By The Numbers

I blame Mike Mearls.  He got me thinking about how well-designed 4e D&D is when it comes to Random Encounters. With it’s simple method of encounter building (just add up the XP totals! Who would have thought?!) it’s a Monster Manual chock full of critters all statted up with different levels and tactics ready to go. 4e really is ready-made for some good old-fashioned Wandering Monster fun.

If only there was a way to find a monster randomly. If only each page of the Monster Manual had a number on it that we could somehow use as a random result from a dice roll………..

Then it hit me.

Use the Page Numbers!

Talk about discovering the bleedin’ obvious :).

Here’s the thing: the Monster entries in the MM run from pages 8 to 275. A quick roll of 1d3-1 (1d6-2 halved, if you like) and a d100 gets you a page number. Re-roll results less than 8 or more than 275. Look it up and if you like what you see, throw it at the players. Heck, you’ve got the stats there already too, unlike your average Wandering Monster Table so you can stand a few re-rolls if you don’t like it. Roll up a few page numbers in advance and cross them off as you use ’em. Whatever.

If you’re a fan of the Almighty God of Balance, you’re probably choking on your nutritious wheatburger right now at this idea. But then, you’re not the kind who’d use Wandering Monster Tables anyhow, so it’s fine  if you just move along.

Before you go, remember that every encounter doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to end in combat. Perhaps you see the beast in the sky, or it’s a symbolic emblem on a Knight’s shirt. Maybe your high-level heroes wander past a couple of farmers battling an Ankheg in a field, or a Bard is singing of a Mind Flayer’s love affair with it’s pet goldfish, Toddy. It’s things like this that make the environment feel more alive, and it sure beats the heck out of running Yet Another Combat Encounter with jelly babies for minis.

Here’s a few quick examples. Picture, if you will, a third level party. There’s five players, so the XP target is 750 or thereabouts. They’re trekking from the Village of Thrombassett to Huckletown, a three-day slog through marshy forestland. I make 5 page number rolls, opting to pick two or three depending on how things do.

225 Sahuagin. Nice, though probably over-powered if faced head-on. Perhaps the Ranger in the group spots a large number of Sahuagin tracks schlepping through the marshes. That’s highly unusual this far from the coast. If they investigate (rather than be happy with the foreshadowing), I’ll toss a couple of Sahuagin Raiders and 4 Guard Minions at them for their nosiness.

187 Medusa. The players pass a weary traveller heading in the opposite direction in a horse-drawn cart. He tells them of a shack on the edge of the marsh that’s home to a Medusa Witch. If the players laugh, joke or even look at him funny he glares at them and pulls back the sheet covering the cart to reveal the stone form of his sister. He leaves without saying another word. One for the players to follow up another time – unless they’re really stupid.

86 Dragonborn. Yay!  A Dragonborn Gladiator and his two Soldier squires have erected a small pavilion at a crossroads. He’s challenging all warrior types who pass this way to single combat, and will not allow them to pass until one of the players accepts the challenge. Combat is not to the death (he will yield, and offer quarter if requested), so give half XP for this encounter – but all go to the warrior who accepts the challenge. There’s a small amount of treasure in the pavilion if the sneaky types want to get past the Soldiers while everyone’s looking at the battle

196 Nightmare. One to use after the players have made camp. They see a flame in the sky heading in the direction they’re going. Was it a meteor? A dragon? Then, they hear a distant neigh……….. One to return to later. Foreshadowing. I love it.

211 Otyugh. Swamp + Otyugh = perfection. Toss a single Otty at them and watch the players squirm with joy as it’s tentacles rise from the dank marshy ground. Sure, it’s going to be a tough battle for third level characters and they’ll earn their 300XP by the time they’ve done. The risk of Filth Fever means the players are likely to be running into Huckletown to get healed. Oh yeh.

See how this works?

I think Random Encounters are a Good Thing. So are page numbers.

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1 Response

  1. Recently started reading your blog but I missed this entry until I saw your comment on “The keep on the gamming lands”.

    This is freakin awesome!

    I spend way too much time fretting over encounter tables. Usually the d8+d12 type for the bell curve and ease of construction. But ~20 encounters I and my players miss out on the weird stuff.

    Also a stupendous idea for when you’re just winging it.

    I dig how it’s “expandable” if you have other monster books. Just add a die to determine which book to look up.

    Norman Harmans last blog post..Links ‘O Plenty

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