I tried two new things this weekend. The party came across a giant alligator and decided to ambush it. Because there was talk of trap placement and such things I dug out some old battle mat that I used many years ago and set it up:
That was a fucking game changer because henceforth we played pretty much any non-trivial battle encounter with it. I was really surprised, I thought that such props were slowing down the game and making it boring. But it made the opposite effect on my players. They really got invested in the fights, they started to conceive elaborate strategies. That giant alligator was 6HD monster, 2d8 damage with a single bite and they destroyed it without taking any damage. Suddenly traps, flanking maneuvers, tactical advantage and stuff like that started happening. It was awesome!
Second new thing I tried was Hex Kit. I created some maps beforehand and revealed them to the party when they started exploring them, using fog of war:
That idea was a success as well. Players liked it, found it immersive and useful. The downside is – now if they explore a dungeon without the Hex Kit map I guess they will be disappointed. So I added to my session prep time. But seriously Hex Kit is so easy and enjoyable to use that I don't mind it that much.
* cleric leveled up
* the party mows down even the difficult monsters easily when using tactics with battle mat, so I can crank the difficulty up next session
* I made Frogport into a large, cosmopolitan city because players wanted to shop, carouse and gamble