I started playing role-playing games of the table-top variety in the mid eighties. Since I’m from Sweden, Europe and not North America, I didn’t play Dungeons & Dragons. I played a Swedish version of Basic Role-playing called “Drakar och Demoner”. Dragons and Demons. I also played Chock which is a translation of the game Chill which was decidedly not the same as D&D. It was a classic horror game in the same vein as Hammer Horror movies. Dracula, werewolves and ghosts. Jack the Ripper. That kind of thing.1
This meant that I didn’t come into contact with encounters as a way to build an adventure until late in life. In my mid forties, to be exact.
Part of me thinks that this is actually quite alright. I’ve taught myself how to build stories in role-playing games built on events rather than built on combat with monsters. Another part of me goes “but encounters are so easy” and that part of me would be correct. Encounters are easy and for a harried DM who’s playing too many computer games and working too much2 encounters routinely save my life. I don’t have to pretend that I’m more often than not scrambling a bit to prepare for the games we play. As long as I have encounters and a handy map, I’m good and I feel secure in the knowledge that at least my players will have some fun, even if I can’t be bothered to make voices befitting surly lizardmen or haughty wizards. There’s something to hit over the head. There’s a little bit of treasure. There’s a little bit of XP and in the end, that elusive beast “progression” is reached and I can be calm knowing that at least I’ve given my players that bit.
Despite what you might think, this piece of rambling text is not “an ode to encounters”, rather it is “huh, I can DM this way, and it won’t consume all hours of my day with prep.”
Actually, I’m not entirely sure why I’m writing this except to say that while I seriously – seriously – appreciate role-playing games, lately I’ve come to appreciate role-playing games as well, because they simplify and at the same time let me hang out with friends without needing a wall dedicated to post-it notes about the Romulan Empire and how the socio-political developments on Q’onoS might affect how soon we can get back to Vulcan because dammit, pon farr is happening NOW. Ehum.
No, encounters won’t create big emotions and drama – except when it does – but on the other hand I’m not researching funereal customs on Ireland in the 900’s either.
Not that I mind any of the above but sometimes my mind is just too ambitious and too much of a perfectionist to just wing it. Encounters take the pressure off and allows me to wing it to a much higher extent.
I realise this post reads like a mix of come-to-Jesus and thank-God-I-can-be-lazy, and maybe it is. Most of all though, it’s a belated little love note to a hobby I rarely revisited once work sank its claws in me and people around me accumulated wealth, families and responsibilities. I have done none of that, and yet got caught in the rat race.
D&D has allowed me to reclaim my hobby, in a way at a lesser level of intensity, for sure, but it also keeps me from staying up all night researching all the ways radioactivity will kill you dead, followed by hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations when I try to sleep, featuring the Undead Horrors of Radioactive Zombies, or the Demon That Wants to Eat my Soul.3
Where was I? Encounters, yes.
I might write more about them. Or share some, who knows.
Right now, though, the ease with which I run campaigns and feel much less stress is all about D&D and the way D&D works from a storytelling/ progression aspect. I’m okay, because I don’t have to rush myself off my feet. I’m okay, because in my introverted sad little soul I still get the limited contact I need and even more, I get to have fun with friends and spark some joy in them.
That said, researching the extended Habsburg family to create an adventure with various conspiracies is always something I will do. I’ll just know there’s an alternative with less Princely Zombies.
- No, this has absolutely had no impact on my twisted psyche whatsoever. Go home moral panic, you’re drunk.
- Because of course I work in the games industry.
- If you’ve ever had a hypnagogic or hypnopompic hallucination you know where those images of creatures sitting on the chest of sleeping people and sucking out their souls come from.