The 3 Types of Encounters in D&D 5e (Plus 3 FREE Adventures) | [Guest Post]

Today, I have a treat for you guys. Landon Guss of Quest Chests offers up some great insight into what makes for a cool adventure and then offers up links to 3 FREE adventures. Hope you enjoy!

An adventure in Dungeons and Dragons can be a lot of things, but if there’s one thing every Dungeon Master wants theirs to be, it’s unforgettable. Every DM wants their players to look back on their adventures and remark on how they were everything they wanted out of the game and that they can’t wait for the next one. But how are these types of adventures made?

I’m here to convince you that every unforgettable D&D adventure that has ever been written only needs three things. Thankfully, all of them are concepts you’re already familiar with; you just might not be aware of how important they are. The three core elements to any unforgettable adventure are combat, exploration, and roleplaying encounters. That might sound a bit obvious, but that’s the best part. It’s not as hard as you’d think to make an unforgettable adventure.

What are the 3 types of encounters in D&D?

Let’s start by taking a quick look at these three encounter types:

Combat Encounters

Combat encounters include all scenarios in which the players fight against an opponent or opponents. It is important to note that an opponent is not limited to monsters or even villains. Opponents can be drunken patrons at a tavern, mind-controlled commoners, or even other PCs. Simply put, if a player is rolling dice to attack something, it is a combat encounter.

Exploration Encounters

Exploration encounters encompass any instance in which the players investigate, explore, or problem solve. Examples include researching the defenses and patrol schedules of an enemy camp, discovering a treasure hoard in the ruins of an ancient city, or solving the riddle to unlock the door to an ancient temple. If a player is discovering or learning something new, it is an exploration encounter.

Roleplaying Encounters

Roleplaying encounters involve every situation where the players are interacting with another creature or entity outside of combat. They range from chitchatting with a tavern keep to attempting to dissuade a guard from arresting a fellow party member to pleading to your god or goddess for aid in the heart of battle.

What makes a good Fifth Edition adventure?

Now that we understand our three categories, let’s talk about adventures. According to the dictionary, an adventure is “an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity.” This definition works, but I would propose a minor change to better fit the context of Dungeons & Dragons with our three categories in mind. My definition for an adventure would read, “an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, series of combat, exploration, and roleplaying encounters.”

To illustrate why this change is so important, let’s look at an example.

Example 1:

Under the first definition, an adventure could be, “The adventurers are going to cleanse Uttholos the archlich’s dungeon of undead,” but is that very inspiring? Does that really get us engaged in the story? I don’t think so.

Example 2:

Using the second definition, however, our adventure could read, “To enter the ancient dungeon of Uttholo the archlich, the adventurers must first solve the riddle at its entrance. Only then can they begin to work their way through the maze of chambers and slay the undead minions who still dwell within. Along the way, they will encounter the ghost of a former adventurer who failed to do the very thing the heroes have set out to do.”

I believe that the second example makes for a far more compelling and unforgettable adventure, and that’s because it caters to all three of our encounter types. But why? What is it about balancing our three encounter types that makes adventures unforgettable? The answer is simple: balancing encounter types creates unforgettable adventures because it keeps all of your players engaged.

Why is player engagement, and why is it important?

Player engagement is what makes stories unforgettable. It doesn’t matter how terrifying your villain is or how complex of a dungeon you’ve created. If your players aren’t engaged, they’re not going to remember it, but players are only truly engaged in what interests them. This is the complicated part of any Dungeon Master’s job.

Not every player likes the same type of encounter. You’ll have some players that love hacking their way through goblin caves but don’t much care to check out the cave when they’re done. You’ll have players who could spend an entire hour chitchatting with the guards but practically fall asleep if combat breaks out with them. And then you’ll have players who will compulsively explore every nook and cranny of every dungeon but never stop to talk to anything they meet in it. This is why diversifying is so important.

If you can ensure that every adventure provides your players with opportunities to fight, investigate, and roleplay, you’ll have created an adventure that engages everyone. Will they be engaged 100% of the time? No. But that’s ok! What matters is that at the end of the adventure, each player will be able to look back and recall an encounter in which their character really shined. That’s what makes the adventure unforgettable.

3 Examples of Unforgettable Adventures in D&D Fifth Edition

With all of this being said, let’s look at three examples of three unforgettable adventures. Spoilers ahead! You’ve been warned players.

1. Silent Sacrifices

Silent Sacrifices is a 5e adventure for 1st level characters. In this adventure, the PCs will wake up in cages after being captured in their sleep by terrifying grimlocks. After escaping their primitive prisons, the adventurers must attempt to navigate the dark, twisting caves, but with no idea where they are and unseen threats who can hear their every move, the adventurers will have to work quickly and quietly if they hope to survive. Along the way, they will encounter countless dead-ends, chambers filled with sleeping grimlocks, and other helpless prisoners in need of aid. As the party struggles with the moral dilemma of risking their own lives to saves the lives of others, they will discover the truth behind their capture and the horrifying fate which awaits them if they fail to escape…

  • Players who enjoy combat encounters will have opportunities to hack and slash their way through the hoards of grimlocks which stand between the party and freedom.
  • Players who enjoy exploration encounters will have opportunities to uncover hidden treasures, search for a way out of the caves, and investigate the reasoning behind their abduction.
  • Players who enjoy roleplaying encounters will have opportunities to interact with three unique NPCs who have been captured by the grimlocks as well, each of which poses their own unique strengths and weaknesses.

Click here to download this adventure for free!

2. Clucks of Despair

Clucks of Despair is a 5e adventure for 3rd level characters. In this adventure, the party will attempt to put an end to the horribly barbaric chicken fights being hosted by Cluq the goblin boss and his horde of goblins. However, this is no easy task. Cluq’s fights draw large crowds of criminals and thugs who would not be thrilled to have their favorite past time taken away. Not only this, but the goblins’ cave complex is riddled with traps designed to alert the goblins to anyone poking their noses where they shouldn’t be. The PCs best hope is to maintain a low profile, learn as much from fellow attendees about the goblins as possible, and recruit allies before making their move. Will they be successful in saving the livelihoods of the nearby farmers, or will they meet a bloody, or will they meet the same bloody demise as Cluq’s chickens?

  • Players who enjoy combat encounters will have opportunities to fight an entire cave filled with goblins, bandits, ogres, kobolds, and, most importantly, chickens.
  • Players who enjoy exploration encounters will have opportunities to stealthy sneak throughout the goblin’s cave system, uncover traps that threaten to reveal the party’s true intent, and seek out Cluq’s fabled treasure hoard.
  • Players who enjoy roleplaying encounters will have opportunities to interact with not only this adventure’s three primary NPCs but also the chance to mingle and socialize with all of the guests who have come to place bets on the fights for that evening.

Click here to download this adventure for free!

3. The Rose’s Spawn

The Rose’s Spawn is a 5e adventure for 5th level characters. In this adventure, the party will investigate the disappearance of Jo Wanderfoot and his allies whose last known whereabouts was Rosaceae Manor. Having been hidden from the rest of the world for the past three hundred years, nothing is known of Rosaceae Manor nor its new owner, Master Rolus. After locating the manor, the PCs will need to explore every nook and cranny if they hope to find Jo, but it will not be easy. Magical defenses wait to attack any who would do the manor or its master harm, and shadows creep about within its walls, eager to drain the living of their vitality. Yet all of these threats pale in comparison to Master Rolus himself who will be eager to meet his uninvited “guests” over dinner…

  • Players who enjoy combat encounters will have opportunities to fend off the undead creatures and magical constructs which defend Rosaceae Manor as well as a final confrontation with Master Rolus the vampire spawn.
  • Players who enjoy exploration encounters will have opportunities to comb through the manor’s many rooms in search of Jo Wanderfoot, all the while uncovering the tragic history of Rosacea Manor and its current master.
  • Players who enjoy roleplaying encounters will have opportunities to converse with Hobbes Derkenshire, the ancient, quirky butler of Rosaceae Manor as well as with Master Rolus who longs for a genuine conversation with anyone other than Hobbes over a lovely dinner.

Click here to download this adventure for free!

Landon Guss is the CEO and co-founder of Quest Chests, a third-party publisher and resource hub for the 5th edition of the world’s greatest roleplaying game.

1 thought on “The 3 Types of Encounters in D&D 5e (Plus 3 FREE Adventures) | [Guest Post]

  1. I think that rather than types of encounters those are actually three ways to overcome challenges. If we as DMs predetermine “this is going to be a fight” and “you mist use skills to get past this point” we are chsating the players out of the chance to chose how to solve a problem.

    creating obstacles, not encounters, and letting the players find solutions is how I prefer to design.

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