RPG Blog Carnival – February 2017 – RETHINK ENCOUNTERS


RPG Blog Carnival – February 2017 – RETHINK ENCOUNTERS

Tabletop Terrors


FEBRUARY 3, 2017


For the first time ever, Tabletop Terrors is hosting the RPG Blog Carnival.

We’re honored to be the February 2017 host, and we’re genuinely looking forward to connecting with other incredible tabletop RPG bloggers.

What is the Blog Carnival?

The RPG Blog Carnival is a way for a group of tabletop RPG bloggers to simultaneously write about the same topic – being unified in our efforts, yet eclectic in our advice. As the host this month, we’ll be choosing the topic, and inviting any and all RPG blogs to post their articles in the comments below. If you’ve written something as part of the Carnival, then please leave a comment and a link below in the comments, so everyone can read your contribution. (Our first contribution to the topic can be found in the comments as well.)

February Blog Carnival Topic: Rethinking Encounters

As hosts of the February RPG Blog Carnival, the topic we’ve chosen is Rethinking Encounters. Seemingly generic at first, though this topic can sound deceptively simple, it’s also one of the single biggest conundrums that Game Masters face every time they prep a session. The term is also suffering from a bit of baggage, borrowed context, and assumptions in Game Masters everywhere. Let’s break those fetters, and rethink encounters anew in 2017.

Some topics you can explore in the Rethinking Encounters Carnival:

  • Inventive ways to come up with encounters
  • Redefining what an encounter is
  • Encounter challenge tuning
  • Tools to enhance encounters
  • Making encounters memorable
  • Encounter best practices

Inventive ways to come up with encounters – Every Game Master has a pocket full of tools they use to build their encounters. Share your method with the rest of us.

Redefining what an encounter is – We all have our own definition of what an encounter is or isn’t. By sharing what your definition is (or isn’t), we can all stretch ourselves and learn a thing or two.

Encounter challenge tuning – We’ve all had encounters that surprised us by going the opposite of what we expected. Whether  they either trounced too quickly, or nearly killed the players, let’s discuss how you decide the challenge of the encounters you build.

Tools to enhance encounters – We’ve all got some nifty tables, lists, matrixes and charts. Share some, and tell us how you use these tools to enhance your encounters.

Making encounters memorable – What are some ways that we can avoid the desensitization of similar challenges? They can’t all be fisticuffs over an open volcano, so what do you use to make your encounters more memorable?

Encounter best practices – What are the inalienable truths you’ve learned building encounters? What are your best practices that you couldn’t get by without?

The topic of rethinking encounters is important because encounters are needed so often. By laser focusing in on this, and pushing ourselves to expand our thought processes, we’ll all walk away from this month’s blog carnival rethinking encounters in 2017.

Welcome to the RPG Blog Carnival, February 2017.

Check out more about the RPG Blog (including the archives) Carnival here.


D&D Encounter Creation – GET IDEAS IMMEDIATELY.


D&D Encounter Creation – GET IDEAS IMMEDIATELY.

Tabletop Terrors


FEBRUARY 1, 2017


Every Game Master is looking for an encounter idea, always.

And we want them to be unique. And we want them to be challenging. And we want them to be emotionally taxing. And we want them to be fun. And we want them to be perfect – we want them to be everything – and that’s the problem – every encounter can’t be everything.

In this article, our contribution to the RPG Blog Carnival that we’re hosting this month, let’s focus and give our encounters a specific identity with an encounter mission statement. This will begin giving you ideas immediately.

Step 1 – Write a Mission Statement

You’re going to use this as your mission statement formula: “I want to create an encounter that feels like (X) using (Y), similar to something like (Z).”

In this formula, fill in the blanks with the following:

  • X = Tone or feel – use a genre, a mood – anything that you want your encounter to “feel” like.
  • Y = The thing you’re going to use to accomplish the tone and feel laid out in X.
  • Z = An example film, book, video game (or any other media) that you borrow the tone and feel of while you fill in your own blanks.

As simple as it sounds, quantifying your exact tone and feel with this simple statement gives you a target to try to hit.  Without a goal, we meander; with a goal, we thrive, and the ideas flow immediately. This also keeps our encounters from being overstuffed, or feeling disjointed because they’re suffering from an identity crisis.

Here are three examples of completed mission statements:

  1. I want to create an encounter that feels like (survival horror), using (zombies), similar to something like (The Walking Dead).
  2. I want to create an encounter that feels like (a high octane action sequence), using (a train rescue), similar to something like (The Expendables).
  3. I want to create an encounter that feels like (high-stakes political intrigue), using (a tense throne room trial), similar to something like (Game of Thrones).

(Did you imagine all of those scenarios? I sure did. And that’s what leads us into the next part. Let’s write what we see!)

Step 2 – Tone + Feel List

This step is the fun part. Read your mission statement out loud, and then immediately begin to list any words or phrases that spring to mind that remind you of it. Remember, nothing is off-limits. This is just brainstorming. You also don’t have to stay within your genre or game system – just go wild here.

Tone + Feel for a high octane action sequence using a train rescue:

  • Runaway train
  • Dusty dessert
  • Wild west
  • TNT
  • Fisticuffs
  • Rescue mission
  • Broken bridges
  • Deep ravines

Step 3 – Turn Tone + Feel  into Fragments

Now, drawing from the words you just listed, start targeting three main things that inspire you. The ones that really stand out from the list. We’re going to place these things into the encounter, and we’ll refer to them as fragments. These fragments are pieces we place in the encounter to give it an identity that lines up with the mission statement.

I chose the following fragments:

  • Runaway Train
  • Dusty Desert
  • Broken Bridges

Now I know that I’m going to be running a high-octane action sequence, using a train rescue similar to the Expendables. It’s going to feature a runaway train, a dusty desert, and some broken bridges as my fragments (or pieces that I place in the encounter).

4 – Turn Fragments to Mechanics

Now that I know my overall tone and concept, and have chosen my pieces, it’s time to add some mechanics to the fragments that I just created. These can be anything that match your mission statement. I’m going to use mechanics from Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition in my example.

  • Runaway Train = The train is moving so quickly that to walk along the top of it, you need either a Strength or Dexterity check to move full speed, if not you move at half speed.
  • Broken Bridge = In 2d6 + 2 rounds, the train is headed for a broken bridge. And that’s not good.
  • Dusty Desert = Each round, roll 1d4. On a 4, a hard wind blows, doing 1d4 damage to everyone who doesn’t make a Con save (DC 12).

Now add some monsters to that, and the fact that the players need to get to the engine car to save their friend before the train careens off of a broken bridge, and you’ve got yourself a super fun encounter!

5 – Difficulty + System Tuning

The above section uses examples of mechanics, but this method is largely agnostic. You can easily tweak the fragments to include challenges and elements from your favorite RPG rules system.

That’s it! That’s how you use an encounter mission statement to make concentrated, focused encounters that are interesting and destroy writer’s block. Let us know what you think of this article below, and please share any example encounters you create using this method.

This article is part of the magnificent and prolific Blog Carnival, and the topic for this month is Encounters. This month other fantastic bloggers will be exploring things like inventive ways to come up with encounters, different ways to run encounters in play, and even explore using encounter concepts across multiple systems to surprise players and breathe new life into your game.

See links to their articles below in the comments as they write them.


Ability Scores: Beyond Tomatoes

Miles Kington was a British journalist and upright bass player who invented a fictional language (Franglais; a mash-up of French and English). He also has a really memorable quote that reminds me of Dungeons & Dragons. The quote goes like this: “Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.” So let’s talk about tomatoes and your ability scores.

Firstly, by now we’ve seen the 4chan image all over the internet– but this takes things a bit further (you know, for fun).

If I could misquote Miles on purpose (which he would not have appreciated, being a journalist) I would change his quote to read “Intelligence is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in fruit salad.” Now I’ve got two out of my six ability scores. So let’s go ahead, take a leap, and finish out the other four with some quotes of our own, in an effort to understand what the different ability scores represent in Dungeons & Dragons. We’ll even do some variations on Miles’s quote as a creative exercise.

“Strength is how hard you can throw a tomato; Athletics is being able to throw that tomato squarely over the plate into the strike zone.”

“Constitution is how many tomatoes you can be pelted with; Fortitude is not getting sick if a rotten one gets in your mouth.”

“Dexterity is how well you can dodge a tomato that was thrown at you; Sleight of Hand is being able to catch that same tomato mid-air without it breaking.”

“Intelligence is knowing that a tomato is a fruit; Investigation is finding out who at the FDA decided to classify it as a vegetable. History is knowing when that happened.”

“Wisdom is knowing not to use tomato in a fruit salad, perception is noticing that someone is mistakenly putting tomatoes into a fruit salad from across the room.”

“Charisma is convincing someone that fruit salad made with tomatoes is delicious; Performance is doing an Infomercial about it.”

Hope you enjoyed that.

Until next time, may your dice roll true.