Another type of planned encounter is the trigger. It can be used with a key or by itself. A trigger is a simple either/or or if/then type of statement. It is used for more interactive types of encounters, where the action of the event is what is important, such as the kidnapping described below.

The next episode occurs at 1 o'clock in the morning: If any character is still awake, he hears a muffled scream coming from the balcony of the room next door. If the characters investigate, they will discover two hooded men (6th-level thieves) attempting to drag a struggling young woman over the railing. One man has her firmly gripped from behind, his hand clamped over her mouth. The other is hoisting her legs over the side. A confederate waits with the horses on the ground below. If the characters do nothing, there will be a crash as she kicks over a flower urn, followed by a muttered curse and then the galloping of horses.

If the characters are noticed, the unburdened man wheels to face them, drawing two swords, one in each hand. The woman attempts to break free, only to be struck unconscious by the other man. The man on the ground quietly cocks a crossbow and aims it at the party, keeping an eye out for spellcasters.

Here everything is dependent upon previous and current choices of action. Is a character awake? Will the characters investigate? How will they react to the kidnappers? Each decision molds subsequent events. The characters might leap to the young woman's rescue or they might rouse themselves only in time to see the kidnappers gallop off with her tied to the saddle. Their actions could alter planned events. Coming to her aid, the characters rescue the lady. As DM you must be ready to tell her story. Why was she attacked? Who were they? Are there any clues the characters can find?

To write this type of encounter, first outline the basic sequence of events that would happen if the characters did not interfere. Next, think like a player and try to anticipate what the characters might do. Would they aid the lady? If so, you will need combat information—how the attackers will fight and what weapons and tactics they will use. What happens if the characters try to sound the alarm or talk to the kidnappers? What will the lady say if rescued? At least a brief note should be made to account for the probable reactions of the player characters.

As complete as you make them, triggers are not without their weaknesses. While very good at describing a scene, a trigger does not provide much background information. In the event above, there is no description of the room, the attackers, the lady's history, etc. There could be, but including it would be extra work, and description would also get in the way of the action.

A less critical problem is that DMs can't anticipate every action of the player characters. No matter how carefully a trigger is constructed, there is always something the characters can do to upset the situation. In the example above, what if the characters panic and a mage launches a fireball at the attackers? In a flash of flame, they and their victim are killed and the building is on fire. Prescient is the DM who can anticipate this event!

There is no simple solution for unpredictable players (nor would you want one!). As a DM you are never going to be able to predict every player decision. Experience, both as a player and a DM, teaches you what the most likely actions are. Beyond these you must improvise, relying on your skill as a DM.

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