Random Encounters

jedion357's picture
November 11, 2014 - 5:10am
This made me laugh

Random Encounters are the bane of the Hickman Revolution crowd: If the encounter does not advance the story it does not belong.

However, they are the bread and butter of the OSR crowd.

I fall somewhere in the middle: being in my 40's and gaming with other 40ish gamers I weigh out time constraints and do I want combat that will slow the game down or should I push things along? If we're playing D&D 3.5 or even 4.0 one combat can eat up most of the session so I would tend to nix a random encounter while in a past pace game like Star Frontiers one combat could take 30 minutes. Thus I'd be more likely to toss in a random encounter.

Finally there is the 2 Mooks rule from the G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T. RPG: "if the player's look bored or the game is stalled have two mooks enter with guns"
However my application of this rule is to have prepared random encounters and I simply pick one that suites the current situation or my whim of the moment- dice are rolled only for the dramatic effect of suggesting that this is a random encounter when its really DM fiat. Then again I might just actually let the dice pick.
I might not be a dralasite, vrusk or yazirian but I do play one in Star Frontiers!

Stormcrow's picture
November 11, 2014 - 7:25pm
The original point of random encounters was to keep you from taking your time in the Greyhawk dungeon. If you can spend as long as you want undisturbed checking for traps, listening at doors, and so on, you'll find everything without trouble and you won't be challenged. Wandering monsters forced you to move quickly or be worn down by fights with very little treasure to be had.

Meanwhile, outdoor random encounters exist in part because one mode of early play was to wander around the board of the Outdoor Survival board game looking for interesting encounters, hoping to find a good lair with treasure or to make friends—or enemies—with the inhabitants of a castle. The Outdoor Survival board was only used for "offhand adventures"—they weren't placed anywhere specific in the world. If you wanted to explore the actual wilderness around your dungeon, the referee had his secret map, and could roll for wandering monsters for much the same reason he did in the dungeon: to keep you on your toes. Wandering monsters in the wilderness were less dramatic than those in the dungeon, but they weren't constrained by level either—you were just as likely to encounter a dragon over the next hill as a pack of kobolds.

So what about Star Frontiers? SF assumes a somewhat more verisimilitudinous universe; you don't (always) have gelatinous cubes creeping around every corner and corpses patrolling the corridors for no reason but to be a nuisance to the players. The monsters are out there, but they belong there most of the time.

So unless you're running an adventure that's "against the clock," wandering monsters aren't necessary. You might include a table of random encounters to populate your natural settings or even your cities to keep the players occupied if they choose to wander about, but you should never feel like the random encounter table is the adventure. At most it's a distraction, or an opportunity players can seek if they like. Always design your SF random encounter tables after the rest of your adventure, on the assumption that the players will never stumble on any of them.

But when you do play out a random encounter, play it as seriously and as fully as any placed encounter. If the players can't tell what's random and what's placed, you're a good referee!

TerlObar's picture
November 12, 2014 - 5:10am
I agree with Stormcrow that random encounters really should just represent random things that might actually be in the setting you might happen to run into and that you only use them for pacing.  But whatever shows up should make sense.  I.e. you shouldn't run into a quickdeath in downtown Port Loren or a trio of WarTech warbots in some small out of the way cave on Volturnus without a really good reason.

There is an execellent series of articles on teh Campaign Mastery website that talks about how to make realistic random encounters for your world called Creating Ecology Based Random Encounters.  I highly recommend it if you've not read it.  In fact I highly recommend the entire site.  It's an amazing resource.
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Tchklinxa's picture
November 12, 2014 - 10:17am
Foot in mouth Love the picture meme.

I agree that if you use "Random Encounters" there has to be a viable logic to the "encounter" and why you would include it in the setting. Pace of game & player intrest are important... also the ref may need to use a not so random encounter to get the players back on track some how, so it always helps to have back-up plans just in case the players are thinking out side of the adventure box (for some reason my players always go off the reservation at some point so I have learned to think fast and have quick flexiable back-up ideas for when they go off in some unexpected game direction, and away to get them back on track.)

For instance Space Stations are cities in space and if the PCs end up on one with time to burn they will explore so it is worth the time and effort to have Mooks and encounters that can easily be used on any station, in case the players decide to go exploring. Even mini adventures handy, that can be instantly pulled on are helpful.

I am thinking of fidling around with an old Note Card idea for creating adventures. In which various ideas, traps, map parts ect are on Note cards, which can be randomly pulled. It is an old D&D idea from Dragon &  I have to see how it will modify to SF though.
 "Never fire a laser at a mirror."

bossmoss's picture
November 14, 2014 - 11:38pm
In the VERY old days, when I was a teenager DMing for my friends in the 1970s, I would pick a random encounter by opening a monster book to a random page, or use the encounter tables at the back of the monster books.  Random encounters were very much like that picture above, and usually had no logic to them.  We didn't care.  We were having a good time!

As I got older, my gaming style matured.  I started making ecosystems for each region, and had a file card with the plants, animals, humanoids & monsters of that area.  I started naming the orc & goblin tribes, and each one had some unique traits.  Dragons started having names & reputations.  Eventually, no encounter was ever truly "random" because it always made sense, even if I rolled it.

However, a part of me fondly remembers the days of randomly bumping into a beholder or a demon.  As they say in Knights of the Dinner Table, "Roll for initiative, mister meat snack!!"

Tchklinxa's picture
November 15, 2014 - 9:20am
LOL yep I remember the same silly stuff happening, until one day the light bulb came on about how could X be in Y environment... LOL Surprised

I would like to point out there are some great Sci-Fi based creatures in old D&D, more than a few aliens wander around that fantasy setting...

If I remember right the Beholder is one, the Frog-men are GMOs, there are several crashed spaceships, even one St is an "alien" from a spaceship in the D&D system.  

All the TSR sci-fi hiding in D&D is on my project list to reformat and recycle into SF (TSR space rescue project minus the fantasy magic stuff) but first GW1/MA1 and Compact Space civilizations.
 "Never fire a laser at a mirror."