D&D 5E How to describe a D&D encounter

M.T. Black

I'm always struggling to figure out the best way to describe a D&D encounter in a published adventure. I'm terribly inconsistent in this regards.

3e adventures laid down a fairly standard pattern. After a description of the room, you would get a number of bold headings as required -

Creatures: Any monsters or NPCs in the location

Tactics: How the creatures would respond if combat broke out

Traps: Any traps in the location

Treasure: You guessed it - what treasure is there

Development: What would happen in the location after the PCs leave

Later on, I often saw "Tactics" dropped and "Development" expanded to include essentially everything that might happen in the location after the PCs started interacting with it. Flipping through Storm Kings Thunder, it seems the current approach is to describe everything in a chunk of text, and only have a separate heading for Treasure.

Anyway, does anyone have strong opinions on this matter? What is your favourite approach and why?

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Elder Thing
I see absolutely no reason not to use a similar setup. If you want you can simplify it a bit you could simply use Threats (or maybe Encounters?), Treasure, and Development - that way the same terms could be used in each room regardless of this content.

Traps and Tactics then become sub-headings as necessary.

The lack of a standard in 5e doesn't prohibit you from having a standard for your publications.


When I make notes for an encounter (I don't always but then again, I'm not publishing) I use something like the following. I use the same basic format for combat and non-combat encounters.

What the PCs see
A quick description of the area and any (visible) inhabitants. I go into as much detail as I need to get the feeling of the area across which can be a simple sentence or a short paragraph as needed. May include a check of perceptions and/or insight depending on the situation.

What the PCs Don't see (optional)
Frequently there will be other creatures/bodies behind obstacles that are not immediately visible. I also throw traps and occasionally hazards in here.

So this sets the scenery so that I can have the next piece

Who's Who and Reactions
I include anything I think I need here. What are the inhabitants doing? How are they likely to react? What does BBEG know, are they are prone to the BBEG monologue? The assassin will try to sneak around back and try to take out any spellcasters, etc. If the opponents have special tactics, or will send for reinforcements and so on. This may or may not be a combat encounter, if an NPC or monster is important and/or likely to reappear they may be detailed elsewhere and just referenced.

last but not least
Aftermath (optional)
If there's treasure or anything useful that the PCs may find. But also what happens because of the PC's actions? If they kill the guards, how long until the next shift?

Epic Threats

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