Spicing up randomness

I do love random encounters, for the same reasons I love location based adventures; they let me be the voice for a narrative told by the dice, they surprise me, they supply flavor to a location and they serve to enforce time as a limited resource better than anything else.

That being said, the classic D6 or D8 table with X number of entries is a bit boring. I’ve devised a fairly simple way to spice it up a bit, but without having to rewrite the table or add any complex mechanisms beyond making some notes (on a paper or in the book/adventure itself, as per preference). It does delay the encounters a bit, but at least for me that is as intended; it’s meant to serve as foreshadowing of what roams the dungeon and to give the players a greater sense of dread and urgency as they feel they are being stalked by more and more creatures (which, in a sense, they are) as they rummage through the tunnels and make ever more noise and leave more tracks.

The system amounts to the following:

  1. Instead of rolling just one of the specified dice, roll two.
  2. If you roll two different results, check to see if you’ve rolled any of them before.
    1. If not, make a mark on the highest rolled entry, and foreshadow it.
    2. If yes, then the PCs encounter the highest rolled encounter which has previously been foreshadowed.
  3. If you roll doubles, that encounter happens immediately (regardless of whether it has previously been foreshadowed).

Source: http://recedingrules.blogspot.se/2010/08/art.html

So, how do you “foreshadow” an encounter? I usually just do it by improvisation; tracks, droppings, the remains of a meal, the corpse of a dead creature, a strange smell in the air, scribblings on the wall – the possibilities are endless, and I think most GMs get excited rather than pressed when asked to do this. What I basically aim for is to convey both hints on the nature of the creature and it’s general power level if possible – it’s great if clever players can use this foreshadowing to plan their delve and make preparations.

If I’m lazy or tired, I usually just roll 1D6 on this ready-made table. It’s simple, but it’s easy enough to pad the result.

  1. Droppings, tracks, dropped item
  2. Remains of meal/victim
  3. Sounds in the distance
  4. Remains of one of the creatures OR signs of a battle
  5. Message (territorial markings, scribbles etc)
  6. A glimpse

I usually allow these foreshadowings to “reset” as the PCs leave a dungeon, in order to camp or resupply. The players soon learn how the systems works, which is as intended, as they realize that they will be in more and more danger the more time they spend in the same area.

Where there be monsters?

On alignments in my Early Modern game.

There have always been monsters. In the earlier ages they were many, and men worshiped them – generally to appease them, since most were best left alone or kept calm, but some were willing to communicate with and trade secrets with men. The mages of old Hyborea were masters of this, and even learnt the secrets of the Old Ones from the Serpent Men and mastered sorcery, the channeling of the hidden powers of Monsters. Later, the civilizations of the Crescent, the far East, the Romans  and the Germanic tribes worshiped other monsters, fickle and cruel masters who toyed with their subjects.


Monsters are creatures of Chaos, and of Magic. Serving them turns man into a mutant, and mastering them makes her a sorcerer or magus. The Magic they supply is powerful but fickle, primal and very dangerous – it is given freely to those who know how and who to ask, but few can handle it. Monsters care little for Man and gain little by associating with her as other than prey or plaything.

There has always been Law, but its creatures are subtle. Modern man allied with Law; so did men who came before – the Chinese and their Celestial Bureaucracy, for example. Law is a harsh master, controlling and domineering even in the slightest details, but in return it supplies safety, continuity and certainty. Law needs man desperately; like a cart needs a horse. Without the fallible nature of man to create tension, friction and movement Law does nothing, but in that tension it thrives and feeds on imposed Order. Whether Man truly benefits from the relationship is not as clear.


Angels and the Divine are creatures of Law. Serving them turns a man into a puppet; mastering them makes you holy but it is hard to tell the difference. They supply Magic just like Monsters do, and in the same way, although men call them Miracles. These secrets are useful, sane, dependable and predictable, but they come with innumerable strings attached and accepting them binds you to the Divine.

The Divine have long been in ascendancy, and masters of men of the Modern world.

Most of Man has always been Unaligned, but in earlier times this has been a choice of necessity, an unwillingness to bind oneself as a slave to the forces or Law or subject oneself to the fickle demands of Chaos. In Modern times, however, some men have found the strength of Enlightenment.

Enlightenment is about the empowerment of man. Of reason, of learning and knowing and of harnessing both Law and Chaos and taking control. It supplies no powers beyond those which can be found within, but demands no great tribute. It’s essence is the potential for Man to harness her own destiny, for better or worse. Monsters AND the Divine hate Enlightenment equally. It lessens their influence over Man, but also the world she increasingly controls.


(Enlightenment is not an alignment per se, just a consequence of Neutrality turning into something other than not making a choice. It is also NOT the “good guy option”. It will fuel colonialism, slavery and many more atrocities in eras to come. Man is capable of very dark things entirely on her own…)