A Pathfinder Roleplaying Game GM’S RESOURCE supplement by Creighton Broadhurst and Julian Neale
Got barely enough time to prepare the module? Want to include cool, evocative random encounters in your games, but just don’t have the time to prepare them? Bored of pointless random encounters comprising bands of generic monsters that only seem to exist to attack wandering PCs? Then Random Woodland Encounters is for you! Presenting eight ready-to-use random encounters ranging in EL from 1—9 (and 19 stat blocks ranging from CR 1/4—6) all suitable for use in any woodland or forest,
Random Woodland Encounters takes the pressure off the time-crunched GM, enabling him to concentrate on crafting cool, evocative adventures!
Featured encounters include:
Bandits (EL 7): Led by a deserter and a self-centred archer of some skill, a lurking band of brigands have set two falling tree traps to catch the unwary.
Aftermath (EL 2): The PCs discover the site of an ambush. Lying among the dead, a few badly wounded survivors are in desperate need of help.
Gnolls? How Unlucky! (EL 5): A band of gnolls and their pugwampi minion fall upon the PCs' camp during the night.
Goblins of the Blood Moon (EL var.): Vicious raiders, the Goblins of the Blood Moon attack all who enter their realm. This encounter presents stats for five different types of goblins and 18 different encounter groups.
Isolated Hovel (EL 4): A dilapidated hovel surrounded by thick stands of nettles and brambles hides a terrible, lurking secret in a hidden cellar.
Lurking Trolls (EL 9): A troll is teaching its four young to hunt. Unfortunately, for the PCs they are the prey!
Ogre Huntress (EL 6): An ogre huntress is exercising her three pet wolves when she crosses paths with the PCs.
Shattered Bridge (EL 6): The remains of a gaunt stone bridge cross a yet raging river. The ghost of a wizard killed when the bridge collapsed haunts the area.
Random Woodland Encounters is a Dual Format PDF. The product's ZIP file contains two versions, one optimised for printing and use on a normal computer and one optimised for use on a mobile device such as an iPad.
After having reviewed the sequel to this product first, my perspective is a bit backwards from the improvements presented there--but nevertheless I wanted to cover my own experience on what I feel is a very solid resource for a Pathfinder GM. The goal presented with Woodland Encounters is to provide for interesting alternatives to randomly-rolled encounters during the course of your campaign; ideally, this helps accomplish more memorable scenes during travel than '2d4 critters stumble out, roll initiative'. Let's take a look at how it stacks up!
Included here are 8 pre-staged encounters which can be incorporated into most any wilderness environs; each begins with an introductory write-up and optional 'box text' to set the scene, as well as initial suggestions for a prospective GM regarding the circumstances at a glance. Following that, you've also got suggested tactics, terrain features that can come into play and finally pertinent stat blocks presented in a concise, clear fashion--as well as quick snap-ins to raise or lower a given encounter's CR. As a complete package, you're left with all the necessary details to run a given encounter easily accessible at a glance, which I feel Raging Swan Press has handled very well.
Several of the encounters as-presented offer opportunities for diplomacy and roleplaying as avenues for your players--with the bandit ambush for instance, ready options are presented for a more amenable parting of ways between parties--and the ghostly remnants of the conjurer Valentin offers a fine opportunity for characterization as well. That said, a majority of the encounters presented would invariably roll right into more straight forward combat (an element the sequel improves upon considerably).
Despite this, the staging and composition of even the combat-pitched encounters does lend towards a more inspirational angle--provided you have the time and inclination to flesh them out. With a bit of love and care one could certainly draw some memorable parlay from Jarla the Ogre Huntress, or paint a scene with the Blood Moon goblins (particularly if you're fond of the entertaining mannerisms Paizo's re-imagining of the little fellows can also lend to this.) It's a shame that a more distinct lore was not included--there's mention of a keep and the like, but I would have liked to see more personality behind this tribe in particular.
Of the included encounters, the Gnolls with their ill-fortunate Pugwampi, the creepy isolated hovel with its ghoulish barbarian Garilax and the Shattered Bridge, haunted by the ghost of the conjurer Valentin are my three favorites; the latter-most of these, the Shattered Bridge, is available as a free sample in its entirety on the Raging Swan Press website--and also happens to be one which I've had the opportunity to work with in our own group's campaign, so I'd like to expand upon it as an excellent example of an encounter.
With the Shattered Bridge, a recent and terrible storm has collapsed the span over a river--and in the process, crushed a hapless conjurer by the name of Valentin Pennanen beneath it. Why Valentin was traipsing about in a storm capable of collapsing a bridge can be left to one's imagination, but the net result is he now haunts the site and is rather unhappy about his present circumstances and keen to blame whomever happens upon it.
As presented, you've got what I feel is a potentially fun battlefield arrangement: the broken up bridge can provide something of a navigable obstacle course of checks and terrain, the river itself and its embankments add additional hazards (particularly given Valentin has a penchant for telekinesis used for combat maneuvers!) and the flying ghost of the wizard Valentin himself throws out a mix of control spells (such as stinking cloud) and augmented summons.
In practice, this can make for an interesting encounter with elements to engage a variety of characters in a party individually while they work to wrangle or appease Valentin's riled spirit; the bridge and river can be a fun challenge in and of themselves provided you keep the spirit in the general vicinity for his haunting. For our particular group, the party was traversing the river in a barge--so the collapsed bridge served as an obstacle which needed to be cleared, prompting for their run-in with Valentin.
Altogether, I feel it's one of the stronger offerings from the product in its variety and usability in framing a memorable 'random' encounter. It -is- possible to talk the poor fellow down from his angry state, but it is a difficult diplomacy check to do so. You can play up the personality or story to the spirit and make for an unusual encounter at the given CR range and provide a challenge without particularly terrible risk of character death or the like.
Overall: This product is 23 pages, with 8 occupied by cover, credits, copyrights, OGL and the like--leaving 15 for the encounters presented. Five pieces of black and white artwork, partly stock from other offerings. Errors were very minor and there were only a few nitpicks I had with the sizing and spacing of stat blocks among the rest of the content--nothing terrible, though. You receive both a screen and printer-friendly version of the PDF which is a nice touch.
Raging Swan Press provides a solid foundation for a very promising series of products and I look forward to future offerings in the series. The material here is accessible and easy to use, the information is readily available at a glance and there is a decent variety of encounter flavor to tailor to a given campaign's travels. Since the intention is to make random encounters more memorable, the offerings here are a solid start in that regard.
While not as strong as its sequel, I feel that you get a very functional and entertaining collection for the price point and with a bit of work even the more standard-fare encounters can be made to shine in your own game. I'd rate Woodland Encounters 4 stars--worth the price and a solid resource for any Pathfinder GM; if you like the material here, I encourage you to check out the sequel.
As an after-note, as with Woodland Encounters II I found Raging Swan Press to provide excellent customer service in answering questions and clarifying content; they even helped with a little bout of brainstorming which helped to inspire integrating an encounter. A very good experience!
Nice selection of random encounters to spring upon your players
This pdf is 23 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page blank inside front cover, 2 pages introduction/editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page information for novice DMs on how to read the statblocks, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement and 1 page back cover, leaving 14 pages of content for 8 not-so random encounters, so let's check them out, shall we?
Random encounters are rather less random in my game than usual - I try to prepare a set of encounters prior to springing them upon my players in order to keep the encounters from being a boring slugfest sans environmental complications. This is where Raging Swan's new series comes in - we get fully detailed encounters, complete with read-aloud text, environmental modifiers and statblocks for those instances when you can't be bothered to put one together yourself. The encounters all come with information on how to scale them up and down.
The first encounter (EL 7) has the PCs ambushed by a group of bandits (complete with tumbled trees in front and behind them) and comes with two NPCs in addition to the generic bandit statblock provided. Both named bandits come with background, mannerisms and distinguishing features - neat! It's also nice to see bandits that want to just toll the road (with a reasonable fare) that can be reasoned with instead of just dumb kill-all foes.
The second encounter is a social encounter (EL 2) and has the PCs happen upon the remains of a wagon and a gravely injured family that has fallen prey to some of the dangers lurking in the forest - the PCs can help them overcome this ordeal, show kindness, try to alleviate the suffering over the loss of cherished family members and might even gain an apprentice over the course of the encounter. I really liked this non-combat encounter and it comes with 2 sample statblocks.
Combat galore awaits the PCs when they encounter the next one, a strike-squad of stealthy kobolds and gnolls with a twist (EL 5) - one of the gnolls has a pugwampi, a dog-faced fey staring out of its backpack and said creature has a rater unpleasant aura of ill-fortune, making this encounter potentially dangerous and hilarious. 3 statblocks are provided, one for the gnolls, one for the kobolds and one for the pugwampi.
The fourth encounter is rather straight-forward and has the PCs square off against the goblins of the Blood Moon, which, however, come with a whopping 5 different statblocks, ensuring that the encounter does not devolve into a mook slugfest. 4 compositions of the encounter, ranging from EL 1 to 4 are provided.
The next encounter (EL 4)was my favorite one of the bunch - a dilapidated hovel, overgrown by nettles might provide shelter for the PCs if they manage to hack their way through the dense vegetation. Inside, though, they find the remains of a struggle and might finally find the thing that now lairs in the hovel. It's interesting how creepy the encounter manages to be in the limited amount of space available. It comes with one statblock.
The next 2 encounters unfortunately don't live up to the standard of the other ones, providing onyl two hunting teams - an EL 9 battle against a troll and its young and a EL 6 fight against an ogress and her wolves. While not bad per se, they only take up one page and feel rather generic and bland when compared to the others.
The final encounter, shattered bridge (CR 6) can be seen for free in Rite Publishing's free Pathways e-zine #8, so if you're torn on whether you like the premise of the pdf, there's your free teaser.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. The b/w-two-column layout is elegant and the b/w-artworks are nice for the low price and serve to enhance the overall feeling of the encounters. Not all is perfect, though: While the social encounter, human bandits, gnoll ambush and the creepy hovel really caught my fancy, I didn't care particularly much for the hunting squads or the goblins - they feel like generic statblocks that spring from ambush to attack the PCs, not drag and drop complex encounters. There is nothing per se wrong with the latter, but they stand out due to the quality of the other encounters and thus their relative blandness is even more apparent. That being said, this pdf is cheap for the amount of quality content provided and is still a good purchase, especially for being the first of the new line. If authors Creighton Broadhurst and Julian Neale manage to cut these rather bland encounters and get in more in the vein of the bandits, social encounter etc., we're up for a ride in the future! For this installment, my final verdict will be 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 for the purpose of this platform.
This product is 23 pages long. It starts with a credits, cover, and ToC. (5 pages)
Woodland Encounters (15 pages)
There is 19 encounters in this section. Each one talks about the location they are out, full stat blocks, tactics of the creatures, advice to scale the encounter and sometimes information for roleplaying or dealing the encounter other than combat.
1/4 Kobold Raider (kobold warrior 1)
1/3 Laina, Satu and Viljo Masterson (human expert 1)
1/3 Blood Moon Raider (goblin warrior 1)
1/3 Blood Moon Scout (goblin expert 1)
1/2 Bandit (human male warrior 2)
1/2 Blood Moon Battledancer (goblin warrior 1/expert 1)
1/2 Blood Moon Elite Scout (goblin expert 2)
1/2 Pugwampi minion (fey)
1/2 Sampo Masterson (male human expert 2)
1 Blood Moon Adept (goblin adept 3)
1 Gnoll (gnoll)
1 Wolf (animal)
2 Garilax (male ghoul barbarian 1)
2 Kanavin Ruaenspar (female half‐elf fighter 3)
4 Elmeri Laukkanen (male human fighter 5)
4 Jarla, Ogre Huntress (female ogre ranger 1)
4 Young Troll (troll)
5 Troll (troll)
6 Valentin Pennanen(male human ghost wizard [conjurer 5])
It ends with a OGL, ads and back cover. (3 page)
Closing thoughts. There is black and white and is fair. Editing and layout where pretty good. The encounters run from pretty simple to fairly interesting with some nice plot hooks. It is a handy book to have at hand when your PC's are off trekking throw the woods and you suddenly find you need a handy encounter to liven things up cause the PC's went off in a unexpected direction. This is a solid pickup. So what's my rating? For the price I am going to give it a 4 star if you like having handy encounters on hand. Simple yet effective product.