Building RPG Encounters! (Game Master Tips)

Building RPG Encounters! (Game Master Tips)

Hi, my name is Matthew Mercer. I’m a voice actor and the dungeon master
for Geek and Sundry’s Critical Role, and welcome to my short video series
for my tips on how to dungeon master or game master your own role playing game. So today, our first topic is going to be
encounter building. So when you’re creating an encounter–
a combat encounter specifically– for your party of adventurers or space marines
or whatever else you’re running, you want to consider what kind of terrain
or region is this going to have. That’s going to go ahead and help you guide
what creatures are going to be there, what type of challenges might be in that wake. So consider: is it an icy tundra? Is it
a frozen mountaintop? Is it a hot and muggy swampland? Is it an underground cave network? You know, there are actually in a lot of these
resource books that you find for these RPGs, they’ll have listings of creatures and monsters
and dangers by topography and by weather. And that’s a really cool way to see what indigenous
creatures might live there. That’s a good resource to pull from if you’re
not having any real creative juices, helping you decide on what
to put in front of them. Secondly, you want to consider how challenging
you want the encounter or encounters to be. Do you want it to be a really quick scuffle? Do you want it to be a series of small battles as they’re fighting down a long hallway in
a spaceship? Do you want it to be just one giant, climactic,
multi-leveled boss confrontation? Once you’ve made that decision, that’ll
help you figure out how dangerous, how extensive, and how powerful the villains may be
for this encounter. There’s a lot of great resource manuals for
every RPG system out there that have breakdowns about what creatures are good
for which player levels as far as power and challenge and danger is concerned. Like for instance, the Dungeon Master Guide
and the Monster Manual have a challenge rating system. A creature of a certain challenge rating
is a decent challenge for a group of four players of that level. And you can slide the scale
from there. And also the DMG, or the Dungeon Master Guide,
has an experience threshold table in there as well, that helps you build encounters just
based on the total experience points of the creatures they’re fighting. So those are really cool resources if you’re
new to the system and you’re trying to figure
out how to balance that properly. And over time, eventually you’ll just get
a feel for it. Experience helps you get a little more comfortable with balancing the battle. And you want to make sure you don’t kill
all your players way too quickly in the game, either. There’s also a really good website called
Kobold Fight Club for those who are running Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition campaigns
that helps them build an entire encounter with the experience tables and stuff
that helps you get an idea of what could and could not be considered too powerful. And don’t forget: if you can’t find a creature
or a monster in these realms, or any sort of villain that really suits your needs for the
storyline or this particular battle, you can create one. Make one up. Or take something that’s there and customize
it. Alter it. Make it more powerful, make it weaker. You know, if you really want to run a game
that has a bunch of kobolds as the main villain, but all your players are level 10:
go ahead and make yourself some more powerful kobolds. You can customize them all you want. Everything in there is just a baseline suggestion of what they think–or they created initially–
to be, but you can always scale them. You can make them more powerful, you can
add additional hit points. Make them do more damage per attack. Increase some
defenses, give it some hidden resistances or vulnerabilities. You can even create whole
new abilities. I customize creatures all the time for my game. I think it, one, makes it more interesting
and more customized to the specific encounter and world. Secondly, for players who
have been playing for a long time and have pretty much memorized the Monster
Manual, it keeps them on their toes, because they’ll be encountering monsters
that they have yet to memorize everything about. Also make sure though, if you do use these
creatures and you want them to have interesting defenses and vulnerabilities and the like,
make sure you highlight them or note them. It’s very easy in the rush of combat to forget
some of these cool things. So I always use a highlighter and I highlight the various
notes and elements of these creatures or these combat scenarios that I want to make
sure I remember and recall in the heat of battle. The next note I want to bring up is battlefields. First and foremost, not every game needs a
battlefield. In fact, I kind of prefer RPGs that don’t have a battle map with miniatures. It’s a way to play. I prefer to keep things in my imagination. But that’s generally more
wieldy with smaller groups, if you have three, maybe four players. Larger than that,
it gets a little unwieldy. And with me running six to eight players, it’s become very necessary
for everyone to keep track of their spatial awareness. When you create a map, things to consider:
creative terrain. You know, think of where it’s happening but ways to make it different on occasion,
too. You can have straightforward battles with just– here’s a an area where they fight. Here’s some hallways, here’s some rooms. And that’s cool too. But, you know, if you’re
in an urban setting, have furniture that they can use to their advantage, whether it be
for height or for setting up blockades. Also, consider what other challenges and
confrontations they might have with the terrain during the battle. Is there a giant
chasm they have to get across to actually get to the villain while they’re attacking
them from a distance? Is there some sort of an arcane field that’s locked off a portion of
the battlefield, and they have to figure out some sort of puzzle during the battle to lock it
down? Is the villain invulnerable to all damage
until they can find some sort of hidden aspect of
their soul locked within the nearby battlefield? Or is there a bunch of innocents in there
as well that are in danger of being killed from the collateral damage? Find cool and unique
ways to make it an interesting battle outside of just a slugfest of HP being knocked
away and whoever falls first. Mind you, those can be fun too on occasion,
but you want to make sure you keep things interesting. For those who want to create battlefields:
what I use for my battlefields, because this question has come up a few times:
you can use easel pad paper, one inch grid easel pad paper that you can find online. And that’s a really cool way to just draw on that using markers and create
your own battlefields that way. There are great tutorials online, too, that
show you how to make cool battles and interesting looking terrain with just simple
hatch mark shading and minor colors. So, highly recommend that. Also, when you’re using intelligent creatures,
especially monsters or individuals or villains that are, you know, understanding
of their own mortality, they may flee. When they hit about half or a quarter hit
points, they may want to get the heck out of dodge. So, don’t be afraid to let your
villains or your enemies do that on occasion. One, it ups the stakes immediately in a battle,
from just a slog fest to, “Oh crap, he’s getting away,” and the dynamic shift to try and
prevent them from doing so. And secondly, if they do manage to get away,
you may have a juicy villain who can recur later on down the story with a need
for vengeance. Vengeance. Another cool note: not all battles are
meant to be won, either. Sometimes you want to introduce a really
powerful enemy, kind of as a foreshadowing aspect. A creature that they can in no
way, shape, or form defeat, and they are meant to flee from, so that they can
build towards down the road. Maybe coming back and finally killing it
as a means of vengeance. Just make sure you try and insinuate to
the players that they shouldn’t stick around for the whole fight, or you might have a
TPK on your hands. So, be careful with that one. It’s a fun tool, but, be careful. No, seriously. Be careful. Plus it also leads into a cool story of like,
“Man, remember that time we almost got killed by that thing? Whew!” Not all fights are meant to end in bloodshed,
as well. So don’t be afraid to let the players diplomatically resolve an encounter. Sometimes
battles happen because of misunderstandings, or misinformation, or the wrong thing was
said and it ticks somebody off. That doesn’t mean they have to fight to the bitter end and murder
whoever’s in front of them. You don’t want the whole murderhobo syndrome to be consistent. Unless that’s the campaign you’re running. In which case, fight on my murderhobos. But, you know, let the players use their
social skills to try and diffuse an encounter before anyone gets killed. I’ve had many games
where halfway through a battle someone’s like, “Wait, they may have
information we need.” Or, “Maybe we were duped. We have the wrong information.” And they decide to, you know, diplomatically end it. Doesn’t always work, but it’s nice to
give them that option. So, I hope this has been helpful in you
running your own games, both GMs new and old alike. Feel free to go ahead and
check more videos from this series on, and thank you for watching.

100 thoughts on “Building RPG Encounters! (Game Master Tips)

  1. The first rule in kobold fight club is don’t talk about kobold fight club

  2. Anyone know what this song is from I love it!

  3. My first campaign I had a bunch of monsters with a total CR of 1… against 3 level one people….we kinda died.

  4. There is a website called goblinist, that comes up with encounters. You can tell the website how hard it should be, the levels of the players, and the terrain.

  5. He reminds me of that dude from Icarly

  6. Chromgratulations on the great video!

  7. So my friend has been running a small campaign for us for a little while. He had us fight a watered down revenant in the first few sessions. The revenant was guarding Golden Lions totems. Ever since I took them the revenant has been chasing me down to get them back. But he makes it a lot of fun by flavoring it pretty heavily. We could be anywhere in the world, locked in a jail cell, fighting a boss, walking in town, or even competing in a tournament, but if you hear him start playing "Big Iron" by Marty Robins you know the revenant will be there. Hes an Arizona ranger with a colt 45. It has to be the highlight of the campaign. Anyone reading this, if you DM, make your enemies memorable.

  8. 04:39 10×04 Allip battle
    05:57 Thordak and now Lorenzo

  9. I get the feeling that when matt orgasms, he yells "CRITICAL HIT"

  10. So what campaign are your running at this time Matt?

    Your game "master" tips are shit.

    So basic as to be non sequiturs.

    Watch this channel for better input on games and gamemastery –

  11. I just dump, like, 50 orcs on my players everywhere they go. Sometimes I'll get a little crazy and send 55 orcs after them. It's good times

  12. In the kobold example, you could give them class levels on top of their base abilities couldn’t you? Same for goblins or other intelligent monsters?

  13. Putang ina mo bakit mo ko tumingin sa akin ng mukha ko 😂😂😂😂

  14. Matt Mercer is a treasure

  15. Thanks Matt! Wish I'd had the foresight to watch this before making my first one-shot…
    I now know that a Marilith and a Lvl 5 Cleric isn't a fun encounter against a party of 5 when everyone's only level 6…

  16. “Short” video series

  17. Dungeon Master or Mercer? You decide!

  18. Hears space marines, FOR THE EMPEROR

  19. Lots of useful stuff. I try to keep environmental stuff in mind, like the weather or topography (that is, when I write; I don't play as often as I'd like) but it slips my mind.  Thanks Dungeon Master Mercer.

  20. This reminded me of a one-shot I was running with a group that their first instinct whenever an encounter started was to just shoot all of their arrows at the weaker creatures so that the party of 4 level 6 players only had to focus on the toughest creature and one of the rooms they went into had a wall of magic fire bisecting the room this torched all of their arrows and they all found different ways to over come it. One doused himself in water and jumped through. Another tried using gust of wind and others simplely tried to douse the flames but they all took something different from the encounter other than maybe I should shoot first ask questions later.

  21. I especially loved the part about making monsters more difficult. One of my favorite memes, because I was doing it before it was a meme, said "Just because other DMs don't give goblins class levels doesn't mean I won't." I still laugh about the first time my players, all 5th level characters, met a group of goblins who were also all 5th level. 😀

  22. Since most of my players are pretty new(im new too). To help them imagine i just use the world of Skyrim. Like my players are setting up a skooma house in Bleak Fall Barrows. Yep. Skooma dealers their skooma dealers. Now i under stand tge struggles of your players almost making you lose your shit.

  23. I once put cell from dbz in my game

  24. I made my group face a powerful creature but we’re supposed to flee however despite me even saying they should run they attacked it into tpk regardless “for the memes” and that’s when I learned to never assume your player are going to do something even a simple OBVIOUS task

  25. I was playing with some friends on a game we'd created, they were all level 10-15 and the boss was level 300. I strongly advised they leave, and all but one did, our bard. Bards in this game are mostly supports so I got a surprise when he used paralysis and undead songs, both of which I had previously stated this boss to be weak to, stopping it from fighting back and beating it to death. I had to pretty much rewrite the story on the spot…

  26. Привет всем русскоговорящим! Ребята, если для Вас сложно воспринимать информацию на английском, то могу подсказать, что на канале Living Room Studio
    есть отличный перевод видео G&S с Мэтом. Удачи на полях сражений, игроки!
    Спасибо авторам за создание столь полных и интересных видео! Thank you!

  27. I try to do the diplomacy during some fights lol

  28. 0:27

  29. I have 9 players…..

  30. I run every fight on Deadly…it hasn't stopped them yet

  31. speaking of terrain, Mr. Mercer, can you tell me what you were using for terrain models in your games? Like I saw you had a team of players in an urban environment in a highlight video talking specifically about Travis.

  32. No tips actually. Boring

  33. I have been a GM for about two years whith 6 to 9 players ecvery time

  34. your gm tips videos have inspired me to make my own game. thanks.

  35. I love the enemy flees, because that turns it into a Chase scene, instead of a Fight scene, and it's plausible for some characters, or in situations where like you said, their self preservation kicks in. You've been looking for this Goblin rogue for this information, he doesn't want to give up. When you finally show up, with a Warrior, Wizard, Ranger, and Healer power pack, he's not going to want to fight you, he's probably going to run, and may even have a mousehole that too small for the Warrior to fit through with his shield. The ranger's bow will be useless, and while this won't make the cowardly theif a match for the whole party, that's before you start running into caltrops, then Deadfall traps… Especially in the city, you mentioned collateral damage earlier, and if you catch him in the middle of the Bazaar, it's not going to play out the same as if you catch him in a 10'x10' room in some dungeon somewhere…

  36. If any creature is to strong then say they are a younger age of that creature.

  37. He mentioned places like swamps under ground tunnels frozen tundra and snowy mountain tops all of these are places in critical role

  38. I have a problem whenever I DM. I tend to have an entire story layed out, structured with about 8-10 bosses and about 20-30 mini bosses. But the thing is that I get so distracted writing the grandiose dialogue of whatever is going on that I completely don’t know where and when to put random encounters in and where to put them. Is anyone else having this problem?

  39. I made a Demi-Lich with a crystal in the bottom of his skull that made him invincible until the party ran up and ripped it out! It was awesome! Made the battle crazy!

  40. Can we please have Matt do the GM tips again, the other GM's are just not as good…

  41. We were (cheap and broke) college kids when I started playing. We had a large whiteboard, and we used nail polish to make 1-inch marks around the frame. Each inch was 5 feet (which was the scale of our minis) and it made it easy to draw the terrain’s outline. It wasn’t very pretty, but it was very useful for spatial awareness!

  42. Space Marines……..FOR THE EMPEROR !!!! 🙂

  43. so i have been elected dm by my friends seeing as we are all new. Searching for tips i found some that i just personally didn't like the person. however here is Matt giving great tips in a calm environment and i can understand and take in whats going on and not feel haggled to be the best of the best. HOWEVER, i lost all concentration at " fight on my murder hobos"! This is wonderful and i am full glad this exists.

  44. Anything can change!

    rolls 1

  45. I love all the tips you give they are so helpful! Especially since my players' goal is to BREAK MY GAME!!!!

  46. "Fight on my murder hobos" favret quot of this XD

  47. I like the idea of gaining experience through non combat means. I mean, it's logical. Only gaining exp from combat is pretty illogical, tbh.

  48. As someone who has never played D&D in their life, but has been roped into being a DM for a group of fellow noobs, I'm finding this series to be a very helpful supplement to the source books I have. I plan on treating this series like an online class and take notes and such so I'm not totally incompetent when we start the campaign. wish me luck lol

  49. If you would like to join an active discord server primarily to connect with other DnD players (new players welcomed and other games too), join below 😀

  50. While discontinued, the Supernatural RPG has a great system of traits plus complications. These can be played up for players and creatures and it really helps when plotting out the who/what/where/why.

  51. Matt Mercer, you are one heck of a talented DM! I'm very glad that you posted these tips and tricks, I use them pretty consistently whenever I'm about to run a campaign. Keep up the good work!

  52. welcome to me "short" series, has over 50 videos

  53. Does any one else hear Maccready talking?

  54. "Fight on my Murderhobos!" XD

  55. My first time DMing, I didn't really understand how enemy monsters were supposed to work… so I created a 3 goblin troupe, each of which had a fighter class level, and one-shot the cleric in the first round of the first combat.

    I am not allowed to DM anymore.

  56. M A K E S O M E M O R E P O W E R F U L K O B O L D S

  57. (watches while trying not to think of McCree killing me in the face)

  58. Gm: introduces monster that players cant beat and should run from

    Players: " these colors dont run"

    Fight ensues

    Bard seduces creature.

  59. "Feel free to tailor your game for fun." God, I wish I could just shove that quote into everyone's face who says CR doesn't know the rules.

  60. Please wear a cowboy hat Mathew Mercer.

  61. A "short" series (staring at 55 videos in playlist)

  62. Just yesterday my friends and I decided to start playing D&D, with me as the DM (I'm a creative writer in my free time, so the vote was unanimous). Hopefully I won't screw this up TOO badly.

  63. Rats that spit acid

  64. This has more than a million views and only 16k likes. Some people are just ungrateful or many people have watched this over and over

  65. lol i tried dm'ing a game with my dad with nothing but a map and some lego people and he won!

  66. I’m no DnD player but I found this super good for writing in general. Getting the creative juices flowing y’know?

  67. You're my hero, Matt.

  68. i made a side quest for my regular players plus one, I thought it'd be no problem especially since i just threw some high level gear on the new guy… after they were all wiped out I told them that they all woke up from a shared dream. I felt really bad since i set it all up and the encounter was not even kinda balanced

  69. Thank you McCree, very cool

  70. Loved the content of the video, but it's not why I'm making the comment: has anyone else noticed that YouTube serves up a really far right (through Poland) ad in front of anything DnD related in incognito mode? Please tell me it's just me.

  71. time to start binging. i'm wanting to learn to DM cause i want to try and create a rather unique campaign that would not only be an epic adventure but also a smooth introduction to a homebrew class i created. cause so far just straight dropping it throws things off.

  72. His best advice is the "be creative". I never understood why anyone plays by the rules instead of for fun. The books are guidelines and you are the DM! You can do whatever you want! I don't mean screw the players but break, bend, or create the fun out of the outline. DnD is limitless that is why I love it so much.

  73. Space marines? D&D space marines?

  74. Good grief these tips are great. Thank you.

  75. M A T T

  76. Since it's not reasonable or even helpful to expect players to selectively forget their knowledge of the monster manuals (which would also make them have to guess what their characters could know and hope I don't call them out), I tell them that the monster manual info is considered an adventurer knowledge base; they know what they know, gathered from bards, taverns, tall tales, research, etc.. They just aren't allowed to crack such a book during the game.

    But I also tell them that what they and thus their characters know is not necessarily factual. At the end of the day, it's still all secondhand stories at best about single examples of strange and magical beasts. And there are reasons that endlessly innovative humans and demihumans haven't managed to wipe these monsters out even with all their tricks and tools and wealth of shared knowledge.

  77. Yeah I’m gonna binge this series

  78. That Matt Mercer is so hot right now… -Mugato

  79. Good tips
    Been DMing for years but always learning
    Good stuff

  80. About victory not assured… My group of 5 level 5 characters decided to fight a Balor… and won… why is Hunger of Hadar only a 3rd level spell 🙁

  81. There's also donjon 5e encounter size calculator

  82. I love coming back to your videos whenever I feel like I’m stuck in my story. I feel recharged again. Thank you.

  83. Just finished my first proper session and rolled complete garbage, still had a blast though!q

  84. nice Chrom is teaching me to play dnd

  85. mercer is a woman abuser

  86. I'd love to see a training where we see a walkthrough of the game being run by the DM from behind the screen. Things such as building random encounters and keeping combat on pace. How to keep combat on pace where PC's have NPC allies in combat.

  87. "not all encounters are meant to end in bloodshed"
    Go back and watch this video, 2019 Matt.
    Even when M9 try and avoid encounters or talk through a situation it ALWAYS ends in a fight.Just cause you made the battle map, doesn't mean they have to use it.

  88. Start my first selfmade campaign in October and this tips are very good. Especially if you have 4 newbies

  89. At the part where hes talking about player memorizing the monster manual I was sure he was about to call out liam

  90. Watching this right after the Dalen's Closet one shot… villains escaping??? VENGEANCE???

  91. how about a monster that gets bigger and stronger everytime you attack it!…. but gets smaller and weaker when you show it love and compassion

  92. My first time DMing was a few days ago, with a group of 6. I was overwhelmed like hell but we all had fun and I think I did alright. These tips seem super helpful, ill be sure to use them in my next session.


  94. Wait… is… is he McCree?

  95. Best school of magic.

  96. Kobold fight club tells me the the klarg fight in mines of pandelver is deadly and I'm DMing, none of us have ever played D&D, should I be worried?

  97. 6:13 AHEM Mollymauk

  98. my brother asked me who was almost a total noob to dm a game for him and another noob my brother. so i think i am making my third world because all my other worlds peater out because they are not that intresting so know i have a brother playing a monster of a N gnome bard, a really new dragonborn socerer and a grumpy half elf ranger NPC so i hope this will be of use

  99. I was about to run the playlist in the background, but these tips are really amping my creative mind and I had to stop playing games. I need to have a pen and paper while I watch these 🙂

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