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PostPosted: Mon Dec 09, 2013 3:37 pm 
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Once I had a nice little library of stock encounters - first in paper form, then digitally. I lost my stock library in a hard-drive failure not long before I came to Dubai, and am only just getting round to rebuilding it (and taking the opportunity to rebuild it in Pathfinder).

What do I mean by stock encounters?

Encounters are the basic building blocks of role-playing games. Stock encounters are designed so that you can plug them into a game with the minimum of effort and whenever needed. They are generally unnecessary in one-off games, tournament games or tightly scripted adventures, but are useful in ongoing campaigns and crucial for sandbox or open-world play.

Stock encounters are basically pre-prepared segments of a game. They are not plot-specific, and should be self-contained (though it’s usually fairly easy to improvise follow-ups). They provide inspiration or breathing space for an improvisational gamesmaster and help control pacing in most games. Stock encounters can also be designed to add atmosphere or background, or control mood in a game.

If the worst comes to the worst and the party does something that has you utterly flummoxed, a stock encounter you can pull out of the bag gives you some breathing time to get to grips with the new direction.

In short, stock encounters are a big part of my philosophy that a good Gamesmaster is like a swan - serene on the surface, but paddling like the clappers underneath.

The key to preparing a good stock encounter is flexibility. You should be able to reuse them – if you can’t, then you’re preparing a custom encounter. They should be as open-ended as possible, both at the beginning of the encounter and at the end. While some stock encounters may be campaign specific, especially those designed to add background details, most will be useful for a number of campaigns and if sufficiently flexible may even be useful in different genres.

Stock encounters should not be tied to a specific location, and as far as possible they should be reusable, cutting down valuable preparation time for the busy gamesmaster. If appropriate, stock encounters should note variations, which can increase their flexibility and reusability. You don’t have to come up with a load of variations at once; it’s easy enough to add fresh variations over time.

Stock encounters should be relatively quick to design, an hour or two at most. Because you can reuse them, they will repay this time investment over and over again - so long as you back them up. Over months and years gamesmasters can build a stock library, each encounter ready to be brought into play at a moment’s notice. The value of such a library should be obvious to every gamesmaster. With a loose overall plot arc and a sufficient library, a gamesmaster could even run an entire adventure on the fly using nothing but stock encounters.

How much detail to include a stock encounter is a matter of taste. The very simplest stock encounter is barely more than an idea jotted down. At the other end of the spectrum, stock encounters can be mini-adventures with maps, stat blocks, treasure and so on. My preference is to have the minimum detail necessary to run the encounter without preparing any mechanics on the fly, but to leave fluff out as much as possible; I don’t need to name combat opponents, for example, if I have a names list with me (and I usually do).

The most flexible form of stock encounters are systemless descriptions. Including game stats does, of course, make a stock encounter specific to that game system, but there’s no reason you can’t convert it to another game system. Conversion is generally quicker than creating a new encounter from scratch – you’ve done all the creative legwork already. If I do include game statistics, I generally try to keep them on a separate page, which makes it easier to refer to the page and to insert stats for a different system if necessary.

Just like regular encounters, stock encounters can take many forms: combat encounters, puzzles, traps, personality NPCs, role-playing opportunities and more.

One very easy way of adding flexibility to a combat encounter is to vary its toughness – I generally do this by adding more opponents (or make a task more challenging) rather than adding new opponents. Some systems, such as D&D3.5 and Pathfinder, offer very simple ways of calculating the toughness of an encounter; with other systems it may be more a matter of feel.

An example (with Pathfinder stats):

Attachment:
File comment: Highway Robbery - a stock encounter
Highway Robbery.pdf [510.24 KiB]
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 09, 2013 5:36 pm 
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Great writeup. Encounters can take as short as a few minutes as well. There is an old woman looking for her cat, or a noodle stall with a particularly flamboyant chef. They can add life and flavor to your campaign.

It's funny you should post this, though. I intended to run exactly this scenario, with the variation of the players coming upon the robbery in progress during my next session. Except it is relevant to the main plot-line, and not used as filler.


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 09, 2013 11:37 pm 
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Tarek wrote:
Great writeup. Encounters can take as short as a few minutes as well. There is an old woman looking for her cat, or a noodle stall with a particularly flamboyant chef. They can add life and flavor to your campaign.


Yes, these are the kinds of things I'd do as a short note - a mental note usually, or a back-of-the-envelope sketch.

Quote:
It's funny you should post this, though. I intended to run exactly this scenario, with the variation of the players coming upon the robbery in progress during my next session. Except it is relevant to the main plot-line, and not used as filler.


There's nothing new under the sun, at least as far as plots go. When I'm writing stock encounters I try to go for common situations and, while some of the variations may be unusual, I don't worry about being original or really crafty (though I don't fight either if inspiration strikes). The game's originality will come when it meets the players.

Also, while stock encounters can be used as filler, they don't have to be. They're building blocks - you simply don't build anything out of them in advance. That's what makes them ideal for open-world and sandbox games.

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 10, 2013 7:28 pm 
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Fantastic post Barwickian.

I've always made up my random encounters on the fly to be honest but have used stock encounters as the basis of entire adventures.

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