Tuesday 3 May 2022


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I like encounters that are a problem with a problem throwing problems.

Wait! Hear me out.

Okay, let's assume we're talking about a classic monster encounter that at least has potential to be antagonistic, and think of it this way instead:

  • The encounter poses a defining problem to the players (the troll is blocking our route into the deeper caves)
  • The encounter has personal problems of its own (the neighbouring kobolds are making a racket, disturbing its hibernation)
  • Engaging with the encounter causes dynamic problems that need responding to (you cut off the the troll's head but it gradually begins to grow back. The tiny head starts barfing acidic bile around the room, what do you do?)

Defining Problems

This is the reason for tension in the encounter. Why is this thing a problem at all, rather than just something existing alongside you? Monsters blocking the way is obvious, but you might have encounters that are working against you in less obvious ways (this goblin is following us around but we don't know why). 

Personal Problems

This is the "why" of the encounter, flipped to their perspective. It can be blunt, like a Beholder that finds themselves disgusting at all other beings, or more complex, like a golem that's been bound into performing a likely impossible and very specifically worded task.

Dynamic Problems

These are the turn-by-turn problems that usually emerge if things turn to combat. It's a solid rule of thumb to have each round of combat feel different to the last somehow, and good encounters give you the tools you need to do this without too much forced-feeling improvisation. Remember, the point of these is to create interesting "what do you do?" moments for the players, so things like winding up for a huge attack are often more interesting than the attack itself. 

Standard Caveat

As with all of these guidelines, I wouldn't hold myself to following them to the letter 100% of the time. Maybe that Black Pudding doesn't need to have a personal problem... but at the very least it's useful to think about its wants and needs, however simple, and keep them in mind when running the encounter. Sometimes "hungry, drawn to warm flesh" is more than enough. 



  1. What Would Monster Do? (If the monster existed for something other than to be a problem for the characters)

  2. Do you have an expectation that the Why is supposed to perform some duty in play? Or is it just there for verisimmilitude?

    The pudding might be appeased by giving it an animal; the troll by solving its goblin problems. Are these just examples that you happen to like, or is your intent that the Why should always adds more levers for the players to pull?