The tunnel slopes upward. You can see sunlight – bright, almost blinding – trickling into the darkness. There is a scent on the cool breeze blowing towards you. Blood? No. But something similar…
It occurs to me that I have a few styles when it comes to encounter design. Sometimes I wing it. Sometimes I put a bunch of NPCs in a room and see what happens. Sometimes I follow the excellent Five Room Dungeon format.
Then there are other encounters that fit a different pattern. They are longer than most 5 Room Dungeons. They are made of related mini-encounters, which lets me add or drop stuff on the fly. There is scope for player agency – lots of invitations for them to do something unexpected. Then there’s the climax that changes the world – maybe subtly, maybe dramatically.
I build these encounters using these guidelines:
- Make it modular. These encounters consist of three parts, each of which is its own dungeon or encounter. This allows the gamemaster to swap parts of the encounter out, drop them if things are running slowly or add them if the PCs are sailing through. The parts work together but not all of them are necessary.
- Make it long. Each part can fill hours of gameplay. As a whole, these encounters can easily fill even a long session.
- Make it deep. These encounters aren’t just simple dungeon-dives. There might be rival factions, geographical quirks, overwhelming dangers, unusual obstacles – anything that stops the PCs from just kicking down doors and clearing rooms. The players will have to stop and think or else risk losing.
- Make it meaningful. Not all of these encounters involve saving the cosmos from destruction, but they will mean more than saving the innkeeper’s daughter from goblins. Success or failure changes the landscape – sometimes literally. Consequences have a ripple effect.
These encounters are long. The only way to get away with that is if they are cohesive and build to something grand. Mine do both.
I’ll upload some to the Resources page, starting with the Nest_of_Steel. It needs adapting to specific systems and party levels, but is otherwise ready to run. Or you can take one or two parts and use them individually – one example: a shorter version of the Nest of Steel uses Parts A and C.