D&D General Quick challenges

I'm running an RPG activity at my middle school. We will have about 40 minutes of play time during each session. This semester, I'll be running a table for new players (which I haven't done in a few years). I prefer to have each session be a complete encounter (or, occasionally, a pair or trio of very short encounters). I usually select things that will showcase different aspects of the game (social encounters, traps, puzzles, melee combat, ranged combat, magic, etc.). I'm looking for fresh ideas to add to the mix.

I'd appreciate it if you'd toss me some gems from your games: self-contained situations that can be resolved in <45 minutes.
 

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To paraphrase Pascal, “If I Had More Time, I Would Have Written a Shorter Encounter”

40 minutes is quite a challenge to design for... how many players do you have?

The idea that immediately pops into my head: the combat that ends early due to the enemy surrendering, pleading for their life in exchange for some dirt on their boss/help finding a secret treasure cache/a key pass phrase to get into the cultist headquarters/whatever.

Good luck and thanks for starting the thread! Can’t wait to see some of the creative suggestions posters here will provide.
 

aco175

Legend
When my son first started playing I made a tower with a basement containing a tomb of a dead knight. There was some action before getting there and something about needing to get the magic sword from the knight. I recall a puzzle to get in that I found online about what a knight does to a bow, the artist puts on page, and the name of of a young man. The answer was Drew and my son figured it out with a bit of prodding from the other players. There was some undead inside that needed to be overcome.

A good encounter with this can be in two parts with a 10 minute riddle and 20 minute combat. Extra time searching and finding the treasure
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Small heists might work. The players need to raid the hideout of some local thugs. The boss thug has a key that will open the prison to free the players' friend/father/whatever. Put the thugs over some sort or busy retail space run by the thugs. The players can case the joint and try to find out about the movements of the guards and whatnot, maybe talk to some regulars or even the thugs themselves to gain information. Then they can do a midnight stealth intrusion into the building which inevitably descends into a chase/fight scene form which the characters narrowly escape.

Any kid who has played a tactical 3rd person shooter will be able to grok the whole scenario pretty quickly. As a bonus, I'd recommend trying out a Blades in the Dark style flashback mechanic. Each player gets one, and it can be spent to take a minute and explain how a problem that has cropped up was something they anticipated and planned for before the intrusion Attack dogs .... right, good thing I remembered to bring some steak chunks with a healthy dose of sleeping powder on them, here doggy. It gives them a little agency over the fiction, which you may or may not want.
 

40 minutes is quite a challenge to design for... how many players do you have?

I'll probably have a table of 4-5 students.

The idea that immediately pops into my head: the combat that ends early due to the enemy surrendering, pleading for their life in exchange for some dirt on their boss/help finding a secret treasure cache/a key pass phrase to get into the cultist headquarters/whatever.

Yeah, I've definitely had battles end early to fit with the time frame. They plead for mercy or try to flee or disintegrate into dust when the PCs kill the leader.

A good encounter with this can be in two parts with a 10 minute riddle and 20 minute combat. Extra time searching and finding the treasure

Nice. One good thing about the tight format that I'm faced with is that it allows for a lot of the schticks that can be hard to fit into a more traditional campaign with adult players. Riddles and puzzles are wonderful but can be tough to justify. Younger players, in my experience, are less concerned with the logic of the overall story and are happy to jump into the action with a minimum of handwaving. "Look a locked door with a riddle! Cool!" This is doubly true when the sessions are so short that we have to narrate through all the connective tissue (every session begins with the next encounter).

A riddle with some undead works nicely. (Undead are fun opponents too, who can plausibly disintegrate into dust if the end-of-the-session approaches!)

Small heists might work.

I like this. Setting the game in a rough-and-tumble city might work well since there could be many short scenarios nearby. Each session, for example, could require them to find another piece of the MacGuffin. The thugs have one. The undead tomb has another. Etc.

As a bonus, I'd recommend trying out a Blades in the Dark style flashback mechanic. Each player gets one, and it can be spent to take a minute and explain how a problem that has cropped up was something they anticipated and planned for before the intrusion.

This is not only fun but will help show them the value of having the right tools for the job.
 

aco175

Legend
With young players and maybe with a school environment you can stick to killing undead, vermin, elementals, and other non-humans. These are quickly seen as bad guys and leave the humans (and elves, dwarves and such) as good guys. You can add more complicated dilemmas later.

The time may be a problem, but combat is a play you can cheat a bit to make it work. You want to try and give everyone a bit of time to shine each week. It may take 5 minutes to get started and now you are behind a bit. I would just start with the PCs fully rested and at the encounter. Handwave the part where the knight hires the PCs to go to his family tomb to investigate the missing sister (or brother). The PCs start at the entrance of the tomb.

You may be behind with getting seated and a mini puzzle to get in, so in combat you can fudge to have bad guys die a hit sooner or secretly lower the DC on the trap the thief is trying to disarm.
 

Baumi

Adventurer
The new Savage Worlds Adventurer Edition has a "Quick Encounter" Chapter just because of that reason. The Autor often GMs on Conventions with less than an hour time, but still want to do more that just one combat.

The Rules are actually extremely simpel and work for any encounter .. Combat, Chase, Skill Challenge.

Everyone in the Group has to participate and describe what they do, in any order. They then roll a single Skill (or Attack in D&D) and at least half of the group has to get succeed in the Encounter (in SW it's one Success/player, but you can get more than one success per roll there). Each failed Roll has some setbacks depended on the situation, like taking damage or embarrassment.

If they have not enough successes they might try again, take another route or have some bigger setback, but it shouldn't result in a TPK or something so extrem (if it's that dangerous than it shouldn't be a quick encounter in the first place).

If a player uses daily resources, than they should get advantage or even an automatic success if it is something extremely fitting.
 

Everyone in the Group has to participate and describe what they do, in any order. They then roll a single Skill (or Attack in D&D) and at least half of the group has to get succeed in the Encounter (in SW it's one Success/player, but you can get more than one success per roll there). Each failed Roll has some setbacks depended on the situation, like taking damage or embarrassment.

That's a fun mechanic. I'm actually going to run the games using the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game (powered by GURPS), which could easily adopt such a mechanic. (I posted in the D&D forum because the game follows most of the tropes of D&D.) It already has systems for complementary skill rolls; this could easily be added to the mix.
 

Here are a few ideas (beyond regular melee combat) that I've used in previous iterations of this activity:
  1. A battle with undead or other evils that regenerate or respawn until the Evil Thing is destroyed. (This one is always popular; it's fun to play with people who have no sense of cliché!)
  2. A platform dangling from a chain in a cavern with a lake or something below (they either teleport onto it or climb down the chain from above). The goal is to get to a ledge on the side. They can use magic, ropes, or set the platform swinging so that they get close enough to jump. Season with some aerial critters and something(s) in the water to chomp on fallen heroes.
  3. Rust monster or other creature that destroys equipment. (Even when we're hardly tracking resources, I've found that players just don't want anything messing with their imaginary stuff.) Leads to all sorts of shenanigans as armored knights hide behind the wizards.
These give a sense of the flavor I'm looking for. Relatively simple situations where a bit of cleverness can overcome the obstacle(s).
 


Baumi

Adventurer
A nice trick for the Big Bad is to have Stages (as in Video-Games), where it transformes itself after been "defeated" which need a completely new Strategy to defeat. But it is important that each Stage doesn't take too long.

Example: An obvious demon-Child that hurts them psychically and has some magic tricks, but is easily defeated. When cut down, it sheds it's skin and become an huge but stupid combat Demon. After that has been destroyed the spirit doesn't die and becomes living lightning..

Also something like Lair Actions work perfectly on normal Monsters too. Upgrade otherwise mundane Monster by letting them take actions outside their normal round to become a SOLO-Monster.
 

aco175

Legend
Good terrain is helpful for keeping people engaged. I like to have the encounter room with a few tunnels that get into it. This way some of the PCs can attack directly and some can circle around. This also works for the bad guys though. These tunnels could be hidden or open depending on how you use them.
 

Example: An obvious demon-Child that hurts them psychically and has some magic tricks, but is easily defeated. When cut down, it sheds it's skin and become an huge but stupid combat Demon. After that has been destroyed the spirit doesn't die and becomes living lightning.

This is intriguing. I've definitely experienced this in video games, but never ported it over to tabletop. I'm going to try something like this out.

Also something like Lair Actions work perfectly on normal Monsters too. Upgrade otherwise mundane Monster by letting them take actions outside their normal round to become a SOLO-Monster.

Lair Actions were a great addition to the game. Used in moderation, they can add an epic layer to a battle.

Good terrain is helpful for keeping people engaged. I like to have the encounter room with a few tunnels that get into it. This way some of the PCs can attack directly and some can circle around. This also works for the bad guys though. These tunnels could be hidden or open depending on how you use them.

Yeah, terrain is key! Even simple stuff like bad footing, water, or mud make a scene more interesting. They give people choices about where to go with different costs and benefits. It's also fun to make use of the vertical dimension which is so often ignored in dungeon delves: archers shooting from a balcony, bridges overhead, grates revealing a lower area, etc. It doesn't take much to convert an otherwise humdrum encounter into a memorable scene in the bard's next saga.
 

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