One of the things that I have enjoyed as a DM is occasionally spicing up encounters that would otherwise be rather boring. After all, it's likely that your players have probably fought a hundred orcs or kobolds or whatever else you are throwing at them. In this series of articles, I will discuss relatively simple ways to make encounters a little more interesting without a lot of overhead for the DM.
One of the easiest ways to do this is through the use of alchemy. Simple potions, poultices, and powders can go a long ways towards making your monsters a little more unexpected.
Consider the following encounter for a party:
- 5 orc reavers
This is a pretty dull encounter in and of itself, but even a simple one like this can be spiced up by giving the orcs a couple of Alchemist's Fire, a couple of Tanglefoot Bags, and a Blinding Bomb. Suddenly, the orcs have some unanticipated dynamics that will keep your players on their toes.
However, it does not need to be nearly so obvious.
Consider the following encounter for a relatively low level party:
- 1 bullywug mudlord
- 1 bullywug guard
- 4 bullywug croakers
- 2 bullywug twitchers
- 1 giant frog (he's a pet!)
now, that's fairly dynamic. There is at least 1 standard monster of each role (all 4 croakers together make up a single brute, theoretically). But if your party is running through the swamp on your way to the hidden shrine, they have probably fought several such raiding parties. Let's add in a small bit of nuance into the croakers to make things more interesting.
Croaker Spit Encounter
Attack: Ranged 10 (one creature); +5 vs. Reflex
Hit: The target is immobilized until the end of the bullywug's next turn, at which point the target is then slowed until the end of its next turn.
Add this onto the croakers as a power and the croakers no longer look like they are using alchemy at all. The players may scramble and search the compendium for bullywugs that have this ability. Behind the curtains, however, Croaker Spit is just a reflavored Tanglefoot Bag, and a more natural looking one at that.
One of these on a monster can be thought of as a light theme or a template. Indeed, a small modification to a monster like this probably doesn't warrant any increase in experience points. Thus, it is an easy add to your game.
You can use this effect in a great many ways. Minions that explode on death, for example, is always a fun one, or mutants with strange new powers after being exposed to the shards of raw crystalized Chaos. Monsters supplied by an arch nemesis could become quite proficient and provide a whole side quest to stem the tide of supplies to the forces the characters face.
Be careful with how often you use certain effects, however. Certain ones, like the exploding minions, can be fairly annoying to the players, and can ruin the group's fun. As a guideline, I try to not have anymore than one in three be of this variety, or no more than one in three encounters. If you want to do this more, some research (a fine opportunity for a skill challenge) might show the characters the way.