Hey there everybody, I'm looking for ideas for non-combat encounters. Combat's fun and all, but I like mixing things up with other challenges that aren't just "attack thing until it stops moving", so I'm always on the look out for new ideas. I figured I'd start a thread to talk about that kind of stuff. I've seen stuff like dealing with forces of natures like floods, creating circus acts to infiltrate parties, to portals locked by puzzles. I'm curious about what kind of things the community has seen, anybody seen anything interesting?
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Generally, I find it interesting to take two different kinds of non-combat challenges and mash them together. Like; the players need to build a contraption, but there's an angry mob outside that they need to convince to leave them alone. Or they need to navigate a storm with their boat while also performing a delicate ceremony. Really, take any two things that would be a non-combat challenge, and mash them (incoherently if possible) together.
Don't forget about social encounters! Have your party work to sway a person/group from their original intention. There was a posting here where setting up a trial was mentioned, which may invoke inspiration. You can dice things up by having the players caught between opposing factions, each eyeing a central resource or objective. Perhaps the encounter would be settling a dispute between two tribes/towns before things came to bloodshed.
I threw the following into the mix in the middle of Hoard of the Dragon Queen, but it can work whenever the party is travelling.
As they set up camp, a group of caravans approached from the opposite direction, pulling up a little ways off, a group started making camp nearby - strange men who spoke very little except for hushed tones, women in long flowing skirts and wore headscarves and large gaudy jewelry, and a few children who seemed to be able to dart around and spring up behind them (Surprise, it's a band of travelling gypsies!). One of the females approaches and offers to share their campfire and food whilst they enjoy the evening with some song and dance. The woman has two sisters, the three of them as the PCs and the rest of the gypsy folk prepare food, start dancing as a gypsy man who doesn't say a word strums a tune on a weird instrument the players have never seen before.
As the three sisters begin to dance, their hips swaying, they start humming, in time with the music, the PCs that are sitting around the fire, start to gaze intently - one of the sisters pulls out a tambourine, tapping it in time with the music, soon it feels as if their heartbeats are also in time with it. (At this point I'm asking for Wisdom saving rolls - at disadvantage if they partook in any of the food shared by the Gypsies - Off memory I went with a DC of 16). Anyone that fails is considered Charmed. No visible magic/spell has been cast (this is what I call a variation on circle/place/gypsy magic). All charmed players wish to continue watching the sisters dance.
If non charmed PC tries to snap another player out of it, depending on the way they attempt, may provoke another save. After an hour or so, as the sisters continue dancing, I call for another wisdom save, same deal as before - those failing want to sleep by the gypsy campfire (effectively a slow acting sleep spell).
Now I had 1 PC not even sit over at the campfire in the first place, I had him be able to observe thanks to a cluey NPC who was deaf and alerted him to the sisters trickery - he managed to rescue another PC, and they camped near their horses and wagons. As they were I had the gypsy children do stealth against their passive Perception (active if they said they were standing guard), as the children stole small valuables from the wagons and horses. The sisters pick pocketed those that were sleeping at their fire.
In the morning as the PC awoke, realizing what had happened, they checked their pockets, got very very angry, then went back to the carts where the 2 that had guarded there found more missing goods - suddenly it was war on the gypsies - they went to the gypsy wagons (typical carnival wagons, all covered, door at the back, and start banging on them to tell the gypsies to come out. Eventually they barged in and as they did so the inside of the wagons looked like they had been there for over 100 years, bits missing, over grown with moss, as if nature was reclaiming them. as they exit they hear the haunting tune from the night before off in the woods. As they give chase they come to a grove with a tree trump with a note and a pendant that the PCs remember one of the sisters wearing - note basically thanks them for their contribution to the group, and the pendant detects as faint magic - as it has been recently used for some sort of teleportation magic.
Long Encounter Short: My players now hate gypsies and have declared that should they ever encounter a gypsy, they die immediately. God help them if I ever send them to Rashemen. :D
I will be running a rescue a house that's caught fire side vignette at some point, and I know one of my players is big into intrigue so I've got to build at least one non-violent rival enchanter encounter. Musical challenges can be worthwhile.
I've heard of drinking competitions, capture the flag style races where acrobatics and sleight of hand skills are tested. (think flag football without the ball) I wanna go meta at some point and see if I can get a group of adventurers to teach a group of actors a choreographed fight sequence based on one of their own adventures to please a corrupt noble. (a combat against his minions they don't know at that point and the noble is judging their honesty by how much they exaggerate the mock battle)
My DM is fond of puzzles, particularly ones involving pictographs or sliding runes/rooms.
Well, if they're big into intrigue, what's better than trying to solve the mystery of the burning house while it's burning! After all, there could be a lot of evidence that might be destroyed by the (magical? intelligent? helforged?) flames.
This was for a sea storm after they had left an island heading for the mainland.
I'll post more tonight when I get home, but I divided the boat into 5 areas (Crows nest, sails and rigging, fore, aft, hold) Moving between areas required athletics or acrobatics checks (whichever made more sense) once the storm started. Players decided where they were in the ship when the storm hit. If they moved they needed to make the check. In the game they were all on deck or in the crows nest when the storm hit. So they had to rush to the hold when a wave smashed a log through the side of the hull. Also using more than one effect at a time can keep everyone busy (waves crash over the boat as one of the sails starts to rip).
I'll post the events table I used when I get home. (It also helped to have some NPC crew to take the fall on some of the events).
I made a puzzle encounter for 3.5 that was used to protect a phylactery, but it can be repurposed for anything. In a small room, there is a poem written on a wall above 10 crystals embedded below it. The crystals are set in a way that they cant be removed. The poem consists of 6 lines, each one in a different, very obscure language (like aboleth and such):
One bright day in the middle of the night/Two dead boys got up to fight/Back to back, they face each other/Drew their swords and shot each other/The lone deaf guard who heard the noise/Came and killed the two dead boys
The puzzle requires you to cast a specific sequence of spells (or metamagic) to continue. Any spell cast in the room is absorbed by the first available empty crystal rather than its normal effects. If the spell is the correct one, the energy is stored in the crystal, causing it to glow. If an incorrect spell is cast, all the crystals release their stored energy (including the energy of the incorrect spell), dealing 1d6 damage of raw untyped energy damage per spell level stored at the time of release (DC 20 Reflex for half) to everyone in the room. The PCs then have to start over.
The poem gives clues on what to cast. A DC 15 Intelligence can reveal how many clues in each line: 2/1/2/2/2/1.
Here is the solution:
Daylight, any darkness spell ,Animate dead ,any spell with the Twin metamagic feat applied, Mirror Image, Summon weapon, any ray spell, Blindess/Deafness, Ghost Sound, Undeath to Death
The PCs can use scrolls if necessary.
I'm not sure how this will work in certain editions, but I hope it can give you some ideas :3
Use non-DnD related objects to create real life puzzles. Examples include: Legos, a challenge (try not to laugh to represent a situation in which they need to react calmly), digital/irl challenge like a riddle-based scavenger hunt to represent a large puzzle, or even a real-life fetch quest. Another good idea is to have them do your dishes (or other chore) for some dumb challenge. Or maybe even a game of cards to represent a game of cards.
A firey wreckage fell from the sky and debris fell over the village. Several buildings caught fire and the PCs were tasked with saving what they could. Which buildings or people were lost could have a big impact. I had them roll initiative though there were no enemies. They could locate buckets, use water from the well, direct towns folk.
I didn't put much thought into it. I was simply trying to introduce the mysterious wreckage/teleportation mishap. Years later my players bring up the fire fighting part as a memorable and exciting session, and don't remember the wreck they found afterward.
I attribute this to being in initiative and limited by action economy, yet being out of combat.
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Coliseum of Conquest: DM - Things are getting out of hand.
Fah'lin: lvl 5 Human Paladin/Warlock - Opens doors that may be trapped.
Dahme'dre d'Lyric: lvl 2 Human Sorcerer/Warlock - Walking boundries of Light and Dark, Law and Chaos, Truth and Deceit.
Jianyu: lvl 3 Wood Elf Monk/Rogue - Values silence as a path to enlightenment.
The world I have my players in uses a continent wide competition to find out who the strongest, most intelligent, and luckiest guilds are across the land. The are allowed to challenge any other participating guild in the area, and upon both guilds accepting the challenge there is a small amount of arbitration, then a 3 day event follows where they compete. Each day holds a different challenge, and the challenges vary from place to place, day to day, event to event. The guild which comes out victorious is rewarded by the ruler of the land.
The first challenge my players had was a re-enactment of a fable, the gods and the titans were at war, in this instance the gods were being routed from the home of a fire titan. The players had to race down the side of a volcano while the magma, titan, and a handful of fire giants harassed them on the way down. To make matters worse, the challenging guild was present along side them, so you had the volcano and the pc/npc guilds all working against/with each other.
The way this is set up allows you or the players to instigate a guild challenge, and with a bit of influence from various media, you can create any type of scenario you want to fit into the session(s). My next challenge for the group is basically a capture the flag/lazer tag type game but based on the same "gods vs titans" lore and hunting for an artifact.