Friday, February 11, 2011

Random Encounters aka the Waste your player’s valuable time list.
I have been reading a few threads, blogs and twitter feeds about combat speed, does it need to be sped up or is it fine? I was randomly looking at threads in the WotC community and low and behold I found a thread about Random Encounter tables in 4e. A DM was looking for some Forgotten Realms random encounter tables for his new game he is starting up and this started a lot of people talking the negative side of them.
It boiled down to a lot of people saying how unrealistic it was or how they could not imagine a creature in the wild that would stop hunting the weak and infirm prey for a well armed adventuring party. I laughed at this and continued reading, another was about just wandering around until they leveled or that 4e does not cater to sandboxing real well.
Yet as I look at even just essentials I cannot help but think back to AD&D and the wandering monsters tables. As 4e stands right now if you were going to make tables for 4e it would probably be as book as AEG’s toolbox book just for encounters. With concerns of the XP pool for building encounters and all the other variables like minions, elites and solos the tables would be huge.
Usually in my games I would have an encounter or two set aside for things like a random encounter when the party chose the through the woods method over taking the well known path. This comes to another point about how random tables are out of place and how does this fit into the story you are trying to tell. Also it cannot always be just about combat so then throw in the random skill challenge instead of combat.

Old School Randomness:
In AD&D the typical way to kick off random encounters was based on location. There were tables for every type of location you could think of along with the time of day. Base that off on population density and you got the die type you rolled at a given point in the travels of the adventurers. I think back to some of the DM’s I had and it was a wonder we got any part of the story’s completed.
You would then consult the random encounter table if your die result was a “1” choose the appropriate dungeon level and roll a d20 to see which sub-table you then consulted.
Random, Back in the Day, Memory: My friend totally thought that the dungeon level on the table actually meant how far down (the depth) in the dungeon you currently were.
He justified this belief to us as such "Dungeons got tougher as you ventured out from the entrance." Now does that not resembles an MMO game, leave the starter town and it just gets tougher on the way.
I had always felt that the base chance for an encounter was a bit off, 1 in 20 when there is a more dense population around you but less in the wilderness. Our DM typically always rolled a d10 for random encounters no matter what and that meant… more encounters. Which was not always bad but sometimes it always seemed like it was encounter time.
I had always felt that the base chance for an encounter was a bit off, 1 in 20 when there is a more dense population around you but less in the wilderness. Our DM typically always rolled a d10 for random encounters no matter what and that meant… more encounters. Which was not always bad but sometimes it always seemed like it was encounter time.
Applying the randomness to 4e
There really does not need to be any randomness to adventures anymore, with so much advice out there for DM’s in regards to adventure and story building it pretty much speaks for itself. This goes back to a previous post I had made about running published adventures vs. the homebrew kind and that is adding in additional content when players go out of the game grid boundaries and do their own thing.

Have several random encounters built that are plot-centric to your story that can nudge them back onto the playing field as it were. Vary them up from what they are fighting right now to something monstrous that might want them to turn back and go the way they came. The goal here is not to kill them or having them waste valuable resources but to nudge them back onto the invisible campaign railroad.
Build the encounters during your campaign prep and have them ready to be used. You should build a few of each type of encounter (i.e. easy, standard and hard) that way it is not always the Goblin Cutters and Hexers the party is running into. In my games I have these built and I will do a re-skin on some monsters if the need arises to fit the location they are in.

Table 1.1 Encounter Checks


Encounter Chance
Base Chance of Encounter
Occurrence of Encounter Chance
Well traveled road or path
1 in 20
Once per day
Off the beaten path
2 in 20
Twice per day
Well Protected Borders (i.e. elf territories)
3 in 20
Twice per day
Camping (no ritual protection)
1 in 20
Once per day
Dungeoneering
1 in 20
Once per day








Table 1.2 Encounter Difficulty
Dice Roll 1d10
Encounter Type
1-5
Easy
6-8
Standard
9
Hard
10
Challenging

  





Table 1.3 Encounter Style
Dice Roll 1d10
Encounter Style
1
Trap
2
Skill Challenge
3-6
Creature






Recently I decided after reading some cool ideas behind skill challenges and trap designs I decided to add these to my random encounters. Depending on the adventure the players are on the style of the encounter can add something to the session. Throwing an NPC at them while they travel through the Witchlight Fens who would rather parley with the group than fight or a series of terrain features blocks their path like a huge cliffside with a rope, perhaps with a trap thrown in to thwart persuit by the kidnappers they are following.

When I first thought about the random tables and how I missed them and then started reading the posts on the WotC forums I started realizing how much it was just the DM’s way of adding in more combat. I guess if you are the DM for a Hack-N-Slash group and like running those kind of games adding in the old style table for everything would be great. These tables are not perfect, but they are what I use when I run my games.

Even now as I sit here and think about it, while these little tables are not really necessary for anyone even me I have to say that a little randomness in a static adventure is nice.

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I am Regional Coordinator for the Great Lakes Region for D&D Adventurers League. Worked for Best Buy as a Project Team Specialist were I did store remodels, support Vendor displays and set merchandising standards for the stores in the Chicago market. He also enjoys playing games (PC, Console, Board Games, RPGs and Miniature Skirmish Games), reading, watching movies and listening to music.