One blog I really enjoy reading is Sean McGovern's "Power Score."* His "How to Run" series, giving useful (and specific) guidance on published adventures, is especially good.
On 10/2/17 he put up one about The Tomb of Annihilation, and how to run that.
Sean's stuff tends towards stories and scenes more than my own gaming. But his effective use of NPCs, his approach of tying the PCs to the setting and the setting to the PCs, and the way he tightly connects events all appeal to me. You can see similarities in how I make everything in my GURPS Dungeon Fantasy / Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game campaign link back to the central megadungeon and everything center on the PCs.
What's getting me to post about this particular post of his is this, under Planning the Journey
"Let's make a bunch of travel days. These can be used when the group travels to a hex that doesn't have anything special on it."
Essentially, the idea is planned drop-in encounters. They aren't hex-specific, they're need specific - when you need something to make a hex interesting, or a travel day more than just a tick on the calendar, you've got these days queued up.
This is a cool thing to do with random encounters, too. Wandering monsters and random events can be these one-time pre-planned event capsules that you just drop in. Not a new idea (I mean, Jim Ward even co-wrote a book of them), but his are especially well executed:
- some are positive, some are negative;
- they all tie into player actions or potential player actions (climb trees, interact with animals, fight monsters);
- they give clues about and action-based investments in the setting (wildroot, wakka nuts, friendly animals, beautiful vistas);
- they use the setting (undead, dinosaurs, undead dinosaurs);
- they give the PCs ways to do the stuff the players will want to do (basically, use their abilities and be awesome);
- they use specific NPCs that have a role in the PC's adventure without taking the scene away from the PCs.
I think this is easier in wilderness than in dungeons, but pre-set "vignette" encounters are a great thing to have handy. I've done some - a sword-spirit in Felltower, an octopus blossom encounter in the jungles outside the Lost City of D'Abo, dragon-spotting in the Cold Fens. I should do more, and I should take more care to include ones that just highlight color and interest as well as bring danger.
Highly recommended, even if you don't want to run Tomb of Annihilation or 5e D&D.
* Although the white-on-black really bothers my eyes - I have to glance away from my screen for a few seconds and blink before I can face the standard black-on-white screens. Still, the content is worth the blinking.