Friday, February 27, 2015

Have A Nicer Trip

So, overland travel.  Hexcrawls and pointcrawls.  We all do those, right?

If you're like me, you probably have a wandering monster table like this:
  1. 2d6 vikings
  2. 2d6 undead vikings
  3. 1d20 wolves
  4. 1d4+1 dire weasels
  5. 1d3 murderbirds
  6. 1 owlbear
I also use omens/signs/foreshadowing, where you get a clue to what sort of creatures might be lurking in an area without having to actually encounter them.  The party might see the gouges on a tree, the half-eaten corpses, the torn-up ground of a hasty bivouac, or hear them howling in the hills.

I roll on the wandering monster table for these.  It's been easy enough to make up omen/evidence on the fly.

I've also been using an encounter behavior table.  You've probably seen them
  1. Hunting.
  2. Sleeping.
  3. Playing.
  4. Eating.
I've seen it proposed in a bunch of places, but basically it boils down to: roll the encounter, roll the behavior, and then combine them, yielding results like "sleeping owlbear" and "hunting owlbear".  

I don't like this method because, while it sometimes yields interesting results, it also yields a whole bunch of rubbish, like "zombies playing".  What I really want to see is a set of scenarios for each monster on the list like this one for goblins. (And if I ever write a MM, that's what I'll include.)

But since I'm just doing a hexcrawl, I've been using something like this: each random monster gets a couple of scenarios.   Here is a pretty close approximation to what I've been using for my current viking-ish game:
  1. 2d6 vikings.  
    1. They are going to war and will challenge the PCs to state which clan they are loyal to.  If the PCs give no answer, or the wrong answer, they will attack.  Otherwise, they are exceptionally friendly.
    2. Desperate bandits, their leader has HD 2, a pet attack-weasel living in his beard, and a horn of preturnatural volume.
  2. 2d6 undead vikings. 
    1. Dragging a funeral barge through the trees.  Kingly corpse has 500sp of jewelry and a cursed shield shaped like a woman's face.  They are marching away from the ocean; they will take the barge back to the necromancer.
    2. Solemnly removing the bones from a dead mammoth; they will bring them back to the necromancer.
  3. 1d20 wolves. 
    1. Rabid wolves, Save vs disease on bite.  Led by a zombie worg (HD 3) wearing tarnished silver collar (40s).  It escaped from the necromancer.
    2. They think you're stealing their kill: a huge caribou and it's rider (both wounded but alive, the man is a Wolfencrest messenger).
  4. 1d4+2 dire weasels.
    1. Teaching their young to hunt, will coordinate to drag prey away. 
    2. Hunting for shiny things to impress a mate.  Adventurers are covered in shiny things.
  5. 1d3 dire crows. 
    1. Claw out your eyes (-4 to hit) as gifts for their mate, flying away as soon as they have them. 
    2. They will follow the party from the treetops, attacking as soon the party is distracted, vulnerable, or asleep.  Fucking birds.
  6. 1 owlbear.
    1. Battering down a tree to get a nest.  It is wounded; it's face is peppered with tiny, blue-fletched arrows (fairy arrows from the Snow Queen's folk).
    2. Territorial aggression display; absolutely terrifying.
Roll a random scenario each time, or . Replace them as you use them.

The idea is to tailor the random encounters to the setting, and also to give them connections to other things on the hex map.  I try to write them as carefully as I would a room in a dungeon.

The other thing I have on my random encounter table is non-combat encounters (usually NPCs).  These are expanded the same way the random monster entries are.
  1. 1d20 refugees.
    1. Fleeing the city of Chainwater, anticipating a siege.  One of them carries the plague.  They are wary and will not admit that they are carrying a cart of grain.  They want bodyguards as far as the next town.
    2. Women and children with frostbitten feet.  They need food.  If they starve, one of the women will go on to become an HD7 wendigo.
  2. 1d6 merchants.
    1. A family of longstrider merchants.  They are on their way to a wedding and will try to sell the party silverware, wedding presents (textiles), and 1d3 random scrolls.
    2. A married couple: a cleric named Rook and a bard named Anniwine.  They offer healing and good cheer.  These are free to poor folks, but if you look rich, they won't even blush when charging you outrageous fees.  They are friendly and sociable except with each other.
  3. 2d4 x 10 armed men.
    1. Mercenary company, recruiting for war.  They'll offer the PCs generous joining packages.  Led by Bjarna Furisdottr, who can bite through iron.
    2. Mutinous vikings from the Rat Tail clan.  They have abandoned their jarl and planning a raid.  Security is very lax.  Evil and friendly.
  4. 2d8 pilgrims.
    1. Stole a baby from a cult.  The cult is pursuing them, because the baby is the daughter of the cult leader.  The pilgrims will lie about this.  They want help escaping.
    2. Disheveled and disheartened--the pilgrimage site is full of orcs, and some of the pilgrims are injured/dead.  They want help recovering their holy site.
  5. 1d4 hunters and 2d4 dogs.
    1. They are hunting a vor-mammut that killed their shaman.  (Link goes to a Gorgonmilk's Underworld Lore #3, an OSR fanzine with a monster o' mine.)  They want people to join them--their first assault on the beast failed horribly (though they will be loathe to admit it).
    2. They are hunting a elven stag, with antlers that are literal gold (worth 2000s).  If they catch it (and they probably will), they will kill each other to possess it.  They need food, but don't mind if the PCs tag along.
  6. DM's Choice.
    1. Rival adventuring party.
    2. Migrating herd of mammoths.
And last, I want to include the chance that some inter-party drama might happen, or at least interesting things around camp.  A focus on the banal, as my friend +Alex Chalk might say.

  1. Conflict.
    1. Two of the NPCs are fighting.  If no one interferes, both NPCs lose 2 points of morale.  If a player describes how they settle the dispute in favor of one NPC, only the unfavored NPC loses 2 points of  morale.  If the PCs try to break up the dispute equitably, both NPCs are resentful and lose 1 point of morale each.
    2. NPC fights with one of the PCs.  Maybe they want higher pay or more respect or something.  Depending on how they handle it, the NPC might gain 1 morale or lose up to 3.
  2. Amity
    1. Two NPCs are best buddies now.  Raise both of their morale's by 1 point.
    2. NPC decides to befriend one of the PCs.  This could take the form of gifts, flirtation, or simply the announcement of "I've got your back, and if anyone fucks with you, they fuck with me."  That PC's morale improves by 2 points.
  3. Domestic Bliss.
    1. Circumstances allow for an excellent meal to be prepared.  If the players can describe their delicious meal, their maximum HP is raised by 1 HP per level (lasts until morning).
    2. Something funny or cheering happens.  It can be someone telling a good joke, the sun breaking through the clouds after days of rain, or a massage circle.  If the players can describe this event, their maximum HP is raised by 1 HP per level (lasts until morning).
  4. Snag.
    1. Random player loses a random item.  This is assumed to be a minor item (because they're probably holding important stuff tightly) but could potentially be a major one if there is a reason for it.  Lost (or stolen) items can sometimes be recovered by backtracking.
    2. Something shitty happens to put everyone in a bad mood.  It can be bad mosquitoes, a reminder of a past defeat, or the discovery of something sad/traumatic.  Describe their shitty event, and their maximum HP is reduced by 1 HP per level (lasts until morning).
  5. Prowess.
    1. If the players can describe how one of the party members discovers it, the party discovers a shortcut, shaving (at least) half a day off their journey.
    2. Whatever the party needs most right now (food, water, torches, curse removal), they stumble into it.  It might not be free, but it isn't impossibly costly, either.
  6. Poor Health.
    1. Random party member must save vs disease or contract something.  Probably a cold, but potentially something really nasty.
    2. Delay.  Random party member is injured and must rest for half a day.  Perhaps they took a tumble, got bitten by a snake, or a tree branch fell on them.  Either way, they get a save/check to negate this.
Right now, I'm doing 1 roll per hex entered (and they'll enter 2 per day, on foot) and 1 roll per night.  If they are staying in the same area, it'll be 1 day roll and 1 night roll. 

Random Travel Encounters (d6)
1. Monster Event
2. Monster Omen Event
3. Non-Combat Event (not during night)
4 Mundane Event
5-6 (none)

I've also been working on different things that the PCs can do while they travel, such as:
  • Hunting.  Slows the party down a lot and costs some ammunition, but might yield a lot of food.
  • Foraging.  Slows the party down a little, but might yield modest amounts of food.
  • Befriending NPCs.  Can raise their morale.  If you talk to an NPC all day and make a successful Charisma check, roll a d12.  If the result is higher than the NPC's current morale, it improves by 1.  Requires a tiny bit of roleplaying.
  • Herbalizing.  Slows the party down a little, but might yield valuable medicines and antidotes.
  • Just chatting with each other.  Awards a tiny amount of XP, like 10xp per day traveled in dangerous wilderness.  Requires a tiny bit of roleplaying.
  • Scouting.  Slows the party down a litte, but gives them a chance to find a defensible/hidden place to spend the night.  Also gives a higher chance of finding hidden locations in the hex.
  • Training.  If someone is willing to teach, and someone is willing to listen, you can get checkmarks to learn/improve a skill.  This requires a week, and the trainer can't raise the trainee's skill rank any higher than their own.  (You can't teach what you don't know.)


  1. This is exactly the kind of thing I've been looking for.

  2. An interesting solution to problems I often face at the table. Although, sometimes I like the silly results like "Zombies Playing", which I might interpret as, say, a number of zombie children playing hide-and-seek, if you win they'll give you random toys which their (living) parents might appreciate having back. If you lose, they'll try to eat you.

    If you're looking to codify some easy travel rules, I have a quick and dirty house rule that I made a travel-guide for.

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  4. You can build in progreeive entires on a chart too:

    1. Bloody splatters > body partially fed on > bloody footprints> groaning> 6 Zombies.
    2. Stray feahers > owlbear dragging goblin corpse > nest with 3 owlbear chicks > angry owlbear
    3. Dead goblin stripped of gear> 10 goblins hunting an owlbear> 3 goblins sporting headdresses made of owlbear feathers.
    4. half a sword > tracks leading to a closed door and away > burnt body > a greenslime

    A random encounter can unfold by PCs reacting and thus following along or with repeated rolls. The detail shown above would just make it awesome.

  5. To navigate without getting lost:

    Plain = Check MOVE + [WIS+7]
    Mountain, Hill, Forest = Check MOVE + [WIS-5]
    Desert, Jungle, Swamp = Check MOVE + [WIS-2]