Monday 2 May 2011

Journey to Saddleback I: Three's Company

Result 20 on my one-page wilderness random encounter table says to "roll twice," raising the possibility that the party will stumble upon two groups of creatures hobnobbing or fighting.

Skirting wide away from rumors of a giant in the foothills, our Trossley adventurers came upon such a big 20. Further rolling revealed that some hill nomads and some ogres were in the mix. "You hear some shouting from behind that ridge ..."

As they advanced, I reflected that given the distances over open terrain, the fight could very well be over before the party closed to range. So I made it an ambush - groups of nomads were lying in wait behind three ridges that formed a box, and another couple of them had lured out some ogres.

How to run an outdoor fight? When the sling bullets and arrows started flying, the range was long enough that I marked out general positions with pawns on the hex mat, about 40' to a hex (in hindsight, 30' would have been handier for figuring out movement distances). Moving to melee and spell range, 5' hexes gave a focus on the action. The ogres randomly concentrated their efforts on the goat-hide-wearing hillmen, laying three or four of them low before being defeated. The hillmen thanked the party, divided the meager coins the ogres had been carrying, and all went their separate ways.

But the general question remains, how to handle those 20s, or in general stumbled-upon encounters of the kind that add spice to life?  Three factors come into it: whether the encounter is friendly or hostile; the power balance; and whether the encounter is in the future or past. For example, I could have had the party come upon the goatmen, and then have ogres crash in during negotiations ... or be attacked by ogres, and then saved at the last minute by a nomad charge.

So, this table is not necessarily for taking literally, but shows the possibilities and may help direct your thoughts when running a similar encounter.

Double Encounters
(d6 for time)
Encounter roll between the two groups (2d6 with modifiers)
Hostile (2-5)
Neutral (6-8) or friendly (9-12)
1-2: Before
Party encounters the side you rolled first; the other side will come on the scene in 1d8 rounds.
The side you rolled first is heading to a rendezvous with the other in 1d8 minutes.
3-4: During
They’re in the middle of a fight; for each figure on the weaker side and every second figure on the stronger, roll d6, 1 means dead and 2-3 means half hit points. When party shows up,  the side they’ll fight (if that’s obvious) or the weaker side (if that’s not) must test morale.
One group is meeting and trading (3) or on patrol (4) with the other if friendly; if neutral, it’s a standoff.
5-6: After
The two sides have already taken the casualties above. Party has come upon the fleeing and hiding weaker side (5) or the victorious stronger side, with 10% of the weaker side captive (6).
The side you rolled first is carrying trade goods (5) or loot (6) from their collaboration with the other. if not friendly, backing off from standoff. They are still in shouting distance.

Hat not included.
After the fight, the party made their way toward the now clearly visible landmark, the rock formation and spire shaped like a pointing finger (index finger) where they'd been told the lammasu Saheedra dwelt. I decided to make the occasion more solemn, and less like a White House press conference, by having each character ascend alone for an audience with the great and holy woman-beast, by request of her dwarf-child major-domo. "Alone" here was not taken literally - I hate secret information and separate rooms between the players - but allowing a platform for each player in turn gave just the right amount of slow-down to the session.

Many mysteries of the campaign were exposed in these audiences and more were hinted at. But there was one more encounter that evening, and it brings up a second mechanical DM issue, so it will get its own post.

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