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[5e] Five Battles for Beginners Design Challenge

Old DiceMan

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It's stated simply. Create five combat encounters that will progressively teach newbs the basics of the system.

When I say newb, I mean utter, total, never even played computer rpgs before newb.

Old DiceMan

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Ok, nobody was inspired creatively. I'll give it a shot myself:
1) PC(s) vs. an equal number of Giant Fire Beetles [mininum of two Beetles].
Map: A room 40'x40', nothing in it, flagstone floor, all normal terrain.​
Starting positions: PC(s) start in the opposite (diagonal) corner from the Beetles. Ignore surprise for this battle (assume no one is surprised).​
Development: After half of the Fire Giant Beetles are killed, the remaining Beetles flee, panicked (take no Disengage action).​
Teaches: Basic Movement, Attack, Casting a Spell, and Attack of Opportunity (when the Beetles flee). You can also discuss Disengage when players take their AoOs.​

That's my first. Next, I'll try to come up with a combat encounter to add the concepts of Surprise, Movement economy (difficult terrain), and Saves. And possibly Push or Knock Prone.


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Maybe we should decide what makes sense as the five levels of practice? For rank beginners, I think you want to concentrate solely on attack rolls, AC, and areas of control.

The easiest model for that, IMO< is a single creature against several PCs, because they don't have to worry about flanking, or any of that jazz and it's easy for the first and second rank thing to happen pretty naturally. Maybe against a giant Lizard or something.

For the second go around I'd keep the focus the same (TH, AC, character abilities) but go with a group of adversaries and introduce the idea of enemy tactics. Maybe a group of something with pack tactics, but still with just melee capability. Something where it feels like the enemy is planning stuff, trying to outflank, etc. This would also be a good place to introduce some level of complexity in the battleground - maybe not 3D yet, but stalactites or piles of crates or something so the party can interact with some terrain and get a little tactical.

Third, I'd introduce the idea of range and difficult ground. Same kind of group as in 2, but with some range added and some terrain to worry about. This is where I'd graduate the party to a 3D battlefield. So a groups of goblins with some archers in a space where the party has to go get them. This would be an ideal place for a teachable moment about things like disengage and opportunity attacks as the players and baddies will be trying to move past and get places.

Fourth I'd introduce surprise. Let the party encounter a nice mixed group of baddies that they can try to surprise. Mixed range melee as above, with maybe a boss added to intro the idea of mixed opponent ability. Keep the nice 3D battleground and let the party really do some tactical planning. Here's where bigger ideas about action economy can really come to the forefront.

Fifth, I'd drop the party in the cacky and have them surprised by a group similar to that in four above. Dealing with being surprised and having to plan and adjust on the fly is a a good test of what the players have learned in encounters 1-4. Keep the 3D battlefield and continue to focus on action economy.

The general idea there is to slowly grow the space of the encounter and let the characters work up to managing a fully 3D space with multiple ranges and tiers of opponent.


Speedball Apologist
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Maybe scenario 2 should be Ranged Attacks and Cover?

I'd suggest combining the Shove example with Grapples and Hazardous Terrain. I'm thinking a bridge over a moat, with goblin bullyboys in the middle waiting to toss the players into the moat. The moat itself is occupied by a scaled-down Giant Octopus that can grapple and attempt to drown any creature that falls in the moat. Maybe the bridge itself is broken, and requires Jumping or other strategies to cross?

For a final challenge, I'd setup a scenario with Difficult Terrain, an Environmental Hazard, and a non-combat Objective (something that requires Skill Rolls in Combat, or a puzzle to be solved, or a time-based objective).

I like Fenris's suggestion re: Increasing the difficulty of each encounter by introducing enemies with "roles" and synergistic abilities. Start with just the minions, then add ranged, then add a brute, then a controller/commander.

Old DiceMan

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Fenris, I like your idea of changing the first encounter to one "more hit points" creature, but you'd have to be careful that it's damage is low, because you don't want anyone to get one-shotted in training. Most of the time, heh-heh. Maybe a lizard with broken teeth and reduce the damage.


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Scenario 1: The corridor.
The PCs come across some generic bandits in a corridor, 10' wide. There's not a lot of room for manuevering on either side, so this is just a numbers slug fest. It should teach attack rolls, AC, HP, and other basic mechanics.

Scenario 2: The hall of columns.
The PCs enter a large chamber with columns throughout, some of which are broken low columns. They're up against more bandits, this time with ranged weapons. This should teach cover mechanics, along with introducing a bit more tactical positioning in general as it's a lot easier to block off enemy movement.

Scenario 3: The Cult Chamber
It turns out the bandits are led by cultists with actual magic, and some summoned creatures. The room is fairly large and round with a catwalk above it that connects to to ladders, and the center of the room has an alter. This gets elevation, a bit more cover, some creature weirdness, and the save system covered as concepts.

Scenario 4: Here Be Monsters
As cultists do they've summoned something nasty, which flees outside into a woodland clearing with a river and some scrub to meet the PCs. This should teach the difficult terrain rules, cover some swimming and climbing rules, and get the idea of lair and legendary powers out there. The summon tries to flee when things go south, which also helps teach retreat rules (not that they're great).

Scenario 5: Mudflats
Some time later the cult and their bandit allies come for revenge, possibly with the boss creature depending on how fleeing went. The battlefield this time is a field of boiling mud, dotted with large rocks that can be jumped between. This creates choke points and soft choke points, as high strength characters can jump further and if anyone really wants to they can just push through the boiling mud and suck up the damage. The enemy has melee bandits trying to block the rocks, ranged bandits trying to shoot the PCs down, and cultists bringing in saves. The one new thing this really teaches is the jumping rules and some tactics, but mostly it acts like a capstone.

Stuff not touched on: Surprise wasn't ever mentioned explicitly, but both sides of it could come up at different points here. Scenario 4 is particularly good for ambushing the PCs, Scenario 3 is good for the PCs coming out of nowhere when the cultists are doing their ritual and thus off guard.


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For 5e, the exact number of players/PCs is important for encounter design. You can’t always use a comparison of ratio monsters to PCs. It also depends on what level you are starting them at. I’m going to assume level 1. I also wrote these like they are part of an adventure, rather than just abstract fights.

I’d use normal HP for monsters, because not all monsters explode in one hit. PCs that are even vaguely competent can kill most low level enemies in one or two hits. (just don’t use zombies, they are super random at how long they stay alive). Also having more hit points makes the monster having vulnerabilities more dramatic.

Just use 1d4 for most damage or 1d4+1 for dangerous monster damage. So PCs will need to be hit a number of times to go down. Maybe ignore monster crits. Give out a couple of potions of healing for loot each fight. Remind fighters about stuff like Second Wind.

You also want to be teaching the short rest mechanics between fights.

They should probably do some basic fights before using my suggestions.

Goblin Ambush: Goblin(s) in thick underbrush (heavy obscurment for small creatures if not within 5’, and difficult terrain) on both sides of the road. Goblins have hand crossbows (so more than 30’ is disadvantage). Attack, hide for bonus action, move a short distance.

Teaches Difficult Terrain, Ready Action, stealth mechanics, range increments, that you can out-range some opponents. Can also teach jumping over difficult terrain (if players think of it). Probably only some of the party is surprised (depending on passive perception scores). Party can also solve in unusual ways... like setting the forest on fire intentionally, will get the goblins to run out onto the road after a few rounds.

Advanced version: There are some 10’ deep pit traps in some clear spots which are not difficult terrain (to encourage PCs to step on them). DC10 dex to avoid falling in. The goblins try to position themselves so anyone running at them will want to cross the pits.

Scarecrow ambush: Group needs to cross a field with 4 scarecrows in it (which should be accurately described as being full of hay). Ideally, there should be something on the edge of the field (like a thicket). If the party fought the Goblin Ambush before this, they should want to stay out of range of the thicket. One or more of the scarecrows are the monster of the same name. They are vulnerable to fire, and if hit with fire, freak out and spend their action panicking.

Teaches to look for vulnerabilities in creature description, surprise again. Pretty basic fight after opening.

Bridge of Death: Stone bridge long enough no one in the party can cross in one turn (probably 120’ is good), ideally in a cave/dungeon with no light other than what the PCs have. Pit of bones under the bridge (like quicksand, but bones if they try to avoid the bridge). No guard rails. Once they start crossing, Skeletons (vulnerability to bashing, so they take double falling damage) without weapons march onto the bridge. First group of skeletons (a couple of ranks) starts marching up far side towards PCs (starting fight, near top of initiative) coming out of the darkness. After a few PCs go in initiative, skeletons start coming from behind (depending on how long you made the bridge, and where exactly they came from, they shouldn’t reach the PCs in the first round unless someone stayed behind). The group from behind, should only be one or two ranks thick. They also shouldn't be double moving.

Depending on how things go, you can throw in a third set of skeletons climbing up the side of the bridge, near the end of the initiative, any round where the PCs seem to have things under control. To threaten the middle of the group. Group should notice them before their reach the top of bridge (they are climbing so half speed). You may want to describe the noise to everyone, until someone looks over the edge. How long it will take them to climb depends on the height of the bridge.

Bridge width, and number of skeletons, depends on number of PCs. You can have more skeletons than PCs, because for balance purposes, you only care how many skeletons can attack each turn. The skeleton’s also shouldn’t use optimum tactics. Once they reach someone to attack, they stop, or they can move forward (if there is a gap) to provoke opportunity attacks if you want. So the players should be able to defend pretty easily.

Important to not let all skeletons go at once, they need to be broken up between PCs.
If being shoved, skeletons should oppose with Strength (aka the bad option) to make it more likely the PCs will succeed.

Teaches: Shoving, positioning vs superior numbers, escalation of difficulty mid fight.

Trust me?: Have a sign (or magic mouth) in a room with a bunch of lockers/cubbies, tell the party to take off all their possessions and store them here, then step onto a platform to be teleported to the next room, which will be safe if they do as told.

When they all stand on the platform, they teleport into a room with a hungry rust monster(s). If they have no metal on them, the rust monster leaves them alone, it won’t even get up. If they ignored the instructions, it will go for the biggest pieces of metal possible. It can be distracted by throwing it metal, shortsword sized or larger. It won’t bite unless it loses a significant portion of its HPs.

Teaches: Magic/trap riddle. Equipment degradation if ignored. May also teach what spells you can cast without materials if the casters followed instructions, but the fighter didn't.

Past the rust monster is a room with some (non-metal) loot, and a teleporter pad back to the start. Could also have telsa coil trap, that only zap people who are wearing metal.

Octopus Pool: Pool of water/fountain in dungeon, with a Giant Octopus (might want to give it more attacks if multiple people swim down) in it, hidden at bottom of water (40’ deep). Disadvantage to perception checks into the murky water. Water goes back along a tunnel (to an underground lake or ocean, or someplace an octopus could live). Also something shinny (I used a magic axe for bait) at the bottom the players can see. Bait takes an action (including strength check) to dislodge. The depth of the water means PCs can't reach it and get out in one round.

Teaches: Grappling, holding your breath, drowning, underwater combat, how spells interact with water.

If you want to make it particularly bad: If the octopus has people grappled, start swimming back into the cave/tunnel underwater. But the difficulty of fighting in water should be tricky enough.

Boss battle: Have them fight an enemy with damage resistance to non-magic weapons, and legendary actions. Legendary actions shouldn’t just be more attacks. Stuff like: Knock prone, grapple and throw PCs, maneuver without provoking attacks, are good for legendary actions that disrupt PCs plans, but don’t do huge damage. But the exact creature should fit the location. You can just add legendary actions to some low level monster.

Old DiceMan

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The Goblin Ambush is right out of Lost Mine of Phandelver. I have found this to be an excellent first encounter for folks who have some prior RPG experience, especially prior editions of D&D. However, I have found leading off with the use of Reaction and Hiding challenging for total newbs. Again, as a very first battle.

But the rest of your suggestions are awesome!


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I haven't read a published adventure since 2e was the current edition. I also haven't run for a group of all newbies since then (I always have them mixed with experienced players).

But I assume if your running for all newbies, you'd have to explain some things/give suggestions occasionally. So if they can't figure out how to deal with the goblins, you'd tell them how Reactions work to attack on an enemy's turn (or mention it before they get to that fight). If you've toned down the damage, and the goblins stupidly shoot at the PCs with high AC, and spread out their attacks if they hit one PC for too much damage, and there aren't too many goblins, the PCs should have multiple rounds before they are in serious danger.

You can also demonstrate tactics with an enemy a fight or two before when the PCs will need that tactic. Like you can have a bandit with a ranged weapon say "Give me you coin, or else!" and Ready an Action to fire if they don't give over their coin purse. Since robbing adventurers is extra stupid, you could have the party see bandits robbing someone else.


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Something else I think would be good for newbs is to use loose mapping (markers and whiteboard say) rather than grid squares and miniatures. Using grid squares does show areas of control really well, but I find sometimes it hampers creativity and the new players get really caught up in counting squares rather than enjoying a good scrap. On the other hand, I find new players get really easily lost in bigger encounter areas and have trouble keeping it all in their heads, so some kind of graphic display is probably better than none.
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