APAGear II Archives Volume 2, Number 6 July, 2000


Random Encounters

What Do You See?

Janne Kemppi

Random Encounters depict a series of possible encounters a player character group might see on their travel. This is usually triggered by a chance. These tables used to be fairly popular in role-playing games introduced in 1970's and early 1980's but they have fell into disuse nowadays when the general trend in game design has been towards more role-play and less roll play. This trend is reflected with emphasis given to simple rule sets and disfavor of complicated rule systems as well.

The biggest reason for lack of these encounters is their inherited randomness. The roll of dice seems to provide quite often a something characters (adventure) would least like to see. Similarly the tables often seem to indicate things that seem to be out of place. The biggest problem, however, is the chance of encountered enemy unit ruining the game by killing important NPCs or things. It is fairly frustrating for both players and GMs alike to see well planned adventure fold into one badly thrown observation or stealth related skill roll.

However, random encounters have their place as well. For one, they are good for showing the characters what they might see on such a trip or a way to introduce extra problems. A infiltration mission towards enemy jungle headquarters gets entirely new edge when player character group sees tracks of enemy soldiers, perhaps hears sound of their weapon systems on the move, or actually sees a glimpse of enemy unit moving in area. All these factors promote excitement and sense of danger. On other 'adventures' such as moving in ones own rear areas one could introduce randomized encounters on own soldiers on move, refugees, local people looking warily bypassers or perhaps traders wishing to make a quick profit.

None of the examples given before are about violence. These examples depict different things happening in war time that could be conceivably seen but which are not inheritantly dangerous. They might be dangerous to player character group is they wish to explore these things closer or actually wish to fight. For example the enemy troops in such encounters are in the area but they can be avoided with some caution.

The choice of fight should be with players. They should be able to avoid fighting if they can but similarly a rude stupid or just aggressive behavior could (and indeed should) end up into a violent encounter. However, GM should make avoiding some troubles difficult at least in some occasions in order to create a fight or two to keep players on their toes. This way the players would feel the excitement whenever the characters face some unexpected situation but they should feel themselves in charge of their characters destinies as they could avoid most of these troubles with simple cautious actions. Random encounters should be therefore be introduced as a background color. They should give the player group idea of what they might typically see during their travel from one place to another.

Next question is automatically what kind of things are best used as random encounters. Relatively good rule of thumb is to avoid making things too complicated. Any random encounter table is bound to be 'bad' in some sense. Relatively good (or at least believable in role-playing sense) table could be generated by choosing some stereotypical possibilities. These possibilities are best being fairly vague so that one can give idea of what is happening but not so accurate that they tie hands of GM. Some good ideas for stereotypes can be found from various novels and memoirs that authors describe background of actual story. Wide variety of sounds, voices, actions and even tastes could be introduced. One should, however, keep in mind that these encounters and ideas are intended for background description rather than forefront.

Random encounters can also be used as baits to lure player characters into new adventures. In such a case a set of simple encountered actions or characters can be used as introduction to actual campaign or adventure. Similarly these encounters can be used to divert player characters attention from 'real' campaign into a simple one-shot adventure used for a respite from rigors of bigger story. Imagination is the only limit.

Last but not least a good GM should always keep on their mind that if dice roll seems to give a bad result from such a table, one is best ignoring it.

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APAGear II Archives Volume 2, Number 6 July, 2000