse.
Before time’s up: Get the thief before he can destroy the evidence.
Hostage or Innocent Victims
The hostage is wounded and doesn’t look like they’ll survive much longer.
Physical, magical, or other harm is about to befall innocents caught up in the situation. Or perhaps they are the situation.
Alternatively, perhaps the hostage is being lead to a getaway carriage or ship, and the party must prevent this from happening or they’ll lose them.
The Draconians have summoned reinforcements who’ll arrive soon in the cauldron lift, and the party must somehow get down into the sunken city now!
This is another reason I like 5 Room Dungeons. You can see things holistically without getting overwhelmed. If the Room encounters are physically close, then sounds, alarms, CCTV, and so on alert and summon threats from nearby Rooms.
If the Rooms are conceptually distanced, then the consequences of one Room can complicate life for the party by making the next Rooms more dangerous. For example, guards are on high alert with crossbows armed, sneaky types are ready to ambush, criminals have had time to hide or start shredding the evidence, or more defenses have been summoned or activated.
Once you’ve gotten into the habit of adding urgency to more encounters, you can start stacking the methods of urgency. This gives you many more combinations and reskinnable ways to keep players from over-resting or lollygagging during your adventure.
For example, in Dragonlance, the heroes not only had to reach a famed sunken city in two days to retrieve a magical artefact, but they had to avoid an army of draconians who were chasing them.
Quick. Add urgency to your encounters today. Before it’s too late!
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