Enhancing random to Optional Encounters
Enhancing Random Encounters to Optional Encounters. Don't roll, or do, to keep the illusion.

Enhancing random Encounters

Random Encounters ?!

I don't understand random encounters. I do understand it's an easy way to find a fitting encounter on the spot, and that's useful. But as DMs we struggle to control how to show our world and/or tell our story. And then when we get that opportunity... we leave it to the dice?!. I'm not saying random encounters are bad, I'm saying we can improve them with little effort.

Random Encounters by Niels Vergouwen

Random Encounter advice from Runesmith

Watching youtube videos trying to understand random encounters I came across the video below. Runesmith does an amazing job explaining to pros and cons of random encounters.

Random Encounters by Runesmith

Let's recap:

  • The good: Random encounters
    • test your might
    • provide loot
    • a chance to level-up.
      So let's keep that.
  • The bad:  Random encounters
    • don't progress the story
    • tedious
    • pointless
    • boring
    • possibly unbalanced
    • unrealistic (You don't know how to run that creature, do you? :) )
      So let's try to avoid that.
  • Pointers:
    • Random Encounters don't have to be combat encounters.
    • Random encounters should fit your world and/or story.

Humble random encounter advice

My main rule when writing: 'Never miss an opportunity to tell your story or show your world to your players'. (with which Runesmith agrees, see pointers)  

Show your world's (creatures):

Define around 5 creatures common to your world in the last few adventures.
(No more, this gives your players a chance to familiarize and outsmart their enemies)

In my case:

  • Trerms (re-skinned purple wyrms)
  • Griffins
  • Automaton (re-skinned barrel golem)
  • Angry miner
  • The Stone Harbor Black Guard

Define the 3 storylines

Define the 3 storylines you want to tell your players about.

In my case:

  • End of the war with the south.
  • Declining griffin population (due to hunting) allows Trerms to roam and torture the land.
  • Automation should help the depleting, less prosperous mine of Ardbeg.

Write an encounter

Write an encounter telling about the 3 story-lines using the 5 creatures for each major encounter type: Combat, exploration, and roleplay. Keep them short, tweet an encounter. Especially random ones.

Optional encounter design by Gregory Vangilbergen

Advanced, combining

You only have about 5 to 6 scenes every night. So try to tell and show as much as possible. One way to achieve this is to combine the scenes who've written. It will make your world, the drama within feel much richer and thicker.  

Optional Encounters

I know these aren't random encounters anymore. So let's call them optional encounters. The best kind imho. No need, no problem. But when you do need them. You've got an encounter that isn't tedious, boring, unbalanced, or unrealistic. Which could progress the story while giving your players the chance to loot and level-up.

The list of optional encounters

  • Roaming Trerm attacks the players.
  • Wounded soldiers returning from the war (attacked by a Trerm?).
  • Shipment of automatons on their way to the mine (attacked by a Trerm?).
  • Half-empty transport returns from the mine (attacked by a Trerm?).
  • Miners are on strike and block the PCs progress somehow.
  • A rare griffin is spotted, trophy hunters show up.

Not enough to fill a random encounter table?

You don't have enough encounters to fill a d20 encounter table? Don't worry, don't roll. Or do, to maintain the illusion. Picking the best fit is always going to be a better fit.... yes I know how that sounded :). And remember you only need about 5 to 6 encounters per 4 hours of play. So why have more? You don't need quantity, you want quality.


Author(s): Gregory Vangilbergen - (Updated:Jan 24, 2022)