Encounter Guide

Combat is a significant pillar of Elysium’s Door. Players feel engaged and rewarded when facing monsters that match their power level and have interesting abilities.

As the GM, you decide how to run an encounter and how it will affect the larger narrative, if at all. Your job is to challenge the players so that when they overcome the obstacles, they feel rewarded. You are not the enemy of your players but an impartial force that applies the rules of the game and ensures the flow of the narrative.

However, the monsters themselves also want to win. They don’t know they are part of an RPG system; to them, they are living and breathing creatures.

Contents

Encounters are part of the story

Encounters are meant to challenge the players, but they are more effective when they have some kind of purpose and connection with the story. Even random encounters should help build the lore/adventure of the game by adding interesting details or new information for the players.

You should ask yourself: Why is this encounter happening? Even if the answer is as simple as ‘the monsters are hungry or territorial’, you will have a better grasp about the encounter and how to end it. For example, a hungry monster will flee if it gets too hurt, but a mindless zombie won’t.

How to Run Encounters?

There are 2 main steps to start an encounter:

  • Initiative
  • Round and Turns

Initiative

So, how does combat start? With Initiative, of course!

At the start of combat, every creature involved rolls a special check called Initiative. Typically, you roll a Reflex Check for Initiative, but there can be situations where you could use a Stealth Check if you were hiding, or Athletics if you were running when the Combat starts. The GM will always determine which skill is going to be used for Initiative when the Combat starts.

In case of a tie, the creature with highest Luck stat goes first. If they have the same Luck stat, then the creatures roll a Luck Check instead and whoever rolls higher goes first.

Round and turns

Combat is a chaotic situation where multiple creatures fight with multiple abilities at the same time. To represent this chaotic scene, combat is organized in rounds, with each round taking about 6 seconds.

During each round, every creature that is participating in the combat takes one turn. During your turn, you can move, take actions and bonus actions, and even reactions. You can’t do anything during other creatures’ turns, except by using your reaction.

Once a round ends, a new round starts with the same turn order as the first round. Combat ends only if all hostile creatures are either defeated or surrendered, or if a creature tries to flee from the combat. In that case, your GM will probably declare a skill challenge.

Dynamic Rounds

Combats can suddenly change. During the start of a round, new creatures can join the Combat, or environment changes can appear in the battlefield. If a new creature appears, that creature rolls for Initiative, possibly changing the turns order.

Surprise Rounds

When a group of characters wants to make a stealthy attack without being noticed, they all make a Group Stealth Check against the creature with the highest Passive Perception among those unaware creatures before combat starts.

If they succeed on this Group Stealth Check, a Surprise Round happens, where all the surprised creatures don’t get a turn to act.

How do you set up Encounters?

Encounters are designed to challenge the players and advance the narrative.

An encounter can tell the story of the region, progress the backstory of a player character, create a side quest, or even serve as the main quest if there is one.

That being said, there are 3 things to consider when building an encounter: Tier, Challenge Points, Environment.

Tier

All creatures have a Tier that represents the danger they pose. Creatures with Tier 0 are mostly harmless, while those with Tier 6 are some of the most incredibly dangerous creatures in existence.

Your players also have a Tier. If you throw creatures with the same Tier at them, you can create a balanced encounter.

If you throw a monster of a higher Tier at your players, the encounter will become more unbalanced and dangerous for them. Conversely, if you throw a monster of a lower Tier at your players, the encounter will also be unbalanced because it will be much less dangerous.

Challenge Points

All monsters have Challenge Points, which represent their total power. Creatures with high Challenge Points are normally stronger than creatures with low Challenge Points.

To compare the power of the monster with your players, you need to sum up the total levels of all your players together and compare it with the Challenge Points of all the monsters in the combat.

For example, if you have 3 players of Level 2, there would be a total of 6 Challenge Points to set an easy encounter. You could use 6 creatures with 1 Challenge Point, 2 creatures with 3 Challenge Points, or any other combination.

You are not required to use all of the points or even restrict yourself to the maximum points of your players, but this will affect the difficulty of the combat. Keep in mind that your players may also be stronger against certain types of enemies or have good synergy among their classes, which could increase their overall power. Challenge Points are more of a guideline, but you can adjust them as needed.

In addition, your players may have strong consumables and special equipment that can greatly increase their power beyond their levels. As the GM, it is your job to consider these things when designing encounters.

Be mindful about the quantity of creatures in the encounter. It is usually recommended that you use more than 1 creature per encounter to keep things interesting.

Tier & Challenge Point Interaction

The Tier of a monster greatly affects its power.

Even if two creatures have the same Challenge Points, the one with a higher Tier will be much stronger. For instance, if you use a monster with 10 Challenge Points and Tier 2 against a Level 10 player, the encounter will be too easy for the player, as they belong to Tier 4. 

Conversely, if you use a monster with 10 Challenge Points and Tier 4 against five Level 2 characters, the characters will most likely die, given that they are on Tier 1 and the monster is on Tier 4.

You can also use monsters of different Tiers on the same combat. For example, you can use a boss as the same Tier as the players, but the minions be 1 Tier less than the players, just to protect the boss.

Here is a table showing the Tier of the players depending on their levels:

Tier Table

Tier Total Level
1
1 to 2
2
3 to 4
3
5 to 8
4
9 to 12
5
13 to 16
6
17 to 20

Environment

The Environment can also impact combat in many different ways. Creating harsh and fast terrains, changing altitudes, having cover, and other dynamic pieces can create certain advantages and disadvantages in combat.

For example, if you are in a swamp, all the mud can be considered harsh terrain, slowing down all your players and creating additional challenges during the fight.

There can also be objects that can be used during combat. For instance, if you are in a ruin with unstable pillars, your players could easily use this to their advantage to try to make that pillar fall into the monsters and defeat them in the process.

There could also be other breakable objects such as rope bridges, trees, the ceiling, floorboards, and many others.

The environment could also be dynamic, such as a sinking ship, the inside of an active volcano spitting fire everywhere, a different dimension where everything floats, and many others.

Encounter Styles

Do you want a quick and deadly fight, or multiple encounters that slowly exhausted your players? Maybe something in the middle? Here are some styles that you can use to plan your encounters the way you want:

  • Draining
  • Balanced
  • Deadly

Draining

If you want to run various encounters per day, you can use monsters with 1 Tier less than your players.

So if you have Tier 3 players, you can use Tier 2 monsters, and throw multiple encounters during the day for example.

It is recommended that you use this type of encounter around 3 to 5 times before the players do a Long rest, to slowly drain their resources and HP.

Balanced

If you want to run a balanced encounter, you can use monsters with the same Tier as your players.

So if you have Tier 3 players, you can use Tier 3 monsters for example.

It is recommended that you use this type of encounter 2 or 3 times before the players take a Long rest, giving them time to do a Short rest between the encounters as well.

Deadly

If you want to run a deadly encounter, you can use monsters that are 1 Tier higher than your players.

So, if you have Tier 3 players, you can use Tier 4 monsters for example.

It is recommended that you use this type of encounter 1 or 2 times before the players do a Long rest, giving them time to do a Short rest between the encounters as well.

Keep in mind that this will be a high-risk and somewhat unbalanced type of encounter. The monster will do more damage and could very easily kill a character.

Encounter Difficulty

How hard you want the encounter to be? You want a standard difficulty, a little bit harder, or just a very hard and long combat? Here are some suggestions on how to control the difficulty of each encounter:

  • Easy
  • Standard
  • Hard

Easy

If you want a challenge that is not too hard, you can opt for a Easy encounter.

In this case, you can use monsters whose combined Challenge Points are equal to the combined level of the player characters.

For example, if you have 4 Level 5 players, you can use monsters whose combined Challenge Points are equal to 20 (4 times 5) in the encounter.

Standard

If you want to challenge your players, you can opt for a Standard encounter.

In this case, you would set up the encounter just like you would for the Easy difficulty, but you would add additional Challenge Points equal to one player’s level.

For example, if you have 4 Level 5 players at the table, you can use monsters whose combined Challenge Points are equal to 25 (20 + 5) in the encounter.

Hard

If you want an epic and Hard battle that puts all players on edge, you can opt for a Hard difficulty.

In this case, you would set up the encounter just like you would for the Easy difficulty, but you would add additional Challenge Points equal to two player’s level.

For example, if you have 4 Level 5 players at the table, you can use monsters whose combined Challenge Points are equal to 30 (20 + 5 + 5) in the encounter.

Tips

Combat Tips

During each turn, most creatures will typically attack and deal some damage. However, combat can become slower if there are multiple attacks being made. As a GM, there are some tricks you can use to avoid this.

  • Rolling all Attacks at once: When a single creature makes multiple Attacks during its turns, it’s easier to just roll all their Attacks, and then roll the damage for each Attack that hits. Just remember to declare the targets of those Attacks before you roll!

  • Remember Concentration: After dealing damage, remember to ask your players if they are maintaining Concentration. Damage can break their Concentration, potentially altering the course of the battle.

  • Know your Monster: If you know how the monster works, it’s going to be much easier to use them in battle, as well outside of it. This can be hard in the beginning, but after a couple of sessions it will become much easier for you.

Here is a small list with all the Actions, Bonus Actions, Reactions and Bonus each creature starts with:

  • Actions: Attack, Dodge, Grapple, Hide, Hold Action, Use Environment/ Object

  • Bonus Actions: Dash,Disengage,Shove, Mount/Dismount

  • Reaction: Attacks of Opportunity, Use Shields

  • Free Action: Switch Shield or Weapons, Influence

Encounter Tips

Here are some good tips when setting your encounter:

Use different types of Monsters

The more variety, the more fun.

When setting up an encounter, try to use at least 3 to 5 different types of creatures. In this way, the players will feel that there is more going on in combat and the monsters won’t have the same turn over and over again.

If you want to throw goblins at your players, you can use the multiple types of goblins available to make combat more interesting and dynamic.

Of course this can have some exceptions. If you are running a pack of starving gnolls, or just a hooligan gang, you can disregard this tip completely.

Don’t be afraid to Improvise

Don’t be afraid to add abilities to the monsters in the middle of combat, or to make a ruling on the spot, even if it isn’t 100% accurate with the written rules. Keeping combat interesting and dynamic is more important than strictly following every rule.

However, it’s always good to know the rules before breaking them.

Make Notes before the Encounter

Do the players need to deal with harsh terrain or any special objectives during the combat? It’s a good practice to write these details down before the encounter, as there are many things to manage in the heat of combat, and it’s easy to forget.

Be Transparent with Players

A GM that is transparent shares all the necessary information with the players so that they can make informed decisions and feel fully involved in the game.

This includes being honest about the rules, challenges, and potential outcomes of their actions. Being transparent builds a sense of trust and respect between the players and the GM, making for a more harmonious and fun game.