Guest blog by Juce from the Master The Game YouTube Channel.
Everyone prepares for a game of Dungeons & Dragons differently. A lot of people I have talked to over the years don’t prep their random encounters. They roll them in the moment and wing it. To me this usually results in a meaningless encounter that just slows the game down. I'd suggest preparing a few random encounters before your game session so you can add something of interest and make the encounter better. Let's discuss a few ways you to prepare memorable random encounters.
Use Random Tables, Rory’s Story Cubes, and the Story Engine Deck
I almost always use aids such as random tables, picture dice, or even the Story Engine Deck to inspire something in my games. When it comes to random encounters I will look at where the players are and the most clear directions they might go within the game. Maybe they are in a city so I will have a random city encounter planned. They might be near a forest so I may prep something to happen there. South of the city might be a mountain that I will also prep a random encounter for. Then depending on what the players do I will roll in the moment to see if that encounter is triggered. This goes along with the other prep I do for the main plot.
Plan The Scene
For every random encounter I plan, I do the same thing that I would do for my dungeons. I describe the environment, thinking of sights, sounds, smells, without overexplaining them. Things to consider would be: weather, temperature, and what's happening while the player characters are there. I try to leave room for the characters to play within the scene with roleplay and creative thinking.
Plan the Monsters/Traps/Obstacle
Once the scene is complete, I put different things within that scene like a monster, trap, or puzzle. I try to consider if it might change the scene a little. Maybe the monster smells bad or the trap has left evidence of previous casualties.
I add to the scene accordingly while planning how these could impact the scene. This is usually the easiest part of the random encounter planning.
Make The Encounter Interesting
It isn’t very interesting if your encounters are just a description that has no bearing on the encounter itself, followed by a monster, trap, or barrier of some sort. To spice it up, add a main story quest clue or get creative with the environment. Add swinging vines for the players to use to their advantage, or maybe have the enemies use them. Put in some rough terrain like mud, which can create a slippery mess for your melee characters. This will make the encounter memorable and it could even be the highlight of your players' night.
Go Forth and Prep
Prepping random encounters makes games better in my opinion. You can use these same ideas for your standard encounters and boss fights too. Use them for practically any scene in your games. These can and will make your games better. Just make sure you don’t use the same tricks over and over again. You can only have so many muddy encounters before the players get sick and tired of it.
Juce runs the Master The Game YouTube Channel. He has been making Dungeons & Dragons content since 2012 and streams a variety of game systems every week. Visit his website at http://www.rpgjuce.com/ and it would mean a lot if you would subscribe to his YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/c/masterthegamerpg.