Spicing Up Encounter Tables
There are several things that can be done to make encounter tables both easier
and more exciting to use. Some of these are strictly for the convenience of
the DM, making the job of running the game easier. Others are different ways to
pose exciting challenges for players, keeping everyone from being bored.
The first trick is to include basic monster statistics along with each entry
on an encounter table. While this means taking a little longer to set up an
encounter table, it also means the DM doesn't have to stop and look up information
as often in the middle of the game. A shorthand notation similar to the one
given below can be used.
Creature—APP #, AT #, THACO #, D #, AC #, HD #, MV #, special notes on attacks
APP lists the number of creatures likely to appear. This is given as a die range.
AT is the number of attacks the creature can make.
THAC0 is the combat value of the creature (see Chapter 9 : Combat).
D is the damage caused by a successful hit; more than one entry may be needed
AC is the creature's Armor Class.
HD tells how many Hit Dice the creature has; hit points aren't given since this
should vary from encounter to encounter.
MV is the creature's movement rate.
Special notes should remind the DM of any special abilities, magical items, or defenses the
creature might possess.
For DMs willing to devote more time to advance preparation, another good trick
is to slowly build a collection of file cards describing special encounters.
Each card could have a more detailed description of a person, creature, group,
or thing on it.
Once the DM has this collection, "Special Encounter" entries can be added to
random encounter tables. When a special encounter occurs, the DM chooses a card
from his collection and uses the detailed information there to role-play the
encounter. Some possible special encounters include:
The den or lair of a creature, complete with a small map, short key, tactics, and special
treasure. (For example, "The nest of a female wyvern and her brood located in an
aerie on the side of a cliff. Woven into the nest are two suits of chain mail +1.")
A detailed description of an NPC, including weapons, magical items, spells (if any), goods, physical
appearance, attitudes, companions, and perhaps even a mission or story. (For
example, "The friar seeking companionship along a lonely trail who is really a
bandit leading the party into a trap.")
A cunning trap describing detailed workings and effects. (For example, "A kobold deadfall
meant to gather fresh meat rigged in an old mine corridor.")
A vignette complete with characters, actions, and motives. (For example, "A near riot
breaks out on a city street after a band of Voorish outlanders, squabbling with a
merchant, overturn his melon cart.")
The great advantage of these special encounters is that there is no
requirement to use them at any given time. The DM can prepare such cards in his spare
time and produce them whenever he needs them. Players will become convinced that
the DM is a genius, and his game will never be dull.
Random encounters need not be limited to NPCs and monsters. All manner of
things can be included, dangerous or just mysterious. Other possibilities for
encounter tables include:
Shrieks in the distance
Changes in the weather
Rustling of nearby bushes
Lights in the distance
Sudden gusts of wind
The clatter of a rock falling from the ceiling
All of these help build atmosphere. Furthermore, if these are cleverly mixed
with real encounters that begin in similar ways, players become attentive and
involved. Exploring a dark, dank cave where hideous beasts may live, with only a
guttering torch, should be a nervous and scary event. Adding "fake'' random
encounters will give players some idea of the uncertainty their characters
experience. If nothing else, this kind of encounter will give players some respect for
the risks their imaginary characters are taking!
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