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I want to delay my players for one session while we wait for the last player to become available.

My plan is to send them to a wise old man (aka crazy hermit) for advice, and then to delay them for about a session before giving them common sense advice. I want to give them three tasks, but I don't want to make them all combat oriented.

Tasks I imagine a wily old hermit might have for them include:

  • Cutting and chopping enough firewood for winter
  • Refilling the rainwater barrels
  • Cleaning out the goat pen

I also have combat encounters in mind (at an appropriate level) like:

  • Bring back a wolf pelt so I can make a blanket
  • Hunt some wild boar for my dinner
  • Bring back honey from the honey ant hill

My problem is that the non-combat tasks are not challenging at all, and would take far too little time to do.

How can I make the simple tasks more challenging?

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The key to encounter design is that an encounter (whether it involve combat, riddles, or some other task) has to be interesting to spend time on it. The reason the players will probably enjoy the task of obtaining the wolf's pelt is because it's both fairly broad (one possible option is to find a nearby village and just buy one and that would take seconds of ingame time, because it's not fairly interesting) and because it's inherently interesting. After all; the wolf's pelt is attached to the wolf, and the wolf has sharp teeth and a desire to not be seperated from its pelt, which turns the situation into a conflict. (Conflict being the key word, because conflict is what makes the game interesting)

But the task of cutting down trees isn't a conflict. And as such, while it takes a lot of time, it isn't inherently interesting. This in turn means that players won't spend much time on it, and shouldn't spend much time on it, because it's a boring part of the campaign.

So the goal of the encounter design shouldn't neccesarily be that the task isn't trivial, but rather than performing the task should be interesting to the players. Introducing some form of conflict or complication will make players want to invest more time in figuring out and solving the problem.

I'm going to assume the crazy old hermit lives in the wilderniss and outside of civilization. Below is a list of possibilities to make the trivial and boring task of "cut wood for winter" more interesting.

  • The hermit lives on top of a hard to traverse hill with a small bridge leading to his home. Cutting down the trees isn't an issue. Getting them to him, will be.
  • The nearest wood is hours away. There are no tools available to transport the wood back all that distance, and there's no time to do it the hard way.
  • Most of the trees in the local area struck by some kind of disease and would not burn. (or be dangerous when burned). Either the players need to fix the disease, or they need to figure out how to find healthy trees.
  • The wood is protected by Elves/Druids/Treants/Whatever and they aren't really interested in having them cut down by random people. They'll need convincing in some way.
  • The hermit doesn't actually have any woodcutting tools. Or a storage place. Or a fireplace. Why the hell does he want us to cut wood anyway? What is he up to?

You can try the same kinds of tricks for other tasks. The key is to make them interesting, by introducing complications that rule out the simple solutions. Think over the steps needed to complete a task ("find tree", "cut down tree", "drag tree back") and then add reasons why it isn't as simple as saying these things in a row to fix the problem ("there are no trees to be seen", "the tree has DR 20/adamantine", "it's heavy as hell") and then make the players figure out how to get around the problem. Try to introduce issues that make sense story-wise and the players will probably enjoy fixing them.

It doesn't have to neccesarily take effort on behalf of the players or their characters, but the key is to make the solution non-straightforward. This forces them to come up with a plan, which will increase game time needed.

The more game time you need, the more or bigger complications you will need to introduce in order to stretch things long enough. You can even start combining complications, for bigger issues. At some point, you can introduce so many complications that even a simple task like "cut some wood" can turn into an adventure in itself, although you must of course be careful that your players will not at some point tell the hermit to stick it where the sun don't shine and leave.

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    \$\begingroup\$ ... this could be a great "comic relief episode" or Chain of Deals (warning: TV Tropes) side-quest. Just be careful that it doesn't break the mood you're going for for the campaign as a whole. \$\endgroup\$ – minnmass Mar 11 '15 at 14:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ Came here to say this, already said really well, and accordingly upvoted. :) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 11 '15 at 15:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you. This answer has clarified many of the concepts I had felt about encounters before, but that I had difficulty articulating. \$\endgroup\$ – Gustav Bertram Mar 11 '15 at 16:04
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A simple method I use with my players to add some intensity to the mundane is to add a timer. It takes a little tuning, but for something like that, I'd give them 15 minutes to go start to finish on all the tasks they need to get done. They're failures should have some small consequence, but nothing critical. It's really great how intense a small scene can get when they're trying to get that last success but have an escalating difficulty due to increasing wear on their gear.

This takes a little GM engineering, but here's a simple example:

Players need to chop 10 bundles of wood for the hermit. The hermit tells the players that he's expecting guests(chance for something silly) and they must be finished before sun down. Tell them they have 10 minutes to finish the task. Have them do two rolls:

  1. Find trees that are good for chopping.
  2. Chop the wood.

Everyone has to filter through you and maybe they can only try once ever two minutes. With one task, it stills a little tedious, but if you ahve them going in different directions, the delegation of tasks, the description of what their doing, using/losing their tools adds some pretty intense tension that the players feel responsible for.

Making the mundane fun is hard. Good luck!

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