While not what I meant, fighting an evil pepper would sure as heck be a change of pace.
We all get stuck in a rut sometimes. The party is traveling through the world and encounters the all-too-predictable group of wolves, bears, or goblins that sends the players into a glassy-eyed trance where their only hope for maintaining their sanity is to lay waste to the meaningless HP values before them.
So how do you spice it up with encounters? Well, evil fire-breathing peppers are one way. Not really your style? Consider the concept though. Sometimes you need to throw something completely out of left field in order to keep your players engaged. Every now and again they need to encounter something just weird enough that they remember you run this sh*t.
Just the other day, I had my players battle against “Actual Cannibal Shia LeBeouf” and it was glorious. I’ll go into details specifically about it at a later time, but it completely caught them off-guard and I had their attention locked onto the game!
So what are some good ways to keep them engaged, spice up the encounters, and keep things fresh, fun, and mildly spicy? Let’s take a look.
1. Throw in something different: Like I mentioned above, look through the Monster Manual and find something that looks great, yet would be a good fight for your party. Do a little research and find the encounter that looks just right to engage your players, catch them off-guard, and remind them what a serious fight looks like.
That’s not all though! Perhaps you have a tendency to throw in a lot of melee, some big tanks or heavy-hitters to topple the players. Try sprinkling in some basic spell casters, or some ranged attackers! Perhaps give one of the ranged attackers poison arrows, and point that out to the party so they can decide how they want to try focusing that guy down.
Consider setting up a fully-balanced rival party! Your players will have to think carefully before proceeding, as they know full-well how hard that Barbarian hits. Yet they know they can’t afford to ignore the cleric, or the Wizard readying Prismatic Spray. As long as this isn’t something you use terribly often, it’ll really spice things up and you might be surprised how much coordination your party can put together!
Or use evil peppers. Seriously.
2. Use the environment: I’ll admit, this is a huge area of opportunity for me. Plan the encounter using the environment! Have your mages partially covered, forcing the party to advance or get pummeled. Position your archers set up at high points, protected by a hammer-wielding murder machine ready to slaughter any who step up. Or have a weak little mage who is protected by a massive effing iron golem who holds the party at a choke point (tried this and it worked beautifully).
Once you get a little practice, get creative! Allow the party to use things in the environment! Is a dragon or demon attacking the city the players are sworn to protect (until they inevitable kill everyone)? Why not throw them a ballista or two? Encourage them to interact with the environments and reward them for creativity. I always loved dropping the lanterns and torches into the oil in Skyrim, so I like giving my players the chance to do the same thing.
You can even let your players throw you a bone! If they’re battling a horde of monsters within a cave, and they’re looking for a weak point in the ceiling to cave in, why not let them? Maybe it goes against your plans, but perhaps there can be collateral damage. Besides, it’ll make them feel awesome for coming up with plan that works.
3. Guide their attention: Battle can become a drawl sometimes, depending on how many missed attacks there are. But you can capitalize on this! Rather than simply stating “the barbarian attacks you and misses” take the time to describe what is happening! Don’t settle with “you shoot an arrow and miss”, sell it to them! Tell them how they drew back the arrow, how it whooshed through the air, and struck the wall right next to the wizard’s head.
Along with that is taking the moment to capitalize on danger in a fight. The other day, my party faced a group of brigands, one of which was a berserker. As he raged, rather than just stating he attacked and missed, I fully described it. “How his eyes were wild with fury, gripping his blade white-knuckled and driving into the ground as a player barely deflected the otherwise fatal blow that crushed the floor boards, sending splinters of wood scattering throughout the room.”
And you know what? That scared the hell out of them.
By taking something meaningless like a missed attack, I let the players know just how dangerous their adversary was, and it completely turned the course of the fight. Think about moments like this, when can you describe a seemingly simple action like a miss, a dodge, or even a look, and tell them a little something extra? How can you focus their attention where it should be without being direct?
Sh*t, the taunt check passed…
Some of these things take practice, but with trial-and-error you’ll surely find something that will work for you! Take what you’ve learned and keep those combat encounters suitably spicy! Drop me a line and let me know what you think. Until next time, happy gaming!
Nick, Patrician of Peppers