Writing for Tabletop: How to Create Setting, Tension, and Collaboration With Fellow Storytellers Par
Your adventure party goes deep into a forbidden forest...the cleric tries to use a nature check, the mage uses detect magic, and the barbarian rushes in at full speed, because well...they’re a barbarian. All of the sudden, the group is now face-to-face with a terrifying monster, and they must battle with…two goats, and a were-sheep? Well...that’s rather anti-climatic, wouldn’t you agree? Seems this encounter was poorly thought-out, and frankly...dumb.
Encounters are the make-or-break of a campaign. The monster manuals, along with most lore will help any newcomer to Tabletop role-playing to fins the right enemy for the right circumstance. Personally forests always scream phase spider to me, but you could also see a couple of dire bears as well. The idea of encounters is to give both the GM a break from role-playing, and a bit more control over the course of the story, and the player characters a break as well to get some fighting in, and not have to figure just where they should turn next. Fighting in a game is typically done via initiative, nad then the attacks are described by the GM, and oftentimes killing blows are given to the player character to describe. Still, there is a bit of story to be told in these quarrels, even if they are indeed slightly more improvised than even the random NPC encounters. These will be coming up rather shortly in the final post, but for now let’s talk about setting up the right encounter.
To get a good idea of just how it’s done, encounters are redesigned with the thought in-mind of actually attempting to challenge the players in the game. Too easy, and it’ll feel like they didn’t earn it, too hard, and the party will eat through all their abilities to regain footing, thus the phones come out, and the interest tapers off until the next popular meme. Still, it’s the backbone of the game, and gives everyone a chance to test out all those skills, all those abilities that they had found throughout the game. It is the end-all-be-all of the game that advances the plot further, and gies a major turning-point in the story. Not all fights have this guarantee, but something is learned via the encounter scenario.
Developing enemies for the player characters is like reenacting some of the most famous fight scenes throughout the media. Especially some of the campier sixties and seventies fantasy films. Writing the scene, and picturing it playing out helps to really control the flow, and to make sure the battle lasts an appropriate time, builds story and tension, and most-importantly, is unique to that moment. So use villains that make sense, perhaps a band of thieves that have been stalking the player characters, or a monster in the deepest realms of the world to which you've built, incapable of being vanquished by normal means. Do something fascinating with this moment, for this is where your player characters are truly going to be all-in on your story, and suspend disbelief for that few moments between story and game.
So since there is so much improvisation during a fight in most tabletop games, how does one write-out a scenario? Typically you don’t write it out, but instead map out a scenario. Perhaps write out some enemy dialogue, but there is more action narration at this point than any in the game. The purpose of this post is to establish a proper, intelligent encounter, that helps the gut of your campaign. Here are several suggestions to help anyone writing a campaign to succeed at a proper encounter.
1.Write-in villains that are familiar to your world and the plot. You don’t have to be fancy, a few warriors,, a handful of bandits, or even one massive giant can impress yourtable, but make sure that whatever you throw at your player characters, it’s something that will be unique to, and directly linked to your world.
2. Never throw something at your party they cannot handle. It Is typically a bad sport to make the party die within an encounter. Sometimes it is good for people to attempt something a bit more challenging, but if you’re throwing a Tarrasque at level one players, then you aren’t there for the plot, you’re there for a massacre...although that could be a very shady plot point.
3. Get into character! Yes! It’s not very fun to act out a ferocious dog, or snarl like a tiger, but by making the monster seem real to the players, you are, in-a-way; writing the character’s personality, and the monster is indeed becoming a character with depth.
4. Make a grand entrance with your encounters. Let the players fear turning every corner of a dungeon, let them fear what could be behind the trees. Make them question if that chest is indeed full of treasure, and not a monster waiting for a snack. Encounters are the GM’s time to shine, so it really is their best-bet at getting the characters developed. Other than interacting as Non-player characters, there is really no other time where the GM of the game gets to really do as much character development than in encounters.
5. Finally, always make sure that you allow the player characters some further interaction. It’s always good to give them the describing deathblow, or perhaps allow them to interact with the villains verbally as well. Itisn’t always about the GM controlling the entire scene, as whatever works best, should always be rule two, as rule one is the GM is always in control.
In the next post we will discuss developing non-player characters, and how best to connect them to your player character’s backstories. Until then, I’ll end this post by concluding that although there is a great deal of structure and strategic planning involved in setting up encounters, and battling the player characters in a tabletop game, it must be stated that the more work a GM puts into preparing for the game, the more fun it will be overall for everyone. So make sure to plan ahead, always know where your session will start, and where it will end, and this will always assure that people will be looking forward to returning to your world.