Monday, June 1, 2009

Random Encounters (and Hobbit Pie)

We've all seen tables like this.
1 - 1d6 orcs
2 - 1d6 goblins
3 - 1d6 orcs with chief
4 - 1d6 goblins with chief
5 - 1d4 sleestacks
6 - a flying purple people eater

How many times did you have to hit the snooze button? This kind of random encounter table sucks rocks among other inedible substances. So let's imagine a dungeon. Let's call it the Fire Breathing Orcs and Hobbit Pie Dungeon. Good title eh? I thought so. Premise of the dungeon is you have orcs raiding hobbit land to gather them up because they are the most important ingredient in the most popular pie in orc land. So let's base some of the encounters on what the heck is going on in the adventure.

1 - The first entry into our random encounters table could be an escaped hobbit, beaten and battered and he tells the players exactly why the hobbits are being captured. Not for slaves, but for pie. "They're eating Hobbits! Hobbits!" end of Heston imitation. And scene.

2 - The second entry would be a group of orcs that are hunting for the rascally hobbit, see above. They are grumpy because no hobbit, no pie. They are preoccupied with following furry footed prints. Players can avoid them and get bonuses or engage them in a historic battle I am sure. Once engaged in combat, one of the orcs, make him the fast one, runs into orc land and tells everyone the players are coming.

3 - The players encounter a line of orc soldiers and a cart full of shackled hobbits among them. The orcs are led by a big orc that is wearing a big scary helmet to make him look scary. This encounter can turn future events in the adventure because adventures should always be fluid. Players are a weird bunch and want to do what they want to do. But enough about the players. The players can try to save this bunch of hobbits and eliminate a group of orcs, but run the risk as above, alerting the other orcs and making it more difficult to save the other pie filling.

4 - The players run into another hobbit. He doesn't look so bad. If the players confront him he will say his brother was captured and he sneaking around to see if he can save him. He promises to show the precious players where he found the orcs. Well this is the little bastard who has been setting up his other hobbit people. He's in it for the dough and as long as he supplies the filling he won't become the filling. Anyways, if he can lead the players to a place where there are lots of orcs he'll scream like the little punk he is.

5 - The party encounters a small group of orcs finishing off their share of a hobbit pie. They are resting against a few burn stumps commenting on which bits are the tastiest. They are completely relaxed and are not prepared for combat at all.

6 - The adventuring party encounters an ogre. This ogre is headed into orc land because the hobbit pie smells good and he wants it. The players can attack the ogre probably alerting the orcs or they can follow the ogre's march into camp to make a mess. To demonstrate this, the GM could have the ogre encounter entry 2 looking for the hobbit and have the ogre bash the stinky meat into the ground.

So here ends this little tale. Make your random encounters as interesting as any room or entry you place in your adventure. They should never be an afterthought they should be motivators, clues, surprises and fun as hell.


  1. You are absolutely right. Random encounters were the primary reason to use another rules set to play Ravenloft (among many other things, of course).

    Every random encounter should advance or add spice to the story.

  2. That's funny - I've tried to put in reasons or "stories" or settings to some of my WM without seeding the table like that. Having the blank random table gives me some flexibility to either have a hobbit being eaten, or in your first table, I see a possible war party hunting, or being hunted by sleetaks and their purple mount, or something of that nature. I guess you could go either way.

  3. "He's in it for the dough..."


    I've seen some tables with non-encounters where the players meet up with environmental effects (rockfalls, storms, glimmertides, etc.) or random intra-party events (lamed horse) or simply 'omens'. They're good for adding a little verisimilitude to a locale.

  4. Tarus, I definately prefer to make my random encounters interesting.

    Chgowiz, absolutely. And really do love sleestacks. When I was editing Points of Light 2 I helped Rob develop a more story oriented random encounter table.

    Chris, I know I know. Forgive the fun. I swear on the DMG I did not know I had written it at the time. Having environmental events happen would be a great addition one I hadn't thought of. Thanks for the input.

  5. WM tables aside, you don't have to be an orc or an ogre to enjoy Hobbit Pie! I mean, what is not to love? The high quality fat content (from lots of high carb food) really gives it a nice texture and flavor. Drinking lots of tea keeps the meaty parts firm and healthy. And more often than not, your hobbit, if captured near mealtime (and hobbits have 8 mealtimes) your halfling will already come stuffed full of bread, honey, sausage, eggs, and mince. Just de-bone that sucker, chop him right up, and fill that pie crust!

    Just don't kill the female ones. We need them to make the pies for us.

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  7. @ original blog post: but in this way you can use each entry only once. You also need to read the little plot during play, something I'm not that good at.

    I think I prefer the "plain" table with no stories on it, and improvise my own.

    But this can work for other people and that is totally OK.