How to Design a Combat Encounter in Less than 1 Minute

A while ago I gave a guide for designing a combat encounter in about 5 minutes. But what if you can’t be bothered to wait that long? What if your players are itching for a fight and you want to deliver it right now?

Follow these simple steps to get started immediately:

  1. Pick up the Monster Vault or Monster Manual of your choice.
  2. Go to the index. Spend about 20 seconds looking up a standard monster of the party’s level or up to +4 levels higher.
  3. If there happens to be another monster around the same level on the same page, you’ve lucked out and can add it to the encounter. Either way, you are using a number of monsters equal to the number of players in the party.
  4. If you have D&D dungeon tiles, draw 3 random tiles from your supply and arrange them in an interesting configuration. If you don’t, draw a weirdly shaped room on your grid map and put a couple of pillars in it.
  5. If you have minis, pick random minis the same size of the monsters you plan to use. Otherwise, use whatever tokens or dice you would normally use.
  6. Make everyone roll initiative while you describe the scene! If you are at a loss for words, say the following: “On your travels you suddenly encounter a group of horrible [INSERT MONSTER NAME HERE]. They are in no mood to talk. It would be a shame to die today, but every hero meets his or her end eventually!” See, it’s nihilistic. The players like that.
  7. Do your best to kill the players. That will really piss them off.

I recommended printing this list out and keeping it in your back pocket in case of an emergency.

4 Responses to “How to Design a Combat Encounter in Less than 1 Minute”

  1. TheClone says:

    Yeah! That’s the real D&D 4 style!

  2. Awesome. My favourite line is: “Draw a weirdly shaped room on your grid map and put a couple of pillars in it.” That’s classic adventure design tips right there, folks. :)

    It’s very sad and lazy of me, but I hate having to flip back and forth between pages in the monster manual. I usually print them on the same page when possible. But finding two compatible monsters on the same page is like finding a $5 bill in your pocket you forgot you had.

    It’s usually the slapped-together random encounters that kill the players.

  3. Sully says:

    This is how I will run my 4e games from now on!

  4. Laura says:

    Ahahahah. The players do like nihilism. They do!

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