(this was originally a response in a stale and lightly responded-to thread, but the encounter I'm describing was fun and it flowed from some earlier SG discussion, so I wanted to give it its own thread. Apologies to people for whom this is a rerun.)
I'm DMing D&D4E right now. It's a pretty traditional group, and our play is the typical mix of combat encounters and freeformy roleplaying. There's no thematic steering or other hippy stuff. Though there are player-generated quests to spice things up, I'm mostly responsible for the situation and encounters.
The game is a combination of a bunch of gaming influences. Savage Worlds showed me that large setpiece battles were possible in RPGs. Beast Hunters showed me how encounters are more interesting when they have multiple victory conditions. Frogger, RoboRally, and God of War (the PS2 game) made me want to present very dynamic pinball-like combat environments with lots of things to bump up against and different little sub-environments to explore.
The trouble is, trying to do all these things at once in an encounter is really, really hard. A big, sprawling dynamic battlefield that's full of antagonists and little subquests and whirling dingleberries is a lot of detail for a single DM to manage. So, when I read Andy's recent event scripting card idea
, it kinda blew my mind. With scripting, I can embed all the encounter details in the script and, assuming my design-time judgment was sound, I can just execute them when they arise.
Our most recent D&D session was Scripting Experiment Alpha. In the fiction, a secret Orcus cult spun up a ritual that animated an army of zombie minions from the Winterhaven graveyard and sent them howling at the helpless civilians. The players were required to fight a desperate defensive battle to prevent the zombies from escaping the graveyard and wreaking havoc on the town.
I scripted the whole encounter on a stack of 60 pre-ordered event cards. I openly drew one card on initiatives 15, 8, and 1 of every round. In keeping with D&Ds organizational philosophy, each card contained the complete rules for resolving its action, so if any players had any questions about how they worked, they could just read the card.
Every third card was a Spawn card -- a pit would be blown into a random part of the battlemap and four zombie minions spawned within it. Every twelfth card was a Casualty card. Any zombies that had left the graveyard would inflict casualties on Winterhaven. If the town lost a certain number of casualties, it would fall.
Other event cards spawned ally militia minions on the map, made everyone save vs. falling down, knocked over some of the big graveyard statues, created NPC rescue objectives (with big XP rewards), churned treasure parcels onto the map from the graves underneath, lit fires or made them spread, and other things. My goal was to use the shiny to distract the PCs from dealing with the zombie minions, while being fair and explicit about how the zombies were the real threat to Winterhaven. Even the big well-guarded foozle that the ritual had spawned in the crypt was kind of a distraction, as killing it would only stop zombies from spawning, and not escaping.
The cards also served as a time counter for the encounter, as I'd decided that after the 60 draws / 20 rounds, the ritual would run out of power and the zombies would crap out. I figured that by then, the players would have run out of steam and/or time on the encounter.
The zombie minions moved by strict rules that I printed on another card -- they'd move to engage the closest good guy within four squares, or would double-run towards the gate otherwise. These rules allowed the players to help me DM, moving the minions whose choices were obvious or nonconsequential.