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I'm DMing my first campaign in D&D 4e using my own setting, and I need to create some random encounters throughout the map surrounding the starting village. I only have a week available between sessions for DM prep, so I can't invest an awful lot of time in creating encounters.

So far, all I've thought up is having a nearby "Twilight Henge", which is a Stonehenge-like ruin where the Feywild leaks into the surrounding area, and it's turned a local elf into a Weresquirrel who will draw the characters into a squirrel ambush. This isn't enough though, and I need to create more.

What is a good way to create quick, random encounters my players could come across in the wilderness? What techniques do you have for creating something interesting, or what resources could you suggest to me for creating/using pre-made puzzles?

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Indeed; the lore that does exist in 4e is deliberately low-detail and gives you only a general framework in which to fill in the blanks. In fact, various parts of lore are often presented only as what various disagreeing mortals think is the case, leaving you able to pick the option you prefer or ignore them altogether. It's nowhere near as high-detail as previous D&D editions. –  Jonathan Hobbs Feb 19 at 3:23
Welcome! This question seems a bit general, for the most part we want more specific questions. Noting, as the other commenters have, that 4e has little to no default lore, your lore bits are relatively irrelevant except as they inform encounter creation. However, the actual question seems to be a request for puzzles with no real criteria for how said recommendations should be judged. –  wax eagle Feb 19 at 13:01
As @waxeagle stated, please consider reformatting the question with specific criteria. Here is an example of a question with qualifying criteria. –  Dragonsdoom Feb 19 at 13:34
Sorry about that, obviously I'm new. But thanks to all of you for clearing that up. I didn't know what my players expected, like if they knew all the lore like the back of their hand or worshiped it as law and would get into a fit of nerd rage when I tell them I've come up with my own version. Also thanks for the spelling correction. Yeah, I meant like Stone Henge. Also, I'm reformatting it.....Thanks again! –  iorost Feb 20 at 5:18
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3 Answers

Considering you're going with a squirrel-themed army of sorts, you could go absolutely nuts (heehee) in terms of what kinds of sub-quests you could fill your campaign with, especially if you consider what kinds of things magic leaking from the Feywild could cause.

For example, perhaps the Weresquirrel has buried acorns in the ground that are slowly poisoning the landscape so others have no choice but to leave? This could lead the players to first figure out how they can find the acorns, then deal with the poison.

Perhaps a fox demon of sorts has been trapped by the squirrel and tortured? Have your players rescue him and try to figure out how much they can trust it. The demon wants to get back at the squirrels, but who's to say he didn't start the whole war in the first place?

Looking for a location for the final conflict? Well, if it's squirrels we're dealing with, clearly a massive tree would be perfect. Instead of going for the cliché haunted castle or monastery, simply have the were-elf-squirrel carve a massive home inside a dungeon, complete with owl-alarms and an Indiana Jones style rolling boulder...acorn!

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Hahaha that's awesome, love the ideas thank you! –  iorost Feb 20 at 5:16
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If you have trouble coming up with them on the fly, I recommend finding time to sit down and just crank out some plot-neutral side quests. A week is typically all most DMs have between adventures, so when you have a couple hours you can dedicate, take a moment and generate a few things that you don't necessarily plan to use. To me this has always been the trick to seeming prepared for every system I know. During downtime, especially when I have to skip a week it's a habit to have these little modules that I expect player entropy to solve in about ten minutes (or spend a whole session on. Who knows).

Since you're playing 4e you have a very interesting wellspring to work with for puzzles if you're a fan of more classic (2D) video games. Keep a close eye on your party's abilities.

  • Have a controller or two in your group? Have a puzzle on hand that involves them using their push/pull/slide attacks to move an object as the target. Especially effective with Wardens who use magic and not "enemy predilection" in the flavor text.

  • For a stealthy rogue or any character with extraordinary movement, Your party might play the classic game of Red Light/Green Light where they don't necessarily have to roll stealth, but you have guards with limited visibilities and apparently no other useful senses on a specific patrol and have the characters dart from cover to cover or between red zones. But always take initiative and always count the squares. It's your typical maze where getting caught only kicks you back to start and the players don't have to fight (could be teleportation traps in a spinning/floating statue for all I care)

  • Since Strikers are inevitable for a party, create a maze where they have to break down doors in a set time limit. For example in the Samurai Warriors franchise there is a minigame where there are three doors in line. Break one and keep running, but be warned that one is rigged to explode (for your defender mayhaps) and push you back. Each side has its own track, first one to the finish wins.

And if you get truly bored, they are walking around and suddenly wild monsters for a fight. It really doesn't take much once you get used to making them. Hence when I said above you can make ideas you won't use just for the sake of having bits and bobbles in your head/notes to bring out randomly.

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Great ideas with the puzzles, thank you!! –  iorost Mar 5 at 15:56
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I'm a fairly new DM (I've only had one session as dm), and I find that you shouldn't try to over complicate things. If your players know that you're a new DM, then they probably won't expect something too complicated. As for combat and puzzles, add simple traps, like small pitfalls and tripwires that knock down branches, nuts, and the like. For puzzles, don't make something complicated, as the enemies are squirrels, they can't make something too complex, so make puzzles that are something like this: Place weights on platforms that have certain markings on them (claw marks to signify how many nuts needed) to open a passage leading to a new area. Combat, as you said, they should just fight swarms of squirrels that ambush them. Since the weresquirrel is an elf, add some simple magic spells to the fights (look at low level Druid spells for examples that may fit). Edit: To get players to enjoy scenery, add things they can do with it, or they will probably just ignore it. Related: How to discourage players from rushing?

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I'd like it if down voters would say why they dislike my answer, so that I can improve it and answer future questions better. –  Ze Demon Pyro Feb 19 at 15:47
It's not very detailed and mainly speaks from inexperience rather than experience. Mostly though, you've chosen to answer a poorly scoped question. Don't do that. –  wax eagle Feb 19 at 16:39
Great idea with the puzzle, thanks a lot! And thanks everyone for their insight.Sorry about my question being too broad, new to this site :( –  iorost Feb 20 at 5:16
@iorost it's fine, pretty much everyone's first question on this site can be off the rules (including mine), but as you get used to this site, it'll be easier to make better questions. –  Ze Demon Pyro Feb 20 at 12:55
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