Overland Travel: Making it relevant, fun and appropriately time consuming but not tedious


Advice


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Hi all,

I have been DMing for about a year now and have tweaked my overland travel every so often to what it is now.

But I was wondering how other people do it: (I know lots of questions. These are mostly enumerated here to inspire answers and see what other people do for overland travel. Please feel free to answer as little or many of the questions as you want, or to just simply describe anything relevant to handling overland travel in your campaign.)

  • How does your DM/GM handle overland travel?
  • If you are the DM, how do you make it appropriately time consuming (so it's not pointless and easy) but not take 4 sessions to travel 7 days?
  • Do you prepare encounters ahead of time, or do you roll from a chart?
  • Do you have multiple encounters a day?
  • What percentage do you roll for to see if an encounter is triggered?
  • If you do one encounter a day, how do you handle the fact that for each of those encounters, the part has their full list of spells and buffs and leads to the encounter being a cakewalk?
  • Do you have charts you can share that you use in your campaign?
  • What are some of the problems you have run into DMing travel time and how did you go about it to make it better or fix it?
  • Do you use Weather in your Campaign?

Thanks!


I prepare encounters ahead of time, so I have time to make them interesting and engaging. If possible, I'll rig them such that they relate to the plot of the adventure. For example, if a group of assassins have been assigned to target the party, a random encounter with an orc-pack could be prearranged by them to help wear the party down.


I'm a relatively newer GM, having only run a Rise of the Runelords group for over a year now (as well as a few modules and an unfortunately failed Skull & Shackles campaign).

When it comes to overland travel, I like to figure out how long it takes and what the general scenery there is. A random encounter or two may be nice, but I find that for groups who aren't there for pure combat, it can be tedious and boring and even a bit unfitting for the feel of the campaign. Especially for a group around levels 6-9 (before wizards teleporting kicks in) randomly encountering level appropriate challenges out in the countryside seems really jarring (think of the poor farmers!). Of course, if the group is going into an active warzone or an area where higher level threats are known to live (the Storval Plateau in Varisia comes to mind) it makes more sense. But having a random middle-aged dragon come out of nowhere or some 9th level bandits spring out of the bushes next to a level 1-2 commoner village is a little crazy.

When my players do travel, I try to write up a cool, flowing, detailed description before hand to read to them so they get a good sense of the travel. For example, rather than write "You travel for 2 days and reach the town of villagemcquesthub." I'd prefer something like...

"You set out at mid-morning after a hearty breakfast at the local tavern, leaving a midst a small crowd of well wishers and fond farewells. A steady pace is set, and the idyllic rolling hills of the countryside give way to overshadowed forest as the hours pass and the sparse trees come together in a dense canopy... etc etc."

Hope this answers your questions! :)

Sovereign Court

If the nature of the campaign is a sandbox or if the overland trek is being run as an adventure in of itself, I'm all about Oregon Trail level of tedious details and minutae. I want the players to never know what's going to happen next, and having patterns like predefined benchmarks of rolls for random encounters is kryptonite to that.

OTOH, most overland travel is simply the travel involved in getting from point A to point B in some existing plotline. In those cases I feel there should be some element of excitement and danger but it's secondary to what should be even more exciting and dangerous at the destination. Token random encounters should be sufficient.. but if your players begin to operate on an assumption that there's only ever one encounter per day and blow thru expendables accordingly, then you've failed to put the fear of your GM screen into them. A great way to begin rectifying that is to go ahead and throw an even nastier "random" encounter at them after they blew their loads.


Im running skull and shackles which, although not overland does involve extensive days at sea travelling, I use a similar system for overland though if needed,

It all depends on how much work you put into it and how much its needed. As the sea travel is used a lot I have a lot of tables and roll on those (a large A4 ring binder as its a sandbox at the moment)

Start of the day i either roll for weather or have prerolled this in advance.

I have 2 rolls, one for day and 1 for night both 33 or lower on a % dice roll, if an encounter happens I roll a d8 for type, 1-2 shipboard, 3-4 ship, 5-6 monster and 7-8 hazard.

I then use the various charts I have for each of those encounters, I don't worry about how difficult or easy the encounter is as they are supposed to be random anyway. You don't take a walk in the country and stumble across a Bear everytime in real ilfe so why should these encounters be any different, that's what fixed encounters are for. Most random monster tables have a mix of challenge ratings from the easy to the oh crap run away Dragn type. Not everything needs to be a combat encounter either, if overland you could have a pilgrim or a merchant for instance.

I find that most random encounters are good role-playing tools to be honest. sometimes that random roll can generate into a more memorable encounter than anything written and planned out, it all depends on the group.

As for what problems you face with travel time, its all a matter of playing by ear. If the players are getting bored and restless then just move the travel along and forget the random rolls, if they are enjoying it just go with the flow. Its hard to say until you actually start trying it.


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alexperience wrote:
How does your DM/GM handle overland travel?

This is situational. In some campaigns, the overland travel is thematic and essential to the story. In other campaigns it can be safely glossed over. What the story needs is usually my guiding principle here.

alexperience wrote:
If you are the DM, how do you make it appropriately time consuming (so it's not pointless and easy) but not take 4 sessions to travel 7 days?

Describing landmarks is usually enough. Fantasy maps are great in that you can usually describe what the PCs can see based on their elevation. the Bad Astonomy blog has a simple calculator to determine distance to the horizon based on elevation. I use this as a guide when planning out how to describe the landmarks.

Situations with low visibility require survival checks to navigate. That's the rules as written, but it helps if you let the visibility of landmarks guide you in calling for the roll.

Making and breaking camp is not necessary to cover unless there's a reason. In a dangerous area, or with truly bad weather, then these things come into play. But cut your players a break, ditch the old-fashioned paranoia game of setting watches every night and ambushing them during the night time. It just doesn't mean what it used to.

alexperience wrote:
Do you prepare encounters ahead of time, or do you roll from a chart?

See my first point. Rolling from a chart is advanced GMing -- it's something I do, but only when I feel like I want to test my improvisation skills. It's a lot harder to make a meaningful encounter on the fly -- but it has its place.

alexperience wrote:
Do you have multiple encounters a day?

Generally no. That kind of thing is reserved for encounter sites, generally with maps and prepared encounters. If the players find themselves somewhere so dangerous that there are back-to-back encounters, there's got to be more going on there.

alexperience wrote:
What percentage do you roll for to see if an encounter is triggered?

I only roll encounters in one campaign: Kingmaker. The process is intrinsic to the campaign. I also make sure the players know the exact risk of encounter, and we all watch as I roll the dice. This helps them a lot when they are planning the logistics of an overland journey.

I roll 15% for a day of exploration, 15% for a night camping, and 5% per hex entered. Maximum one encounter per day.

alexperience wrote:
If you do one encounter a day, how do you handle the fact that for each of those encounters, the part has their full list of spells and buffs and leads to the encounter being a cakewalk?

Two things: a) wherever possible, I balance for single encounters. It's been a long time since I could rely on the players to blunder ahead without taking measures to improve their odds (i.e. resting). The general design of the game since 3.5 has been moving toward single-encounter balance, and I think that's a good thing.

b) A lot of my overland encounters are non-combat. Animals try to steal food. Most sentient creatures will do almost anything to avoid a lethal confrontation. Spotting a high CR dragon from miles off can make quite an impression, and even inspire a detour. These are faster and more flavorful than "combat in a can" type encounters.

alexperience wrote:
Do you have charts you can share that you use in your campaign?

I use the Kingmaker charts, but I do modify them as things progress.

alexperience wrote:
What are some of the problems you have run into DMing travel time and how did you go about it to make it better or fix it?

Can't think of anything right now that isn't addressed elsewhere in this post.

alexperience wrote:
Do you use Weather in your Campaign?

Absolutely. A storm can kill even a mid-level party. One of the best sessions I ever ran was JUST the PCs being caught away from shelter during a hurricane. Did you know that a tornado (as part of a hurricane) is a CR 10 encounter? And it can plausibly happen to anybody.


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Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I am not sure what 'appropriately' time consuming is. I generally am trying to tell a story, its only very specific kinds of stories where overland travel is actually an important part of it. Otherwise, there really isn't a point. It wont drain resources for story relavent encounters (assuming a night's rest separates overland travel and whatever events happen at the destination), it doesn't enhance the story. It literally serves no purpose unless you have a desire to track resources, and make survival checks for a few hours of your group's lives and fight pointless battles that ultimately mean little besides their xp (if you even still use xp, I dont).

First and foremost, if I could destroy every random encounter 'chart' in existence and wipe them from everyone's minds, I would. Its just a dumb idea. If you want there to be encounters on the trip, plan encounters. They can be 'random' monsters that you pick from what might be in the area, but there really isnt any reason at all to make it a die roll. I cant tell you how many times a rediculous (either irrationally difficult or just plain ludicrous like a surprise dragon that pops out of no where) encounter has turned up in games and the defense has been 'Its what I rolled'. Thats bs. You are the dm. You choose to include the chart and what's on it. You are no more absolved of responsibility then if you specifically placed that encounter. So place it.

Own your choices. If you want there to be bad weather, say its day 5, bad weather happens, figure out how to get your wagon out of the mud. Day 9 bandits attack. Why leave development of your world or potentially your story to friggan chance? And trust me I know there are those that LOVE their random encounter charts. I guess, if you have a true sandbox game it makes sense, you cant plan for a sandbox. But if your party is going on a planned route, thats not a sandbox, set fire to your bs chart and actually plan the session. Heck, take the charts other people make and just pick things to happen. Chance is not always even handed. Sometimes you do in fact roll 90+ or 10 or less several times in a row.

And I completely disagree that a random encounter can produce more interesting results then a planned encounter. They are the same thing, its just one you roll to choose from a list, the other you choose. You can even look at the charts and pick something that seems interesting. You can plan non combat encounters just as easily as you can roll for them (more easily actually because you can be prepared for it) If random encounters are more fun then the ones you actually plan, you arent good at making encounters.

All that said. Why does overland travel have to be hard or at all important? I mean in something like jade regent where you are leading a caravan, sure, its relavent. But if you are more then like 5th level adventurers, rigors of the road are literally trivial, food is plentiful with magic or just good skills, and anything that challenges you would literally stop all travel of normal people, and all but prevent travel entirely. Most people dont have high level pc body guards to get them around. So if you are traveling within civilized lands, overland travel IS pointless and easy. You are traveling with a super hero, a walking miracle, someone who bends space and time, and james bond. Walking or riding a few hundred miles is not an important task.

There really isnt a reason to delay actually getting to the story so that overland travel isnt 'too easy'. Spiderman comics dont highlight how he swings from brooklyn to times square, they focus on what happens in his home, and what happens at times square. Who the heck cares how many swings it took him to get there, or how he almost slipped landing on the brooklyn bridge. And how dumb would it be if he DID slip on the brooklyn bridge, broke his arm, missing the fight with the green goblin in times square...yea thats a good story. Good thing getting across the east river wasn't 'too easy'.


alexperience wrote:
How does your DM/GM handle overland travel?

It depends, if "getting there" is important for the story being told then I calculate the distance to be traveled and the number of days needed to cross it, the specific regions being crossed, then consider all the possible ramifications (potential encounters) that such a journey would entail.

Sometimes its hand-waved though, a 3 day trip to a particular location might prove to be uneventful and its just as easy to say "you traveled 3 days, and now you've arrived..."

alexperience wrote:
If you are the DM, how do you make it appropriately time consuming (so it's not pointless and easy) but not take 4 sessions to travel 7 days?

The only way I'd have a journey take 4 or more sessions to do it, would be for a travelogue style adventure, like the first 3 modules for the Jade Regent AP whose point is crossing thousands of miles over the arctic cap to reach the other side of the world. If the main activity is traveling overland - it might take many more than 4 sessions to accommodate that.

In a typical adventure, overland travel is only a portion of a single session, except for travelogue I almost never maintain overland journeys for session after session.

alexperience wrote:
Do you prepare encounters ahead of time, or do you roll from a chart?

I never use random encounter charts. Encounters are always preplanned.

alexperience wrote:
Do you have multiple encounters a day?

Minimum 2 encounters, rarely 4 encounters, usually 3 though every single day, though not every encounter is combat.

alexperience wrote:
What percentage do you roll for to see if an encounter is triggered?

Just as I preplan every encounter, I also preplan when those encounters will occur. No need to trigger them, as I insert them where I feel they fit best in the story or moment of play.

alexperience wrote:
If you do one encounter a day, how do you handle the fact that for each of those encounters, the part has their full list of spells and buffs and leads to the encounter being a cakewalk?

Already stated I never limit one encounter per day, so this doesn't happen. The best advice is to let them think there's only one encounter, and force one more at their campsite before they go to bed. If casters "nova-ed" their spells, they will have a harder time negotiating that last minute encounter. Usually doing this once teaches your players not to empty their daily spells on one encounter.

alexperience wrote:
Do you have charts you can share that you use in your campaign?

Charts imply making random choices, which I don't do. Everything is preplanned, thus charts provide no benefit to games I run.

alexperience wrote:
What are some of the problems you have run into DMing travel time and how did you go about it to make it better or fix it?

If I notice that the party is getting bored and the party isn't located where I already planned an encounter, I break a wheel on a wagon, have a horse go lame, cause a sudden thunderstorm to break. I often use smaller encounters to keep interest high.

alexperience wrote:
Do you use Weather in your Campaign?

Of course I do, weather makes for an excellent encounter tool.


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Oh Kolo.

I know you're right.

But with some sandbox games you get to a point where the GM is "playing" the game too. We're all waiting to see what happens! Random weather, random encounters, these can distinctly enhance the feeling of a living, breathing world.

In my Kingmaker game I love how procedural everything is. I don't really prepare (except the planned hexes) and the best stories we've experienced so far all came off the tables.

It is not for everyone. I daresay only very experienced GMs need apply. But if you're willing to take them on their own terms, there's more to encounter/weather tables than legacy assumptions.

It's a thing, unto itself. You really ought to try it some time. A GM with sufficiently honed improvisation skills can deal with whatever comes down the pipe, and often with better results than whatever was "planned".


Kolokotroni

If random encounters are more fun then the ones you actually plan, you arent good at making encounters.

LOL that would be Paizo then as Im runinng Skull and Shackles...

so that would suggest that as my players are trying to get me to do...make my own adventures which is where I struggle. Oh wellmaybe I should give it a go If I can find the time :)

Mythic Evil Lincoln, I share the same view, sometimes that 1 random roll just gets the juices flowing all round the table and EVERYONE just improvs, I have had nearly half a session sometimes play out on that one roll, then that roll can lead to even more plot hooks that would never have taken place before. It all depends how players and the GM reacts to events to be honest. As you say its not for everyone but its worth trying once to see if it works.


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Mythic Evil Lincoln wrote:

Oh Kolo.

I know you're right.

But with some sandbox games you get to a point where the GM is "playing" the game too. We're all waiting to see what happens! Random weather, random encounters, these can distinctly enhance the feeling of a living, breathing world.

In my Kingmaker game I love how procedural everything is. I don't really prepare (except the planned hexes) and the best stories we've experienced so far all came off the tables.

It is not for everyone. I daresay only very experienced GMs need apply. But if you're willing to take them on their own terms, there's more to encounter/weather tables than legacy assumptions.

It's a thing, unto itself. You really ought to try it some time. A GM with sufficiently honed improvisation skills can deal with whatever comes down the pipe, and often with better results than whatever was "planned".

I know its buried in some vitriol, but I do agree that random charts have a place in a true sandbox like kingmaker. It would be a tremendous amount of work to plan every encounter in every hex of those maps. I get that. But most adventures arent sandboxes, and the vast majority of overland travel isnt part of a sandbox. Its getting from one story point to another.

And for every 'random' moment that provides a really fun encounter, you get a dozen...nothing happens... in a row, or the 5th friggan chimera to turn up on this road. And really, would it somehow be different if the dm simply picked an item from the list? My problem isnt the encounters themselves, its the reliance on dice. If you want to have a list of 10 things that might happen as you move through hill hexes in the nomen heights...go for it. But what is gained by letting chance pick what happens?

Certainly some gms have great improvisational skills, and those can make for some really awesome moments, but those good gms will still be good gms doing awesome things without random charts. Average gms (you know, most of them) on the other hand, are pretty terrible at this, and most 'random' charts are not as well crafted as the ones in kingmaker. If they are not very carefully considered they can be just as jaring and immersion breaking as they can be a tool in world building. And deliberate choice is almost universally better there. Even kingmaker had some at first problematic, and then comically trivial encounters as the adventure proceded. Charts dont follow story progress, they dont know you've gone up 6 levels and are just going back to a region you didnt check out before and thus literally mock to death the band of 3 trolls or the owl bear as 9th level adventurers. They also dont know that you are actually 3rd level adventurers that went one hex too far going into the next books random encounter chart facing an unapproachably difficult encounter that your party may or may not have the knowledge to know they cant handle.


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simon hacker wrote:

Kolokotroni

If random encounters are more fun then the ones you actually plan, you arent good at making encounters.

LOL that would be Paizo then as Im runinng Skull and Shackles...

so that would suggest that as my players are trying to get me to do...make my own adventures which is where I struggle. Oh wellmaybe I should give it a go If I can find the time :)

And if your party is having more fun with the encounters on that random chart then the set peices presented in detail in the adventure, something, somewhere is wrong.


Nope nothing wrong our group we just imrove a lot, they dont tend to like to be railroaded and like to do thier own thing occationaly. If you GM in or group you need to know this and be perpared for the unexpected We are all the same in our group, fixed encounters work fine when they are there but sometimes we have mnore fun when the unexpected happens, thats all.

Not everyones play style is the same, Every group plays differently. BTW this s only happened since we started a sandbox, I have just found it to be immense fun to run, if it was not working I would have gone back to running as is. Sometmes you just need to try these things out.


simon hacker wrote:

Nope nothing wrong our group we just imrove a lot, they dont tend to like to be railroaded and like to do thier own thing occationaly. If you GM in or group you need to know this and be perpared for the unexpected We are all the same in our group, fixed encounters work fine when they are there but sometimes we have mnore fun when the unexpected happens, thats all.

Not everyones play style is the same, Every group plays differently. BTW this s only happened since we started a sandbox, I have just found it to be immense fun to run, if it was not working I would have gone back to running as is. Sometmes you just need to try these things out.

Just because a preplanned encounter was to occur at a river crossing, and the party chooses to take the higher mountain pass and not the road to the river, doesn't mean that that encounter won't still occur under slightly different circumstances. My encounters aren't necessarily locked to a specific location ever. You can run into bandits anywhere (for example). So just because the party thinks they are playing in a sandbox doesn't mean that encounters prepared for a railroad aren't just as applicable. My players never know they are playing a railroad, they think they are always in a sandbox, but I never design my adventures, nor encounters any differently.


This depends heavily on how detail oriented your players are, and what level the PCs are.

Do they enjoy a "hand carved ivory statue of a faun, made by the elves worth 67pgs" more that "67gps of art objects"?

One fun thing about Overland travel is that you can pull the old 'six or more cheap encounters, then a real one" trick on the spellcasters.

After they use up all their spells on the 4-6 goblin raiding parties, dump a 20+ shaman + leader type on them.

Have a few encounters that aren't combat.


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simon hacker wrote:

Nope nothing wrong our group we just imrove a lot, they dont tend to like to be railroaded and like to do thier own thing occationaly. If you GM in or group you need to know this and be perpared for the unexpected We are all the same in our group, fixed encounters work fine when they are there but sometimes we have mnore fun when the unexpected happens, thats all.

Not everyones play style is the same, Every group plays differently. BTW this s only happened since we started a sandbox, I have just found it to be immense fun to run, if it was not working I would have gone back to running as is. Sometmes you just need to try these things out.

Not railroading and planning are not mutually exclusive. I too dont like railroading, and am ok with pcs finding their own route for things. And I am a proponent for improvising situations that I didnt expect to happen because the party did something I didnt expect.

None of that has anything to do with random charts. There is no in game difference between a dm deciding the next random encounter will be an owl bear, and rolling for the next encounter to be an owl bear. The wacky hijinks are identical. The only difference is one is a choice by a dm trying to make a fun game, the other is probability. Choice, should give you a series of interesting encounters. Probability gives you the chance for a series of interesting encounters, or the same encounter 5 times in a row, or no encounter 20 times in a row, or 2 interesting encounters and 1 stupid encounter, or 5 nights of bad weather, roll your survival you cant fail again because reasons, or the 8th friggan time we are fighting a chimera on this same road...is there like a hatchery near by or something? Chance is just that, chance.

The gm PICKING encounters off that random list is almost certainly going to result in a better session then rolling a die. And by picking, he can actually look up ahead of time what sort of things he needs to know, like spells, special abilities, or where he might find stats for the 5 gnoll pirates that are on that random ship parked in the harbor.


Let me expand on my own take on "Random Encounters"

I usually prepare them ahead of time, but I do use the random element. If I can weave them into the context of the adventure, I do. But if I cannot then I will instead weave them into the context of the setting. For example:

In the Carrion Crown campaign I pre-rolled a random encounter for my party in Canterwall. The dice said 2-24 orcs. Now 24 orcs didn't fit into my idea of necromancer's agents who didn't even know the party was onto them yet, so instead I decided that such a group would most likely be a raid after food and slaves from the Hold of Belkzan.

Question: What would such an orc group be composed of, and how would it travel?
Well it would have a leader, sergeants, scouts, and probably some sort of spell support character. I made it a barbarian, two fighters, a handful of 2nd level rangers and a half-orc witch as the "brains" of the raid. The rank-and-file orcs would be armed with longspears as defence against Canterwall's cavalry. The raiders would set up lairs in secluded places (copses, caves, etc.) which they would retreat to once they had performed their raid.

Next Question: How would the party encounter them?
Well orcs would not see profit in attacking such a small (and well-armed) group? Probably not, although they wouldn't restrain themselves either. The raiders were after a village after all. How would 24 orcs take on a (presumably protected) village? The witch uses her disguise hex to appear as a refugee to get into the village. She would then use her sleep hex to render the gate guards unconscious and let the orc raid in so they could catch the villagers unaware. So the party might be in the village at the time, or else might come across it post-raid. I opted for the latter as a more interesting and sequential encounter.

So, for one random encounter I had a side-adventure:
Part I: The party will encounter a village that has been raided by orcs from Belkzan. There will be a few orcs (scouts) and survivors left in the village, the rest of the orcs will have departed already. The party will have to deal with the orcs and the rescued villagers will inform them that many survivors were captured by the orcs and dragged off in chains.
Part II: The party will then have the chance to track the orcs to their lair nearby, in a copse of trees. The orcs will likely see them coming over the plain and will set an ambush for them.
Part III: If they survive the ambush, the party will have the task of facing the orc leader, the witch, and the remaining orcs in their bivouac and rescue the prisoners.

Not bad for a random encounter.

Sovereign Court

I think one of the problems with random encounters is that there's three ideas getting conflated.

One idea is that outside the dungeon, you encounter some things that have nothing to do with your main plotline. They have no plot meaning whatsoever. In that, they are essentially "random". EDIT: of course they might be foreshadowing some later plot to come, or be intended to color in some of the game world. A good encounter tells a story, even if it's not part of the main story just yet.

The second idea is that you can't count on how many encounters you'll have. Some days will be quiet and no trouble. Others, you'll met a few bandits which you easily blast with magic. And another day there's like three heavily armed orc raiding bands, and you blew all your magic on the first band because you weren't expecting the others. So that's a very difficult day. For this purpose, it can help if the players know (or believe...) that the GM is using a random table, that they can't count on there being a balanced amount of encounters. On a typical adventuring, isn't the third encounter much more tense if you don't know if there's gonna be a fifth?

And the final idea is that sometimes a GM gets stuck in a rut. Random tables can be a way to stir up things. Sometimes all your creativity starts to look eerily similar, and some form of randomization can help you break the pattern. Random encounter tables are a way to do this; they probably work even better if you didn't make that table yourself.

---

Personally I've kinda stopped using random encounter tables. I generally decide that "oh, I kinda need another encounter this session. How about they run into X?". I found that most of the time I was fudging the dice rolls, and that's basically the sign they're not working for you.

Sczarni

@alexperience

I have been spending quite some time recently doing encounter tables per terrain which encompass both friendly, neutral and hostile encounters. This is example of a Mountain Terrain table in Microsoft Excel which I finished recently. Most of the ideas were thanks to guardianlord who already suggested some of them. A lot of stuff in the table is set on GM to decide what might happen and what party might encounter. Mountain terrain in table above is considered quite treacherous and slow to travel through and there is low chance of meeting people or even monsters in general. If you check the table, it pretty much tells you how I expect to run encounters and weather. You are free to use it and comment on it.

Adam


while im not certain how interesting it is, for the group im running (we use a bigass donjon-generated hex worldmap), i only keep track of how long they're going to be on the road (barring interruptions), what the terrain is on their way there (for appropriate encounters, if not necessarily CR-appropriate), and if there's any major holdups or threats in the area, such as horrible weather or major battles.

i keep a short list of curveballs to throw at them (that aren't necessarily fights!) to spice up the world or introduce a small boon or XP bonus.

maybe the forest they camped in was guarded by a dryad who decided to play a trick on them by having the trees move around. maybe they meet a traveler who offers useful advice in exchange for food or other small supplies. maybe they stumble upon a bunch of thieves fighting over a treasure map. maybe they pass a strange rock formation that becomes important later. maybe the fighter wakes to find a boot being carried off by a fairy--cue hilarious Chase encounter through the forest with loot or other bonuses at the end.

there's lots of threads here to snag ideas from as well. they're adventurers; they should have plenty of things to write home about while they're traveling.


For me, it's almost like a different game; sandbox vs. railroad campaigns.

They're both valid.

But the only time I've ever been really into random encounters is Kingmaker, and that's because it fundamentally changes the tone of the game. It's a compact between me and the players: you can go wherever you want, but these are your odds -- I will abide by them, regardless of my personal sentiments of what should happen.

Kolo wrote:
Certainly some gms have great improvisational skills, and those can make for some really awesome moments, but those good gms will still be good gms doing awesome things without random charts.

Yes, but that doesn't make it the same. There's something to be said for a game where the GM sits down and says: "Look, I don't know what's going to happen, so bear with me. You might die. If I roll trolls on this table, you're going to actually need to react in a realistic way -- run, or have a plan, or pray, whatever. I can't save you with plot. This isn't about plot. This is a sandbox world you can interact with. I don't know when you will die."

I've run lots of campaigns. Most of them were railroady affairs, and everyone had a blast. But in this campaign, it's the very fact that the GM doesn't know quite what will happen -- that I can be honest with the players with that and we explore together -- that's what makes it special.

If I had tried to explain this to myself three years ago, that me would be dismissive or outright hostile. So I understand the aversion to the random encounter table, I really do. But there's a whole GM gameplay experience there, and it's really something great! I am sad that bad experiences have blinded so many great GMs to the potential.


Kolokotroni wrote:

None of that has anything to do with random charts. There is no in game difference between a dm deciding the next random encounter will be an owl bear, and rolling for the next encounter to be an owl bear. The wacky hijinks are identical. The only difference is one is a choice by a dm trying to make a fun game, the other is probability. Choice, should give you a series of interesting encounters. Probability gives you the chance for a series of interesting encounters, or the same encounter 5 times in a row, or no encounter 20 times in a row, or 2 interesting encounters and 1 stupid encounter, or 5 nights of bad weather, roll your survival you cant fail again because reasons, or the 8th friggan time we are fighting a chimera on this same road...is there like a hatchery near by or something? Chance is just that, chance.

The gm PICKING encounters off that random list is almost certainly going to result in a better session then rolling a die. And by picking, he can actually look up ahead of time what sort of things he needs to know, like spells, special abilities, or where he might find stats for the 5 gnoll pirates that are on that random ship parked in the harbor.

Picking encounters can also result in silliness or lack of variety, especially when the GM is starting to run out of good ideas. Rolling on a chart can be a great spur to creativity.

Anytime I'm not 100% certain what encounter I want, I'll roll it. If the result seems meh, I'll roll again until either I get something I like or inspiration strikes. Very frequently, by the time I've looked up the stats for whatever I rolled and taken a moment to think about it, I'll have come up with an idea of how it fits into the adventure.


JoeJ wrote:
Picking encounters can also result in silliness or lack of variety, especially when the GM is starting to run out of good ideas. Rolling on a chart can be a great spur to creativity.

When I prep for my weekend games, I know that sometimes due to circumstance either one of the prepared encounters won't work due to some kind of circumstance, and that due to player ingenuity sometimes what was expected to take more time is over too quickly. So I always prepare twice as many encounters as I think the party will truly encounter... I never run out of good ideas.

JoeJ wrote:

Anytime I'm not 100% certain what encounter I want, I'll roll it. If the result seems meh, I'll roll again until either I get something I like or inspiration strikes. Very frequently, by the time I've looked up the stats for whatever I rolled and taken a moment to think about it, I'll have come up with an idea of how it fits into the adventure.

While there is certainly nothing wrong with rolling up a fresh encounter for a random aspect (if that's the style of game you run), however, I don't want to spend game prep time during a live game, looking up monster stats or other rules regarding terrain. So I avoid that by having more encounters that I plan on using and never need to do this.


gamer-printer wrote:
JoeJ wrote:
Picking encounters can also result in silliness or lack of variety, especially when the GM is starting to run out of good ideas. Rolling on a chart can be a great spur to creativity.

When I prep for my weekend games, I know that sometimes due to circumstance either one of the prepared encounters won't work due to some kind of circumstance, and that due to player ingenuity sometimes what was expected to take more time is over too quickly. So I always prepare twice as many encounters as I think the party will truly encounter... I never run out of good ideas.

JoeJ wrote:

Anytime I'm not 100% certain what encounter I want, I'll roll it. If the result seems meh, I'll roll again until either I get something I like or inspiration strikes. Very frequently, by the time I've looked up the stats for whatever I rolled and taken a moment to think about it, I'll have come up with an idea of how it fits into the adventure.

While there is certainly nothing wrong with rolling up a fresh encounter for a random aspect (if that's the style of game you run), however, I don't want to spend game prep time during a live game, looking up monster stats or other rules regarding terrain. So I avoid that by having more encounters that I plan on using and never need to do this.

I don't use game time for that; I roll for random encounters beforehand.

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