Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Random Encounter Status (A Response)

There was a pretty inspiring discussion over at Dreams in the Lich House about what Random Encounters are up to. Lots and lots of good ideas. I was thinking about die-drop-charts a lot lately, but never found a satisfying solution (other than the ones already around, obviously). Then I read Porky's comment and had a revelation (thanks!).

So Porky wrote:
"One simple approach to improvisation is to make the encounter roll on a sheet of paper and interpret the result. Just the same encounter roll, not an extra one yet.
If a die lands close to the centre, the encounter is on a home or at least claimed territory. The halo region around the centre suggests a patrol or an invasion, based on the map and who's territory it might actually be. Landing near a long edge suggests a trek, near a short edge a search. A corner indicates isolation. The upper half suggests higher reasons like doing penance or self-discovery, the lower baser reasons like scheming or simply natural functions. Even if you're not rolling more than one die, you can combine them.
For example, a die falling on a longer edge, but slightly closer to a lower corner could suggest the group encountered is roving far away from home for a new food source. Maybe they're hungry, preoccupied, grumpy, demoralised. If they're wild, they might crave the party, if civilised resort to wiles or beg for help, all of which can help in interpreting the reaction roll. It also sets up a cascade of branching possibilities, maybe right across the region."
And I was like:
Or something down that line. So as soon as my schedule allowed it, I tried and made a drop chart to see what a Random Encounter might be doing when they cross paths with the characters. Result:
Random Encounter Status (drop-chart)

That's just a .png for now (I wonder what the best way is to make a .pdf online available... Any suggestions?). 

How to use it

As soon as a Random Encounter occurs, roll 1d20 (+HD, modified as implicated)) on this drop-chart. The result of the d20 shows how aware the encounter is of the group, the position indicates what he's up to (or what they are up to, etc.). Interpretation is according to what encounter it is (civilised, wild, undead, etc.) and where it's happening. The further away the die drops from the center, the more imminent is the need to interact with the group (if he's aware of them...).


Let's say the encounter is a group of bandits (6 bandits with 3 HD, a leader with 4 HD) in a forest. The die lands on the grey frame in the upper left corner, showing a 5. The group is lead through the forest by a scout (let's say level 3), has beasts of burden and a watchdog.

The bandits are content, moving towards their homebase after a succesfull mission regarding the security of their camp. They're aware of the group (5+11+2+3+5-5-5 = 16*  vs. 15 (forest)) and will engage (them being bandits and in a good mood, I'd go with the a Reaction Table and see what happens).

Upper right corner, in the grey frame, would mean, the bandits are out for treasure and the characters are the next target. More to the center could mean they are in the process of robbing someone else, very close to HB could mean they are torturing a captive right now, to get information about a treasure. Etc..

If the group in this example would have travelled cautious or without beasts of burden, the bandits would have been busy with whatever they were doing, without noticing the group, giving them the chance to ignore or intercept the encounter.

Last words

Of course I'd offer to make this available as a free pdf. Alas, as mentioned above, I'd have to check my options first. And see how the feedback is.

I wonder if somebody did something like that already. So if you know of somebody, I'd be very interested in the results!

*As a little side note, I'd say one of those bandits is aware of the group (one more as the difficulty). With a result of 18 it would have been 3, etc..


  1. 'Wow!' from me too - I love that you ran with it and I love what you've done.

    I've also read your reply at the original post and I agree it has almost mini-game potential - and that would be an avenue worth exploring to see how just much the system could be made to carry. That said, this is closer to the degree of simplicity I find useable at the table when the action is coming thick and fast.

    Having the level of awareness and position in the one roll is the golden feature I think, and it looks to me like you've done a good job with the modifiers, weighing them very well. There's a lot there - it's a full and solid resource.

    For my own use - and with Labyrinth Lord / Swords & Wizardry OD&D specifically - I'd probably dip in to the modifications by day and simplify the core, maybe in the LL-S&W-OD&D case by using the distance roll instead of the d20 and replacing the modifiers with one more or one less d6 being dropped, i.e. 1-3 dice.

    I know early D&D can seem crazy to some and this level of abstraction - one die more or less? - can seem imprecise. When I read your posts, like the recent one on height difference in encounters for example - which was outstanding by the way - I'm very impressed, but I'll confess I soak up the essence rather than the detail, distilling that form of deep thought into another. The justification I'd give for this approach is mainly the freed capacity for feeling into the landscape.

    I think the two approaches complement each other very well, as we see here. Freewheeling stimulates grasp which encourages new freewheeling. A great spiral and good, productive interaction.

    Re the pdf, if you think this might be the first of many - and I hope you go on and on - and you want visibility and speed of access for the reader, you could take a look at Box. Hereticwerks have the ready widget embedded on a page here:

    I've also seen it somewhere in a sidebar. I assume you just add a HTML entry to the blog page in the Layout section and copy in the code.

    1. Thanks! And I agree with you wholeheartedly. That's what I love the OSR for (and one of the reasons to start blogging). Enough diversity for not being an echo chamber and enough common ground to be fertile. With no need to take propositions as they are, but the flexibility to make them your own. That, and having an open discourse about it.

      I read somewhere some time ago (don't remember where) that the D&D rules are at it's best when they are abstract. I believe this is very true. And one way to master the system is to take it apart and put it together again. Or seeing how other people do it.

      Happy to hear you liked the 3D approach! Yeah, it's pretty much "feeling into the landscape". And I do hope they complement each other. I think the key is to go into and establish the scenery way before the encounter actually occurs, maybe 3 turns in game, maybe depending on how much of an impact (hd) an encounter should have on an area. This way it's far better integrated into the narrative and nothing that happens in passing.

      I, too, hope to produce more free material for the community. Will check out Box, thanks for the tip!

  2. Very nice! About PDFs: I use Google Docs (or Google Drive, or whatever they've renamed it this week) to host them. Most people think of that service as mainly for collaborative editing and office-ish document creation, but you can easily upload PDFs that (1) can't be edited by anyone else, but (2) can be given a unique URL that you can share. I'm not sure if the content is Google-searchable, but given it's owned by the same people, it should be.

  3. This is really brilliant, oh Disoriented Ranger!

  4. Thanks, guys!

    @Cygnus - I'm not sure about Google Drive, mainly because I played it anonymous up to now and, at least to my knowledge, I'd have to give that up to use the drive. But I'll have to dig further into it to see what the options are. You are, of course, right about the benefits.

    1. No no, Google Drive/Docs is unconnected from the realname-centric Google Plus. I'm not on Plus at all, and I use Drive/Docs as the gloriously pseudonymous Cygnus. :-)

      See, for example, some ancient Roman setting fun. (Glarp, I just realized I should have slapped a Creative Commons on that...)

    2. Okay, thanks, that's a relieve. scribd was a bad idea anyhow... Dropbox is not a bad solution for now (will take some time to fill up those free 2 GB...).

      I think CC is not a bad thing. There, after all, is a difference between Public Domain and shared content. But I'll have to check out further, maybe write a post about it, too.

      Thanks for the link! I try to avoid Gamer ADD and I love the Roman Empire as a setting, so it might not be the best idea to check it out. I'll file it under guilty pleasure and give it an honest look tomorrow ;-)


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