1d6 Ways To Create Urgency In Encounters

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1212

Brief Word From Johnn

Biggest Eruption In Over 100 Years

Did you hear about the volcanic eruption that happened at Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai last January? It’s probably the biggest eruption that’ll happen in our lifetime – the biggest since Krakatoa in 1883 – but due to its remote location it didn’t make a lot of news.

The eruption happened in the South Pacific, near the Kingdom of Tonga, and had roughly 15 times the power of Mount St. Helens. It generated 20 meter tsunamis and an ash cloud 20 kilometers high.

Unlike many volcanoes that cool the Earth a little after erupting, this one warmed us a bit temporarily because it was a submarine eruption that pushed a lot of water vapor into the atmosphere.

I find volcanoes fascinating. There are many kinds and they have numerous downstream effects that provide great grist for our stories. White Plume Mountain is one of my favorite adventures, so perhaps that’s the source for explosive interest.

Speaking of ticking time bombs, this week’s tips feature several ways we can add urgency to our encounters to avoid the characters over-resting. And in the Reader Tips section we’ve got thoughts on fantasy geopolitics, creating immersion, and 3 Line NPCs.

RPG Blog Carnival Logo

RPG Blog Carnival

I wrote this week’s tips to celebrate September’s RPG Blog Carnival topic: Encounters, hosted over at of Dice and Dragons. Thanks to Scot for hosting the carnival!

I hope you have some great gaming erupt this week!


1d6 Ways To Create Urgency In Encounters

How do you stop the one-encounter adventuring day? You know, when the party stomps all over your plans because they’re at full strength all the time. Creating urgency via deadlines offers a fantastic solution. If players feel like they can’t afford the time to rest, they won’t.

So here are 1d6 ways to create deadlines so the party must rush to the next encounter and not take time to get back to full resources.

1. Relationships

Allies, kin, contacts. All friendly and neutral NPCs can offer adventure hooks with a deadline. For example, a beloved NPC has about three days left to live. The PCs must find a cure, find a successor, or perform a last request type deed.

2. Nature

Use all aspects of nature to create believable and interesting deadlines. A volcano about to explode, an eclipse in two days, a storm on the horizon, or winter coming. If deep within the dungeon, we can start flooding it with a monsoon, destroying it with the aforementioned volcano, or fill it with fire ants fleeing a forest fire.

3. The Enemy

Rivals racing to beat the PCs to the treasure, an army amassing, or ye ol’ ritual about to trigger – the characters must outpace their foes. I love this approach because the deadline becomes uncertain, adding more urgency. For example, foes speed up, set traps, or cause distractions.

4. Obstacles

Provide a generous timeline so players don’t feel pressure at start. But then complicate character lives causing lost time to accumulate until suddenly the party’s racing to finish their mission for peak drama. For example, waste time with false trails, poison PCs requiring an antidote side quest, or a landslide blocks the fastest route.

5. Transformation

A character or ally gets transformed and there’s a short window of time to revert. For example, a PC gets lycanthropy that becomes permanent next full moon, a disease that gets worse, or a polymorph times out.

6. Fuel

A critical resources gets consumed whether the party uses it or not. For example, a blessing that lasts a day, food that’ll spoil, or stims that wear off in a couple hours.

It’s Your Turn

One great way to stop the party from being a full strength every encounter is to urge them onwards via a compelling deadline. If they don’t beat the clock, bad things happen. Use NPCs, your setting, and your story to create authentic deadlines to prevent over-resting.

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

A Great and Free Campaign

From RPT GM Alex

I am just about to start “Northern Journey” for D&D 3.5. I don’t think it is a well known campaign, but it is enormous. In its whole length it will take you from lvl 1 into the epic levels.

It is set in the Forgotten Realms around 1370 DR and will lead right up to the “apocalypse stone” setting with the world more or less ending and making way to the D&D 5 setting. You can play it in AD&D or D&D 3.5 as it is.


You will see it is enormous and will last you a few years. 🙂

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Fantasy Geopolitics

From RPT GM Caleb

Hey Johnn,

You were answering a question about fantasy geopolitics. I just stumbled across this video recently, and thought you and your subscribers might be interested in it.


Thanks for all your tips! They’re very helpful

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How Do You Immerse Your Players?

RPT GM Lucas asks:

I would love your opinion on something. Usually, I prep by knowing the world well and planning how to run an already existing adventure PDF, but I try to take good care of immersion.

How do you immerse your players?

I go around researching images that make sense with the situation in order to have more to describe or show and finding background music and ambiance, and that is it. And it takes some time.

What do you think?

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Hey Lucas!

First, we should consider that immersion happens in players’ minds and imaginations. It’s an internal dialog based on what’s happening in the game.

Second, in my experience and experiments, you can have immersion without music, props, lighting, etc. They can help, but they are not the source of it.

To me, it comes down to two things. 1) Choices and 2) Interaction.

Choices come from a bunch of things. Rules, story, roleplay, creating things, party planning, puzzles, encounters, character sheets, situations, dilemmas, etc.

Interaction comes from having something meaningful to do in the game.

So if I can present interesting situations in the short term (encounters) and over the long term (plot threads and character goals), and I keep things moving in game, I feel I get good immersion.

I would also take a step back and think about what you mean by immersion. 90% of gameplay will not be leaning forward in candlelight telling scary ghost stories that make everyone yelp. But maybe your definition and expectations are different.

For me, I can see players having fun if there’s always something worth their attention happening in the game, and if there’s interesting things to chew on and imagine. Music, props, and other atmospheric things can help keep the energy going, but I argue it’s more about keeping things moving in-game that keeps players engaged and their imaginations working hard.

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3 Line NPCs

From RPT GM Eric

I designed something similar [to 3 Line NPCs] with description, motivation, and a secret that I use with my encounter template I made.

Just the bare minimum, and like you said in the book, if I need more then I can develop that later. I work the character action into the scene/encounter’s inciting incident section.

If you want to go even simpler, there is Monte Cook’s character descriptions of [adjective] [noun] who [verb]: A hilarious barbarian who punches ducks.

I really like the tips of adding and killing an NPC a session. I think killing is a bit drastic and loses its impact, but a change of the status quo makes sense and can shift dynamics, which is what it is really about: NPC moves away for good, gets promoted, is fired for help the PCs, etc. I’ll be incorporating those tips.