This article was actually originally about how to create a D&D encounter from a different angle, and it still is, but it also became a life saver i our latest campaign game as 2 out of 5 players had to cancel the very last minute.
The thing is, we are in the endgame of our 2 year long campaign so I don’t want the players to miss out, which is why I hastily made a spin-off chapter for those players who could make it. While this doesn’t affect the main story line, it does progress the characters in this world.
Anyway… let’s start from the very beginning.. it was a dark and stormfilled night…
A different way to make a D&D encounter
The magnet on some of my magnetized miniatures had fallen off so I took them out to glue the magnets back on and realised that it was a funny randomly assembled gang of miniatures and was wondering: Could I make an encounter with just the minis on the table?
So I set out to do just that. Fun exercise and good result I think. Here is what I did.
Step 1: Sorting the minis
First I needed to really understand what I had to work with so I grouped the minis.
The undead group
It was clear there was a group of undead, but what wasn’t clear was who would be the leader. Would it be the Pirate Captain? Should it be the armoured Skeleton with the huge spear? Or the Wight? In fact… should the Wight be part of this group?
In the end I settled for the Wight being the leader and the Skeletons, no matter their previous career, would just be that: Skeletons!
The Big Boys Club
Second group was also fairly obvious: All the big monsters. I called these the Big Boys Club.
I had one lone goblin and in the end I decided to put him in the Big Boys Club as the runt of the litter.
PCs and NPCs
PCs and NPCs was next. I recon the game will be for 2-4 players so this would give them a bit of choice.
Note, in the end I replaced the PCs with the actual characters from our campaign, but for a oneshot, I would use these.
The odd ones
Finally, I had a group with characters that didn’t immediately fit in anywhere: A wererat, a floating elf and a Flesh Golem.
Step 2: Capturing early story elements and ideas
Next I used Mind Mapping by writing up the groups and filling out thoughts around each group. Honestly, I wasn’t considering writing this post at the time so the notes look a bit messy, but I thought I’d share it anyway.
3: Bringing some structure
I liked the notion of a “Big Boys Club”. Somehow it quickly sent my mind in the direction of pro wrestling and this already gave me a good scene and guard rails into which I could pour the story.
The undead I felt I could fit it wherever. Maybe they protected something in the “Club” or maybe they would be summoned somehow, so I decided to look at the odd ones:
- The Wererat seemed like a great fit for the role as the owner of such a wrestling establishment.
- The Flesh Golem … well its a construct, so maybe it was a sparing tool for the fighters… or a prop for a fight.
- The Goblin became the chef and the Boy became a kitchen goffer.
- The Floating Elf was a problem. How do elves fit into this world? And THAT question became the story!
The party has accepted to help Alzona, the Winter Eladrin (the floating elf) recover the heart of her dead brother Immeral.
Immeral wanted to prove his fighting skills so he left the Feywild and found a professional cage fighting venue called “The Big Boys Club” and threw down a challenge. Unfortunately the fight went badly wrong and he was killed. To add insult to injury, the Club kept his heart and now he cannot find rest.
Immeral indeed did join the fight. However, since the Club only accepts big fighters, he drank a magical potion that made him look like a Troll, a significantly more powerful foe than he ever was.
The local champion, The Minotaur Ferdinand Gorejoy, was goaded into taking the fight knowing a Troll was a foe too powerful for him.
But to everybody’s surprise and joy (Including Ferdinand himself), he killed the Troll.
The owner of the Club, Mr Ratler Silvertail, an old Wererat, knew the only way to prevent the Troll from regenerating was to take its heart and put it in a magical sphere filled with clear dwarven spirits.
Shortly after a floating but otherwise inactive spirit appeared in the basement. While the residents of the Club don’t know what it is, it is indeed the trapped spirit of Immeral, who needs to reconnect with his heart to leave the material plane, but with the heart held in suspense, it cannot sense it.
- The party visits the Big Boys Club as visitors to gather intel.
- The building consists of 4 floors:
- Attic: Ratler’s office. Immeral’s heart is kept here.
- 1st Floor: Sleeping quarters and diner.
- Ground floor: Locker room and the fight arena.
- Basement: The Minotaur’s residence. He need a labyrinth-esque area to meditate. The incorporal form of Immeral is found here. Dormant as it can’t sense where its heart is.
- The fight they witness is between the Orc Ogg Toecrusher and the Golem From Hell! Ogg is killed in the fight.
Truth is it is all staged and shortly after the fight Ogg will be sitting in the private area on first floor complaining that the Flesh Golem went out of control again and it scratched him.
- After a short break, second cage fight between Ogg’s brother Nogg and the Golem commences. Golem is defeated.
- Having collected intel, the party will have to formulate a plan for getting the heart.
- Rest of the encounter depends on the plan of the party.
Notes and events
- The Diner is managed by Snotgrub The Chef, an aggressive and fearless goblin who do NOT accept criticism. The only person Snotgrub is nice to is Fingan the boy helping out in the diner (Fingan dreams of becoming a cage fighter himself). Snotgrub is very susceptible to flattering regarding his food.
- As soon as Immeral’s heart is removed from the sphere, the Ghost comes to life and will fight its way up to the heart, raising skeletons as he go through each floor.
- The Ghost is invincible. It can only be killed by stabbing the heart 3 times or by giving him the heart. Alzona will show up during the final showdown with the Ghost and try to convince the party to give the heart to Immeral. The residents of the Club will argue that doing so will awaken the Troll. She will attack if players opt to stab the heart.
- Attacking a person holding the heart cause a DC15 DEX check to hold on to the heart. Otherwise it falls 10 feet in random direction. Pick up is a DC10 DEX check as it is slippery. All rolls disadvatage if within 5 feet of an opponent.
- During the cage fights there will be opportunities for party to talk to other spectators. One could be a regular, maybe a bloodthirsty gnome who will proudly talk about how he was there where the Minotaur killed the Troll in a graphical manner. Other NPC conversation could be like “an elf heart? No, but they say Mr Ratler keeps the heart of Troll in his office upstairs”.
Given I had to put the rooms together literally 1 hour before the players showed up, I basically laid out the rooms on our bed to get a sense of how the encounters would play out.
Ground floor: The Cage + Locker room
- In Fight Cage, buzsaws will come through the floor. Big Guys will have advantage to avoid.
- In Fight Cage, Big Guys can slam characters within 5ft of cage bars.
1st floor: Diner and living quarters
- In Diner, Big Boys can throw furniture.
- In Diner, Big Boys can grab the boy as hostage threatening party that they will kill the not if they don’t leave (it’s an act. Boy is playing along).
Attick: Ratler’s office.
- Immeral’s heart is protected by a nearby mimic.
Basement: Minotaur “lair”
- 5 room mini-labyrinth for the Minotaur to chase the players around. See photo below.
How it all played out
- Party got enlisted as planned.
- Party went to see the fight.
- While the other heroes talked to the audience, the Rogue turned invisible during intermission and investigated the back and the 1st floor.
- Party returned early next morning.
- Fought the Ogre in the Cage. Ogre cried for help before dying.
- The party prepared an ambush for the approaching response to the Ogre’s cry, by casting Spike Growth in front of the door.
- The Orc being a Red Fang of Shargaas, was surprised by the prickly ambush but cast Veil of Shargaas to engulf the party in magical darkness. But the part countered this with a magical item they had collected in the Feywild back in Chapter 2.
- The party went downstairs to investigate and after a brief, but bloody encounter with the Minotaur, they decided a different approach so The Rogue then Disguised herself as the Wererat owner and tricked the Minotaur to explain what he knew of the lingering ghost.
- The party ascended to the 1st floor Diner and here tricked their way up to the Wererat’s office.
- But the Wererat woke up and all hell broke loose. Wererat was knocked unconscious by the Sorcerer, but the roof caught fire in the process. With all the noise, the people in the Diner now got suspecious and broke up into the Attic, but the party was fast to hide the unconsious Wererat and tricked them once again and locked them upstairs.
- Down in the Diner, the Ghost came and almost possessed the Ranger holding the heart.
- Both the Eladrin and the Minotaur then appeared. One asking the party to give the heart to the Ghost, the other warning against it fearing the Troll would appear.
- In the end the heart was given to the Ghost, the fire was put out and everybody sat down for a mug of Barleytown Ale and discuss what happened.