Encounters Seeds Formula – Part II
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0715
Encounters Seeds Formula – Part II
In a recent Musings email [Panicked Prep For Next Session] I talked about a formula to create encounter seeds fast:
What if? + one source of inspiration = one encounter seed.
I also provided three example sources of inspiration:
- The Monster Manual
- The News
- Random Page
Finally, I offered bonus points if you connect encounter seeds to each other so your plot stays tight.
RPT Reader Troy Winfrey asked for an example. Thanks Troy! Let’s run through an example today so you can see this in action.
I’ll go with news as the inspiration source. To avoid getting sidetracked with the familiarity of local news, I’ll google “daily news china” and click on the first result. That takes me to a news page where the first headline is:
“Li: Beijing will open door wider”
Now I apply What if? to some brainstorming, which I’ll do as I type right now:
- What if a huge creature is trapped in its dungeon and the enemy is widening the exit to set it free?*
- What if a stupid king is giving away his kingdom to cunning rivals and the PCs encounter a caravan returning with hundreds of pounds of rock in exchange for gold and magic? What if the caravan was attacked/is being attacked, and afterward the PCs see only rocks being carried?**
- What if a ritual is being performed to summon an evil entity through a gate?
- What if people are trapped and the PCs must find a way to reach them? Perhaps landslide or fallen rocks.
- What if a monster can unhinge its jaw to swallow PCs whole? What if it’s already done that and more enemies come out its mouth?
- What if the city gate gets stuck? What if people waiting to enter/leave get really angry because of the heat/delay and start to riot?
- What if the door means psionics? A mental door. What if the PCs meet a psionic guru? What if he’s a future villain?
- What if the door is at the bottom of a lake? What if it leads to a new 5 Room Dungeon?
- What if it’s a snapping door hazard? I haven’t run one of those in ages. Doors slamming together endlessly in a room or hallway, one door with spikes on its edge. What if it’s a malfunctioning trap, so it’s making a terrible racket and others are stuck on the PCs’ side? What if local monsters have made a game out of it — “push-pull”.
- What if the door is in the air? What if it leads into a cloud and a 5 Room Dungeon?
- This is a tweak of an idea I ran across recently in social media. Our job here is to get down on paper any and all ideas, not necessarily to be original. So use this exercise to draw inspiration from anywhere, focusing your creativity through the formula.
- This hook started out as a plot. So I asked What if again to bring it down into an encounter seed.
That’s 10 ideas. As you can see, some are terrible. You brainstorm as many as you can so you have choices. Take the best one(s) and turn into encounters.
Out of those 10, for my Murder Hobos campaign, I like #1, #3, #4, and #9.
Don’t throw out your discards! Save them for future inspiration. Perhaps some just have bad timing. I’ve also found old ideas give me new ones after re-reading.
If you use the Campaign Logger app, create a tagged Log Entry with the Plot tag called EncounterSeeds. Dump all your ideas in there for instant access during games or planning sessions. Delete as they are used.
Also consider putting these ideas into a separate Campaign Log. That way your game notes’ filter & search will not get diluted. And consider categorizing seeds if you think that way. EncounterSeeds.Wilderness, EncounterSeeds.Dungeon, EncounterSeeds.City for example. Bucket your seeds for even faster reference.
Now, bonus points. I want bonus points. So I need integration.
Encounters need a Who
So I go to my Cast of Characters and scan my list. I pick an NPC and throw him into the encounter. I pick an NPC who hasn’t been encountered for awhile. That’s a nice surprise for the party. And that’s instant integration.
Alternatively, I go through my Loopy Planning and pick a plot and link the encounter up with that. Also instant integration.
Taking seed #1, a big creature being helped to escape by foes, I’ll queue up @Frostmusk. He’s a satyr and agent for the Queen of Air & Darkness. He’ll be joking and cavorting and playing his pipes, encouraging cultists trying to free a demon who squeezed into a small place and can’t get back out. The PCs will wonder why the heck Frostmusk is helping the cultists. Roleplay and mayhem shall ensue…. Hopefully this helps illustrate the GM technique a bit better.