I get a lot of mail from new DM's asking for tips. Some of the stuff I post here will probably be old news to veteran DM's but I think it might be useful to others.
Something I noticed with fights against only one or two tough enemies was that they got sort of boring. The party locks up the bad guy and they just take turns beating the shit out of him. In my game on Monday I had an encounter that pitted the party against a pair of hunters. I ended up suggesting that since these hunters had such quick reflexes they could each go twice per round. I separated each of their turns so that they were not back to back. I think this made the fight a lot more interesting as well as more scary for the party.
Something else for new DM's to think about is inspiration. For my game on Monday I mentioned to Tycho that it was going to take place in a magical clockwork environment with lots of gears and machines. He mentioned Mondrons to me, which are little robots from an earlier version of D&D. I did some research and found a Modron NPC from a game called Planescape Torment. Now I never played it myself but I was able to find the Modron's dialogue tree online. I used this info to build a similar NPC for my game. I even pulled out some of the funny lines to use at the table. The NPC ended up changing a lot once I started playing him at the table but the inspiration for him came right out of the PC game. My players ended up liking him so much they asked if they could keep him. Now they have a little Modron companion character they call "Sides".
Also here is what my write up for the night's first encounter looked like. I plan out all my encounters for a night this way.
The Gear Room
The chamber before you is dominated by the giant spinning gears that make up its floor. Two consecutive rings spin in opposite directions around a stable central dais. Between the rings you can look down into miles of clockwork gears and mechanisms, all of it bathed in magical blue light. On top of the tall center dais is a group of humans bound by thick golden chains. You recognize them as members of the blue mask tribe. You also realize that the dais is slowly dropping down into he grinding gears below.
The Dais will drop five feet each round on its initiative. If it drops past the level of the floor the people on it will have fallen into the churning gears and died.
climbing the dais is a DC 20 athletics check.
There are five chains total. Each chain holds 1 human.
A character adjacent to the chains can disable one of the 5 chains with a DC 18 Thievery check.
Each chain can be destroyed separately (AC 25, other defenses 20; hit points 30), which disables it.
There are 2 rings and each ring spins a different direction.
-when you step from one ring to another you must succeed at a DC 20 athletics/acrobatics check to remain standing and continue your movement. If you fail you fall prone.
-on their turn the rings will move any character on a ring four squares in the direction they are spinning.
-you can move double speed in the direction the ring is spinning.
-you can only move two spaces in the opposite direction the ring is spinning.
148 may command the Modron as a companion character. He might try and stop the spinning of the gears or stop the dais from lowering. The Modron is not built for this though ans has trouble. He will change the direction of the gears. He will make the dais drop faster. The rings might also spin faster or only slow down. One of the gears might even fall away completely.
That is beyond the complexity of my function
Was my assistance beneficial?
Should I disable subroutine 576-3009 or simply bypass it?
Oops I should have used a negative integer.
Obviously a lot can change at the table and it usually does. But I like having a solid foundation for an encounter. In this fight for example the party decided that rather than kill one of the corrupted 6 sided Modrons they would knock it out. Then they gave it to sides as an upgrade from his current 4 sided form. I thought this was a great idea and ended up letting them continue this throughout the night. By the end Sides was a very happy ten sided Modron and much more capable of helping them with the various puzzles.