PDA

View Full Version : Wither Random Encounters



tesral
10-15-2009, 10:40 AM
The question is, has the increasing complexity of writing up encounters, and the mechanicial aspect of the game itself killed the random encounter?

Random encounters existed to spice up the dungeon, They made the PCs use resources without commiserate reward. They added a degree of verisimilitude in that there were creatures out there that were not primarily there for the PCs, that had lives outsdei the game and had just stumbled into things. Then might evben be doing the same thing the PCs are, scoping out old ruins for loose change.

Back in the old days running a monster was as easy as grabbing a stat or two from the book and generating some hit points. Likewise the game didn't have advancement calculated to the encounter. X encounters for Y level.

Has this mathematical ruthlessness killed the wandering monster better than a party of 50th level mages?

Opinions?

TheYeti1775
10-15-2009, 11:37 AM
Interesting question. I think it killed the random encounter with adventurers or war parties more than the random encounter itself at the lower levels.
A couple of ogres in a standard 3.5E world are just like a couple of ogres in a standard 1E world. (I don't have knowledge for 4E.)
But if you get to higher levels where the random encounter is something along the lines of a say a Red Dragon, it creates a headache worth of work. But than again it did in 1E as well, but it stayed fairly standard in that you figured out the Hit Points and the powers/abilities were standard right there in the Monster Manual. Didn't have to worry about if you had this book or what not as part of your chosen rules.

So in a way it has, but only in higher level play/encounter.

One thing I did notice between 1E/2E days and 3.xE days is that modules didn't have the wandering monster charts as often, whereas the the older ones had it nearly front and center.

Sascha
10-15-2009, 11:52 AM
Maybe, maybe not. I'd say it's a significant, though not largest, chunk of why they don't pop up as frequently. It's more that the base assumptions about the game changed, both in reward structure (experience gain) and playstyle (verisimilitude doesn't mean the same thing for cinematic/narrative games, as it does for world-building simulation). Actually, I'd bet it's the latter that led to the demise of the random encounter, not so much the mechanical robustness of NPCs.

outrider
10-15-2009, 12:28 PM
I think encounnters are more complicated in the 3.5 game because of all the options available. I still have random encounters in my game because I have them on cards so I can draw from them. I will generally build encounters and place them on cards to use. If I decide not to use them or even if I do. After the game they go into a file to be recycled at some time.

Its pretty easy to do for minor encounters but particularly in 3.5 the big monsters demons, dragons etc are difficult to do random style encounters so they have to probably be preplanned.

TheYeti1775
10-15-2009, 12:33 PM
One thing I did always ignore though was a equilivant level random encounter. Since its random, it could be insanely easily to insanely hard. Though I did make sure there wasn't Instant TPK ones.

wizarddog
10-15-2009, 07:04 PM
One thing I did always ignore though was a equilivant level random encounter. Since its random, it could be insanely easily to insanely hard. Though I did make sure there wasn't Instant TPK ones.

Your on to it. 3x was all about how the encounter is challenging or not. A random encounter with a bunch of weak monsters is not a challenge and actually slows the games down. A high level or equal challenge counts against the number of encounters players can actually handle according to the design of the game.

In 1x/2x the question was pretty moot. You could encounter 10-100 orcs or a single cave bear and they became extra xp either way.

In 3x, your just filling in time. If your going to have an encounter between A and B, then it becomes encounter A, B and C. The random encounters I usually have deal with the inhabitants moving around their own lair/complex. If they get killed then the overall inhabitants are reduced. It makes sense. And it certainly is easier to do esp when you have a gigantic stat block to deal with.

I think TheYeti1775 and outrider have the right idea how to use random encounters efficiently if you pine for them. But you should consider your players....they might think the random encounter is not random at all or mistakenly think a real encounter is random. Good for a laugh...;)

Farcaster
10-15-2009, 10:13 PM
Has this mathematical ruthlessness killed the wandering monster better than a party of 50th level mages?

Opinions?

Well, since you asked for opinions ... Random encounters don't have much of a place in roleplaying games, in my opinion. I believe that every encounter should advance the story in some way, much as every scene in a novel should advance the plot. If all it does is consume time, it should be cut. Now, you can produce the same effect by simply planning out your "random encounters." There's no reason that the story teller needs to roll some dice to find out what the next scene should be. Instead the next scene should be dictated by the characters choices and by the story itself. Dice need not be part of that equation.

tesral
10-15-2009, 10:39 PM
There's no reason that the story teller needs to roll some dice to find out what the next scene should be. Instead the next scene should be dictated by the characters choices and by the story itself. Dice need not be part of that equation.

A good point. What about the sandbox? Does the world exist for the PCs, or does the world exist?

I think the philosophy of the game world itself is tied into this. One needs to ask which it is? I'm not espousing one right answer. I am looking for opinions.

Things happen. In a chaotic setting like a city events happen around the PCs all the time. In an urban setting I use random encounters. I use them frequently. One last week derailed the whole structure of the PCs plans. This is not a bad thing as life does happen. Urban settings are complex, very complex. Life happening happens to you frequently. The stories within such a place exist by the hundreds and sometimes you trip over the threads.

However, if they PCs are in some ancient and infrequented place, I don't have the "wandering monster". Everything there is not "story related", but it is there for a reason.

One thing I write into my keys is a little sotry behind every NPC, even the minor ones. Most of that writing never sees the light of day, but it is there to remined me that everyone is the center of their own personal universe Even the sly potter that is plotting to get rid of his shrewish wife so he can marry the tailor's nubial young daughter. Meanwhile the PCs are there to buy pots, and unless something unusual happens they will never hear that story. However that story is there.

What drama is in the live of that old guy at the gas station. What about the pretty girl you pass on the street? Do you know the lives of the people in the house next door?

Grimwell
10-15-2009, 11:56 PM
I never liked random encounters, they were too random. I have always been of the mind that anything willing to take on a party of adventurers has a story and a plan. Even if the story and plan didn't account for the adventurers, it's got one.

In the 3.E system I think they are even more of a pain because I never felt good about just flipping open the MM and running a combat. It took more planning. In 4E I'd have to wager that it's a lot easier. The monsters do run well as written, and plotting out a random bunch based on their exp value seems much more balanced than CR did; at the levels I have seen.

Instead of random encounters, I tend to create planned and possible encounters that aren't required for the main story. That way I can throw a curve at the players if they trip into the plans of others. Tesral and I seem to be of the same mind on that.

I also am in the camp that the setting happens, PC's or not. They just get to choose what parts of the story to tweak and make their own.

Sethannon
10-16-2009, 12:05 PM
Well, since you asked for opinions ... Random encounters don't have much of a place in roleplaying games, in my opinion. I believe that every encounter should advance the story in some way, much as every scene in a novel should advance the plot. If all it does is consume time, it should be cut. Now, you can produce the same effect by simply planning out your "random encounters." There's no reason that the story teller needs to roll some dice to find out what the next scene should be. Instead the next scene should be dictated by the characters choices and by the story itself. Dice need not be part of that equation.

QFT. This is exactly how I run my own games. I find that random encounters just eat up time that could be better spent elsewhere. Any sort of "random encounter" is something that I typically plan as well. If the players go into a dark alley that justifies a mugger, for example, then I don't need to roll for it. I don't have charts to decide <Roll d6 for random muggers>. Farcaster has it right on this one.

As for the sandbox idea, I do believe that the game world exists outside of the players/characters, which is something I apply into my worlds. However, I feel you can accomplish that same feel without adding in a random battle from a chart.

DMMike
10-16-2009, 06:38 PM
The question is, has the increasing complexity of writing up encounters, and the mechanicial aspect of the game itself killed the random encounter?
Back in the old days running a monster was as easy as grabbing a stat or two from the book and generating some hit points. Likewise the game didn't have advancement calculated to the encounter. X encounters for Y level.


I'm into the realism - so I believe that an encounter can and should happen without advancing the plot. Otherwise, everything in the game has a "hmmm, how convenient!" feel to it.

However, since I don't have every rule memorized, it's DM suicide for me to plan on more than one or two completely random encounters per session. I plot out my "random" encounters, tailoring them a bit to add interest or applicability to a certain character's features.

3E has lots of rules and technicalities - which increases the complexity of a random encounter as encounter levels get higher. I use two solutions for that:
1) streamline the badguys so that they're basically attack, armor, and a couple of special features. No need to worry about what a monsters EXACT climb bonues is.
2) streamline the game world. I solve the complex monsters problem by not having many complex monsters. That means most random encounter creatures are fairly simple, and the higher level encounters aren't random. Period.

tesral
10-16-2009, 10:34 PM
In the 3.E system I think they are even more of a pain because I never felt good about just flipping open the MM and running a combat.

Well it's called a "random encounter", not a random combat. I don't figure that every encounter must end in combat. It ratehr annoys me when it does frankly.



As for the sandbox idea, I do believe that the game world exists outside of the players/characters, which is something I apply into my worlds. However, I feel you can accomplish that same feel without adding in a random battle from a chart.

Who said there was a chart? I do have one for the urban setting. In encompasses the encounters I have ready to use. However a chart is not required. Nor frankly is random random encounters. I find it useful to simulate the truly chaoticness of the urban setting.


I'm into the realism - so I believe that an encounter can and should happen without advancing the plot. Otherwise, everything in the game has a "hmmm, how convenient!" feel to it.

Go to your room, you just used the term "realism" to describe anything to do with D&D.




However, since I don't have every rule memorized, it's DM suicide for me to plan on more than one or two completely random encounters per session. I plot out my "random" encounters, tailoring them a bit to add interest or applicability to a certain character's features.

3E has lots of rules and technicalities - which increases the complexity of a random encounter as encounter levels get higher. I use two solutions for that:

It is exactly the point I was after, the monsters are more work to build into encounters. My game does streamline out a lot of the rules I really don't think it needs. Modern D&D has too many rules. And yes, do you need a climb rate on a flat plain? Tailor your encounters to the setting.

wizarddog
10-17-2009, 04:14 AM
Go to your room, you just used the term "realism" to describe anything to do with D&D.

I think when we throw the word realism around we are referring to good story telling. While the game is based on fantasy, there are certain aspects we expect in a story to make it entertaining. If a story constantly expects us to suspend our understanding of how things work, then we can't really relate to it and it becomes nonsense.

For example, if the story takes place in a desert, then encountering a polar bear requires us to suspend our belief(s) unless there is a really good explanation why it's there. How else will your audience (the players) ever take you seriously. If they don't have a good explanation, then you pretty much have set the standard that the world you created makes no sense and loses its enjoyment. You've cheapened the fantasy by insulting the intelligence of your audience. Happens all the time in really bad movies/stories.

That is not say you can't create a world where such fantasy runs rampant. Alice in Wonderland holds itself pretty well (on the surface-there's more going on in the story). So when a DM talks about realism they might mean they have a good story reason why the things are the way they are. Having encounters that have no business in the story weakens the narrative. But having encounters that could potentially take the story somewhere can be very rewarding. That is being realistic.

tesral
10-17-2009, 10:34 AM
What you looking for is "internal consistency" and a degree of design logic.

wizarddog
10-17-2009, 12:52 PM
What you looking for is "internal consistency" and a degree of design logic.

You say it so elegantly.;) But you do agree when some (DMs) talk about realism, they are really talking about logic.

tesral
10-17-2009, 01:23 PM
You say it so elegantly.;) But you do agree when some (DMs) talk about realism, they are really talking about logic.

But I prefer to avoid the "R" word when possible.

1: Garry's First Rule of Fantasy
A) Do not change reality more than necessary to make your Universe work. Real world physics are you friend, you do not need to explain gravity, weather, or in general how the world functions. So don't complicate things that do not require complication. Adding super science or magic is complication enough.
B) All role-playing games are fantasy, even if it is not. Of course it's fantasy, if it was real you would be living it, not playing it in a game. Even the modern games or science fiction games are a fantasy.
C) Fantasy is not an excuse for sloppy writing or world building. Never ever. "Fantasy" is not an excuse word that means you don't have to do your homework or keep track of things. Good fantasy is internally consistent. We do wish to write a good fantasy.

Sethannon
10-17-2009, 03:01 PM
Well it's called a "random encounter", not a random combat. I don't figure that every encounter must end in combat. It ratehr annoys me when it does frankly.

This is something I can totally agree with. The idea that it must be combat does tend to dominate most people's thinking.



Who said there was a chart? I do have one for the urban setting. In encompasses the encounters I have ready to use. However a chart is not required. Nor frankly is random random encounters. I find it useful to simulate the truly chaoticness of the urban setting. True, you didn't say there was a chart (although you now have, which I still don't agree with the idea of) but the concept of you needing a "look through this table to see if something/what happens here" is not the only way to demonstrating that your world is more of a sandbox. For me the idea of making your world feel like it exists beyond the players doesn't start with you having a list of events/people that the players can interact with. It's having something happen outside of the players sphere that then has an effect inside their game.

Ex: My players were traveling around through a series of city-state like kingdoms. When they returned to their "base" kingdom after being away for a few weeks, the Queen of the kingdom had died due to a disease sweeping the land, and the only Princess (now Queen) was also infected.

While I think the idea of "random encounters" especially in cities is an understandable concept (and one I would agree with), I personally prefer to not to use any tables to decide any people/events. But obviously you can use what you wish, I just find that I typically threw those out if I was pulling things from modules and I personally tend to use more scripted events outside of my players direct knowledge or more of an impromptu decision. (And good God, did 1st and 2nd edition have so many random encounter tables.)

DMMike
10-21-2009, 06:10 PM
Whither random encounters? Countless 1980s and 90s video games insist.

Come to think of it, I tend to throw in random encounters after nightfall. Mostly because it's mean to attack PCs at night, but hey, it could still happen. Realistically. :)

tesral
10-22-2009, 11:11 AM
True, you didn't say there was a chart (although you now have, which I still don't agree with the idea of) but the concept of you needing a "look through this table to see if something/what happens here".

It is more of a case off these are the events I have determined can happen, which do the PCs encounter. It is a case of they should be random. A result of the Brownian motion of people throughout the city. Charts are not evil. A tool like any tool.



Ex: My players were traveling around through a series of city-state like kingdoms. When they returned to their "base" kingdom after being away for a few weeks, the Queen of the kingdom had died due to a disease sweeping the land, and the only Princess (now Queen) was also infected.

Life it is what happens when you are not looking. My game calendar is spotted with events that will happen outside of the PC influence.

Currently there is a civil war brewing up. Something that lightly touched them, but the main thrust of the war is not in the city they are in.

The Emperor was assassinated. The Marshal of the army pinned the murder on the Wife and two sons. The eldest son got away.

The PCs encounter him when his flying skiff was shot down into their neighborhood. He impressed them as an OK guy and they helped his escape. He has set up in a city to the north of Seahaven and is conducting opperations form there.

The result there city is not on the battle front, something I wished to avoid. However they are aware of the war.

A god return is coming as well. It will disrupt things in the war zone. I need to have security crank down as well, soldiers in the street.



Whither random encounters? Countless 1980s and 90s video games insist.

Come to think of it, I tend to throw in random encounters after nightfall. Mostly because it's mean to attack PCs at night, but hey, it could still happen. Realistically. :)

Video games do not count.

I have a DM fond of night encounters.

lomifeh
10-23-2009, 11:48 AM
I've never been a huge fan of the random encounter table thing. It's one thing for a world to progress, it is another for a random X monster to happen to show up and mess with the group.

I've always seen things as it's about the PCs story. I mean really it is about the players being a part of the world so that is my overriding concern. Things happen around them yes but in the end it needs to drive the story somehow even if it is "flavor" and not real meat.

tesral
10-23-2009, 12:06 PM
What is the setting? I am finding that in an urban setting random encounters can and do drive the story. They have made important contacts by searching the guy passed out on the street. He wasn't important, but his wallet was.

Likewise hitting the slaver was started by a random event, one of their gang being kidnapped.

Two thing happening here. Their plans, and what happens other than that.

I am finding the random encounters important, if not vital to the feel of the setting.

Farcaster
10-23-2009, 12:24 PM
You can have the same feel of "random," encounters without actually having the encounters be random. And although the encounter doesn't necessarily need to advance the main plot, it should have some bearing on and contribute to the story overall.

Sascha
10-23-2009, 01:05 PM
You can have the same feel of "random," encounters without actually having the encounters be random. And although the encounter doesn't necessarily need to advance the main plot, it should have some bearing on and contribute to the story overall.
For some, there is no main plot. The story is whatever the characters happen to be up to at the time. Random encounters are directly related to the story, because it's what the characters are doing.

Lack of tables, or lack of ease in using the tables (as in extra-crunchy NPC stats), is a problem for this and similar playstyles, if the game - explicitly or implicitly - assumes differently.

Sethannon
10-23-2009, 01:32 PM
I agree with Farcaster. It sounds as if you are using "random encounters" to further your story or side quests. I'm fine with that, and understand it, however I don't see how that could not be accomplished with it being pre-set and the players not realizing. It's not as if you couldn't just update/switch/change the situation to something that suits your game. Once again I go back to my assumption that this is all things that can be handled without a "random encounter" (particularly from a table/chart).

I suppose I can see how a random situation may evolve into something else but any DM knows that players will do what they want anyway, and that will lead to random situations that you can use to evolve into other things. I struggle to see why you should need to impose that situation without it already being something scripted like a side-quest hook or something.

Also, Tesral, the information you gave on detailing out how the world evolves outside of the players is nice, that is exactly the type of thing I try to do myself. Spot on.

wizarddog
10-23-2009, 03:48 PM
I think their might be a distinction from a encounter (random or not) that either takes the story/plot in direction versus one that adds to the story.

I have few examples from games I ran:

Back in 1e I had a pretty standard adventure I wrote with some monster encounters and ect. No big plans. The players came across an old stone circle and talked to a man who told them the Tale of Rothsand, a powerful Lord (basically a demi-god) who so angered the elder Gods that they dived his soul into nine weapons. It was throw away idea for flavor.

The players suddenly wanted to go after the weapons. So I built an entire campaign around the players going into the underworld and finding these fable weapons.

In my 3e Dark City Campaign, I had the players in a catacomb structure and got beat up by some nasty strength draining creatures. I decided to put a magic item to allow them to heal up; the best I could find was a staff of healing, but I aligned it with one of the Gods in the campaign since it was pretty powerful fro their level to just be sitting there.

The campaign was normally episodic, there were no large arcs of story at the time. I later introduced that the staff had some special destiny and the players later found themselves on a long story arc where they found the last fallen paladins of a church and aided them in restoring their church.

In the first example, the players took the initiative to seek out the adventure based on what I presented to them.

In the second example, I created story around something quite random (in this case not--but it could have easily been a random magic item rolled up).

The key to any of this is to be flexible. You can make a very exciting campaign/story utilizing random charts IF you have the ability to expand off of them. If the players are going through the forest and they encounter a troll they had to run away from, perhapse the story now evolves of them evading that troll until they can get to civilization (and get a whole new set of problems).

Not every DM can (or likes) to do this, but it can be pretty exciting. The danger for some is that ANYTHING you introduce can and will be utilized by the players in the future. If the players found a cave hermit who knows the future, you bet they will go back looking for him. It's not going to go away. So you have to be prepared for it. ;)

tesral
10-23-2009, 11:13 PM
The game is where you take it. Sometimes the players take you places you never dreamed of going. This is fun.

I think random is being seen as "unplanned". Anything but. In the city and again I emphasize that. In the city, random, is something that happens. Unplanned, not so much.

There is no greater story arc outside of what the players plan. Everything is not related to that, or should be. I am that life thing happening. What happens around them might help, it might hinder, it is all dependent on how they use the lemons that fall from the truck when it is hit by the bus full of workers going to the plant that might blow up today.

Not every game is story driven. I've run those. This game is character driven.

It is also driven from the outside by a greater arc that the characters may never get enmeshed in. The whole war and return of the gods plot that will happen with or without them.

Frankly the war plot is because of them, but no one knows that outside of the Prince himself whom they rescued from death.

I write keys with my computer. One of the things I do is print only on one side of the paper. I bind the key and I write notes on the blank sides as the game progresses. After the game I update my notes.

Acid test, people are having fun. lots of fun.

Random encounters do not have to be planned, they do not have to be used. They can be planned, and still be random. They are not always appropriate.

Farcaster
10-24-2009, 06:52 AM
The question is, has the increasing complexity of writing up encounters, and the mechanicial aspect of the game itself killed the random encounter? ... Has this mathematical ruthlessness killed the wandering monster better than a party of 50th level mages?


Random encounters do not have to be planned, they do not have to be used. They can be planned, and still be random. They are not always appropriate.

Okay, so to get back to the original question then I think we've fairly well concluded that a "random encounter" doesn't need to be truly random - as in roll the dice at that moment and let the dice decide what goes in your game. So, the mechanical changes in the game don't kill the random encounter in that way. In fact, if the encounter is one that the players will truly need to do combat, it is easier now than it has ever been to judge how difficult an encounter is likely to be, so the changes actually support the DM to make better encounters.

DMMike
10-24-2009, 12:00 PM
In fact, if the encounter is one that the players will truly need to do combat, it is easier now than it has ever been to judge how difficult an encounter is likely to be, so the changes actually support the DM to make better encounters.

Or the changes give the DM tunnel vision. Same problem occurs during intentional encounter planning.

Thought process:
"The party is...7th level. Okay, I need the encounter to be 7th level then..."

Not that a DM can't plan to vary the challenges, but matching up the encounter to the party is the path of least resistance. This is a nice feature of the truly random encounter: it doesn't care what level your PCs are.

So you get an (combat) encounter that's too easy. Great, the PCs get to flex their muscles. You get one that's too hard; they flex their brains. If they're good adventurers, they'll know when to run. If not, they'll be rotating on a spit.

And yes, I do assume that an encounter is a combat encounter, because trap and puzzle encounters probably won't fit well if they're random, and a social encounter is just a combat encounter in which the PCs choose to not fight.

Sethannon
10-24-2009, 03:05 PM
Ah ha. Yes, that is much more clarified for me from both Tesral and Wizarddog (good examples, by the way.)

I think I tend to follow Wizarddog's method and when I throw something out/bring something together randomly from a situation like yours (world flavor, that sort of thing, being expanded upon) then I can see what you mean.

I personally always just found 1e and 2e random encounters to be "roll to see if they fight this or see this" which made no real sense to me so I tossed it.

I do see how in a city setting, having random things set up in a list would be helpful, and just pulling from it when appropriate though.

Farcaster is right, I don't think that random encounters necessarily have to BE random, but often times become that way due to player interest or something like that.

tesral
10-24-2009, 10:26 PM
Okay, so to get back to the original question then I think we've fairly well concluded that a "random encounter" doesn't need to be truly random - as in roll the dice at that moment and let the dice decide what goes in your game. So, the mechanical changes in the game don't kill the random encounter in that way. In fact, if the encounter is one that the players will truly need to do combat, it is easier now than it has ever been to judge how difficult an encounter is likely to be, so the changes actually support the DM to make better encounters.

In the respect of a random encounter being rolled from a random table, yes, I think the system has killed that aspect of the game. I don't know it if was an aspect that we needed to keep however. In an era of story driven games the random encounter is a distraction.

In the sense of planed encounters that occur randomly in the order you see them, no it has not killed them. Those are still alive and well.

I can't even say it was the system that killed the random encounter or evolution of the way we play the game. The game is no longer random mix of characters delving into a random mix of rooms with random treasure and creatures that have little or no connection to each other. Story has become king. Not a bad direction I think, but it leaves little room for random randomness.

Story based gaming has been on the rise since the 80s, so I don't think the system killed it as much as the system admitted it was dead.

lomifeh
10-24-2009, 11:59 PM
Lots of good points here. I think one thing we can all agree on is no encounter should totally derail/destroy a game session or campaign to the point where no one is having fun.

I agree with tesral that the direction things have gone is towards a story driven, more cohesive, game style. If that is good or bad is out of scope for this thread. But I think rolling on a table doesn't fit so well in most cases anymore. I admit I like that. I am not against the whole idea of random encounters per se. I just don't like leaving it up to a roll of the dice and just going with it.

Dr.Dead
11-12-2009, 12:33 AM
If I was a bard and I got jumped by a random encounter and my bard defeted them it would be part of the story line and as you do concerts you will tell of these encounters.