Encounters Product Design Thoughts

Over the last week or so, I’ve been pondering how to expand on the Little Spaces product line by showing some of the ways those supplements could be used to help inspire different encounters. My article on “Expanding Little Spaces” offered a bit of method on how to do just that. But that just opened the door to another question. Perhaps a product focused on a collection of encounters inspired by these other products is a way of “eating my own dog food” so to speak and might offer another dimension to the Moebius family of offerings.

ben_Jigsaw_PuzzleSo that got me thinking about encounters. What makes a good encounter? How could an encounter be written to not only be useful as is, but offer easy hooks to get it integrated into a game world so that you not only knew what needed to be set up beforehand but where the encounter might lead an adventure afterwards… Sort of a puzzle-piece approach offering hooks and ways to quickly snap these things into place.

Generally encounters seem to fall into two broad categories: combat and non-combat. But that really short-changes the non-combat type I think, so I’d rather expand on that by offering a few other types: Skill Challenges (which seem to be popular in many 4e adventures), Investigation, Interrogation, Exploration, and Exploitation. We’ll go into each in more detail, but let’s talk about encounters generally for a moment first.

Each encounter potentially has some required set-up. And each potentially has some sort of required resolution. For instance, the “setup” for the first encounter involving the town council and the dinner would be that the PCs need to be asked to not only investigate the Old Town’s Reeve to some degree. And the “resolution” would could go a few different ways. If they successfully hide their disappointment with the meal, they might be invited to the house of one of the council members to discuss other ways the PCs can help the town or perhaps even to discretely handle some matter they’d rather not bring through the regular legal channels.

If we look at the different encounter types one by one, each offers a different context to explore.

  • Combat: PCs must defeat their foes in a battle.
  • Skill Challenge: PCs must collaborate to achieve a number of skill roll successes before they get a certain number of failures.
  • Investigation: PCs must explore their environment and find clues or information pertaining to a particular task or mystery.
  • Interrogation: PCs must ask a particular NPC (or multiple NPCs) certain questions to gain certain information or items.
  • Exploration/Reconnaissance: PCs must explore an area to get the lay of the land or locate something in particular.
  • Exploitation: PCs must exploit a particular situation, whether by stealing an item, kidnapping a person, or cheating a NPC out of something.

In a product offering a collection of encounters, I would offer an encounter description, hooks both incoming and outgoing, and different suggestions on how it might be implemented or changed based on a particular need…

Would something along these lines be interesting to explore as a GM?

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