If you have run a game campaign for any period of time, it becomes apparent that the random encounter tables for your adventurers become stale-dated or dull. Even if there are variations by terrain, climate or civilization, the game-provided tables become repetitive.
One solution to this challenge is to create your own table of “randomer encounters.” This approach has many advantages and can be used in any game system or situation. The primary advantage is that it is customizable to your particular game, adding depth and flavor to your sessions.
How to get started
The first step is to determine how many of these encounters you want to create. Ideally, you want to choose a number of encounters that can be selected at random by using dice. When I first started this concept, I started with 24 of these encounters (which can be randomized by using a 12 sided die with another die (a six-sided would do) to determine if I would add 12 to the result (on a 4 to 6) or not (1 to 3). After further experimentation, I found that 30 of these encounters (a ten-sided die rolled with a six sided die — add 10 if you roll 3 or 4, add 20 if you roll a 5 or 6) work best for my campaign. The point is to create a list where the dice can provide you with an easy, random result.
The random factor is important. As a GM you have control over events and situations that occur in your sessions. By introducing a random factor, you are yielding this control to your list. Ideally, your “randomer encounters” would run the gamut from the frivolous and incidental to the serious and consequential — as long as it fits into your game. It also keeps you on your toes as a GM.
Creating your list of encounters
Once you have your frame, you can start populating the list. This is where the fun is. You can use almost any source for creating these encounters. You can introduce some neighborhood scandal, foreshadow a future event, even note the actions of an NPC or refer to past events within the campaign. For example, if the party had betrayed someone in the past, it may be that this person/organization/demi-god is seeking information on the party (or that a rival of this individual wants to reward the party for their “good works”). This could be represented as “A shifty individual at the Local Pub has been asking questions about the party.”
Rumors are a favorite of mine. In my High Fantasy Campaign, the “randomer encounters” table has led to a persistent rumor that local authorities are considering a tax on magical items. This has been overhead as a bar room conversation, as a worry on the part of an NPC Alchemist, and as a debate between clerics whether or not holy items should be exempt from this tax.
A randomer encounter might be inserted to foreshadow a future plot hook (“There is increasing discontent among the aristocrats” or “No one has seen the Chief Mage for two weeks.”). They can also be the source of mischief, misdirection and even outright lies (“I am the heir to the Crown of Eredorre”).
This list of encounters can be used to introduce oddities into your campaign. Again, these can range from something out of Monty Python (“A well-dressed elderly man is walking down the street in a very odd and peculiar manner.”) to a cross-campaign event (“In a mirror, you see a party of strangely dressed adventurers trying to unlock a box of flashing lights.”) or even an encounter drawn from a film or novel. (“Four nervous and travel-worn Halflings are grabbing a quick meal. One appears introverted and moody.”).
These encounters should be suitable for your party’s capabilities.
How to use Randomer Encounters
You want to create opportunities for a quick scene or an interesting dilemma, not starting a new story arc or a creating a wasteful diversion (unless that is what you want). Therefore, you need to exercise some judgement when a “randomer encounter” occurs.
If the action is proceeding quickly, then an encounter of any kind is likely to be an unwelcome diversion. If the party is just waiting for the next day to occur, or if the GM needs to stimulate some new thinking, then an unusual encounter might be a good choice.
These encounters should be used to complement the existing random encounter tables. Typically, a random encounter reflects the local surroundings. It may be an encounter with wild beast while travelling through the forest or just part of the dungeon ecology. A “randomer encounter” should occur as part of the overall randomness of your living world.
Whenever an encounter is rolled, I re-roll to see if there is the possibility that the list be used. Typically, I roll a six-sided die, with a six indicating a “randomer encounter.” Sometimes, especially when things are dragging or the party becomes indecisive, I go straight to the list.
I always roll for a random result from the list. The unexpected is always fun and It keeps me sharp with regard to my own game mastering abilities.
High Fantasy (Urban) Randomer Encounters
|1||A well-dressed Half-Orc is trying to sell an “ugly chicken” inside a locked box. (It’s a cockatrice.)|
|2||An alchemist is closing shop and items are at half-price. (Low quality products)|
|3||A handsome prince is desperately searching for the women who lost her shoe at the Ball.|
|4||The gall stones of red-headed Halflings give invincible luck to gamblers.|
|5||You are accosted in the street by a crone who claims you stole her youth.|
|6||The Eunuch’s Guild is recruiting — males only!|
|7||Graffiti is found in a nearby alley “Chaos is Boss!”, “Lawful is Awful.”|
|8||A pedlar is selling Amulets of Demonic Protection — a deal at 5 gold pieces each. (A scam)|
|9||Street urchins are running in fear from a gang of thugs. (Urchins have stolen their beer money).|
|10||A mage is looking for spell test volunteers (polymorph). 50 gp for each volunteer. (A lot more to be changed back.)|
Space/Sci-Fi Randomer Encounters
|1||The authorities are trying to keep knowledge of sabotage at the space port secret.|
|2||A desperate person is willing to part with longevity serum (reduces age by five years) for transport off-planet.|
|3||Protesters are picketing a local educational institution. “Down with the Eugenics Ban!”|
|4||Some children are playing Rangers and Aliens with an antique blaster (non-working but fixable.)|
|5||An autodrive cart is running down pedestrians at a nearby mall.|
|6||A “red shirt” crew member is deserting because she fears being killed on the next OA mission.|
|7||An Artificial Intelligence is seeking work after being fired for being “too controlling.”|
|8||Would you buy a pill to make you smarter? Of course, you would! (Reduces social inhibitions)|
|9||An asteroid mining company is looking for recruits. “Double Hazard Pay and great benefits!”|
|10||Organizers for the Robot Union are soliciting new members.|
Using randomer encounters supports the overall thrust and character of your game. You can use them to shake things up or to finish off the tail-end of a session. It does require you to think about your campaign world and explore some interesting tangents. What would your table of “Randomer Encounters” look like?
Interesting idea. You’ve taken the concept of random encounters and made it random-er. I actually go the opposite direction with my adventures: I create lists of Quasi-random Encounters.
I call mine Quasi-random Encounters because rather than use very generic lists like “1. Orc, 2. Goblin, …” in D&D, I tailor the list of encounters to match the environment, narratives, and tone (e.g., humor level) of the game. For example, in an adventure where the party travels to a wilderness town, lured by the local baron’s bounties on troublesome monsters, my list included:
1. Wild boar crossing the road
2. Suspicious shepherd with weapon
3. Hunting party of 3 orcs
4. Pair of young, trash-talking, under-prepared hunters
5. Person offering (false) info on monster sighting for a reward
6. Chicken riot!
These all contributed to the story experience I was crafting.
That’s the idea! Your list can be short and simple – but it is attuned to your campaign. Love the chicken riot.
Howdy – I dig this concept. Peculiarities are a great way to add flavor without direct exposition and it’s easier for me to consider such details… verisimilitudinally… in advance rather than on the fly.
Just a heads up: the tables aren’t formatting correctly on mobile (Chrome on Android)