How to Create D&D Encounters

How to Create D&D Encounters

By Luke Hart

In my Hand of light D&D campaign years ago, the characters were confronted by a band of yugoloths. As I finished describing them to my players, I said, “They attack, roll initiative,” and then one of my players, Ben, said, “Really?”

With that one word, I knew exactly what he meant. You see, I was breaking one of my fundamental rules of D&D encounter design, so, I backpedaled a little, corrected myself, and we went on to have one of the very best encounters in that campaign.

Thus, today we are going to deep dive into D&D encounter creation. My goal is to make this as complete a guide as I can to designing and running encounters that both you and your players will love.

By the way, if you’re a busy game master looking to reduce your prep time, we got your back. Every month my team and I publish a new issue of Lair Magazine loaded with 5e and Pathfinder 2e encounters, adventures, monsters, puzzles, traps, maps, and other resources you can use in your gams. Everything is designed to be dragged and dropped into your existing campaign, too!

Watch or listen to this article by clicking the video below.

1. The Three Types of Encounters

The first thing to recognize is the not all encounters are combat, nor should all the encounters in your game be combat.

Now, there are probably some groups who might enjoy that, but for most groups that will become old and boring pretty darn fast. There are in fact three different basic types of encounters you should use in your games.

First. you have the pure social interaction where combat is very unlikely. This might be when they encounter a group of merchants traveling on the road or perhaps the blacksmith is taking his wares into the next town over. Your goal with these types of encounters is usually to deliver information, progress the plot somehow, or just have a scene with a fun NPC that the players might enjoy.

So, the caravan of merchants, we mentioned that the players run into, well, they happened to have some information about the next town over in so, much that there was a military coup and many of the merchants are being driven out of town.  There's a plot hook. The adventurers might decide to go over and investigate things and at blacksmith, well same reason he's going to the next town over to sell his wares because he could no longer sell them in the town he's originally from because well he and his family were exiled.

The next type of basic encounter is the potential combat. This is where enemies, people who are probably negatively predisposed toward the characters are going to approach them or the characters are going to open a door and happen upon them, and then the enemies open with dialogue. They don't immediately draw swords and attack. Instead they talk to the characters. They don't like the characters. They might hate the characters and despise the characters. They don't attack. They open with dialogue, but they are also willing to fight if it comes to it.

Now, your goal with these sorts of encounters in your game is to put an obstacle in the path of PC's goals that must be overcome either through their wits.

In talking with those monsters that have just challenged their presence in their dungeon, either with the dice, perhaps they try to persuade them or intimidate them or deceive them and then have to roll for it and see how successful they are or through pure force of arms. If persuasion and deceit don't work, then it might just come down to fighting those goblins or monsters in that dungeon room. Your goal here also is to present a combat to the PCs if they so, choose, because a lot of players enjoy combat in D&D.

In fact, a lot of the core mechanics are based around combat. D&D is known as a combat focused game. So, not surprisingly, many players love combat and that's one of the big reasons they play. So, having a group of enemies that might talk to them or it might come to combat if things aren't resolved in a different way gives your players the choice of, Hey, we could talk, we could try to deceive or persuade, but hey, if we want to just fight, we could just fight these guys.

You're giving your players the choice, the option of how they want to engage with that encounter and giving players choices and options in this game are bread and butter, more choices and options they have. Usually it's a good thing, unless of course they're the type of group that gets locked into analysis paralysis and just can't make up their minds and then well, then you might have to try a different tact. Now, part of this thing though, of having your monsters talk first and not attack is that you really should think of some role-playing reasons for having monsters attack first and not attack first, but having the monsters talk first instead of attacking first, there should be something that justifies that, a reason that they don't just attack first. And I think for a lot of intelligent creatures, even goblins or orcs or bug bears, things that are aggressive and nasty, they still have a decent amount of intelligence and they know that fighting is dangerous.

It might result in injury or death, and so, if something can be resolved in a different way, then they might be predisposed toward taking that route. So, justifying it isn't usually that difficult. The next type of encounter you can have is that of immediate combat. In other words, the enemies simply attack as soon as the characters become obvious and appearance to them, they draw their weapons or they bear their claws and fangs and they leap to attack dragons, breathe breath weapons and stuff too. That's equally cool, and your goal with this sort of encounter is simply to present a combat that the PCs must overcome to progress their mission. I mean, essentially you're having a combat because they're just fun or because there is really no role-playing justification for the monsters not attacking on first sight. Now, in my opinion, these sorts of encounters or the enemies attack immediately should be rare.

Usually you want to give your players the choice of what tactic they want to use in bypassing, I should say overcoming an encounter. However, sometimes it's what the bad guys would do and there's really no other option, but my recommendation here is that you do your best to provide a variety of these three different types of encounters in your games. Those where it's pure social interaction where combat is very unlikely. Those where there's a choice of overcoming an encounter through talkie, talkie, persuasion, diplomacy, et cetera, or through combat and occasionally those where there is no choice, it's a combat and that's all there is to it. Variety is going to be king here.

2. Open with Dialogue

I talked about this a little bit in the three different types of encounters that we just got done discussing, but beginning most encounters as social interactions is one of the very best pieces of advice that I can give you.

This one thing will make your encounters and games so, very much better, trust me. And it is in fact my preferred method because it gives players options for how they want to proceed, how they want to resolve the encounter either through intimidating, deceiving, persuading, bribing or combat. I mean you get all of this gold in D&D fifth edition, the courtroom mechanics give you almost nothing to do with all the gold even though the dungeon master guide tells dungeon masters to hand out all the gold. Why not just bribe monsters with it instead because it's not doing anything kicking around in your bag of holding, is it? In my experience, I have found that putting the power of choice in the player's hands is usually best players seem to have a lot more fun when they can choose and when things aren't forced upon them and they have no choice.

We've all heard people riot and rant about railroads and how unfun those sorts of games are, and when you give your players choice even in small things like how to go through an encounter and whether they should talk or whether they should fight, when they have that choice in those things, the entire game is going to feel less like a railroad. Even if you're kind of giving them a linear game experience with linear adventures and a linear campaign when they can have choices here and there over small things, maybe not the adventure they go on because you're running a linear campaign let's say, but it will feel a lot less like a railroad because linear adventures aren't railroads and I have an entire video about linear campaigns and railroads and sandboxes.

A linear adventure in a campaign is not a railroad, but when players don't have choices in the small things like encounters, it can feel like a railroad and it can feel like they're just marching along and things are going to happen the way they're going to happen because the dungeon master has decided they are some of my group's most memorable encounters have resulted from opening with dialogue and giving players the choice.

For instance, I have a video on my channel called D&D story, my players Tricked in Ogre and in that video you're going to basically in that encounter from a group from years ago, I had an ogre come across the group and instead of just having the ogre attack them, there was instead dialogue that happened and they ended up tricking the ogre, getting the ogre to go on their side and help them and it resulted in one of the most awesomest encounters in that entire group over the three years or so, that we played together. So, it was really cool.

You can check that video out and by the way, in that story from my hand of light group that I teased you with at the very beginning of the video, not starting the encounter as a social interaction was in fact the mistake I made and I am very grateful that Ben questioned me on it because his really spoke volumes. It was his way of asking, so, we have no choice but to fight. Aren't there any other ways we could resolve this? Would this encounter be better if the players had some say here too? I mean if what we try doesn't work, that's cool. We could always just fight them, but wouldn't it be more fun to at least let us try?

3. On Designing Non-Combat Solutions

Okay, so, since we want the possibility for non-combat solutions to exist, we kind of need to have an idea of what they might be. And there are two basic ways to go about doing this.

First, you can decide what those solutions are in advance. In the situation with the yule offs and my players, I could have designed that encounter to have different paths that the players might choose to follow to resolve it path number one, they simply say, screw that we're going to fight, and then they fight the yugoloths. I might have decided in advance that they could bribe the yugoloths and I could decide upon the amount of money the yugoloths would accept regardless of any sort of persuasion check. I might decide that for a lesser amount of money, but a very good persuasion check. They would accept that and go on their way, and I might decide that no matter what, if the bribe is far too low that nothing, no persuasion rules whatsoever would convince the yugoloths to go away and not fight.

I could literally build out all the possible different options that could potentially take place in that encounter in advance of the game happening. Now of course, the downside to that is that it takes a lot of work and time to theorize and hypothesize all of the different things your players could possibly do to overcome that encounter and the chances of you covering all of your bases and every possible thing is probably rather low and not going to happen.

So, you might make the argument that you just kind of did all that work for nothing because of course, the other alternative is to simply decide the solutions on the fly. As your players come up with ideas for how they might circumvent or overcome that encounter, you simply role play your enemies in response to what your characters say and what they do and the dice rolls.

So, in other words, you're not predetermining all the different possible paths before the encounter takes place before the game happens. Instead, you're just kind of doing it on the fly, you're making things up and you're adjudicating and you're role playing the monsters. Here's the thing, of course, if you are a new dungeon master without a whole lot of experience that might be challenging for you, there is a certain level of comfort and it helps to prepare a little bit your mind and stuff to think about these possibilities before the game begins. And if you find that useful, then do that. Do that exercise, have those possibilities mapped out in advance.

However, if you have a decent amount of experience or you feel comfortable just doing it on the fly by role-playing the enemies and just thinking on your feet, then by all means dispense with the preparation ahead of time and just simply react to the player's characters and what they say and they do in the dice rolls and rule, play your enemies and simply decide in the moment what your monsters are going to do.

There's nothing to say that you have to have predetermined the monster's actions. Depending upon all the various different things characters can do, you as the dungeon master are fully within your right to role play your monsters and decide in the moment what they do.

4. Advanced Encounters: Compound Encounters

So, your traditional D&D encounter is basically the characters and then a group of NPCs, we call them bad guys, they might be monsters. They're all essentially NPCs, but some of them have ulterior motives, might be bad guys, evil guys and stuff like that. Others might be shopkeepers and things like that. But basic encounter is characters and a group of NPCs. However, you can add an additional layer of complexity and fun to your encounters by combining this basic setup with other game elements such as traps, puzzles, and social interactions. For instance, you might combine your encounter with a trap.

I once had a game where the characters were going into a room and a beholder kin, I think they were called death kisses, descended from above and attacked them. Now in this room there were also pit traps, and as the characters were fighting these death kisses and moving around in this room, they were triggering these pit traps because they weren't being careful and checking and all of this stuff. They were in the middle of a fight after all, and then they were falling into these pit traps. There were spikes inside them, they were taking damage, but not just that the doors, the tops to these pit traps were spring loaded and after they fell in and took damage, they closed trapping them inside. And so, this had the added benefit from the death kisses point of view obviously of splitting the party up and taking some characters out of the fight momentarily while they tried to figure out how to get out of this pit trap and how to open this door.

And by the way, the beholder can, these death kisses, they could fly and they were floating around and attacking. They were not subjected to these pit traps. They used their brains and decided and determined their terrain in advance so, that it would work in their benefit. And this is an example of a really cool encounter that we had by combining that encounter with traps, you can also have an encounter with a puzzle. In my ancient dragon game that I run from a patrons, there was an encounter where a nightmare of erth, I'm not going to be able to explain all the details on that. You're going to have to just kind of use your imagination here. But anyway, they were fighting a nightmare of erth, this horrible dark Lord in a domain of dread called the dark shards. And the battlefield here was like there was some lake, not a lake, there was like a little pool or a puddle over here, there was some terrain and stuff.

And then I combined a puzzle in there. Inside these different elements of the terrain were features of that puzzle, things that they had to find and interact with, and then there was an overall puzzle that they needed to resolve. Now the thing with this puzzle is that the monsters arrived and started attacking and every round of combat more monsters were arriving. It was becoming apparent that they would just have an overwhelming amount of monstrous constantly arriving and attacking them from this nightmare of zir that was enveloping them and taking them into it. And finally probably, I mean my players knew that there was some sort of puzzle going on because they were finding these puzzle elements and they knew that they should resolve the puzzle, but through the first, I think two or three rounds of combat, they were predominantly focused on fighting the monsters.

It only occurred to them after about round three or so, that hey, these monsters aren't going to stop. They're going to keep on coming. I bet we need to solve this puzzle to stop them, otherwise they're eventually going to wear us down and we're screwed. So, they started to focus their efforts and tactically say, who's going to fight the monsters? Who's going to hold them at bay and who's going to go investigate these different puzzle elements so, we can figure out what this puzzle is and how to resolve it so, that we can stop these waves of monsters and we can actually survive? And in the end, they did end up resolving it and everything turned out just fine, but there was an element of tenseness to that encounter and perhaps desperation as well as they realized that the bad guys weren't going to stop until they figured that puzzle out that they had kind of been ignoring for the first three rounds or so, of combat.

The next thing you can do is combine your encounter with a social interaction, and this is really easy actually. The basic idea here is that as the combat is going on over the courses of the rounds, the enemies continue to talk to the characters or perhaps taunt them while they're fighting. I do this a lot in my games and I feel like it really adds to the combat when you have the enemies engaging with them in conversation or taunting as you go. Of course you need to be a little bit reasonable about it. I mean, each round of combat is six seconds, so, there's only so, much that you can say during one round of combat. It's usually like maybe a sentence, maybe there was once this actual play, a very well-known famous actual play, a D&D show that they put on Twitch and YouTube and stuff like that.

And there was a round of combat where the characters were all having a conversation that lasted, I don't know, two minutes, two minutes, and finally the dungeon master says, okay guys, that was one round, we're onto the next round. I'm looking at this and I'm just like, dude, that was not a round of combat. That was like two minutes of conversation. That was literally 20 rounds of combat. But anyway, I digress.

5. Creature Selection

An important part of designing an interesting encounter is choosing the creatures that will be in it. Generally speaking, when you only have one type of creature in an encounter, let's say it's a standard goblin, that encounter tends to be less interesting. Now, adding different types of creatures makes the encounter far more interesting and tactical because the puzzle becomes more complex. Players will have more things to consider before deciding what they do and their actions are more meaningful.

Now, of course, when I say that the puzzle becomes more complex, I'm not literally talking about having a puzzle in the encounter. What I'm saying is that every encounter when there are creatures and characters fighting each other, it is a puzzle in some regard. They have to choose where they're going to position themselves, how to use the terrain, what spells they're going to cast, what actions they're going to take, who they're going to attack. That is the puzzle. That is the challenge in your brain to figure out how are we going to go about overcoming these enemies?

Okay, so, when we're deciding what creatures we're going to choose to put an encounter, we need to determine or we need to consider the three different basic types of creatures. You essentially have melee creatures, ranged creatures and casters. Now I know other people have broken down the types of creatures into far more categories.  You have brutes and strikers and ambushes and I don't know, there's a whole bunch of different things. You could infinitely break them down almost into tons of different categories, and perhaps for some people breaking it down even more is useful. And I'm sure it could be helpful if you really want to deep dive into tactics and stuff like that. But I like to keep things simple and considering just these three different basic types has served me fairly well throughout the years.

And one of the things you're looking for when you're trying to choose your creatures and you're choosing among these three different types is synergism. You want to pick creatures that work well together. For instance, you could have goblins and goblin archers, the goblins engage in the front line and go tacky, tacky, and the archers stay in the back and perhaps they're shooting at the wizard.

Casting spells are at the cleric who keeps on using healing word, or you could have goblins and wolves working together. Wolves have a trip attack that could yank characters off their feet and then the goblins swarm and stab with advantage. Or you could have a goblin and a goblin shaman who stays in the back and cast spells while the goblins spread out upfront and make sure the characters can't get at the goblin shaman. And we're just talking about basic types of creatures at this point, we're not really analyzing all of their special abilities because if you dig into creature abilities, you can find some really cool synergistic combinations that will make any combat that arises far more interesting. Now of course, when you're choosing creatures for your encounters, you need to choose ones that support the adventurous theme, the adventure as a whole. Why is there an ooze in that castle?

Have a reason for it. If you have goblins and wolves and goblin shamans, what is the giant doing there? Is the giant a mercenary perhaps that the goblins are paying to be there because some giants aren't that smart or maybe the giant is in charge of the goblins and that's the big bad, but there should be a reason. There should be an ecology that works together and makes sense. And here is a really big suggestion for you don't have more, not that many don't have more than three types of creatures in your combats. For instance, goblins, goblin archers, and then a goblin shaman. The thing is that when you have too many different types as a dungeon master, that gives you that many different stat blocks that you need to run in the combat, and it can get to be rather difficult and put a lot of cognitive load on the dungeon master, but when you only have three types or fewer, it makes things easier for you.

That reminds me, I once ran a combat with about eight or 10 different types of creatures. That means different step locks for each one of them. And it wasn't really my fault, I don't remember the exact details, but I'm pretty sure I had planned a certain encounter and then something happened and it caused different monsters from throughout the dungeon to coalesce or converge I should say, on the player's characters. And then we ended up with this crazy massive combat. I literally had on my desk in front of me like eight or 10 different stat blocks that I had to run in this combat. And man, it was challenging. It was an amazing combat. I mean, the encounter of the fight was fun. I am pretty sure we all enjoyed it a lot, but wow, was it challenging for me as a dungeon master to run that many monsters at once?

6. Loot Placement

When you're designing encounters, one of the things you want to keep in mind is to place some valuables on the creatures so, the characters will find something when they loot the courses, courses, the corpses, of course, that is, unless the characters forget because we've all been in the game either as players or as a dungeon master where the players just don't loot the corpses and it turns out there was something really cool on them.

I'm often that player, by the way. I don't like exploration a whole lot, and so, looting corpses and poking around on them is kind of part of the exploration pillar, and so, I usually just let somebody else do it and I just want to go on to the next part of the dungeon, next part of the adventure.  So, I am the one that usually doesn't care a whole lot and I probably as a player miss a whole bunch of cool stuff because I don't poke around dead bodies, which I guess is a expectation in D&D.

So, anyway, this is not a complicated step, but it is important for there to be some tangible reward. Even if it's minor on the bodies of dead creatures, your players are likely to kill and remember, it doesn't have to be gold or magic items. Information is equally as valuable, especially when you're rolling in gold and magic items because the core rule books just tell you to give so, much gold and magic items to your players characters. Final point here too, you don't have to determine the loot in advance. You can always make up the loot on the fly as you go. There are actually loot tables in the dungeon master guide that you could just roll on every time an encounter ends if they decide to search the bodies.

So, on the one hand, I'm criticizing the Dungeon Master Guide loot tables that tell you to give too much loot, and then I turn around and I tell you to use those same tables. I mean, I'm a hypocrite. I don't know what to tell you. I use those tables too. It's the resource that the game designers gave us. It's like what I use. Maybe someday we'll get better loot tables in a more balanced fifth edition economy. Wouldn't that be nice if in the next edition they're coming out with one D&D, they actually balance the economy a little bit and make things make more sense? I mean, wouldn't that be cool?

7. Terrain

Designing the terrain that will accompany the creatures in an encounter is one of the most overlooked considerations in encounter design. The terrain can make or break an encounter in my opinion.

Okay, here are some quick tips on terrain. First, avoid empty rooms or areas just completely empty. There's nothing in the room, there's no desk, there's no bed, there's no table, there are no chairs, nothing. It's just an empty room or an empty area. There's nothing of interest. You're like in the swamp, and the swamp is just like knee deep water. That's it. There are no full on logs. There's no branches under the water that you might get tripped up on. It's just emptiness. So, avoid that.

And you also want to design the train around the creatures a little bit as well. Are there wolves because the goblins have wolves and they live in their own little chamber over here? Well, you know what might be in a wolves chamber, you probably have some shedded fur. There might be bones lying around. There might be a big pile of junk that the wolves have dragged in there as well.  I don't know what kind of junk wolves would drag into their layer, but let's just pretend that they did. Okay.

You want your terrain to be thematically appropriate. The goblins have appropriated an old castle. Well then guess what's going to be in that old castle, probably broken up furniture, things that are rusted and rotting away. Goblins don't take care of things, they just inhabit the place and let it continue to go to ruins. You might also want terrain that synergizes with creature abilities. If you're fighting cobalts in their Warrens, guess what? Cobalts are little small creatures. They can fit through tiny tunnels, so, you might want to have some tiny tunnels there that they can take advantage of. I once did that. That was fun. All the medium sized creatures were having trouble going through these cobalt Warrens and the cobalts were popping in and out of these small tunnels doing all of these things, and wow, the players were kind of frustrated like, this is what it feels like to fight cobols in their Warrens. Dang, I don't think they went back.

Or you might have something like lizard folk warlocks that have that knockback ability added onto their elders blast, and you could couple it with pits or a chasm that the lizard folk warlocks are blasting the characters and trying to knock them into. There's no saving through on that either, so, they just fall. Isn't that great game design, and I'm proposing that you use it against your characters, probably not a good thing to do, but min, is it tempting? A general idea here is that you want to have your enemies use the terrain to their advantage. And by the way, I did make a video called 10 Ways to Improve Combat Maps in D&D that has more thoughts on designing terrain if you want to check it out. Number eight, tactics. Getting everything set up is great, picking your monsters, designing your terrain, all that kind of cool stuff.

However, the tactics you the dungeon master and the monsters use during the combat is also very important. And many times these tactics are things I consider before the game session. That is I plan them in advance as part of my encounter design. For instance, you could have waves come from nearby areas. There's no reason that when you have an encounter that whatever group the characters initially find is the only group of enemies there. You could have goblins from nearby rooms come by because why? Well, the noise of the first combat alerted them or the goblins here decided to send a runner to alert some more of their buddies and bring them on over to help them out. Other tactics include taking advantage of terrain, using cover going around corners to break line of sight so, you can't get shot at gaining the high ground, shoving your enemy into holes, knocking over furniture to create difficult terrain or to block doors, that sort of thing.

9. Beginning the Encounter

Now, there are three basic ways that encounters usually begin.

First, we're going to call this one kicking down the door. Basically when you kick down the door of a dungeon, neither of the two parties were aware of each other. Both of them are, we'll say, surprised by each other's presence. In other words, they're on even ground and nobody has an advantage. The second way is that one of the groups is surprised. Perhaps the PCs get a drop on the enemies and could take actions before the bad guys do, or it could be vice versa because the third way is that the PCs are surprised the enemies set an ambush or otherwise surprise the characters and the characters don't get to do anything during the first round of combat and the bad guys just wamp on them a little bit. My suggestion here, as it usually is, is to have a variety of things happening. You're kicking down the door and both groups are pretty much on even playing ground.

Other times, one of the other sides is surprise. My suggestion though is to minimize the amount of times the enemies get the surprise on the characters because it can feel a little bit heavy handed if the dungeon master bad guys are always surprising the group and they're always getting to go first and having a free round basically of attacks. So, as a dungeon master, I try to do that rarely in my games. And the next point here is that how an encounter begins depends in part on game master design, but it also depends on the player's actions. For instance, in that situation where they were kicking down the door and both groups didn't know each other was there, what if the players, instead of just opening the door, they decided to use a little drill or something and try to make a hole in that door or pry open a board a little bit so, that they could see everybody who was inside that door and then they were aware of them, but the people inside somehow weren't aware of them.

Let's say they rolled a stealth check so, that they were quiet about it. In that case, the players are aware of the monsters inside the room and they might be able to get surprised on the monsters. So, it isn't just what you design in advance as a game master, but it's also what your players do in the game at the table. My next tip here is to use your words, describe the enemy and what they do at the beginning of the encounter and during the encounter, ask the characters what they do. Like when the goblins see them and drop their hands to the hilts of their swords and are ready to go, but don't quite attack yet. Describe that and then ask the characters. Ask your players. What do you do? Do you say anything? Do you just attack? It's important when you're running an encounter like this at your game table that you're using your narrative descriptions, you're using your words, you're describing what's happening because otherwise your players aren't going to know because they can't read your mind.

10. Running the Encounter

Now, in the case of social interaction encounters where you're not in combat and there are no rounds, it's basically free for your players can say and do things as they wish and the creatures can as well. But what you're going to find is that many of your players are going to be more talkative than others and are going to constantly be talking to the creatures. Whereas you're going to have quieter players that aren't so, forthcoming and don't jump in and say things. Now, it's okay if all of the players don't want to contribute and feel better just watching other people doing all of the talking. But as a dungeon master, you want to ensure that they have the opportunity to participate if they want to.

So, when there are quiet players during an encounter, you want to make sure that you call on them and see if they want to say something too. You're going to have to quiet down the talkative players a little bit and ask them to give the other ones a chance and then call on them and acknowledge them so, that if their characters want to say something to the NPCs in the encounter, they're able to do so.

One of the tricks here that I've used as well is to have enemies directly address the quiet characters. Hey, your friend over there isn't saying a whole lot. What do you think? And there you go. They have a need now to respond to the enemy or the NPC. Maybe it's not a bad guy. Okay? Now, if you're running the encounter and it is a combat encounter, everybody has their own turn, you're running it in rounds, and so, there is structure to that which helps you facilitate that gameplay.

But my biggest tip here is going to be to keep it moving. You want to keep the pace going. You don't want things to bog down and take forever during a combat encounter because combat should be exciting. It should be moving forward. There should be some action. It shouldn't be sitting around and for instance, waiting for somebody to make up their mind about what they're going to do. That could get boring after a while anyway. I do have a video called 12 Steps to Faster Combat in D&D. If you're interested in ways that you can improve the speed and pacing of your combat, I suggest checking that video out.

And next, keep using your words. Don't let your combats devolve into just saying 18 to hit. That's it. How much damage? 12 Damage. 12 damage. Cool. Alright. What would you like to do? They roll dice, they hit, they do damage. We still want to describe things. We want to describe the enemy actions.

Are they swinging their sword? Are they jabbing? Are they ducking? Are they blocking with their shield? Did they take a wound to the thigh and they're thumping their, they're crunched over. What am I looking for? Hunch hunched over. They're like hunched over in pain. Are they grimacing? Are they blinded temporarily from sweat that's in their eyes? Describe these things. Describe the smell. Describe the blood. Describe the grunts and groans. The cries of pain. There's so, much cool stuff that happens during a combat that you could describe going on that will make things more exciting. Also, keep having the enemies talk as they go throughout the combat. Oh, that was a good hit, but I'm going to get you next time. Things like that. It doesn't matter. Maybe that's cheesy. Maybe you don't want to do that. Maybe you have different ideas for dialogue. Keep that dialogue rolling as well.

11. Ending the Encounter

There are various ways encounters can end death where all of one side is just completely dead, or maybe some of them are dead and the rest run or they all run, perhaps enemy's morale breaks and they decide to book it and just throw their weapons down and run away lest they be murdered or the characters might decide to run because, hey, that dragon is just going to murder us if we don't get our butts out of here or shoot those kobolds. Man can't kill those. Those things are hard. Now, of course, the problem with fleeing in D&D fifth edition is that the rules don't support it very well. Running away in D&D kind of sucks because the rules basically the first side that decides to run away and try to run away is probably just going to die that much faster.

So, my suggestion is that instead of trying to use the fifth edition combat rules when one group tries to run away, instead I would shift to using a skill challenge. Basically, if one side of the combat can reach the edge of the map that you're using, you could initiate a skill challenge. Or what you could do is at the beginning of a round, if the players all decide that they're going to run away or the enemies all decide that they're going to run away, you immediately drop out of combat and you start in on a skill challenge. Now, if you're interested in how to run a skill challenge in D&D fifth edition, I have a video dedicated to explaining our skill challenge system. It's titled Running Skill Challenges in D&D Fifth Edition. You can go watch it and it'll explain exactly how to do it at the game table.

Next, you have surrender. It is quite possible that the characters will decide to, no, I don't think I've ever had players decide to surrender in a game that never happens, at least in my experience. But enemy will very often surrender in my games when it's clear that it's over. They'll third on their weapons and give up.

And one of the reasons I enjoy doing this is that it presents a moral dilemma to the characters. What are the characters going to do? What are the players going to do at this point? Sure, they're going to interrogate the surrendered enemy and try to get some information from them that is a given. But are they going to use torture? Are they just going to try to use intimidation or persuasion? There's a little bit of a moral dilemma there. And then what happens after they get done with the interrogation and either they got all of the information out of the enemy or it becomes clear the enemy is not going to talk. Are they just going to let the enemy go? Are they going to tie the enemy up and take the enemy along with them with the intention of turning them over to the town guards? Or are they just going to slit the throat and walk away? It's a moral dilemma, a quandary that can present interesting situations at the game table.

Oh, and by the way, when the bad guy is giving out information, my suggestion here is to be careful with what you reveal. You want to give the players something for the effort of trying to get information on the bad guy. Don't give them too much. I mean, unless you were planning on it and you have an idea of what you're going to do there, you want to reward the players. You don't want to give them the entire treasure hoard. Okay, cool. The enemy has surrendered and the characters decide to take prisoners. So, they're not going to let them go. And they're not just going to kill 'em. They're going to actually take them as prisoner. So, do they just string 'em along with them and they just have to pull 'em along and hope they don't join the bad guys or run off or something?

Do they leave them tied up in a different part of the dungeon so, that they maybe aren't in the way? But then that raises the question of course. What if the prisoners try to escape? They slip their ropes and they get away. Do they reunite with their buddies and help them in the future? Do they just book it for a different dungeon and join up with the ogre down the street? Or in the case of releasing the hostages, I mean, did the bad guys just leave? Did they circle back and join up with the other bad guys? I mean, there's so, many different cool things that can happen here in these sorts of situations, and this is one of the reasons that I have my bad guys surrender at times because I want to present the players with all of these different choices and opportunities because cool things can result.

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