Alternative Encounters/Events

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4E presents 2 common scenarios for players to act in: Encounters and Skill Challenges. I'm curious if there are any well known or structured alternatives? I'm thinking along the lines of puzzles or games? I'm picking up Three Dragon Ante in a couple days, but I was also thinking that a dice game might not be out of place either if the players find a house of wagering. I'm also considering some sort of game of strategy, though I'd have to look up something with fairly simple rules online. I don't really know what I would do in terms of puzzles except to find some word puzzle online and convert it into something for 4 heroes to interact with.

Also, when I'm attempting this, is there anything I should be aware of or try to avoid? I know that puzzles can sometimes backfire if the players can't solve them, but what about games of chance or other things?
Roleplaying counts. If it furthers the story, I tend to reward XP equal to a standard encounter of the PCs level. The roleplay doesn't need to be oscar worthy, but it has to actually move the story in some direction or another.

Speaking of dice games, Dragon just came up with some dice games in the current issue. You could use those in some situations as not only a story aid, but also an alternative to combat encounters or skill challenges.

Riddles are a good puzzle alternative. They're simple to use, and fun to roleplay with. Especially if you use a Sphinx in conjunction.

One of my old DMs once did something similar to chicken fights or dog fights using monsters, letting us roll for their actions, and tied the scenario in with uncovering a criminal organization. Little ideas like that tend to blow players minds when they get involved in those subtle aspects of story directly.

Hope this helps stir ideas. Happy Gaming
I took a look at those dice games. They look like exactly like what I was looking for in other games of chance. I kind of want a strategy game too, so maybe I can find the rules for this old board game I once played called Elemental which was very strategic and a lot of fun.
4E presents 2 common scenarios for players to act in: Encounters and Skill Challenges. I'm curious if there are any well known or structured alternatives?

There's a third which never seems to be considered and that's Skill Challenges combined with Combat.

That's not really the sort of thing you're after, but I wanted to mention it anyway.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

So I picked up the emperor's gambit version of three dragon ante which we'll definitely play. I just need to decide how to make the stakes fun and still challenging. I'm thinking that it'd essentially be that they'd have to beat an NPC at the game in order to win some sort of information or item. The question is how do I make it balanced so that I (as the NPC) have at least a fair shot at winning against 4 PCs. I'm thinking that I might give the NPC 3 of the skill abilities from the back of the book so that he's better at the game and maybe a bit more money to start with. Does anyone have experience with using three dragon ante in campaigns that might have some tips on that?
Its not tough - just Mix and Match, and focus on RP.

I'm not fond of Skill Challenges, but having well-placed traps and trying to get past a locked door while you are being cornered against it is good drama too. Fighting against / on Ramparts / Battlements are also great chance for RP, including heroics like leaping off the Castle Walls to engage the enemy (kudos to my DM)

Outside of Skill Challenges, I have open-ended intrigues, where you know the Elder is lying but you can't do anything directly to him. This encourages players to think of ways to get information from him, each of which can be a small Encounter, or a series of Skill checks as a challenge of sorts. I only use Puzzles as part of these Skill Challenges, they are optional but make things harder (or simply incomplete) if not done. Some such Puzzles are simply a matter of observation, such as stacked crates outside a Warehouse that can be to help climb onto the Roof.

My favourite though are still RP-based Combat Encounters with some room for Skill Challenges (but not compulsory). Here's two I've used recently

A) Slavers, Hostages in Warehouse
The Players were outside a 30' high warehouse and they knew the enemy was inside, likely slavers.
Two of them (incidentally with low STR) decided to go around the warehouse and block off the backdoor.
They managed to push 1 crate over to the door, when the Radar spotted someone looking down at them from the window.
He and another party member then proceeded to try and lift up another crate to completely block the backdoor.
For that, while they were hands-full (and granting CA) and struggling to lift the crate, they took their skill checks to raise it, then the enemy from the window sniped at one of them (rolled a die to decide who to target).
The Bolt hit one of them, and I had him make a Saving Throw to see if he'd drop the crate on both of them. Fortunately he made his save, and they managed to block off the door before hurrying off.

Unknown to them, there is also another Roof Entrance I included that allowed them to get the drop on the badguys, even though the Enemies already knew the Heroes were outside. Inspiration : Counterstrike - Factory map.

Anyway, so they went in the front door - suspiciously left unlocked - and found the 2 level warehouse, bottom was well lit while 10' high top was dim light. Both floors had plenty of crates blocking LoS. On the ground floor was a bound and gagged hostage tied to a chair with a large (2x2) crate suspended over his head! (passive perception guy saw the crate).

First round was suspense building, then as the hidden crossbow men moved out to attack with CA, the Half-Orc "Boss" yelled out for them to surrender or he would drop the crate on the hostage, same time he kicked out 2 more prone, bound (hands and feet both), gagged hostages which were on the higher platform, closer to the edge. Basically, threatening to push them to a 10' drop (I had planned to make them take a saving throw on falling or be killed immediately).

Heroes ignored the instructions to surrender, and wisely ignored the Ladder and Rope up - basically traps for the bad guys to use - and went by the stairs, but they were easily blocked off. (they forgot they could use Athletics to climb the 10' up...)
The Half-Orc kicked one hostage down, but the Wizard foiled him with Feather Fall. He then chopped a rope causing the crate to smash on top of the captive in the chair, the man was crushed, severely injured but managed to survive. He then went to engage the enemy, figuring his kicking the 3rd hostage down wouldn't work.
The fallen crate also served as a 5' high square to facilitate movement off the top platform to the ground floor.

As the battle joins, the *real* boss (Halfling Rogue Elite) appears and starts shooting at the Heroes. The Heroes win, but the Halfling escapes (fairly, I might add) and the hostage that is crushed under the crate bleeds to a slow, agonising death (I gave him 3 death saving throws...). The authorities arrive after their Short Rest, interrupting their interrogation after they had got some important information, but fortunately the baddies had not managed to kill off the other 2 Hostages yet. The other 2 talk to the authorities who eventually thank the Heroes for their work.

Unknown to them, the Heroes miss a chance to get +1 Rep by saving all 3 Hostages without deaths. They also miss a chance to obtain the Enemy's boat by freeing one of the small halfling crossbow men to bring them to the boat, as was offered to them but they refused.
The Authorities offer them passage to the next place, but they have loose ends to tie up, including investigating the suspicious Village Elder... so who knows if they will get it done before sailing? If not, then they 'll have to pay for passage. Meantime their reward is elsewhere as well (about 1 day's round-trip at a nearby Garrison), so by losing the chance to find the Slaver's handy craft, they have to pay for passage later.

There is also a backstory regards the Halfling, who was far and away the most dangerous enemy in the Encounter. Hopefully the Heroes will remember him *crossed DM's fingers*

B) Orc Attack on Village

A shipful of Orcs (really large number, but the Heroes only know its a shipful) attacking a Village from an unknown direction. The Orcs usuallly come at night to gain benefit of Dim Light, and uses Fire in their attacks. And the 4 Heroes have a (dispirited) officer and some militia on hand to help out.
- The Heroes can put the Militia in front or with them as support, or ask them to hold back ;
- They can inform the Villagers, risk a panic and a big mess.
- They can get the Villagers to orderly get out of the village before the Orcs come and kill everyone.
- They can let the Orcs hit the village and start burning houses killing civilians, and take the terrain to break up the Orcs and take them out piecemeal at the cost of human lives
- They can try to meet the Orcs on open ground, keep the rest behind out of harm's way. But they'll be in the open and free to be surrounded

The Heroes decided to be Heroic and try to stop the Orcs, come what may.
One of them boosted the morale of the Officer, and befriended the cynical man. They also recommended to him that he keep his men out of the fight as they are not combat veterans and newly trained.
Another one of the Heroes, figuring that Orcs were using Fire, deciding to organise a Fire-Safety Talk. They gathered (some of) the Villagers and Militia in the Inn at night, and did the talk. They were not able to keep them there until the Orcs came - so they'd be less worried about civilian casualties - but it would help later.
Meantime, the Officer recommended putting look outs on 4 corners of the village to spot for orcs coming. The Heroes agreed, but one of the Heroes climbed to the top of the two storey inn and sat on the roof looking out.

The Lookouts would report about 1 am that orcs were coming, and I had planned since he'd need time to rush back to the Inn, and the Heroes would set out from there with delay, the Heroes and Orcs would arrive at opposite ends of the battlemap. However, since 1 Hero was on the roof, he would spot the Orcs first. ( BTW, he did not ask for an estimated number) For that, I let them position themselves first... which they did by putting themselves in harm's way.

The fight was brutal, featuring about 20 over orcs, led by a Bloodrager, an Eye of Gruumsh that gives them a free MBA when they go down (Come and Get It works well on Minions, yes... 8 down, 8 MBAs... Defender down!) and including 5 Grenadiers mixed in with the higher levels Orcs. Half of the party was down at one time, and rapidly using up their 4 heals (they had 2 Leaders out of 4 Party members), but only 1 out of 5 village homes burnt down, thanks both to the Heroes' positioning and to the effort of the fire-safety trained Militia who stayed in safety and put out fires. The now-motivated Officer also provided some crucial frontline support as well when both Defender and Striker were down. All told, the Heroes got through remarkably well, but the fight was very close. For their Heroic Efforts, they gained great Reputation.

In general, I try to keep at least 1 out of 2-3 Encounters with a meaningful Encounter or at least with RP built-in (and even more such Encounters with an RP heavy group, like the group that played the Orc Attack on Village).

The point is not about challenges in form of Skill Challenge or Combat Encounter. After all, if a Skill Challenge or Encounter serves nothing but to provide combat, then its better to reconsider its purpose. But the "beauty" of D&D comes in the additional details : *if* it advances the story, then put yourself in place of the Villains - what would you do ? How to be more... exciting? Or even realistic?

And if its just an encounter like Bandits - how to inject personality, flavor? Is there any other ending apart from mere body count? If the DM has the Setting at his fingertips (and that's why I love Sandboxes), figuring out the Motivation, and hence Reaction for the enemies is easy and natural.

Here's a question I think every DM should ask themselves before running an Encounter, or even while in it - how is this going to be Different from a Computer Game?

I am Blue/White

Does anyone have experience with using three dragon ante in campaigns that might have some tips on that?

Yes. Don't waste time at the gaming session playing it unless it's board game/card game night.

Two reasons why:

1. It will take longer than you think.

2. It will not have the impact you think.

So, skip it. I have both Three Dragon Ante decks and my friends and I will play it just like any other game. But we certainly aren't interrupting our D&D with it.

For any decision or adjudication, ask yourself, "Is this going to be fun for everyone?" and "Is this going to lead to the creation of an exciting, memorable story?"

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At higher levels adventurers are usually somewhat of leaders (not always) and have somewhat of a retuine of followers/cohorts/underlings/adoring fans/ etc.

This opens up political/leadership/court adience/scheming encounters (but only run those if your players want that sort of encounters)

Here is a list of categories of "court encounters" I use:

Input from outside of the court: (some messenger or some other form of information reaches the group. Do you react to the information by ordering somebody to do something? Do you react to it by doing something yourself? Or do you ignore the new information. Any of the given information could be false.)
- Somebody wants to marry (or wants to marry a son or daughter of them) to your son or daughter.
- Somebody brings information about the movements of/in a different court against this court.
- Somebody brings information about the movements of/in a different court against some third party.
- One of your underlings has had a fight with one of the underlings of your ally. Your ally wishes for your harsh judgement.
- An ally pleads for resources to solve a problem that doesn't effect this court. Granting the resources will increase the relationship.
- Somebody wishes to trade resources.
- Somebody brings information about a direct problem. (Most of the time this is an attack)
- Somebody proposus an alliance with the court to solve a problem together in a certain way.
- Somebody proposus peace terms (if at war).

Input from inside of the court: (This is information comming at you from inside the "group", maybe even from inside the party. How do you react to this information? Any of the given information could be false.)
- A superiour wishes to promote/demote you.
- Somebody brings information about the movements within this court.
- Somebody brings information about the movement of one of your underlings.
- Two (or more) of your underlings have a fight/argue about something and wish your judgement.
- An underling pleads for resources to solve a problem that effects this court.
- Somebody you might want for some different task asks your leave to solve a problem or perform one of your decrees.
- Somebody in the court dies and the role/title needs to be replaced by somebody.
- Somebody else in the court proposus an alliance with you to solve a problem together in a certain way.
- Somebody tells you their is a change in income or expenses of the court.
- Somebody tells you of a chance in might, influence, treasure, morale, territory or any other factor.

Imidiate reactions to actions: (After you have reacted to one of the above by giving an order. Somebody reacts to that order. Remember that nobody is perfectly loyal.)
- Somebody tells you that they are not pleased with one of your actions. This is probably accompanied by pleads or threats to change your judgement. Or it could simply be advice on how to do things differently in the future.
- Somebody refuses an order and proposes a different solution to the problem.
- Somebody refuses an order because they have orders from somebody else to the contrairy.
- Somebody refuses an order because they don't want to perform the deed.

Reactions to actions from the past: (After you have reacted to one of the above by giving an order. Somebody reacts to that order later on. Remember that nobody is perfectly loyal and reports about successes or failure could be lies.)
- Somebody tells you that they are not pleased with one of your actions. This is probably accompanied by pleads or threats to change your judgement. Or it could simply be advice on how to do things differently in the future.
- Somebody repports a (partially)succesfully exicuted order.
- Somebody repports a failed order.
- Somebody refuses an order because they don't want to perform the deed.

I have destilled these encounters from reading "A song of Ice and fire". (WARNING. SPOILERS.) Especially the chapters of Ned stark in the first book, Tyrion in the second book and Chersei in the fourth book are filled with these small encounters "Vyars comes up to you and tells you X, hyow do you react?" that require quick answers and snap decisions.

I like running allot of these encounters and always have a list ready to fire on the players at dull moments in between adventures. These encounters work especially well after the players have recieved a lordship or titles and lands as an alternative reward for an adventuring job well done.

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