Bringing Back Random Encounters

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Hey everyone,
In some of the old D&D rulebooks, I know exist tables of monsters or other things that the DM would roll on whenever the party traveled, and then the party would encounter whatever the DM rolled on the table. Be it a monster, a peddler, or just a fellow traveler. I have created my own list of random encounters that I will be using for my games, but I wanted to get the input of the greater D&D community of what kind of things should be on the random encounter list.

Should the monsters all be of the party's level, or should there be weaker monsters, as well as stronger monsters that the party would need to run from? How in depth should the encounters be? What kinds of things should be on the encounter list?

Thank you for your input!

And if you're interested in seeing my random encounter list, it's for Dark Sun, so check out the link below to the thread.
community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/758...
I would have a mixture of higher and lower level encounters, but you might also consider breaking up the encounters into level specific blocks and then selecting from an encounter level that suits your party. 
And I would absolutely include encounters that required no combat or had non-combat options.   Something as simple as: peasants struggling to fix a broke down wagon.   No requirement for combat, but nothing that would stop evil characters from attacking them, or good characters from offering to escort them into town only to have to defend them when monsters show up.
I'm also a fan of random encounters that are just strange or humorous.  I always think of the kookier stuff from the Fallout PC games: a giant reptile footprint in the middle of nowhere, with the greasy remains of a critter inside it.... or the purple robed bridgekeeper that requires answering 3 questions to pass.  
Something new I'm trying out is to make a bunch of encounter 'cards' on index cards, I have a set that suggest something simple like I just described, and then a second set that have generic stat blocks, like "goblin raider', 'shoddy knight' or 'lowly peasent'.   Once i pick an encounter that seems right, I can just draw the appropriate stat cards so that I don't have to waste time prepping the encounter in a more traditional way. 

I'm also a fan of random encounters that are just strange or humorous.  I always think of the kookier stuff from the Fallout PC games: a giant reptile footprint in the middle of nowhere, with the greasy remains of a critter inside it.... or the purple robed bridgekeeper that requires answering 3 questions to pass.   



My man! I loved the Fallout PC games, and have strongly considered putting in similar encounters into my random encounter list. But since the game I'm making the list for is Dark Sun, I decided against it since I'm trying to keep a more serious disposition for the game. But when I make random encounters for other games, i definitely will do so.
Why are people so obsessed with random encounters? They are annoying at best and normally present no real reason other than you get raided when walking in between towns, or some fellow traveler needs your help.   

Come to 4ENCLAVE for a fan based 4th Edition Community.

 

I'd still include some strange and even humorous stuff.  I run fairly serious games but still love to break up the mood with something like a stone structure that looks like a TARDIS, or a hermit offering to trade "magic beans", or a rogue knight in red armor that insists on referring to himself as The Iron Man.  
Why are people so obsessed with random encounters? They are annoying at best and normally present no real reason other than you get raided when walking in between towns, or some fellow traveler needs your help.   



It gives the world another dimension, makes it feel alive. It makes the PC's feel like there are things going on in the world besides what they are doing, and they can just be fun sometimes.
Why are people so obsessed with random encounters? They are annoying at best and normally present no real reason other than you get raided when walking in between towns, or some fellow traveler needs your help.   

This is what I used to think, until I realized that part of why there was such an odd mix and range of encounters ("Deer?") was because not all of the encounters were meant to be either combat or quest, but just flavor for the world. They might end up being nothing much at all, or they might end up being reincorporated later on, either as themselves or as part of something larger. ("Deer, again? That's odd. Maybe something else is going on here. I address the deer.")

Part of what made me think differently about random encounters is how they were handled in the D&D boardgames. There are Event cards in those, that can represent traps, weather, ambiance, a minor quest, an NPC encounter, mischief, a rest, or anything else. Most of them don't even engage the normal combat rules at all; you can't kill the thieving imp, but if you succeed on an attack roll you might not lose an item. Some Events are quick little things, like a sudden swarm of bats, that have some effect, but don't require much diversion from the game.

So, while I don't run random events off of tables, I can see their value, and if they ever did make an appearance in something I was running, I wouldn't look askance at them.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

Should the monsters all be of the party's level, or should there be weaker monsters, as well as stronger monsters that the party would need to run from?



When I was doing this, I rolled 2d4 - 5 + Party Level for the encounter level, which gives a range of level - 3 to level + 3, weighted toward the middle. That seemed to work well for combats that were intended to be winnable. If you want trivial encounters and ones that are too difficult, this might require some modification.

How in depth should the encounters be?



I recommend against the details that are randomly generated being too, well, detailed. Better to roll up a general idea, then flesh it out intelligently.

What kinds of things should be on the encounter list?



Things that make sense for the region where the party is traveling. 
Why are people so obsessed with random encounters? They are annoying at best and normally present no real reason other than you get raided when walking in between towns, or some fellow traveler needs your help.

It is noted that a "random encounter" table is somewhat Old School.  An older approach to running a D&D game often meant an expectation that the DM be able and willing to run the game on the fly.  Not EVERYTHING was pre-planned or written down.  Random encounters were used BECAUSE they were random.  Three encounters with ogres in a row?  Was this something the DM has PLANNED?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

If the DM wants to make something of it he can, on the spur of the moment. decide that yes there IS something unusual going on with ogres right now or in this particular vicinity.  What would that be?  MAKE IT UP.  DM's were expected to exercise their imagination not just in crafting a series of carefully planned encounters or dungeon rooms, but in their ability to make something out of nothing in the very moment that the opportunity presented itself.  To allow the game to move in NON-anticipated directions.

One of my favorite exercises as a DM is to leave some time at the end of a game session for the players to simply sit about and discuss all the random stuff that happened and THEN MAKE SENSE OF IT!  Doesn't matter that I'd never intended it to be a plot - it was just random encounters.  But players will see things that you didn't.  So of course, I take notes on their ideas and often use them.  Sometimes I will make sweeping changes because thier baseless justifications for random events sound more interesting and fun than what I actually had planned.  Or sometimes I DON'T plan far ahead.  I just throw out a lot of random events and details, let the players speculate a while, and they can provide the direction of the campaign FOR me.  I just have to keep things a little in perspective or I wind up with a campaign that plays out like the X-Files - endless questions and conspiracies within conspiracies, but never any ultimate answers.

Old School: It ain't what you play - it's how you play it.

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"Who says I can't?" "The man in the funny hat..."

DM's were expected to exercise their imagination not just in crafting a series of carefully planned encounters or dungeon rooms, but in their ability to make something out of nothing in the very moment that the opportunity presented itself.

They still are. And they still do.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

I'm kind of born again on random encounters, too. I did them when I was learning D&D. Then I stopped doing them as my planning increased. Now that I've found a new way to play it the old way, random encounters have a place in the game again. 

It is noted that a "random encounter" table is somewhat Old School.  An older approach to running a D&D game often meant an expectation that the DM be able and willing to run the game on the fly.  Not EVERYTHING was pre-planned or written down.  Random encounters were used BECAUSE they were random.  Three encounters with ogres in a row?  Was this something the DM has PLANNED?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

If the DM wants to make something of it he can, on the spur of the moment. decide that yes there IS something unusual going on with ogres right now or in this particular vicinity.  What would that be?  MAKE IT UP.  DM's were expected to exercise their imagination not just in crafting a series of carefully planned encounters or dungeon rooms, but in their ability to make something out of nothing in the very moment that the opportunity presented itself.  To allow the game to move in NON-anticipated directions.

One of my favorite exercises as a DM is to leave some time at the end of a game session for the players to simply sit about and discuss all the random stuff that happened and THEN MAKE SENSE OF IT!  Doesn't matter that I'd never intended it to be a plot - it was just random encounters.  But players will see things that you didn't.  So of course, I take notes on their ideas and often use them.  Sometimes I will make sweeping changes because thier baseless justifications for random events sound more interesting and fun than what I actually had planned.  Or sometimes I DON'T plan far ahead.  I just throw out a lot of random events and details, let the players speculate a while, and they can provide the direction of the campaign FOR me.



Sing it, brother.

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My group did random encounters for a game. It was a heavily(read:straight rip-off :P) influenced by Final Fantasy though, so it worked.