Dungeons & Dragons Online

Adjusting my style to be less combat heavy.

So for the first time in my life I have been running the game on a consistent schedule (bi-weekly), and it has been brought to my attention by my players and even through my own observations that the sessions I run tend to be very combat oriented. Because of this, I feel like my sessions eventually grind down to a combat slog.

An example from the most recent session I ran; the party was investigating an underground network of tunnels that would eventually lead to an underground temple where I have a boss encounter prepared. Throughout the tunnels I had various monsters placed and as the party went from tunnel to tunnel they would just be hopping in and out of combat depending on whether or not a tunnel they picked had a monster in it. As a measure to save time the party even came up with the idea of just keeping their initial initiative roll so that we didn't have to keep on rolling initiative for each encounter (which I did go with since it did indeed save a ton of time). It was at that point I began to think that I had not really designed enough variance into the encounters/environment, and that the only reward for the party was to fight a bunch of smaller fights to one larger fight that will yield them a couple of magic items without really playing into any sort of role playing or other utilization of character skills.

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So I want my game to be both more well rounded and more tailored to my player's interests, and I want to be able to adjust those dials on the fly, in case I catch myself leaning into those same design tendencies again. How can I tweak a combat slog into a moment of intrigue/mystery? Can the way to beat a boss turn from slashing hit points off of it into a puzzle or test of a PC's intellect? How can I get out of my comfort zone of designing combat encounters and start designing encounters that my players can interact with without rolling initiative?

TL;DR: I struggle with designing non-combat encounters. How do I round out my encounter design?


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