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Static vs Dynamic vs On the Fly Encounter planning

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Static vs Dynamic vs On the Fly Encounter planning

Postby Gralamin » Sun Jun 05, 2011 11:27 pm

So In my mind, there are three main ways of creating encounters for a particular session, adventure, or whatever. On one extreme, we have Static planning, which painstakingly maps out each and every contingency. This is the default assumption of most adventures. On another extreme we have no planning, or On the Fly. Which... doesn't plan at all. Shocking. Between the two is something you may not have considered: Dynamic Planning. First of all, let's look at some advantages and disadvantages.

Static planning works best for dungeons, and other complete entities with very limited options. It focuses on having everything down. It is also a lot of work, growing in proportion to the number of distinct player options, and in situations where there is no reason to use all the content, very wasteful. Due to the amount of planning, it also allows a large degree of depth, and is very good if you feel you need a "complete" view of a series of encounters. Note that, even though I am calling it static, it doesn't mean that, for example, one encounter can't react to the result of another. The main idea is that a lot of it is pre-planning, and a lot of the content may never be used.

On the Fly planning, the other extreme is no work, except during play. It relies on quick thinking to string together encounters. However, it often means that you haven't put as much thought into areas, encounters, and how things flow - unless you are very good at it, it may seem shallow. It also has the issue of tactics - unless you are very talented, enemy tactics may not flow well, and the terrain might not be very interesting. Of course, since you re making things up on the fly, all content is used because you make it as needed.

Dynamic is something I haven't really heard many people talk about, though I do it all the time. The idea is based on the fact that there is no reason the DM needs to run encounters in a specific order or location. You essentially paint the broad strokes, planning out things like locations the PCs may visit, but only say, three encounters which you will run no matter which actions the PCs take (Though they might have no way of knowing). It also relies on the concept of an Adapter. An adapter is a set of easy to adjudicate rules that converts encounters to be appropriate to the situation. Adapters may be created before hand (if for example, you know it's likely to come up), or during play (if caught by surprise). An example would be a way of converting a group of Human bandits into a band of Orcs - you can keep your basic planning and mechanics but adjust minorly to fit PC actions. You may have adapters to convert creature types, encounters, tactics, etc. This requires the DM to believe there is a firm separation between the game mechanics, and the fluff (IE: This is essentially applying Model-View-Controller to D&D). This has less wasted content then static, but is harder for the DM and requires changes during play. However, it requires fewer changes then creating on the fly, and allows the DM to put a bit more depth, though likely less so then static.

Note there is no reason you cannot use all of these - however you have to practice all of them then to make them effective. Which may be rough.

Which of these do you do? Do you have an entirely different way? Do you hate any of them?
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Re: Static vs Dynamic vs On the Fly Encounter planning

Postby UniversalTank » Wed Jul 06, 2011 5:17 am

This is actually a really interesting topic within DMing. One that, as you stated, not everyone thinks about. When I run a game, I like to use all three in a sort of chain. If the players have recently finished an adventure and are back in town or camping or something, I use more of an on the fly approach. I make up the npcs they meet in town or maybe something happens to make the trip back to town a bit more than simple downtime that could just be skipped. My players know that if I'm bored I have a tendency to take a page from fire emblem ("Oh no! Bandits!") and I'll use a couple stock baddies that I keep lying around and beef them up if they're looking like they won't even challenge the party, or I'll leave them weak for the players to test out new toys.

I digressed a little there. Basically once the characters are settled, if they aren't actively pursuing any of the leads I've given them for a major plot arc I'll just start throwing encounters with NPCs at them. Maybe a thief steals something from one of them, or an upstart young warrior will challenge one of them, or they hear about something going on elsewhere. I keep doing this until they really "bite" and pursue one of these "random encounters". After that I switch to dynamic planning, I develop the npcs around the route they took (sometimes this is more like on the fly depending on how fast they're moving) and figure out the places the pursuit could take them and some encounters and clues they'll find along the way. If I can find a way to tie it into one of the major plot arcs I have going on in the world, then it becomes a means of drawing them deeper into the plot of the world, if I can't think of a plausible link then it's "side quest".

Once they've worked through most of leads and encounters, I set up a static boss fight and ending sequence that ties up side quests nicely or gives major plot clues. I can do this because by this point they're going to a place that they "know" to be the logical end of the story, so I know the location of the encounter well enough to set it up in detail. It may be a dungeon, it might just be a fight, it almost always involves some kind of puzzle because I know a couple of my players like those.

I find that I have very little wasted effort with this style of planning. That being said, I'm a fan of on the fly DMing because it allows me to insert more emotional roleplaying scenes into the story. I can play off of character responses on a visceral level if I want to or I can insert some comedy if I feel like the campaign is getting a little heavy, those sorts of things are hard to plan in an encounter. Plus, no amount of static planning can account for everything, you never know when a player is going to haul off and do something completely stupid cause he thinks it's the greatest idea in the world and ends up being liquified by shards of obsidian. That death means that any following combat encounters have to change to be fair since they were most likely made assuming a full party, maybe a hurt one, but not a man down.
Stories are like artillery fire. Loud, indirect, and often off target. - Me

"I'm gonna monkey jump up there, and monkey kick his ass!" - Garidus Kerben, Dawn Caste, on action to be taken against a prison warden holding him captive.
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