• Justin Handlin

Creating a Great Mystery Encounter

Listen Now: Episode 18

What does it take to make a great mystery encounter? Today we talk about some of our favorite techniques to help get the most out of your mystery encounter. The villain's motivations are core to the mystery, along with clues and secrets of all involved. The most common is a murder mystery. We use this in our discussion example. First thing, decide on what the motivation is. Is it premeditated and well planned out? Or is is something in the heat of the moment, and is more of an accident? How does this effect the location, the weapon, and the type of evidence? How does the evidence, villain and victim relate?

When it comes to engaging the characters, if you can tie the victim or even the villain directly to characters, the more likely to engage them in roleplay, they may start to defend them, or point the finger, with our without evidence. The lies, secrets and relationships can really sprout a great adventure. Giving multiple suspects, even the characters good motivations for wanting the victim dead. We give our thoughts on these and many more talking points!

Unearthed Tips and Tricks: New and reusable D&D content for you to bring with you on your next adventure.

Character Concept:

The Chosen

Your character has lived all their life in a village or region that has long revered a deity that watches over the land. When the harvest is bountiful, the god is praised for its benevolence and people celebrate.

When the winters are long or the rivers flood, the god is angry. When those times come,

the people of your village perform a sacrifice to this god. Not just any sacrifice - a human (or

orc, or elf, etc.) sacrifice. It has been tradition for generations and will continue to be for

the foreseeable future.

Well, there’s a bit of a snag. This year, you were chosen to be that sacrifice. Not at all eager to be killed, even if it means your family will have food and shelter, you began investigating… and it turns out this god that people have been sacrificed to over the years

isn’t a god at all. Maybe it’s a demon that’s convinced the villagers that it’s a god, or maybe it doesn’t exist at all and people are just following tradition. Whatever the case, you know

you need to put an end to this barbaric tradition, and you just might have to kill a demon

to make it happen… if you don't get killed first.

Monster Variant:

Goblin Napper

Origin: Goblin

These goblins, often thin-framed and lanky, take to mastering the ability to keep their presence hidden from their foes. They craft specially made equipment that are covered in leaf and grass-like fabrics in order to blend into their surroundings. This makes them difficult to spot. From their hidden location, they use magically enhanced darts to put their unsuspecting foe’s into a deep slumber. They often become a favorite of their tribe leaders as they can easily capture slaves without the normal risk generated by combat.

Napping Blowgun. Ranged Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, range 25/100 ft, loading., one target.

Hit: 1 piercing damage. This dart sends the creature into a magical slumber. Roll 5d8; the

total determines if the creature is effected. If the targets hit points must be equal to or lower than the total rolled. The creature falls unconscious at the end of their next turn. The effect lasts for 1 minute or until the sleeper takes damage or someone uses an action to shake or slap the sleeper awake. Undead and creatures immune to bing charmed are immune to this effect.

Encounter Concept:

The Call of the Siren

The heroes are traveling on a ship, and on their journey they have to pass through uncharted waters. On the way, everyone starts hearing the most beautiful music they’ve ever heard. Before they can figure out what’s happening, the ship veers off course. The captain (either an NPC or one of the players who failed a Wisdom saving throw) has started steering the ship towards a misty island surrounded by rocky cliffs! As the ship gets close or possibly after it crashes into the rocks dark shapes start looming in the mist. The music is continuing, and it is getting louder. As the dark shapes get closer, the source of the music shows itself: Sirens!

The party is lured to a dangerous location by a group of sirens that have enchanted them and brought them near with their hypnotic song. How the players deal with this type of encounter is going to depend on who remained unaffected and how the unaffected characters tend to deal with problems. If the party Barbarian is unaffected, for instance, she may simply beat the affected characters unconscious and lock them in the brig until they come to their senses. A clever rogue might shove wax in his ears to make himself immune (at the cost of his own hearing). A wizard or sorcerer might just try blasting the sirens with fireballs in the hopes that it stops the music.

What do the sirens look like? They might look like beautiful humanoids from far away, but

up close their skin might be hanging off their bones in strips. Maybe they take the form of

the viewer’s deepest desire, and this leads some characters to realize things about themselves they never knew. Different characters might argue about what they are due to different pairs of eyes seeing them as different creatures. Maybe the source of the music isn’t even a creature at all; a powerful artifact hidden on the island could be responsible for the hypnotic music. Use this encounter to really play around with your players’ expectations, and try to get some roleplaying out of them!

Magic Item:

The Mystic Top Hat

Wondrous, common

“And for my next trick….”

This slightly shabby-looking top hat can be worn like any other top hat (though it is a bit

oversized no matter what creature tries to wear it). If the command word is said when it is held in one hand, the holder may reach inside the hat and pull out a creature! This functions like a Find Familiar spell, but with a casting time of one action and a duration of 24 hours. The hat’s magic functions in this manner once per day.

There is one important note, however: a familiar pulled from the hat is randomly chosen

with each casting, and there is no guarantee that the creature will be friendly towards the


DM Tip:

Use Traps

“I check this room for traps.”


“I check THIS room for traps.”


“I check THIS room for traps!”


“Why did I even play a rogue?”

How often do you use traps in your game? Maybe you should be using them more. There’s

a reason dungeons and tombs typically still have treasure in them: because everyone who

tried taking it before didn’t survive long enough. You should try to use traps in your games more often! Not only are they interesting, but they let players use certain abilities (like Danger Sense and Fast Hands) that otherwise wouldn’t be as useful.

Remember, traps don’t have to be something that the rogue deals with while the rest of the party sits back and stares at their fingernails. Throw traps into combat encounters. Disarming a trap is way more tense when there’s a squad of orcs running at the party. Traps don’t even have to be damaging; they could set off alarms or cut off exits or destroy treasure. Try to incorporate your traps into the environment where they’re located. Dwarven traps might

be incorporated into stonework and door mechanisms, but goblin traps are more likely

to be built into floors with natural materials.

Kobold traps are typically poisoned, and they could incorporate elements (fire, ice, acid,

etc.) according to the type of dragon that they’re related to! Traps can come in an infinite number of varieties, so use them!

Player Tip: Don't be a Dick! You can avoid dickitude by...

Share your story!

If you’re like me (and you may or may not be), you tend to go overboard when writing your

character backstories. After all, it’s way more fun to play a character when you know how

they learned that language, why they have that personality trait, and how they got that

scar. If you haven’t already, give that character backstory to your DM! It may not be something you want the rest of the party to know (at least not until you’ve been with them a while and you find yourself around a campfire where you can tell everyone about your journey), but if you give it to the DM, then they can use your backstory as future plot hooks. How awesome would it be to encounter an NPC rival that you created for your backstory as opposed to just some random enemy that the DM came up with?

There is just one important thing to remember: if you’re going to write a long character backstory, remember to leave room for growth. Nobody, unless they’re on their deathbed, is done growing as a person. Everyone learns from their experiences, and they will continue to learn from the experiences they haven’t had yet. Your character is the same way; the end of your backstory isn’t the end of the story, it’s the end of the prologue. Your character should continue to grow in character as they grow in level.

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