Setting Up an Encounter

I love manipulating my players. What's more, my players love being manipulated. That's what a good story does after all. It makes you feel. And sounds are exceptionally effective at making us feel. It's primal. Video games and movies leverage it all the time, and with a little help from Bard Bot you can borrow those tricks for your own encounters.

When is setting up sounds worth it?

Preparing sounds for an encounter adds extra work. Tracking down sounds, uploading them, building profiles, remembering to use them. It all eats into your prep time. So the question is, when should you go to the trouble?

Clearly not for every encounter, that would be exhausting. When then? Here is my short list.

  1. Boss fights and other plot important combats
  2. The first encounter in a new dungeon or area
  3. When introducing a particularly nasty monster type

Boss fights make sense, you want those to be as epic as possible. But what about the other two? Why are they worth it? Well they're about setting expectations. The first brush with danger on a new quest changes how your party approaches everything there. If the first encounter doesn't scare them a little they'll walk boldly to their deaths later. And similarly, when facing an especially dangerous foe a subtle warning before they start taking damage goes a long way to saving their lives.

So definitely not something to bust out for every combat, but something that can be used in a few critical places along a quest.

A Case Study

The best way to understand how Bard Bot can enhance your encounters is with an example. So here's a completely contrived one that definitely isn't straight from my game.

The party has dared to brave the Screaming Woods, blissfully unaware of the Dire Wolves that stalk it. We want to introduce them to the dangers of the woods first hand. And what better way than with an extra special encounter complete with sound effects.

Let's see how we might prepare for the above situation.

Breaking it down

Like any good story our encounter needs three stages. The opening needs to introduce our monsters and inspire fear. The middle should show the players they can win, but also make sure it's close enough they aren't sure they will. And at end of the encounter we want to give the players a satisfying victory.

And just for funsies let's prep a sound we can use if our wolves score a critical hit. So with our breakdown in hand let's see what each section might look like.

Starting Combat

An encounter starts well before you roll for initiative. There's no reason to wait til then for your sounds to start either. Suppose the party has set up camp for the first night and is taking turns on watch. We might introduce the dire wolves this way.

Alert for danger you gaze out into the trees. In the dim moonlight you see flickers of movement as small creatures flit between branches. Then, from somewhere behind you ARH-WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. Wolves.

The description is practically begging us to add some howling wolves to our custom sounds. Maybe something like this one. Now let's add a note to the description so we don't forget and and bam, the pre-initiative work is done.

Alert for danger you look out into the trees. Dimly illuminated by moonlight you see flickers of movement as squirrels and birds flit between branches. Then, from somewhere behind you ~play howling. Wolves.

Now let's think about the first few seconds of combat. The party knows wolves are out there, but they don't know exactly when they're coming. So we're gonna say everyone is up, but with the tree cover and darkness the wolves are still coming out of nowhere.

And when they do come it should be frightening. Flying out of the darkness, teeth and claws all up in someone's business. We're talking full on jump scare. So let's start initiative with a wolf rushing someone's throat. Yeah, this will do. Now we just need narration to go with it.

As the wolves draw closer you gather round in the darkness, weapons ready, waiting. Trees sway gently in the wind, making shadows dart about everywhere. You catch a glimpse of eyes glowing in the moonlight about a hundred feet away. They vanish, back into the shadows. Then !i begin, the wolves are upon you.

Just like that we have our powerful entrance with vicious attack sounds set up. We built up the danger before we even dealt damage, and made sure they're already sweating when the opening attack rolls around. Now let's think about the attacks themselves.

Attack sounds

It's really important we get the monster attack sounds right. They're gonna be used over and over throughout the fight.

Pulling up the stat block for a Dire Wolf we can see they have just one attack, Bite. Dire Wolf Stat Block

So we need to find one really good bite sound.

Here's one. Now we just need to add a rule for `Bite` to the attacks section of whatever sound profile we're using and we're good to go.

There is one other kind of attack we can think about though, critical hits. While we can't currently configure Bard Bot automatically play a different sound on a crit, we can set up a custom sound and play it afterwards. I happen to like this bite sound.

Then we can add a little bit of narration to our notes, and along with a little reminder to play the sound.

You hear the wolves jaws clamp down viciously, flesh and bone crunching under its powerful bite. ~play critical bite

And there we go, attacks are all taken care of. What happens when things start to turn around on our monster though?

Monster Bloodied

As our monster becomes bloodied we want to show it's weakening. It gives the party a satisfying milestone and undercuts any aura of invincibility the monsters may have given off.

Let's see if we can track down some suitable canine whimpering. This one is pretty good. Now we need to add a reminder to our narration and we're good to go.

Your (weapon/spell) scores a direct hit on the wolf, it's lip curls back and it let's out a an agonized whimper. ~play whimpering wolf

Nice and easy. Now to mourn the loss of our beloved beastie.

Monster Death

Slaying monsters is half the fun of D&D, and having an awesome sound effect ready for the player's moment of victory makes it really satisfying. So we're looking for some dramatic monster death sounds. A bit of sound mixing later and here we have one.

Depending on the number of monsters you're using there are a couple different ways to set this one up. You can do what we've been doing and add a reminder into your narration notes. Or if you're only using one wolf you can set an initiative end sound that goes off when you run !i end. Personally I always forget to stop the combats so I'd prefer to leave myself a note.

With that final blow the last bits of life begin to leave the wolf. ~play wolf dying It lets out one final, barely recognizable groan and drops lifeless before you.

Summing Up

Bard Bot gives us tons of opportunities to enhance encounters with sounds. Before the dice even hit the table we used our first sound to transport our players into the dark forest where they were being hunted. The second sound kicked things off with a bang as our wolves emerged ready to kill Fighting ensued, ferocious biting matched against the parties steel and magic, augmented by our attack sounds. Eventually wolves began to whimper in pain as the fight took its toll, our third custom sound marking when they became bloodied. And as the last blows were struck, our final our final sound came out to help the wolves into an early grave.

The uses outlined in this doc are really just the tip of the iceberg of potential ways to use sound effects in encounters. Hopefully this guide got you thinking about how to sprinkle them in your own game. If you have an interesting way you use sounds that isn't covered here I'd love to hear about it. Drop by the development discord and leave a message. And until next time, game on.