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View Full Version : Let's... Setpiece Random Encounters



Yora
2015-05-29, 03:35 AM
I just read a very interesting idea to make travel through the wilderness a lot more exciting and feel much longer than simply a time skip of four days or two weeks. In fiction, these long overland journeys are often full of exploration and discovery themselves and a lot more is happening than fighting a few random monsters. Even if very often these scenes on the road don't really have anything to do with the main plot of the story. The Balrog in Moria or the Wights of the Barrow Downs in Lord of the Rings don't have anything to do with the plot, they are just accidental encounters on the road due to bad luck. But in hindsight, they are still very important parts of the adventure.

So what I am thinking is to make random encounters for wilderness travel that are not just creatures, but actual full mini-adventures or micro-dungeons. Which I think is how random encounters were actually intended. When it says for orcs "No. Appearing: 3d1010", the idea was not that you have a fight with a few hundred orcs, but that there is an orc village or camp nearby and you only encounter a few guards on patrol at first. But coming up with an orc town on the fly as a random encounter is not that easy in practice, so instead I think it would be much more practical to prepare a number of setpiece encounters. A small micro-dungeon with a loose backstory that can work with various kinds of creatures. Keep a stack of 10 or 12 or so and once the players have had one as a random encounter, you either rework it a bit to be something new or replace it with some entirely different idea.

What kinds of ideas do you have for micro-dungeons and mini-adventures that would be great random encounters for wilderness travel?

1. Ruined farm: An abandoned farm house that is half collapsed. The dirty floor of the main room has several tracks of something being dragged towards a small dark hole in the corner, which leads down into a cellar. The cellar has four rooms with very low ceilings and stinks of rot and decay. It's filled with old barrels, broken crates, and other junk, and one of the rooms is the lair of a group of ghouls, carrion crawlers, or other filthy creatures that feed on corpses. Or perhaps meenlocks or a giant fungus with very long tentacles.

2. Ogre lair: A small cave with three rooms in which one or several ogres have their lair. Outside the cave there are heaps of garbage and a filthy flat stone where the ogres butcher their victims. Somewhere in the cave is a small stash with treasure taken from people killed by the ogres. Perhaps they also collect the heads on a simple shelf or hang them on ropes from the ceiling.

3. Open cairn: An ancient burrial mound surrounded by standing stones, which has recently been opened. A short tunnel leads to three or four burrial chambers.
a.) It has been opened by a necromancer who is trying to raise the ancient corpses as undead servants. As the PCs encounter him, he might order the undead to attack them. Or they could come to an agreement and protect the necromancer in case something goes wrong and the undead turn against him.
b.) The tomb has been looted by grave robbers, which has awakened a wight who then killed them. As the PCs enter the wight reawakens and attacks them. Or the players might be able to convince him that they are innocent and instead accept a short quest to find a one of the grave robbers who escaped with an important item the wight wants back. Maybe he still lives, or he died not far away in the wilds. And the item might be worth keeping.

The Evil DM
2015-05-29, 04:09 AM
This has been mentioned in many places. It was a standard method of constructing wilderness adventures all the way back to 1st Ed.

4. Travelling Merchants: Opportunity to role play and trade on the road

5. Animal Dens: Bears, Badgers what ever fits in the local environs.

One of my favorites that I use regularly

6. Weather Change: It starts to rain, or in rare cases some form of extreme weather or flooding occurs. Lots of adventure possible there.

7. Ruined towers or outposts: How old are these ruins? Who manned them? Why is it abandoned.

8. Abandoned Mines: These could very easily be occupied by creatures looking for a home they don't need to build themselves.

mephnick
2015-05-29, 07:01 AM
A lot of sandboxes use this style of "random" encounter. Like you roll for a group of bugbears, then you roll to see if it's actually a patrol, or tracks, or a lair. If a patrol or tracks, you generate a lair in the next hex. I always keep a stack of a few generic cave or fort layouts to use and when the mood strikes create something a bit more specific. Like I have a tower that's sunk partially into a lake/ocean/marsh. Depending on when I need that I can fill it with lizardfolk, sahaguin, a cult, barbarians, whatever. Once I whip it out, it becomes a permanent location in that hex. DM's should use random encounters as a way to fill their world, not just as walking bags of XP (which I don't use in the first place).

nedz
2015-05-29, 11:35 AM
A lot of sandboxes use this style of "random" encounter. Like you roll for a group of bugbears, then you roll to see if it's actually a patrol, or tracks, or a lair. If a patrol or tracks, you generate a lair in the next hex. I always keep a stack of a few generic cave or fort layouts to use and when the mood strikes create something a bit more specific. Like I have a tower that's sunk partially into a lake/ocean/marsh. Depending on when I need that I can fill it with lizardfolk, sahaguin, a cult, barbarians, whatever. Once I whip it out, it becomes a permanent location in that hex. DM's should use random encounters as a way to fill their world, not just as walking bags of XP (which I don't use in the first place).

this, but you don't need to roll them - just select something suitable.

Also you can reflect the fauna and flora of the area. If you walk through the "Enchanted forest", then you should have random encounters which reflect this; if you walk along the shores of the "Bay of pigs" then you should meet some wild boar; etc. You can do this in reverse of course, so if you encounter some pigs whilst walking along the beach this area could become the "Bay of pigs" and have always been known as such.

Brendanicus
2015-05-29, 04:40 PM
I really like these ideas for random encounters and I'm going to use these ideas heavily in my next campaign. It's great to be able to think of random encounters as places, in addition to people, creatures, and motivations.

I'm now using 4 different charts to roll off of when I have a random encounter:

1. Encounter chart. This is basic. I also have a chance of rolling "Mini-Dungeon", in which case I roll for the Mini-Dungeon chart.
2. Encounter Modifier cart- This is rolled to give a bit of personality to the encounter. It contains stuff like, "The encounter is in a good mood today" or, "he encounter is desperate, and is either prone to bad decisions or may beseech the players for aid".
3. Weather- Having it rain once in a while is nice.
4. Mini-Dungeons- Strictly optional encounters. These are typically very small dungeons found by the side of the road. The Ogre cave and Wight farmstead in the OP are good examples.

Another one that I came up with was the players finding a gang of Bugbears and Goblins picking over a caravan that they just ambushed. The Goblinoids, not looking for a fight, just tell the players to move along. If the players make a high Perception check, they here pained breathing from the wreckage- one of the travelers survived! The players choose whether to fight or not. The Goblinoids will leave them alone if they just walk away.

Also, does anybody have any good ideas for where these sorts of mini-dungeons could take place? The only ideas I that weren't already posted were crashed caravans, beached ships, abandoned campsites, a forgotten cemetery, boarded-up shacks, and hollowed, giant trees.

The Evil DM
2015-05-29, 04:52 PM
I didn't have a lot of time to continue when I wrote the last one. Here are a few others.

My campaigns have a survival element. Players are expected to track food. On my encounter tables there are mundane encounters such as...

9.Game Animals: - Can be small, medium or large depending on rarity of roll.

10. Opportunity to Forage: - A place where the group can stop and collect food

11. Fresh Water: - A place where players can refresh their water supply.... Also is it really fresh? Purify Food/Drink spell now comes in handy.

If the players have declared themselves members of a religion with some specific defined omens I add the following to tables.

12. Good Omen:

13. Bad Omen: Why are all the birds flying away from that dark and shady forest up ahead?

I think of the random encounter system not so much for encounters but as a system to implement event triggers. Sure an encounter can be an event, but it need not be the only form of event.

A few weeks ago in my regular game, the players were on a ship, sailing towards a battle. Every single roll on my event tables yielded favorable weather, good wind, good fishing (for the players dragging a hook behind the Bloody Mermaid) and in general smooth sailing. The got to their destination, engaged their enemies with favorable omens and weather were victorious and moved on. We played six hours of smooth role play on the high seas with one big battle.

The game sticks out in their mind because it never had happened before. Also one particularly pessimistic player was not present and when he returned the next game a storm started brewing on the horizon. So now not only is Joey pessimistic, he is also blamed for the bad weather.

Lurkmoar
2015-05-29, 06:26 PM
Sometimes I like tossing out environmental effects, particularly in mountains. Landslides, flashfloods, the sound of high pitched laughter in the distance, strange lights, what have you. Before I do a flashflood, I typically mention the party seeing the clouds ahead darkening with the peals of thunder.

Doorhandle
2015-05-30, 10:40 PM
14. That's no moon: One for higher-leveled players. That river or mountain ahead...isn't. Instead, it's made out of elementals, who waylay travelers in the hopes of eating their souls.

15.Merchant of death: It looks like a normal merchant caravan... Except the wagons are animated objects, the animal drawing them are werebeasts, and the merchant leading them has the biggest magic arsenal this side of elminster!

16. Red-handed.: You encounter some bandits as they are picking through the remains of the targets they waylaid earlier. Hostages optional.

Jay R
2015-05-31, 01:12 PM
17. Meeting strangers who need minor help. Merchants who were just robbed, a farm currently terrorized by wolves, guards looking for the kidnapped daughter, etc.

Some time later, this can allow the PCs to be recognized and lauded in a town they've never been to. These kinds of adventures will increase the PCs' reputations far more that what they do alone in a dungeon, witnessed only by the goblins they slay.

Shadowsend
2015-05-31, 01:34 PM
18. Mirage/Illusion Trick of a long journey or fae. (With this one, make sure you roll the will saves yourself, not the players)

19. Crossroads Opportunity for people trained in survival or knowledge geography to shine.

20. Welcome to ______ Sign that leads to nothing/overgrown buildings.

Jay R
2015-05-31, 01:52 PM
19. You're the new babysitters! The ground shows evidence of a small battle. many dead bodies, no tracks leading away. Off the path, you hear a cry. You find a baby sitting on a blanket, with nothing to indicate parentage, rank, or station. No other signs of humans for miles in any direction.

goto124
2015-06-01, 08:57 AM
19 could turn hilarous, doubly if the players are on the paranoid side of thinking.

It looks rather like a plot hook though, so they may take it far more seriously than most random encounters...

Jay R
2015-06-01, 09:49 AM
19 could turn hilarous, doubly if the players are on the paranoid side of thinking.

It looks rather like a plot hook though, so they may take it far more seriously than most random encounters...

Oh, it's a plot hook, all right, but not until about four levels and half a continent after they dispose of the child, when they hear about the missing heir to the throne, lost and presumed dead in a small battle.

Blake Hannon
2015-06-14, 05:30 AM
this, but you don't need to roll them - just select something suitable.

Also you can reflect the fauna and flora of the area. If you walk through the "Enchanted forest", then you should have random encounters which reflect this; if you walk along the shores of the "Bay of pigs" then you should meet some wild boar; etc. You can do this in reverse of course, so if you encounter some pigs whilst walking along the beach this area could become the "Bay of pigs" and have always been known as such.

This.

There's no reason to plan a whole mini-adventure just in case it ever gets rolled. If you want the PC's to have a mini-adventure or two between plot points, just give them those mini-adventures. It won't look any different to them.

Kantaki
2015-06-14, 06:09 AM
20. A Portal to a pocket-dimension. Be it a glowing sphere floating over the ground, a door standing around on the empty ground or a overgrown road half obscured by mist, interaction leads the heroes into a small (lets say a city as the largest) world cut off from reality. Getting back could require a bit more effort.