Run your game like D&D Encounters

by Mike Shea on 2 August 2010

Wizards of the Coast has been supporting a new style of play they call D&D Encounters. Players get together at their friendly local game shop each Wednesday and run through a single big encounter. Characters are either provided or players can bring their own.

This is an interesting way to play. Most of the time our D&D games have three to five battles depending on how long our game runs. On week nights, at a higher tier of play, getting three battles in within three to four hours can be quite a challenge.

So how can you run a home game that plays more like D&D encounters? Let's take a look.

A single battle per night

Instead of running multiple battles per night, focus your game around a single big battle. Sometimes this battle might be a double-length encounter with far more monsters than a standard encounter would allow. Be sure not to overwhelm the PCs, however. Give them a chance for a short rest in between waves or some alternate ways to heal.

By focusing on a single battle, you have a lot more freedom to make it a big and epic battle. This is a battle with real meaning, not just filler. It should have all of the effects you'd expect in a big battle: terrain powers, environmental effects, hazards and traps, fantastic terrain, and terrain your players will enjoy exploiting. The play areas should usually be large, with multiple platforms and lots of intricate details.

You'd want to avoid a single solo creature for a battle like this. Instead, give your players a wave of normal monsters and maybe a few score of minions to cut through before they face the big bad guy.

Running only a single battle a night gives you a lot of room to make it the epic battle we love to run and our players love to carve into.

Replace skirmishes with skill challenges

Instead of small skirmishes, use skill challenges to get through areas that would normally result in battles. Dealing with a roving band of ghouls doesn't have to be a battle. Instead, PCs can use their wits to avoid, reroute, negotiate, or endure their way through.

Increase experience gain

Since the PCs will fight in fewer battles, you'll likely want to increase level gain. Characters should level up every two to three games even if they're only completing one battle a night. Consider doubling experience gain or basing levels on quest rewards or simply setting a specific time when characters level.

Time is tight? Roleplay and run skill challenges in email

If you're game is really tight on time, you can even run your background stories, roleplaying scenes, and skill challenges in email instead of at your table. This can keep your players engaged throughout the week instead of only on the evening they come over. It can also help you keep your game focused on the battle when your players show up at the table.

Generate some random encounter effect

The wizards_dnd twitter account posts encounter effects throughout Wednesday. There's no reason you can't have a list like this yourself. Build a list of effects that make sense for your encounter into a random table. If you have ten such effects, use a 1d20 to decide whether there is an effect at all and, if so, which one is in effect. A 1-10 would be no effect. 11-20 would trigger a certain effect. If you want to get mean, sprinkle in some effects that aredetrimentalto the party.

There's no reason this game format can't work well for you. If you run an evening game or only have a couple of hours to play, this style may work perfectly. A game based on a single encounter can give you a lot of creative freedom to build a single awesome battle instead of spreading your creative energy over a bunch of different fights.

Give it a try!

If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy the Lazy Dungeon Master. You can also support this site by using these links to purchase the D&D Starter Set, Players Handbook, Monster Manual, or Dungeon Master's Guide. Send feedback to @slyflourish on Twitter or email mike@mikeshea.net.