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So with advice from Aux and DM Cal (thank you both by the way) I'm trying to wrangle a self-imposed project: 30 days, 30 encounters.
The idea is that I have a low level game and my players and I both seem to work best when the world is kind of open-ended. My players like to talk about what might be going on and I like riffing off of them, but this kind of play needs solid encounter ideas prepped so you can drop in action at a moment's notice.
So far this project has spun off into creative spirals side-tracking me from the actual encounters. I am trying to get disciplined though. The hope is that I can produce 30 low level (CR 1/2 - CR 6) encounters with ideas on how to drop them into multiple terrains, motivations for the villains beyond "murder... eat..." and maybe even some thoughts on how they can be resolved without resorting to combat.
One I've used for a long time is the Goblin Fey Hunters. It's a CR 2 - 4 encounter depending on how many goblins are in the encounter and their NPC classes. The idea though is simple; when encountered the goblins aren't looking to ambush the PCs. The creatures are armed with weapons, sure, but also a mancatcher sized for capturing Tiny sized creatures, a butterfly net (Reach weapon targeting Touch AC; victim is Entangled) and in possession of a cold-iron masterwork lantern (a pixie prison).
This can obviously be dropped into a lot of wilderness environments. If adding it to rugged, hilly terrain they might be hunting for a korred in which case the lantern might be a wood-and-iron cart/cage; if underground maybe they're hunting mites and have bug spray (some minor irritant with a DC 12 Fort save). The concept here is that the goblins will certainly fight, kill and eat the PCs, but if the characters want they can try to direct the goblins toward fey (real or from a Bluff check) to end the encounter without combat. Heck if they roll really well they might even be able to barter with the Fey Hunters; I usually include an adept or even a PC caster type with some scrolls. The characters might exchange info or something useful to hunting the fey in exchange for a scroll spell.
More than just random tables, I like having thoughtful encounters prepped ahead of time like this. Players in my game slowly learn that with me behind the screens not every monster is just a loot bag with teeth or weapons. Hopefully then they use that knowledge to interact with encounters and piece together what's really going on. When immersion happens I get engaged players; that's one of my ultimate goals.