Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Random Encounter Montage

Here's a mechanic for determining random encounters.

I've always hated giving the DM sole responsibility for accidentally running into a wandering monster. And when I ran lots of dungeon crawls, I'd always forget to roll. On the other end of the spectrum is one DM I played with who would dramatically roll a d12 for each hour of travel. His encounters were terrible, too. They typically involved an epic battle that completely distracted the party from the main story.

Anyhow, this method puts the chance of encounter in the hands of the PCs. It's a spin off of the 4e Skill Challenge mechanic, and will work well if you want to give your travel a montage feel. For every significant leg of the journey, each player must make a skill check. The DM should determine an appropriate DC/target roll that is consistent for the whole party. The player can choose the skill she wants to employ, as long as she describes how that skill is helping the party along. This is her moment in the montage to detail however she wants. Depending on the size of the group and the pace of the evening, going around the table once or twice should be enough.

Success means the party makes unimpeded progress. Failure means the player gets to play the lead role in a random encounter. Perhaps she is attacked first. Maybe she sets off the trip wire. Maybe she finds the mysterious ring of invisibility.

Alternately, if multiple players fail their checks, the DM could wait until the end of the montage sequence and present an encounter that encompasses the collective failure. That is, Sven's failure means the party will encounter a patrol of goblins, but since Maude also failed, the goblins will have a troll.

They Have a Cave Troll by Otis Frampton
The trick is in finding the balance. You don't want to have too many random encounters turning your evening into a suckfest, like aforementioned bad DM did. On the other hand, the risk of failure is what makes it fun, and putting that risk in the hands of the players makes it all the better.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Encounter Lanscape Chart

So, the dice have been rolled, and it's time to fight a wandering monster! Quick, bust out the big dry erase map or chart paper and sketch out the battle field... wait, where are we?

Here's a chart I came up with for random encounters in Kimatarthi. Since it's a pretty arid and hilly land, I wanted elevation and terrain to play a role in each encounter. It makes it easy to give a little extra flavor to each random encounter, and can also be used to give penalties and bonuses to movement, missile attacks, etc.

To use this chart, assume that the map is oriented so that the party is at the center, traveling from right to left - cardinal directions don't matter at the tactical level.

Then roll a d12 to determine the kind of landscape and its position relative to the party (e.g. they could be traveling along the top of a ridge or the bottom of it) and a d8 to determine the position of the enemy (1 is the top of the map, 2 the upper right corner, etc.)

Borrowing a page from +Zak S., roll the dice on the map to determine the position of any obstacles. Throw a few more unique dice if you want a busier tactical map. Draw these in as shrubs, rocks, ancient pillars, whatever you like.

Encounter Landscape Chart
Party is traveling…

Along the top
Along the bottom
Gradual Draw
Gradual Draw
Steep draw
Steep draw
Along the top

Thus, if the dice are cast and bring up a 2 (d12) and 4 (d8), then the party is traveling along the top a ridge, and the monsters appear ahead of them and below the ridge (unless it's a flying enemy...). On a roll of 10 (d12) and 3 (d8), the party is heading down a steep draw and the enemy appears directly ahead.

Win, lose, or gradual draw. (Doronenko)