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D&D 3E
Random Encounters 
13th-Jun-2005 04:00 pm
Random encounters are nice, but I never know how to present random encounters with neutral creatures without the presentation sounding incredibly awkward. For example, suppose you roll up an encounter with a few deer, what do you say, "After several hours of walking a group of deer cross your path a ways ahead on the trail" or "you can see a group of deer ambling through the woods in the distance?" The players' response is always expectant, as if the creature should sprout wings and start raining fire on them before they do anything. Should I just leave these things out, work them into the description of the area, present them at a time when they may need to interact with the neutral thing (in which case it's no longer random), or present them in a more aggressive manner that forces them to take part in the random encoutner, such as "up ahead on the trail you can see a heap of fur and blood topped with antlers?" I only have a problem with "neutral" creatuers, such as animals and insects. I have a session coming up, and this is something I'd really like to resolve. Thanks folks.
13th-Jun-2005 11:32 pm (UTC)
I'd do it just exactly like you said. "A small herd of deer are grazing at a distance of (however far the ranger or whoever spots them)".

However-- It wouldn't be just a combat encounter in any case.
It might be an opportunity for the players to save on some rations, or for a Druid to get some area info (by speaking with animals) or for an animal companion to make an appearance (I could see an elf or smallish drui or ranger using one as a mount). The players can choose to ignore or pursue. If they decide to attack the herd, it probably bolts, and maybe an angry stag goes back and fights or something.

13th-Jun-2005 11:33 pm (UTC) - The Art of Randomness
Random Encounters are always a problem for the DM who wants to run a cohesive, realistic game. Sometimes, a game calls for pure randomness, and so you can have a belly-dancing deer crossing the path with a conga-line behind. But sometimes ... you want to weave the random encounters into your story.

It's this latter case where the problems arise. It's not often hard to randomly drop a band of hobgoblins. Even if they're not tied to the evil uber overlord, they can still be the Hobgoblins of the Darkwood, thus adding flavor to your campaign world.

But how do you introduce random encounters with creatures that aren't there for combat? How do you bring in the celestial without forcing something more than 'Hi there, how ya doing?' or 'Ragh! You are all infidels! Me smash!'

The answer (or answers, since there are two_, while slightly difficult to see, is actually not so unexpected. Two methods exist to bring these non-combatant creatures into play. The first is a method I call Divine Inspiration; the second I call Creative Influence.

Divine Inspiration
If you roll for a random encounter with a creature such as a deer or a celestial or some other being that's not there for a fight, you can easily have that creature simply serve as a guide. If you've read Dragonlance, a White Stag lead the party over a hill and into a forest that lead to Qualinesti. It saved them from assault, and simultaneously lead them to the Forestmaster, who gave them access to Pegasi to help them further their journey. Random encounter? Or divine intervention? Both! In this instance, the random encounter involves an animal being used to move the campaign back towards the direction the DM wants it to go, without blatantly 'leading the party by the nose.'

Creative Influence
Alternatively, the random encounter rolled doesn't have to be the actual encounter. It could, instead, be a creative influence to begin a quest or sidequest. For example, if you've a druid in the party and you roll for a party of deer, have the party encounter a small clearing where several deer have been shot with arrows, then left to die. Their entrails litter the ground. Surely no goodly or neutral druid could pass up this opportunity for vengeance on Nature's Behalf. Now, the deer are the random encounter, and from them you create an entire story: hunting down the deerslayers. It can be as much or as little as you like.

I hope my take on this situation helps you out. Good luck with your upcoming session. :)
13th-Jun-2005 11:36 pm (UTC)
With the DM I've played with the most, every encounter has either been next to nothing or ridiculously difficult.

Then she laughs at us when we treat every encounter as if it could be our last, when she has had the odd badger be a polymorphed red dragon or something similar.
14th-Jun-2005 12:29 am (UTC)
They kill deer for no reason other than for killing's sake?

Local Druid: "WTF!?"
*summons the entire wrath of the local nature on the party*

Really, if they just kill for killing, that's one thing. If they're doing it to save rations and such, however, that's ok.
14th-Jun-2005 01:08 am (UTC)
There's always options if you've got a druid in the party, but as you've described the PCs just don't give a crap. If that's the case, I'd just say they didn't encounter anything interesting (because to them, that's not very interesting) and speed your game along.
14th-Jun-2005 03:05 am (UTC)
make it a paragon deer. =)
14th-Jun-2005 06:06 am (UTC)
My DM started doing really random stuff like that once. We were doing a good ol' dungeon crawl and one room we entered was totally empty, except for ... a piece of string. Dun dun DUUUUUN!!!!! My character snatched it up and pranced around gleefully with it, sure that I had found something. My DM had a good poker face. It took me a while before I realized it was just a piece of string. Bleh.

Start adding random stuff like that, they'll get used to it, and maybe even start responding more realistically to things that are more integral to the plot. It will be harder to know what to focus on, and they'll have to immerse themselves in the game more.
14th-Jun-2005 01:37 pm (UTC)
I usually try to roll encounters a week or so at a time, so I can get some idea of how to work the trivial encounter into a bigger one--if they run into some deer and a couple trolls on the same day, the trolls are hunting the deer, so they're going to be on the prowl.

Or, the deer could be found dead and slaughtered, depending on the timing.

I once rolled a set of random encounters which took two gaming nights to play out, because there was a group of merchants, a wild elf hunting party, a tribe of hobgoblins, and some slavers all within a two-day timespan. Officially only the slavers should have been combatants, but the way it turned out the party almost started a war with the elves, and got themselves some good rep with the merchants for saving them from the slavers.
14th-Jun-2005 07:47 pm (UTC)
For animal encounters like that, or any other encounter that may or may not be harmless (to whichever side :P), I still treat it the same way as a hostile encounter. The reason being: if you only treated hostile encounters like hostile encounters then your PC's will know every time that they're in for a hostile encounter.

Taking the same steps towards identifying the "threat" or "presence" or whatever you want to call it, and then letting the PC's decide how to react is the way to go. Deer are likely to already know that they are in the forest, unless they're all moving silently and hiding, because deer are natural prey and have instincts that keep them out of danger.

O'course the deer may not know, and then see/hear the PC's and break for the treeline. Bottom line, it's highly unlikely that any deer will stand and make a fight against a group of armed adventurers.

It could go something like this:

1- Deer and PC's both make spot/listen checks
2- Deer are aware of PC's, PC's unaware of deer.
3- Deer leave


2- PC's are aware of deer, deer unaware of PC's
3- PC's slaughter deer because they're jerks
4- PC's kill deer for food


2- Both deer and PC's aware of each other
3- Roll initiative
4- On deers initiative, they run. If any PC's go first they can act however they wish

:P That's my breakdown of it. The only reason for you to be rolling an initiative is because, even if it's not a hostile encounter for the PC's, it's a hostile encounter for the deer and they would react to it as they do any encounter: flee.
14th-Jun-2005 09:28 pm (UTC)
I don't like random encounters to begin with, but with that aside...

Describe what it is they see. If they ignore it, so be it. It's no different than them ignoring a goblin camp they pass by, or a cave with a nest of baby couatls.
15th-Jun-2005 07:27 pm (UTC)
I have to admit I get a kind of perverse satisfaction running a non-encounter when the party's been kind of bloodthirsty (happens a lot when they're close to levelling up)... they always assume that if I get out the battlemat pens and miniatures, it's IMPORTANT, so when I draw out some random terrain, place the minis on it, and tell them there's a rustling in the underbrush, they just go nuts prepping for battle. Then a badger waddles out of the brush and cusses out the gnome.

Usually goes pretty badly for the badger, but they don't get much experience for it...
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