Thursday, July 16, 2009

Telecanter's DM Spurs - Encounters

I have praised the Roll all the Dice method previously and mentioned I was working on a treasure item generator. I have also been struggling with the idea of detail in design and how much of it a DM really needs.

So as I thought about my treasure item generator, I thought I might actually make two distinct generators, one specific, one more abstract. The second would be a kind of spur, so to speak for the DM's imagination. Well, the exigencies of a real campaign got in the way and what I needed as my players were about to strike off into the unknown with a treasure map was something to help me with random wilderness encounters.

Now keep in mind when I say encounters I mean more than wandering monsters. I wanted to have interesting features and landmarks to bring the countryside alive as my players moved through it. Some of these could be dangerous, but scenic and wondrous things would be cool too.

So I funneled my thoughts on the abstract treasure item generator into this:
I'm excited by this, because while, if you follow the OSR blogosphere you know you can get fascinating ideas for spells, monsters, items and curses-- I think the really useful tool for grognards would be to tap into that marvelous computer you have atop your neck. So, while I think it would be a useful tool to use ahead of play in creating encounters, I'm most excited by the possibility for its use to aid in the heat of play, to aid in improvisation, to help you think at a slant and come up with your own cool idea right when you need it.

I think there is room for other spurs: the aforementioned treasure items, story hooks, etc.

But enough of that, how does it work? Well, I would have a normal wandering monster table for a region with a place on it for "Encounter Spur." When that came up I would read the results and try to shape them into something cool. Some notes:
  • Artifact is in the sense of something made by intelligent actors, not a magical item
  • Element includes fire, water, air, earth, & nature
  • the 1d6 is how characters become aware of the encounter
  • 1d8 is direction
  • 1d12 is encounter distance (this could be revised any way you feel comfortable)
  • 1d10 & 1d20 are the meat of the spur with adjectives and nouns that work together to, hopefully, embrace infinite possibilities
Let's try it:
4, 5, 6, 10, 8, 18

terrain, touch, south west, hidden, 600, solidity

Interesting, I might interpret this as, the players feel rumbling under their feet which, if they follow it carefully, leads 600 ft to the south west, where the ground appears to be hollow. Warren? Secret Cavern?

One more time:
1, 3, 8, 9, 3, 2

artifact, smell, south east, wondrous / weird, 100ft, shape

A little harder. Is an egg an artifact? I'll say it is. So, the smell of rot leads characters to look to the south east and there, 100ft away is an egg the size of a cottage. Roc egg? If characters can smell it, shouldn't monsters too? Lots of possibilities.

Reading all the dice for this is actually like looking up six charts in quick succession. I don't know of any way to make it more elegant though, barring the creation of a paper computer or a little computer program. I hope with practice I'll be able to speed up it's use, to know for example that 4 on the four sider means terrain. We'll see. And I hope you will try this an let me know if it works for you.

Update: I've realized a revision I made was actually a regression. I had the 1d12 x 100 for distance of the encounter, which didn't even need a look at the chart. I changed it to include something closer than 100ft but think that was a mistake now. I reverted the change.


  1. This is very cool - more abstract than most of the other Roll All The Dice generators I've seen. Which, given its scope, is the only way to do it. And I think it's an escellent spur to creativity - you picked exactly the right word to describe it.

  2. This is excellent, you're really on to something here.

    I rolled up a few encounters and applied them to a town, a wilderness and a dungeon. The only sticking point was long distance encounters in confined/densely-covered areas. They took a bit more thought.

    For wilderness encounters I may measure distance in hexes and generate a random web of encounters surrounding the characters. One step closer to my dream of a random Wilderlands.

  3. Awesome. I'm happy you guys like it.

    I like the idea of hexes for distance too. Because of the abstractness of the chart I'm guessing it could work at any scale.