Encounter activity

There are a lot of tables describing the activity of a random encounter out there, some of them really good, but I went ahead and put one of my own together anyway.

I like to have a balance between a reasonable number of different results, some room for me to improvise around the results and also a curve that averages towards more “reasonable” results. A bit boring, but I like how it creates a believable dungeon and it also means the players’ can intuit something about the dungeon and make smart choices based on this.

This one is also weighted to provide a separate result for mindless undead, which is really handy when running the Barrowmaze.

Roll Encounter activity
2 Running from other creature
Roll for hunter, on higher Lvl chart if necessary
3 Returning to lair after fight
Random number of creatures @ D8x10% HP.
4 Just passing by
Less inclined to fight, on different errand.
5 Setting up camp or lair
Noisy, most likely guards posted
7 Fighting another creature
Roll on same table. Noisy, easily detected.
8 Defending territory
Looking for invaders, hostile or -4 Reaction
9-11 Hunting or exploring
Wary. Party might be dinner and/or marks.
12 Chasing other creature
Roll for prey, or use Giant Vermin (D6)
Roll 2D6, OR D6+6 for mindless Undead
UNDEAD: Also roll D30 on “What’s up with these Undead?”

A fashion statement

My players are still plunging into the depths of the Barrowmaze, and as is typical for that dungeon they keep running into a LOT of undead. My “What’s up with these Undead” table does provide flavor now and then, but I use a D30 on it to avoid making the encounters too strange. Also, one of my players has the habit of asking what the creatures look like or are wearing, since they met a group of them in priestly robes who all had valuable holy symbols…

Sure, I could think on my feet as I have so far, but why not a table instead. Nothing too meaty, just something to give me a starting point. Find a suitable row on this – there should be one, most of the special undead types will slot nicely into one of these. Column seven feels like it might be “one use”, at least for some of these entries, but I’ll see when I get to use it in play.


Sorry for making this an image, but the tables formatting in WordPress is just too much of a hassle. I’ve provided a PDF for better usability and printing, if anyone should want it.

What’s up with these undead?

I’ve been running Barrowmaze with one of my groups recently; they’re venturing into its depths looking for a cache of Elven Spell Gems needed to use a magical portal, but I wonder if they’ll want to leave even after finding that cache considering all the treasure they’ve found so far.

This module is really good, and it mostly contains everything you need to run it. I’ve been making use of my recent Spicing up Randomness rules for random encounters, but even with foreshadowing there are still a lot of encounters with “generic” undead in the catacombs (especially considering how thorough and noisy my players are), and I wanted to use something simple to spice up some of the “1D6 zombies” encounters. Thus, I’ve created the table below. The way I use it is to roll a D30 on it, with 13-30 meaning nothing out of the ordinary, but that’s really just a matter of taste.

Some of these refer to rules here on the blog (such as the “treat as Lung Sickness” bit) but they are probably fairly self-explanatory and you should probably be able to make a ruling on the fly.

1 An Enchanted Weapon is either (mindless) stuck in or (intelligent) wielded by one of the creatures (GM’s choice what weapon).
2 The creatures are Armored, or more heavily armored than usual if they normally wear protection. Treat their AC as two steps better. The actual armor is rusted, rotted or worn and can be of any specific type.
3 The creatures are stalked by an entourage of 3D6 Giant Rats that devour the scraps they leave behind. They will fall upon and devour any fallen PC’s, and possibly attack the party after combat if the PC’s appear sufficiently weakened.
4 A Lesser Demon is bound in one of the creatures (quite visibly, the creature has a large red pentagram painted on its chest). If the pentagram is disturbed, such as by slaying the creature (except perhaps using called shots or similar), the demon (6 HD, AC 15, 2@+6,D8, Fire Breath 3/day, 20’ cone for 2D8 dmg, save for half) will be released into this plane. Roll Reaction at -4. An intelligent creature marked in this way will use it to threaten the party and attempt to make them release the demon, and then flee to escape its wrath.
5 The creatures are dressed in Clerical Robes and wear gilded holy symbols of an appropriate lawful deity. They possess no special powers. Each holy symbol is worth 50 SP.
6 A number (2D4) of Giant Centipedes live on or in the creatures in a symbiotic relationship. These centipedes will remain on the creatures until brought into melee range, and will then attempt to scurry onto opponents and paralyze them with their venom.
7 One of the creatures has an Arrow of Dragonslaying stuck in it.
8 The creatures are, for some reason, chained together. They make a lot of noise while moving around, they move slower than normal and the chain can possibly cause them any number of practical problems. Intelligent undead will know to minimize these problems, and perhaps even use the chain to their advantage.
9 The creatures are dragging a small cart along. Mindless undead will simply drag it behind them, set on some ancient task now probably pointless. Intelligent undead will use it as a mobile food supply, and in it can be found random valuables worth 500 SP along with a lot of bones and disgusting bits. The cart itself is rickety and worn, but functional.
10 One of the creatures is exceptionally large, at least 7’ tall if the beings are of human size. This creature is hung with decorative bone jewellery, and automatically has maximum HP.
11 The creatures carry a Fungal Infection which has covered them in strange growths. This has granted them an extra HD each. Spores release in a 5’ radius cloud on a successful hit which causes physical damage (i.e. not fire, cold or the like). Those caught in a spore cloud must make a Fortitude save (one per round) or begin to choke (-4 to all activity for a Turn) and become infected with a Fungal Rot (treat as Lung Sickness, but accompanied by growths which spread infectious spores as per above).
12 Someone has hung a string of bells on one of the creatures. Mindless undead will announce their approach from far off and cannot surprise anything. Intelligent undead will attempt a diversion, hiding in ambush while one of them skulks around in a room while wearing the bells.


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.