On reflection, it’s amazing how the encounter slowly and surely (sort of) took shape over Week 1, Week 2, Week 3 and Week 4 of the workshop, especially after read-throughs and feedback from others. I’m really stoked how it turn out, particularly as doing something like this is so new to me.
To wrap-up Week 3 of ‘Spring 2022 Write your First D&D Encounter Workshop’, today I spent time with other workshop participants playtesting their encounter and reading through mine. It was a great chance to get some feedback and develop a better understanding of how the encounter might be experienced when played.
Waking to find yourself trapped in a mysterious underground cavern, you and your comrades must overcome the perils of unknown inhabitants, unforgiving environment and incredible odds to survive the multi-level journey from down below to the safety of the surface up above.
About this encounter
This encounter is designed especially for people new to Dungeons & Dragons.
You are here – deep underground
The underground cavern is dank and dark, to the touch and underfoot. There’s an audible dripping sound. A thick mist swirls around you – it stings your eyes and makes breathing difficult. You attribute your sudden dizziness to the strange coloured mist. Visibility is low, real low. The cavern is eerily lit by a dim bioluminescent glow emitted by insects swarming nearby. Their glow illuminates a small entrance which gives way to makeshift stairs leading upwards.
Who you’re up against
The underground cavern is home to a variety of unique fauna and flora. Fortunately, some have been studied by the scholarly botanists and zoologists of your village. You recall the scholars instructing you to exercise extreme caution when in close proximity and to avoid sudden movement, loud noises and direct contact, at all costs. Less fortunate is the discovery of rival clan members who are also trapped elsewhere in the cavern – you can make out the sound of their muffled voices as they also plan their escape from the cavern. Sounds like trouble.
Small creatures with similar stats, traits and actions to a Giant Rat.
Humans with similar stats, traits and actions to a Commoner.
As you battle all manner of monsters and creatures deep underground, you may feel your energy start to ebb from you with each step until you feel you cannot continue. I ask you, no I beg you to hold on to hope and bravely push forever forwards to meet your objective. Sincerely, Rowan.
Objective: escape with your life!
To ensure your survival, you must escape from the strange toxic mist of the underground cavern, navigate the maze-like passageways through multiple-levels ascending to the surface. You may achieve this through:
Force: engage the rival clan in a brutal battle from level to level, and to eventual freedom. Be wary of creating commotion, kicking-up spores from the native flora or raising the ire of the fauna, which you may then need to battle – you will face fearsome enemies on all fronts!
Negotiation: try to extend the olive branch to the rival clan and establish a temporary truce as a matter of survival. Many hands make light work (in battle), so every blade against the local fauna helps. The distant promise of long-term truce between the two clans brings hope, so be sure to talk first and fight later.
Stealth: become one with the shadows and the ascending passageways, silently blending into the surfaces and surrounds while avoiding assailants from the rival clan and attacks from perilous native flora and fauna. Eventually, you may reach the surface safely. If negotiations with the rival clan are successful, good outcomes abound.
If you your comrades make it to the surface, you leave with your life and a detailed understanding of the underground cavern and its inhabitants.
Any fauna that followed you now recoils from the harsh sunlight and scrambles back to the darkness from which it came.
Any flora that became entangled now crumbles to dust and blows away like smoke in a gentle breeze, leaving a slight discolouration on your outer clothing.
Survivors from the rival clan emerge gingerly from the cavern entrance and head for the safety of their own village.
A very special thanks to Dan Schuster, Nick Sweeney, John Cardoso, thirdmunky, Abbs, Gwen C. Katz, Lex Gordon, Craig Arnold and the Lunchtime D&D crew™ for your feedback and thoughts on this encounter – thank you!
In theory and in practice it’s a good thing to do, but in the context of a relatively inexpensive online workshop where the stakes are low and there’s little incentive for a participant to engage in an optional activity aside from the goodness of their heart with the hope you reciprocate, your expectations are low when it comes to getting someone to playtest your encounter – it can be intense constantly schilling your encounter in the Discord channel.
That’s why the fallback of a read through works – it’s relatively quick and easy to do alone and within your own time, which means it’s more likely for your encounter to receive feedback. I’ve been fortunate to give and receive four read throughs, which is fantastic.
Throughout the week I’ve also been exploring layouts and tinkering with The Homebrewery to format my encounter and prepare it for publishing in Week 4. So far it looks a little like the following.
As noted on the #Stoco workshop website, playtesting is an optional step in the game design process in which you test your design for flaws before releasing it to the market (Arman, n.d.). As Arman (n.d.) also notes, the playtesting can be of great benefit and can help you to:
receive valuable feedback from real gamers
glean insights about your audience and how to anticipate their needs
mitigate negative criticism arising from unforeseen issues in your creations prior to release.
Arman suggested to really focus your playtest, making sure to identify the areas and specify what you’d like to find out and make it easy for playtesters to offer feedback e.g., provide an overview, goals and link to survey or similar to gather responses.
Part 3: Remix a common trope in my own encounter to make it more dynamic
The Death World trope could be remixed so that the cavern and underground environment is of benefit and somewhat helpful or even nourishing to the players – it’s light, colourful, and possibly pleasant to exist in. So much so, players may feel longing for the place when taking their leave and ascending to the surface.
Exploring my encounters through the lens of each pillar – how might the same encounter be experienced as combat, socially or exploratory?
(1) COMBAT Location: Mysterious underground cavern Goal: To defeat others from rival clan(s) who are also trapped and trying to escape the cavern. Obstacle: Battling unknown number and skill levels of rival clan members.
(2) COMBAT Location: Mysterious underground cavern Goal: To defeat an ailing race of indigenous creatures seeking to escape the cavern and take over surrounding area, and then the world. Obstacle: Battling the creatures in an unfamiliar and unforgiving environment.
(3) SOCIAL Location: Mysterious underground cavern Goal: To form a truce with others from rival clan(s) who are also trying to escape the cavern. Obstacle: Reaching a delicate balance between friend and foe in order to survive – frenemies!
(4) SOCIAL Location: Mysterious underground cavern Goal: To befriend and tend to an ailing race of indigenous creatures that that may know how to escape the cavern Obstacle: Communicating effectively with the creatures who have never seen your character race before, or anyone else for that matter.
(5) EXPLORATION Location: Mysterious underground cavern Goal: With great stealth, escape the cavern using one of the many potential routes while avoiding combat and contact with rival clan(s) or creatures. Obstacle: Being discovered by rival clan(s) and indigenous creatures.
(6) EXPLORATION Location: Mysterious underground cavern. Goal: Escape the cavern using the safest route and with the most detailed mapping and details of the underground area so you can return with reinforcements. Obstacle: Getting lost and limited time to create detailed maps and potential to be discovered by dangerous creatures and rival clan(s) also trapped underground.
As noted by M.T. Black on the Stoco workshop website, D&D encounters can be categorised using the “three pillars” of:
M.T. Black also highlights how the three pillars make an encounter unique and dynamic, and although it’s possible to apply all three pillars in one encounter, one is usually enough.
Because combat is crucial to character progression in D&D, the majority of the rules are related to combat-related activities. M.T. Black describes a combat encounter as an obstacle where a character must fight an antagonist. Black also notes that combat isn’t limited to killing an opponent or inflicting maximum damage while minimising your own. It also includes: rescuing a captive, preventing a ritual, acquiring or destroying an item, protecting an important NPC, getting to an exit, or even sealing off a portal.
According to M.T.Black, a social encounter involves the characters talking to or interacting with someone or something e.g., asking for information, convincing someone to carry-out an action, negotiating a deal, or even influencing a decision – success! As M.T. Black notes, in these cases, the obstacle is another person who is initially disinclined to grant the request.
Exploration is a broad type of encounter and as M.T. Black explains, can include activities such as searching for traps and secret doors, solving a riddle or puzzles, finding and following clues, mapping out an adventure area, searching for a lost city, learning about new weird and wonderful things or locations, overcoming hazards and obstacles, and even finding hidden treasure, and more. As long as the exploration involves the character interacting with an object, situation, or location and learning something previously unknown, notes M.T. Black.
Activity#2: Three new encounters, using the three-line format
SOCIAL Location: Mysterious underground cavern Goal: Work together as a group to find out how to escape from the mysterious underground cavern Obstacle: Bickering and in-fighting between conflicting personalities, which makes decision making a challenge and threatens to prevent your escape.
COMBAT Location: Mysterious underground cavern Goal: As a ramshackle group, defeat unseen creatures and evil forces as you make your escape from the underground cavern. Obstacle: Varying combat skills among the group and unseen creatures and evil forces
EXPLORATION Location: Mysterious underground cavern Goal: Explore all possible escape routes from the underground cavern. Obstacle: Overcoming booby traps, dead-ends and getting lost as you attempt to make your escape.
As outlined by M.T. Black in the Stoco workshop website, encounters are the lifeblood of Dungeons & Dragons, where any adventure or campaign could be considered as being made up from a series of related encounters.
M.T. Black defines an encounter as a single scene in the game where the players interact with a challenge.
All encounters are made up three basic elements:
location (where the encounter takes place)
goal (something the characters want to achieve or desire)
obstacle (the thing that’s preventing the characters from achieving the goal).