7 Essential Encounter Ingredients

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0845

Here’s a fun reader tip from GM Barky on how to build your encounters. It’s definitely food for thought.


Here’s my recipe for encounter creation using a food metaphor:


Meat is the protein, the basic building block of life. In an encounter, it’s the enemy leader.

Example: my players have to pay a toll at a waterfall to enter a dangerous plateau. This waterfall is the lair of three river hags. The party can’t get through without dealing with the hags in some way or another. The hags are the meat of the encounter.


Potatoes are the starchy filler. These are the minions, the enemies you use to staff the lair or fill out an encounter to meet the CR or increase the challenge to the encounter if the Big Bads aren’t enough.

In my example, the hags hire lizardfolk to act as the muscle for the waterfall toll gate, they are the potatoes.


Veggies are the healthy bits of the meal. In my example, these are the plot hooks that are part of the encounter. They can lead to the next encounter, answer a question, add to the mystery, or provide a plot twist to the whole thing.

An encounter without a hook to the greater campaign is wasted calories — kinda pointless.

In my example, the veggies are the kappa (turtle people) who act as the clerks and the cannon fodder for the hags. They know the secret way to the slave pens (the party’s goal). If the party rescues them or befriends them, the kappa may help them. Or they may turn on them if the party is mean to them.


In cooking, you can change one style of food into another. Make a roast chicken using rosemary, you get one flavor. Use chili powder, you get something else. Try tumeric for something entirely different.

In my metaphor, spice is the anti-metagaming component.

I mentioned river hags. There are no river hags in the official 5E MM. I modified the abilities of one of the other hag races to make them different. The kappa are also not in the MM, I stole them from earlier editions and made them my own.

Spice doesn’t have to be monsters, it can be set pieces (like a stairway with a weak step or a set of alchemical vials that are highly flammable). Anything to keep the players guessing, and to keep it from being yet another boring encounter.


You ever eat the kale that garnishes your steak dinner? Nasty stuff. It also has no real purpose. Garnish is any form of red herring.

I garnish with a couple of monsters that add nothing to the adventure. They can be bypassed without changing anything.

I like garnish because it punishes murder hobos.

In my waterfall, I have two: a giant slug (again, not a standard MM monster, so this doubles as spice) and a water naga. Both can be bypassed without any hazard, but my players rarely do, which is hysterical.


This is the treasure. Not necessarily standard treasure. Sometimes it’s secrets or clues or character development chances or whatever.

In my example, the hags know the party wizard has a mystical book in his possession. That book used to belong to the hags and they’ll stop at nothing to get it back. If the party kills them and finds their hidden treasure, they’ll find a “rosetta stone” scroll that will finally let the player decipher the thing.


I have no corollary to beverage, other than to say I appreciate a good Guinness while I’m writing encounters. 😀

This is great and funny stuff, Barky. I love the metaphor. Thanks for the tip and for helping us dish out better encounters!