NaNewGaMo: Encounters—The Meat of the Adventure

Welcome to week three of NaNewGaMo! If you’re just jumping in, don’t fret—it’s not too late. You have a bit of catching up to do, but nothing you can’t handle. More on how to catch up at the bottom of this post.

In NaNewGaMo we’re helping players who feel the urge to run an RPG—to become a GM for the first time—take the plunge. Whether you’re new to gaming or a long-time player who’s never happened to take the GM’s seat, we’re making the process of running your first adventure an easy one. If you’re just joining us, scroll to the bottom of this post for an overview of what we’ve done so far. Then join us every Tuesday and Thursday throughout January, and by the end of the month you’ll be a GM too!

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This week we continue to explore the rules and setting, and develop our thinking about the adventure.

Encounters!

First, let’s talk about encounters. Encounters, sometimes referred to as scenes, are the meat of your adventure. As I mentioned last week, an encounter is a point in your adventure where something happens, and usually where the characters (and players) take action, make decisions, learn something, or otherwise move the story forward. Encounters can take many forms:

  • The characters kick down the dungeon door, find a monster within, and fight it to get its treasure.
  • The characters are in a busy market when a beggar attempts to pickpocket them.
  • The duke summons the characters to carry a message of peace to his rival.
  • The characters have come to a rocky ravine in their travels—is it just a difficult climb, or are there enemies waiting to ambush them while they’re vulnerable?
  • The characters break into the office of an erstwhile employer, searching for papers or other evidence of the employer’s true motives.
  • And so on.

An encounter has some of the same elements as an adventure: An initial situation, a compelling hook or reason for the players to care, maybe a bit of mystery, and sometimes a turning point in the middle, where suddenly things are not what they at first seemed. Good encounters leave the outcome—and the means by which the characters resolve the encounter—open-ended.

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The bulk of your GMing time will be spent running encounters; you’ll generally gloss over the in-between times, because that’s not where important things are happening. The characters spend a week in town, resting up and gathering supplies for the next leg of their journey? You spend five minutes telling them what makes the town unique, what interesting people live there, and the results of their foraging efforts. Maybe you’ll go into more detail if something important begins to unfold—that’s basically an encounter evolving spontaneously—but mostly it’s quick exposition. Then the characters set out, and again you cover several days of activity in three or four minutes. But when the abhumans attack their campsite at night, you shift back into encounter mode. Now the players act and react, and you resolve their actions on a moment-by-moment basis.

Encounters aren’t the only place your players make decisions. As the party travels through the wilderness, they might come to a fork in the road. Go east, or turn north? It’s a decision—and maybe an important one—but it doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be an encounter.

Generally speaking, the higher the proportion of encounter time to non-encounter time in your game, the better the pacing is likely to feel. But that doesn’t mean you should rush your players when they need time to consider their options or just take in the atmosphere of the game.

We’ll talk more about encounters in our next post, but for now we’re going to shift gears and go back to looking at the rules and setting.

Step Five

Last Monday we started in on the basic game rules and setting. This time we’re going to read some more detailed rules on adjudicating play during an action-oriented encounter and have a look at some of the specific setting elements that form the background of your adventure, the Beale of Boregal.

Read this rules content:

  • Chapter 8: Pages 99-100 (Start at the top of the page, where it says Action: Activate a Special Ability, and stop when you get to the Long-term Movement header.)
  • Chapter 8: Pages 102-103 (Start at Action: Wait and stop when you get to the Climbing header.)
  • Chapter 8: Pages 108-112 (Start at Experience Points and read through the end of the chapter.)

And then read this setting content; it’ll put your mind into the region in which The Beale of Boregal is set:

  • Chapter 12: Pages 177-181 (The Black Riage)
  • Chapter 12: Pages 184-186 (The Plains of Kataru)

One last thing: Check in on the NaNewGaMo forum, if you haven’t already. We’d really love to hear how things are going for you, and in particular, we’d love to hear back from you when NaNewGaMo is over and you’ve run your first game. That’s where you’ll report it, and win a fabulous prize (well, a modest prize) as an expression of our congratulations.

Catching Up?

If you heard about NaNewGaMo a bit on the late side, it’s fine to jump in now. You’ll need to catch up with us, but that’s still quite doable. Start with the first blog post and read through them all. Each one gives you an activity, but for the most part they don’t take too long, so with a little effort you’ll be back with the class by our next blog post on Thursday—and on the road to running your first game in just a couple of weeks!

To simplify your activity list, here’s everything we’ve done so far, gathered into one easy checklist. Please note that this is just a cheat sheet, to make it a bit easier to keep track of what you’re doing—read the blog posts for the context you need to get the most out of these activities.

  • Get your hands on a copy of the Numenera corebook.
  • Decide when and where you will run your first game session.
  • Reach out to half a dozen players and confirm the time and place with them.
  • Read Part 1 of the corebook (beginning on page 12).
  • Watch the How to Play Numenera video.
  • Read pages 84-93 of Chapter 8 (stop when you get to the header that says Ambient Damage).
  • Read all of Chapter 10 (beginning on page 130).
  • Read The Beale of Boregal (beginning on page 367).
  • Chat briefly with your players about what they like and expect out of an RPG, and maybe share some of the hooks or information about the Wandering Walk with them.
Charles Ryan
Charles Ryan

Charles M. Ryan has written or contributed to titles in nearly every class of tabletop game—board games, card games, trading card games, miniature games, and roleplaying games—over a 25-year career in the game industry. He has also served as the global brand manager for Dungeons & Dragons and headed up the marketing department at the UK’s Esdevium Games, one of the world’s largest game distributors. He is the Chief Operating Officer at Monte Cook Games.