D&D General How do you prep for Epic Encounters?

Lidgar

Gongfarmer
As DMs, we've all been there. The dragon's lair. The massive ambush by the bandit lord and his many minions. The finale assault on the evil priest's temple in the bowls of the dungeon.

These encounters commonly have:
1. Several different monsters/NPCs participating
2. Spellcasters
3. Monsters/NPCs with special abilities
4. Terrain elements and/or existing effects (weather, magical, etc.) in the encounter area
5. Time tracking elements, including phasing when new participants enter the fray

These "set" encounters can be some of the most challenging, yet rewarding, experiences we have in the game, for players and DMs alike.

For this thread, I'm interested in hearing what tools you use to both prepare and run complex encounters (assume table top play vs VTT here, but ok to list your VTT tools too).

Do you mostly wing it? Do you print anything ahead of time? Any time/turn/round trackers? Shortcuts for looking up spells and other effects on the fly? Battlemaps and miniatures? Etc.

Of particular interest are preparation techniques and tools that may be used during the encounter that help facilitate pacing and reducing time spent at the table paging through books and looking things up.

Thanks for your ideas!
 

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aco175

Legend
For a large battle like this I like to have a map or drawn area planned out ahead of time. I will use an old printed map or make a new one with wrapping paper that has the 1" grid inside. I like to have something ready and not be drawing it to make things a bit dramatic. I might also pick the minis out ahead of time as well and have one appropriate to describe as the leader if I have one that fits.

Another thing I may do ahead of time is plan some of the actions that the bad guys might do. 1st round the dragon will breathe fire unless ... The minions will try to ... unless... A few simple things to consider

Another thing I like to have in boss battles is a trick. Maybe a trap that can be sprung to open a pit or drop a cage or something. It can be telegraphed by a minion running over to level on the wall, or be detected by the PCs spotting things instead of just rushing in.
 

Oofta

Legend
I do prep general stuff ahead of time and have a quick cheat sheet for any complex encounter. So a reminder of lair actions, when people will probably come in, etc. I use DndBeyond so I can just make encounter notes in the app.

As far as turn trackers I use laminated cards for all my encounters. Just buy some laminating sheets from your favorite office supply store and then laminate blank pieces of paper (I cut a standard 8.5x11 into 4 cards). You can then write notes with dry-erase markers on them. When done, wash them off. I used to print out the monsters and that was all I used before I started using DDB. It's amazing how much you can abbreviate most of the critical monster info.

Example:
Screenshot 2023-09-01 104412.jpg


While I run monsters off DDB, I still use the cards and write things like lair actions on it's own card. For casters I list the spells they're likely to cast first on my card. I also create custom versions and swap out spells as appropriate, most high level casters in the MM have the same boring spell list.

So that covers most of it. I use this all the time so I use the laminated cards (which I also have for PCs), but of course any index cards will work. I use a small whiteboard for tracking HP, and something for condition markers.

Only other thing I can think of is that if I have more than 5 or so of any one type of creature I break them into groups and consider using the Mob rules from the DMG.

That's about all I can think of off the top of my head.
 

Stalker0

Legend
When it’s the full epic fight I often use excel, and put in a few formulas to handle the attack, damage and saving throws for all if the monsters, saves SO MUCH TIME.

I also roll all the monster initiative ahead of time and have the listing. So at the start kd the fight I’m only putting in the PCs and then we are off.
 

Clint_L

Legend
As DMs, we've all been there. The dragon's lair. The massive ambush by the bandit lord and his many minions. The finale assault on the evil priest's temple in the bowls of the dungeon.

These encounters commonly have:
1. Several different monsters/NPCs participating
2. Spellcasters
3. Monsters/NPCs with special abilities
4. Terrain elements and/or existing effects (weather, magical, etc.) in the encounter area
5. Time tracking elements, including phasing when new participants enter the fray

These "set" encounters can be some of the most challenging, yet rewarding, experiences we have in the game, for players and DMs alike.

For this thread, I'm interested in hearing what tools you use to both prepare and run complex encounters (assume table top play vs VTT here, but ok to list your VTT tools too).

Do you mostly wing it? Do you print anything ahead of time? Any time/turn/round trackers? Shortcuts for looking up spells and other effects on the fly? Battlemaps and miniatures? Etc.

Of particular interest are preparation techniques and tools that may be used during the encounter that help facilitate pacing and reducing time spent at the table paging through books and looking things up.

Thanks for your ideas!
I make a physical battle map using dungeon tiles, terrain, etc., so players know exactly what is happening and where everything is. I write the encounter up beforehand, of course, so I know what's what. Then I prep and eventually run the encounter on DDB. It tracks everything, and I can hover over creatures, players, spells, saving throws, whatever, so there's no need to search for information in the middle of battle. It also keeps track of initiative, health, etc.

Oh, and I have various translucent spell templates, condition markers, etc. to help me keep track of all that stuff.

FB 2022.jpg
 
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Retros_x

Adventurer
In preparation I think of cool stuff that could happen during the encounter due to terrain, enemy abilites, villain motivation and other circumstances. I take some minimal notes and that it. The only big thing I have in my notebooks are simplified monster statblocks. I have the HP of the monsters as boxes that I can strike off, 5HP per box. Than I write AC, 2-3 attacks max and maybe some special feats / spells. Conditions I just scribble down on my notepad too. Ideally I have everything I need on one page or a double spread of my notebook, so I don't have to flip pages during the fight. I mostly wing it and try to think "cinematically". I also use group initative and static monster damage to ease my mind and speed up the process. I try to have as less parallel things in my mind as possible so am as open as possible for improvisation. When I make my monsters turns I try to not think from the statblock, but from the narrative and the monster and only use the statblock when I need that numbers, but not when to decide what the monsters do.
 

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