As a storyteller, creating exciting encounters for your players is one of your most important responsibilities. These encounters can be planned and staged, while others are spur of the moment and may be caused as a direct reaction to one of your players’ actions.
It is important to incorporate balance into encounters and it is natural for some to be more challenging than others. A lowly band of farmers, starving and out of options, may stand little chance against a party of well-equipped adventurers when they play highwaymen to feed their families; whereas a pack of rabid wolves interrupting rest mid-watch may pose a challenge.
Some encounters will most assuredly lead into conflict, but the majority should have more than one option available. The party may be able to talk those farmers into going back to their families if they shared some of their rations and a bit of coin, or maybe just talked them down. But there’s little backing down a group of rabid animals.
General structure involves a discovery phase, an interaction phase and an outcome phase. The discovery phase is where the Storyteller may ask for their players to give them a Perception check to see if they hear something, or see something in the dark. If the encounter involves one or more intelligent potential adversaries, an interaction phase may give players a chance to avoid bloodshed by talking through the situation. Finally, the outcome phase either results in combat or a non-combat outcome.
• A combat outcome typically results in the party engaging their adversary in combat, though running is almost always an option too. Always leave a little room for your party to surprise you.
• A non-combat outcome may be the completion of a quest or mission, or simply a positive outcome such as everyone sharing the fire for the night or the adversary giving information or an item to the party.
What the encounter options are is up to you, The Storyteller, but which direction they go is most often almost entirely up to your players. It is best to have multiple options.