100 Roadside Encounters

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0556

100 Roadside Encounters

Here is the first batch of contest entries I’ve edited, and they offer a nice mix of action, roleplay and background. Use these to inspire encounters for the next road trip the PCs take.

  1. A passing mail-courier’s horse gets spooked and throws courier. The courier dies in the fall, and the mail bag has the seal of the King’s Head of Intelligence.
  2. A travelling blade-sharpener offers a special deal to the PCs to improve their magic weapons, but later the PCs discover the magic in the blades seems to be gone.
  3. On a large road, a ship on wheels manned by eccentric road-pirates assaults the party.
  4. The group comes across a three-way traffic jam at a fork in the road, and three arguing wagon masters refusing to give way.
  5. A desperate man offers to sell the group a “magic” acorn for a pittance. If the PCs buy it, the man runs away laughing madly, shouting “I’m free! Free at last! You poor fools!”
  6. After sleeping on the roadside, the party wakes to find their entire camp surrounded by dew-spangled spider webs, yet they are unharmed.
  7. The road surface starts to buck and writhe, trying to throw the group off. Is it an earthquake or a territorial elemental?
  8. Very small kobold/goblin/not-really-threatening humanoid wearing an old carpet as a cape leaps into the path and demands tribute as King of the Road.
  9. An enormous dragon lands on the road in front of the group. It asks for directions to the capital, gives them a generous tip and then flies off with a loud proclamation of intending to raze it to the ground.
  10. The group passes an old farmer and his nag heading toward the same town the PCs are heading toward. He gives them a wave and a gap-toothed smile. A little while later they pass him again. And then again….
  11. Flowers by the roadside turn their heads to follow the party, and they’re getting larger.
  12. A white stone road cuts neatly through a festering swamp. The stones are carved with protective sigils and regular dire warnings not to leave the path. Then in the middle of the swamp the road ends, the stones shattered and blackened.
  13. A winding path through a swamp leads repeatedly to stinking black pools and treacherous mud-pits.
  14. On an icy slope, someone has poured water down the trail turning it into a near-frictionless slide into a gulch/chasm/pit/cavern.
  15. In a mountain pass, someone has built a high wall across the path the party was following, forcing them instead into the mouth of a nearby cave.
  16. Fog across the road hides a sudden drop into a chasm.
  17. A huge nest has fallen from a tree on the side of the road, and the strange-looking eggs within seem on the verge of hatching.
  18. An earthquake drops the group and a large section of road into a sinkhole or chasm.
  19. The group comes to a wilderness trading post on the trail. The cantankerous old-timer who runs it offers a bounty for scalps.
  20. An otherwise empty stretch of highway, with two rival taverns facing each other across the road. The publicans try to outdo each other loudly on the discounts and benefits of their respective establishments to the party. Both seem desperate for customers.
  21. A robed figure on a runaway contraption, yelling for help.
  22. A wayfarer’s tavern with the windows and doors boarded up from the inside and horrible claw-marks on the outside.
  23. A huge road sign at a crossroad giving distances and directions to hundreds of places, some the party has never heard of.
  24. In dense wilderness where only the road is passable, the group finds the trail covered in increasingly thick slime. The PCs eventually find themselves stuck behind an enormous and slow-moving snail.
  25. A knight bearing the crest of a local lord is found rusted into his armour, in an uncomfortable position, by the side of the road.
  26. A belligerent drunk wanders into the group’s path demanding alcohol, money and to marry their horse.
  27. A meteorite crashes to earth in the middle of the road.
  28. The party find a child at the base of a tree trying to rescue a cat caught high in the branches. While the party’s attention is diverted upward the little pickpocket goes to work.
  29. A pleasant and polite gentleman in a smart carriage stops the party for directions and news of the road. But in the trunk lashed to the back the party hear children crying.
  30. A group of bandits arguing and blaming each other over the chest of something useless they just stole (feather dusters, mouse-traps, fishing weights).
  31. A prison work-gang and their guards are rebuilding part of the road. The convicts use the arrival of the party as an opportunity for escape.
  32. A cave next to a mountain trail has a merry fire crackling and a pot of stew bubbling away, but no sign of occupants.
  33. The party find a trail of gold coins leading off the path.
  34. A majestic elk sprints past with something golden caught in its antlers.
  35. On a wooded trail, just around a turn in the road, a rope has been strung between two trees high enough to catch a mounted rider. A horse, still saddled, grazes nearby and there’s blood smeared on a nearby tree.
  36. The party starts finding neatly severed body parts discarded on the road. An ear, then a finger, then a tongue.
  37. A table on the roadside holds a large basket of fresh vegetables. A sign reads “1 copper a bunch: honesty is a virtue!”
  38. On a desert trail, an oasis appears with several recently-dead animals lying around the water hole.
  39. At a river with slightly submerged ford, a sign reads “Ware the Greenteeth.”
  40. At a rushing river, a ferry can be seen midstream with a vicious battle happening on deck.
  41. At a river, a sign reads “Bridge out” but the bridge is still there and seems intact.
  42. In an area of volcanic springs, clouds of venting steam and jets of boiling sulfurous water burst from the ground.
  43. When at the bottom of a steep sloping road, there is a rumble and a large boulder comes rushing toward the PCs. When the rock finally stops, the group spots old bloodstains and a kill-score carved into the side.
  44. After camping for the night on the roadside, the party wakes to find a field of sweet-smelling flowers has grown up around them.
  45. A mud slide threatens to sweep the party into a swollen river.
  46. A sudden rain of fish, frogs, worms or other creature.
  47. A young dog or other creature decides to playfully follow the party.
  48. A large, iron-banded chest lies half buried in mud, as if it fell off the back of a wagon.
  49. A small group of kneeling, lifelike statues, frozen in fear or supplication.
  50. A toll-booth with guard and an official Inspector who wants to confiscate something strange or valuable.
  51. A sign says, “Kittens: Free to Good Home” with a box beneath. There is one kitten left.
  52. A row of severed heads on spikes and a warning sign claiming, “Dis Rode Belong Garg”
  53. A stand-off between a squad of soldiers and a band of political rebels.
  54. A band of children, hungry and footsore, who earnestly claim to be on a crusade to the Holy Land.
  55. Unusually verdant and overgrown patch of road, with bandits wrapped up in vines begging to be let free.
  56. The road is filled with giant potholes. Sounds of scratching and scuffling come from one of the pits.
  57. A roc/dragon/flying carpet speeds overhead and drops something glinting into the wilderness near the road.
  58. A dancing cloud of will-o-the-wisps or fireflies leads a hypnotized traveller.
  59. An old woodsman, with a broken axe nearby and a hastily bandaged and bleeding leg, slumps against a tree trunk.
  60. A travelling salesman and his gaudy cart, complete with fast-talking snake-oil offers and a dancing monkey.
  61. A large chunk of ornate (and possibly foreign) masonry blocks the road, with signs it recently fell out of the sky.
  62. A new sign pointing down a narrow path off the road saying, “Fresh Berries – Pick Your Own.”
  63. A wagon bogged in the mud, with a cursing merchant and harried teamsters.
  64. The road forks around a monolith, statue or war memorial. The stone has been recently daubed with occult symbols in fresh blood.
  65. A pile of discarded clothing and equipment on the verge, and laughter coming from the trees nearby.
  66. A lost child cries on the side of the road.
  67. A pack of starving wolves fights over the body of a lone traveller.
  68. A band of lepers or plague-carriers on their way to a nearby spring with supposed healing properties.
  69. A widow/widower and children planting a tree/flowers for their loved one, who died on the road.
  70. A group of drunk young noblemen pass the PCs, racing their expensive horses.
  71. A group of pilgrims travel to a holy site.
  72. A memorial avenue of trees commemorates a long-forgotten war.
  73. A burnt-out toll-station, with the murdered bodies of the toll inspectors still scattered around.
  74. A fallen-tree bridge over a stream turns out, while the group is halfway across, to be a mired treant.
  75. The group meet an uncannily similar party of adventurers going the opposite way.
  76. The group is followed from the last town by a band of children who want to go on adventures with them.
  77. A battle-scarred and seasoned warrior crashes from the undergrowth and screams, “Run! For the love of the Gods! They’re coming!” and races terrified down the road.
  78. A zombie or other mindless undead is stuck in a hole on the side of the road. It is wearing the signet ring and other identifying equipment of a nearby ruler’s only child the party knew and liked.
  79. After defeating a large but perfectly mundane animal on the road, the corpse hisses steam and opens up and a rather sweaty and oil-streaked gnome crawls out.
  80. A paved road recently rebuilt with stone from nearby ruins. The group notices some stones are carved with odd patterns. Put together, the patterns make up a mural showing the location of a valuable treasure/dungeon/great monster.
  81. The road widens at the top of a hill into a large, paved plaza covered with stone statues. Two nearby giants ask the group if they’d mind stopping for a while and being a part of their chess game, as they’re missing some pieces.
  82. A surly man with a crossbow sits at the mouth of a covered bridge, the only river crossing for miles. He offers to guide the group safely through the short, straight, empty tunnel of the bridge for a fee.
  83. A ranger stops by the group’s camp one night and gives them advice on the trail ahead, places to camp and a tavern where they can get good rates if they mention his name. All his advice is good, but when they mention his name at the tavern, they’re told he died years ago on that very road.
  84. A pompous noble stands in the road, flogging and shouting at his injured horse.
  85. The party see a mass of crows circling above a known safe haven/tavern/camping spot that lies just ahead, and the smell of smoke and roast meat hangs in the air.
  86. A tall rock overlooks the road. As the group passes, a filthy hermit babble prophecies and throws rotten food at them.
  87. An elderly woman wanders the verge of the road, bent double and carrying a basket of foraged produce. She asks the party for a ride on their wagon to ease her tired feet.
  88. A pay-wagon heading for a nearby army trundles past, with not quite enough guards to challenge the party.
  89. A rider stops to ask for hurried directions. The rider thanks them and races ahead. When the PCs reach the next town, fresh Wanted posters are being nailed up with the group’s faces sketched on and accusations of heinous crimes in the last town back. The locals all stare at the PCs.
  90. The group arrives late at night at a tiny village straddling the road. They secure accommodation and food from the friendly locals and fall asleep. In the morning the village is empty and ruined, as if abandoned years ago.
  91. The group leaves a town they’ve helped/saved/rescued and head off down the road. Just out of town the grateful locals jump out and surprise them with an unexpected picnic celebration.
  92. A voice from the bushes by the road shouts, “We have you surrounded, Torvik! Your villainy ends here!” But who’s Torvik?
  93. A young woman with a crying baby wrapped in a shawl is hotly pursued by a band of rough-looking men.
  94. The group comes upon the scene of a recent grisly carriage accident, or witnesses it ahead of them on the road.
  95. After one of the group treads in something sticky, animals start following the character with curious interest.
  96. A beehive buzzes angrily on a branch overhanging the road, and beneath it a figure lies gasping and puffy with dozens of stings.
  97. A band of foreigners/non-humans in garb the group don’t recognise halt the PCs and ask urgent questions in a language nobody understands.
  98. A member of a hostile race flags down the group with a white cloth and offers to surrender to them and reveal secrets in exchange for protection from its own people.
  99. Someone has scattered caltrops across the road.
  100. The road is rigged with an obvious and clumsily/hastily made trap. The PCs can hear drunken giggling from the undergrowth.
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More roadside encounters are coming your way in a future email. A GM can never have enough encounter seeds, I say!

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

Ban Rules-Speak

From Joost Boomkamp

In our new campaign, we’ve found a fun way to remove crunch and add fluff to the game.

We forbid everyone to use spell and feat names.

Instead, players describe their character’s “deadly weapon skill” when using their cleave feat to murder a bunch of kobolds.

We all know how magic missiles and fireballs work, but what do they look like? The characters now ask each other what that spell does, and if they could teach them that neat sword-swirly trick.

This works great for us.

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Free Classic Dungeon Crawl Game

From Hollis McCray

If you are looking for an old-fashioned dungeon-crawl sort of game, I’d suggest Dungeonslayers. It’s a free 20-page downloadable PDF:

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Use Alternative Combat Missions

From Paul Wilson

One tip I have learnt is not all combats need to be a challenge to the party.

If you design combats so the goal of enemies is to not kill the party (e.g., grab a trinket one of the party members is carrying, or delay them a certain number of rounds) and not to have the party be able to defeat the enemies, then this can make combat more interesting and faster.

When enemies want something different than killing the party, it is no longer an attempt to grind down to 0 hit points. Combat becomes more interesting, because there is now a different tactical and strategic play to the combat.

If the goal is not to kill the PCs, then you can design combats where players win and where enemies do not need to prevent PC attacks.

For example, in a recent game the players were attacking a fort. A mass of minions attacked the party. The minions are easy to manage (no tracking of HP and such) and the party members could kill at least one pretty much each round.

However, a hoard of minions by themselves would be boring, so I gave them goals to delay the party, push them back and hold them in a killing zone where more effective enemies could attack (and the players could not easily attack these enemies).

The players also had a goal in this combat that didn’t involve just killing the enemies. They had to keep a portcullis open so they could get through into the fort. This made the combat almost like a tug of war (although it was more of a push of war) between the players and the minions.

All these combined to make a fast, yet exciting and dynamic combat.

[Johnn: This is a great tip, Paul. Thanks.

And I have good news for RPT fans, but you’ll need to wait a bit until I get things in order. There’s going to be a new contest soon about alternative combat missions to end the grind.

I’ll announce the details in an upcoming email.]