Random Encounter Tables - Roleplaying Tips

Random Encounter Tables

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #370

Random Encounter Tables

From Charles Ciaffone

Random encounters are an often overlooked tool for the game master. In my own gaming, I use them to set the mood of a region, to provide inspiration for side adventures, and to instill the sense that the campaign world is larger than the characters’ experience. My tables ignore party level, instead focusing on the regional population of creatures, patrols, and so on.

Properly used, random encounters give the party the feeling that, despite this being a game centered on them, there is more out there than just what pertains to the plot.

Pre-Roll Encounters

I like to pre-roll random encounters between game sessions, especially if I know which direction the party is headed. Then I can prepare the encounters to make them feel less random and more regional. Alternately, you can have sample encounters developed or outlined, and select or roll for which to use.

Define the Region

One of my best adventures started as a random encounter. I rolled for a creature that was too difficult for the party to handle, but instead of discarding the encounter, I gave the creature a problem, to which the party could be the solution.

I devised an ancient abandoned outpost, with treasure hidden in it that the creature could not reach. The monster offered to “allow the party passage through his domain” if they went in and recovered the treasure. The random encounter took an entire game session for them to negotiate, but instead of being drudgery, it is one of the party’s favorite challenges to remember. It also helped me further define the extent and history of one of my ancient civilizations.

Craft Side Adventures From Too-Powerful Encounters

Do not shrink from having the characters encounter powerful beings. Instead, wrap the story around these encounters. Let the players role-play the interaction.

Some powerful monsters might just ignore the party, or just let them know this is their domain and the characters should move on as soon as possible.

Perhaps, in a few levels, the party will be back to deal with the giant that forces all passers-by to pay a toll, or to explore the cave they snuck past quietly so as not to wake what lurked inside.

Another option is the too-powerful creature the party encounters is dead. Perhaps something else is there, taking advantage. Maybe the galactic cruiser is a smoking ruin, having lost a battle. Maybe it has been partially looted, and the scavengers left booby-traps to dissuade others from looting it before they return.

Character Development

A character in my campaign was once on pilgrimage to a druidic grove. One random encounter I rolled was a bear. I designed the encounter as a test for the player, and an opportunity for him to develop his persona. Instead of having a ferocious cave bear charge out at the party, they came across a couple of bear cubs playing with a log on the side of the trail. The mother was off in the woods on the other side of the trail, out of sight.

The party might have passed on quietly, so as not to disturb the cubs, hoping that wherever mom was, she would not feel threatened. If anyone in the party moved to interact with the cubs, it would have been up to the druid to warn against such actions.

If mom noticed the party as they passed, the druid had the opportunity to use his nature skills to calm the bear while the party made their escape and avoid the unnecessary bloodshed.

Instead of another hack and slash encounter, it became a chance for the players to establish their alignments and use their class abilities in an unusual way.

Add In Random Plot Devices

When I am rolling for random encounters, normal encounter chances might be 8% or 5% or 20% depending on the area and how conspicuous the party is making itself. Meanwhile, a roll of 100 (00 for you old-schoolers) indicates a random plot device, such as bumping into a patrol from the enemy encampment the party is sneaking up on.

Encounter Table Generation

I have gone through many different methods of creating tables. The easiest and most straightforward method I have found is done in a spreadsheet. I have a template, and I enter in all of the possible monsters, local patrols, locals, and so on.

I always leave the first spot for innocuous encounters (see previous issues for ideas on these sub-tables) and the last spot for special encounters.

I usually have a table of regional special encounters, to add flavor to the area, and a more general table for special encounters that could occur anywhere in the campaign.

The template includes columns for Range, Frequency, From, To, and Encounter Type. To create the table you enter the Encounter Type and the Frequency. C for Common, U for Uncommon, R for Rare, V for Very rare, and X for eXtremely rare.

I rarely use X unless I do not have a separate regional special encounters table. You can also enter a hard number to override the formulas. You can adjust the formula in Range and drag it down to adjust the numbers to reach the desired number. I use a D100 roll, but depending on the size of the table you can use a D20, D10, D12, or even a D1000 for diverse regions.

Regional Tables

I develop a table for each geographic area on my world. You can also develop tables by continent, planet, or galactic sector, depending on the size of your campaign setting.

First, I went through all of the sources for creatures and selected what was available for each terrain and climate. Then I go through these lists to select encounters for each region.

Political Tables

From the regional tables I derive political tables for kingdoms, borderlands, and regions heavily populated by a specific race. With my template, I can make a copy of the table, and then add local patrols, remove or lower the chance of encounters that would be less likely in populated regions. This produces tables tailored to the specific political boundary.

Sample Random Encounter Tables

Here’s an example Excel file: 370 Random Encounters

Try it yourself. With proper planning and preparation, random encounters transform from being a distraction to a becoming great campaign tool. Enjoy, and keep gaming.

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A Brief Word From Johnn

Burning Void Now Errant Dreams

Past e-zine contributor and supporter Heather Grove has opened up a new website and moved her excellent Burning Void newsletter and gaming advice content over to the new location.

Errant Dreams – Book Reviews of all kinds!

D&D 4th Edition Announced

My jaw dropped when I heard D&D 4E was announced at Gen Con. My first thoughts were similar to when Atlas announced a new edition of Ars Magica: what about all my precious books?!

Having had time to digest the information available, I feel it’s a great thing for the hobby and for GMs. A key pillar of the new rules, which are still under development, is to make the game easier and more accessible to gamers. If they succeed in this, then I feel it will draw a lot of folk back into the hobby and bring new GMs to the table, eager to weave fantastic tales of adventure with their friends.

There are many other awesome RPGs out there, but because D&D and Wizards of the Coast are the 800 pound gorillas of the hobby, I think they drive a lot of new blood, press coverage, and public awareness to roleplaying games. I’ll be watching all their new initiatives with keen interest.

The first book for the new edition releases May 2008.

For more information, here are the best links I’ve found to date:

Cheers,

Johnn Four
[email protected]

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Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have some GM advice you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

Rumors…Or Are They?

From Palmer of the Turks

A few handy rumors to drop during dialogue never hurt anyone…except a few gullible players, perhaps.

Having lists of pre-made rumors is nothing new, but what about a table to generate them? Simply make a few columns listing common elements like the old Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How.

Then, as needed:

  1. Roll to see how many columns to use
  2. Roll each column and combine them

Common things can get multiple slots on the lists so they come up more often. For example, the Where column might have 8 named locations, and then each of the 4 compass directions down 3 times.

Getting results of “noble” “death” and “south” could be “I heard the Baron of Garan to the south was assassinated.” Just as easily: “When he was visiting Garan to the south, the king had some serfs put to death.”

That’ll Be Cash, Thank You

From Palmer of the Turks

This works best for modern games, but is adaptable. Head to a dollar or toy store and look for some play money. You could also try Monopoly money – refills should be available at bigger toy stores.

At my local dollar store, I got a package containing play paper money – 50 each of $5, $10, $20 and $100 bills (which adds up to $6,750 incidentally, so you’ll probably want several) for only a dollar.

Packages of extra monopoly money containing 20 each $500 and $100 bills, 30 $50 bills, 50 $20 bills and 40 each of $10, $5 and $1 bills (adds up to $13,140) and are $4 here: http://www.areyougame.com/Interact/item.asp?itemno=HB00035

Get a few packages of these and insist players use them for all game things involving money. Hand them a wad of bills if they find some money or use an ATM, make them give you the price of a gun/bribe/hot dog if their character spends it.

No more players fudging budgets, plus it helps add an in- game atmosphere. Saying “You find $400 in the drawer” just isn’t the same as handing the player $400 in play money.

Plus, you can dress some bills up with red paint or scribbled notes as props. One thing to consider is marking or signing all the bills you hand out, to prevent unscrupulous players from going and buying their own play money to use.

Map-up World Creation

From Matt ‘Silverbolt’ Craft

Mithril Dragon Den – AD&D 2E and Other Gaming Weirdness

Many times, I’ve had people I’ve gamed with ask how I come up with the ideas I do for adventures, kingdoms, and entire worlds. It’s taken me a while, but in comparing notes with how they build their ideas, I’ve discovered a simple difference: they design the game first, and build the map around it. I sketch out a map beforehand, and see what makes sense for it. While this method might not work for you, I’ll lay out some basic points; if nothing else, you can try it to see how well it works for you.

1) Map out the river system first. This is a vital thing. Rivers are the lifeblood of primitive settlements, and so even in modern times the largest cities will often be found near, if not actually at, a river.

Many rivers also serve as national boundaries. The Rio Grande, for example, seperates the United States and Mexico Note down which rivers are the main flows, and which are tributaries that feed into the larger flows.

If you include a lake, decide if it’s a lake born of a spring that feeds the rivers, or if it’s a lake that somehow drains into the earth as water flows into it.

2) Look at the river system. Most likely, areas will suggest themselves for terrain features, such as mountains, swamps, and forests, just by the shape of the rivers. Once you’ve done this, look for places that suggest other features: old ruins, volcanoes, or deserts far from the rivers. Finish filling in the natural terrain, and the next step will go much more easily.

3) After you’ve taken care of the terrain, you can fill in the civilizations – cities and kingdoms. A great many towns will spring up where rivers merge or split, as that becomes a natural highway point for traders.

Towns and fishing villages will also spring up at lakes, along any long stretch of river, or where a river meets the ocean – all of them as waypoints for traders and as homes to fishermen.

4) Write the background information for the map. Which cities sprang up when, how large are they, if they’re independent city-states or part of larger kingdoms, war histories, and the like.

Famous legends about different terrain features are also good. If there’s a desert bound by deep rivers, why is it there? Why doesn’t it rain? Why is the Shadowfen Swamp called that? And what makes The Silver River so vital?

Using StumbleUpon Effectively

From Tommi Brander

A brief guide I wrote for using StumbleUpon effectively, assuming one is a roleplayer. Original version here: http://z14.invisionfree.com/Tablets_of_Dleinr/index.php?showtopic=219

Stumbleupon is a site that lets one discover new and interesting pages. Essentially, you create an account, select interests (roleplaying games are under hobbies), press stumble, and it gives a website from one of the categories.

To find roleplaying sites, either only select roleplaying games as a category (boring), stumble till you get one, or stumble on roleplaying sites specifically.

To increase the quality of sites you discover, give “thumbs up” to good sites and “thumbs down” to bad ones. You ought to get more pages similar to the ones you liked, and less like those you disliked.

Also, select friends from among people who stumble upon lots of roleplaying-related sites. For example, blackmage4242 has lots of relevant sites. Your stumbles will often be those your friends like.

Use tags. http://www.stumbleupon.com/tag/roleplaying/ is one relevant tag.

Other tags: roleplaying-games, rpg, rpgs, role-playing- games, role-playing, roleplaying-game, role playing-game, rpg-net, rpg-theory, indie-rpg, independent-rpgs, indie-rpg, story-games, game-master, rpg-tips, dungeon-master, d-d, dnd, dungeons-and-dragons, dungeons-dragons, d20, ore, one- roll engine, reign, over-the-edge, exalted, world-building, larp, lrp

Other tags of interest: fantasy, horror, bizarre. Writing might be useful tag for GMs.

Go to the page of a tag (just change the word roleplaying from the above example) and select “I like pages about *tag*”. You will see more pages with the relevant tag. Also, after giving thumbs-up or down to a page, add some tags to it and/or review it. It will be easier for others to find the site that way.

There is a maximum of five tags per page per stumbler.

If you happen to have an rpg site that gets far too little traffic, give thumbs-up to it and add relevant tags to it, so people will stumble there.