I planned out the encounter in the Town of Delland and the abandoned mine expecting it to be a brief side quest. Instead it turned into what I think its going to be 10 full episodes. Needless to say, I’m glad I mapped out the mine beforehand.
Before going anything further, I should point out that this map contains spoilers for Part 6, Part 7 and Part 8 of the Supplies and Delland arc. So if you are not caught up to episode 22 of the campaign, you have been warned.
I won’t do this for every map I post but since this one has notes all over it, I figure now is as good a time as any to give a little insight into how I plan encounters. Most of the notes are just labels or short descriptions of the room they’re in, but some are more than that.
Some of the notes, like room 5, have consequences for certain actions attached to them. I enjoy hand drawing maps, and I used to try and keep the map pristine, so that they were more “works of art” that could stand on their own. However, that also meant that all my notes and descriptions, as well as trap rules were always on a different page, or in some other folder on my computer. So running the session became a lot of page flipping and ctrl+f-ing (not that kind of f-ing. Get your head out of the gutter) that really slowed down the game. So now, when it’s possible, I keep the most important notes on the map itself for quick reference.
Some of the other notes refer to possible outcomes of interacting with certain areas of the map. For example, the note for area 10 states that if the players go to the end of this pathway, a giant spider will drop behind them. This, however, does not mean that is the only way for the spider to appear. Nor does it mean that if the players go down that pathway, the spider will definitely appear. I use these types of notes as a guideline only. Depending on how the players move through the mine, any of these potential outcomes are likely to change drastically.
On the other hand, some outcomes, such as Violet’s mother crawling out of the shimmering tear would happen regardless. But even that was subject to minor change. When I started planning the encounter in the Town of Delland, I knew that several inhabitants of the town had been taken by the winged demons and I knew that one of those people was Violet’s mother. I, however, had not planned on Ellis, or any of the remaining villagers for that matter, being taken. I let the players dictate the direction of that encounter. Based on the way the encounter went, it seemed a natural decision for Ellis to remain alone atop the wall. Once she was alone and everyone else was distracted elsewhere, it seemed obvious to me that she would be taken. And then after she was taken, of course she’s coming out of that tear.
And finally, there are the notes that are entirely dependent on what the players do before they even arrive at the mapped out area. In this case it’s the note that reads ‘goblins= 6-12’. I knew, at minimum, there would be 6 goblins currently residing in the mine. Depending on the players actions before arriving, there could have been up to 12 goblins. There are any number of ways for the players to have made this harder on themselves. I am not going to pretend that I can predict what they are going to do at any given time. So, I am going to give a couple examples of things that could have resulted in more goblins being at the mine, but this is by no means an exhaustive list.
The interaction with the winged demon, in all honesty, went just about as smoothly as it could have for the players. That encounter had the potential to go south very quickly. There was a very good chance one or all of Bort, Kroy and Nubz could have died inside the walls of Delland. But they managed to play along with the winged demon’s (boy oh boy, I sure do wish one of my players would ask people their names every once and a while. Using names is so much easier than using descriptions) game without offending him. He is arrogant and confident to a fault. He left thinking that they were afraid enough of him to stay put in town until the following night. However, if they had given him reason to think they would come after him, he probably would have made sure a few more goblins would be stationed at the mine.
There was also the potential for the players to attract attention to themselves on the way to the mine. If they had made a ton of noise climbing down to the hut, or described themselves doing something obnoxious on the way, the goblins in the mine probably would have called for backup. However, the players managed to stay relatively quiet until they were already down in the mine and at that point, it was a little too late for the Goblins to call for help.
And that, I think, is a pretty good example of my philosophy when it comes to running encounters. If you are prepared for a range of outcomes and difficulty levels, you’ll have a better chance of running a good session no matter what your players decide to do. But don’t force things upon them if it’s not directly related to advancing the story forward (and even then, make sure it makes sense to include whatever it is at that point in time). I could have made their journey through the mine much harder than it was, but they didn’t do anything to warrant that this time. I’m sure there will be times in the future where I think an encounter will be easy, but they’ll do something dumb and bring the wrath of some powerful being down upon themselves. I’m also sure that at some point, I’ll have a difficult encounter prepared for them and they’ll do some planning that will allow them to cheese through the situation. And that’s why this game is fun for me too. I might know the general story outline, but I don’t know the story details. That’s as much up to the players as it is to me.