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:
- Instead of rolling just one of the specified dice, roll two.
- If you roll two different results, check to see if you’ve rolled any of them before.
- If not, make a mark on the highest rolled entry, and foreshadow it.
- If yes, then the PCs encounter the highest rolled encounter which has previously been foreshadowed.
- If you roll doubles, that encounter happens immediately (regardless of whether it has previously been foreshadowed).
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.
- Droppings, tracks, dropped item
- Remains of meal/victim
- Sounds in the distance
- Remains of one of the creatures OR signs of a battle
- Message (territorial markings, scribbles etc)
- 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.