Zak has the insight that there are two kinds of outdoor experience for characters: going from point A to point B, or systematically exploring and scouring a chunk of wilderness (also see ChgoWiz and comments on the topic). I'll add to that three different ways you can handle encounters in either situation:
- Straight-up random, figure oout the chance to have an encounter, then roll for one upon a table.
- "Quiet on the set!" Certain hexes have encounters that are programmed to go off when the party first enters them.
- Open dungeon: creatures have lairs and ranges of roaming; encounters are random within this framework.
At any rate, on returning from Utherton the party heard shouts coming from the lumberjack end of town and found one group of lumberjacks arguing with another in their foreign language. Lucille the carpenter filled us in on the story - apparently one group of lumberjacks, the Busiacquo brothers, had been felling some "elven trees" whose wood was uncommonly strong and workable. The other lumberjacks didn't like it. Jessera saw this opportunity to cast her newly learned Detect Magic spell on the timber, which was going into the crude furniture Lucille had been making for them, and found it radiated a faint magic.
Returning, the party found Nameless in possession of several bushels of apples and a large stock of the Busiacquos' magical wood, which they had apparently let go at a bargain price. Now warned by the elves, Boniface cast his Holy Light spell, which also functions as a barometer to detect evil, and found indeed a malign influence. He used his Purify powers to free a sample of the wood from its taint, to the awed witness of the village's lumberjacks. And on the next day they set off, following the landmarks that Doug the dwarf bartender, a native of Saddleback, had given them.
Wilderness Alphabet) and empty except for the grave of one Mallory, a member of the Greatest Adventuring Party Ever Known, and a painted altarpiece. It showed the messianic figure of the religion of Invictus, the coming New Man who will be the founder of the Fifth and Final Race of humanity. Strangely, the scene at his feet included the Castle of the Mad Archmage. Even more strangely, although the picture looked decades old, it included the black and white tower with moving bricks that had newly sprung up in the Castle's Black Courtyard. Nobody knew the old High Tongue to understand what the scroll by the New Man's mouth said, but it was faithfully copied down.
Staying overnight in the hermitage, a random encounter was rolled in the second watch. I guess the elves were not enough for one day, because the dice came up dwarves. Of course, they had to be dwarves from Saddleback who had precisely the same idea a couple of days earlier, and were bringing the goods of Saddleback to Trossley. Had these stout members of the Badgerleaf clan had any encounters on the way? Roll, roll ... oh, just a hill giant that they hid from.
This was a fun session even though it went by without any experience or combat for the players. It's pretty typical of how I wing things - the wood plot element was thought up in brief form the previous day, the trade scenario had been brewing a while, and I'd actually had a completely different set of developments in mind if the party had decided to go back into the castle instead.
More on my outdoor system next time.