Friday, February 25, 2011

Madlands Campaign: The Art of Random Encounter Table Creation...

Good Afternoon, All:

Today, I wanted to talk about crafting Random Encounter tables. While I have provided a number of such tables in Hammersong's Legacy, which were quite extensive and detailed, my preferences have since changed somewhat. As I play more with the use of such tables with the Madlands Campaign, I'm finding that I prefer smaller tables (or sets of tables) with a more limited selection, so as to emphasize a specific flavor for the area. This, of course, implies that the regions that fall under a given table will tend to be much smaller. This fits the sandbox concept of campaign setting design pretty well, so I think I'd like to take this post and explore some thoughts on the Art of Random Encounter Tables Creation.

Step One: Consider The Region
The first step in creating a truly flavorful Random Encounter table is simple: Consider the region that the table will cover. Think about the general terrain and the non-monstrous elements that are present in that region. If you don't have a strong mental picture of the region, then it is harder to determine what kind of creatures would be present.

For our example, I'm going to consider the mountainous regions about Kaeleth Tyr, the City of Gold, which is one of the ruins found in the Madlands Campaign. From the description, we know that "Kaeleth Tyr is guarded only by the warped and aberrant creatures that survived the spilling of divine blood and were transformed by the very same event that destroyed the surface city itself." The region is therefore likely to be rich in divine ichor, and my creature selection for this mountainous site should reflect the aberrations that are likely to be present.

Step Two: Create An Encounter List
The average Random Encounter table created under this proposed method lists eleven distinct encounters. These can be divided into three primary classes: Common (5), Uncommon (4), and Rare (2). As you create your list of potential encounters, please consider which category it falls into. I offer the following suggested advice:

  • Unique individuals without lairs (i.e. those that wander around), should be considered Rare encounters, since there's only one of them in the entire region. This category could include dragons, named NPCs or monsters that fill a "mini-boss" role in the setting.
  • If a region is well patrolled, then at least one of the Common encounters should probably be a patrol group of some form.
  • The more powerful a monster is, the less likely you are to encounter more than one of them. Therefore, when considering your list of encounters, the more powerful ones should fall into the Rare category, while the least powerful of them should be considered Common.
  • It's always good to include some animals in a wilderness region to serve as a reminder of the presence of nature, so long as such creatures could survive in the region.

Looking at my Kaeleth Tyr example again, I start looking for the creatures and encounters I want to add here. Starting with a list of aberrations from 3E (to keep a consistent flavor and because it's easy to come up with such a list via the Internet), the following immediately come to mind as appropriate:

  • Common: grick, rust monster, tentacled horror
  • Uncommon: gibbering mouther
  • Rare: destrachan

Obviously, there wasn't a lot that tickled my fancy on that list. Moving on from there, I look over the magical beast selections from 3E for ideas, and then dig into animals and plants for more suggestions. In the end, I've come up with the following list (even dropping a few aberrations to get here):

  • Common: archer bush, carrion hound, grick, osquip, stirge
  • Uncommon: gibbering mouther, greymalkin, manticore, owlbear
  • Rare: destrachan, flesh treant

That should create some interesting and memorable challenges for the players.

Step Three: Populate the Table
Once you have your list of encounters (or in my poor example above, a simple list of creatures), you can use that list to create the actual Random Encounter table, using the following as a template:


Using the Kaeleth Tyr example for my Madlands Campaign, I come up with the following table:

Table: Kaeleth Tyr Wilderness Encounters
3Gibbering mouther
5Archer bush
6Carrion hound
12Flesh treant

So, what do you think? How do you create your Random Encounter Tables?

With Regards,

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