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RPGBOT.Podcast S2E7 – Random Encounters

Show Notes

In this episode of the RPGBOT.Podcast, we discuss random encounters. We examine what published adventures do wrong both in design and presentation of random encounters, and we explore why random encounters are useful, how to make them interesting without being a burden, and we create an example random encounter chart.

Special thanks to Jedyst on discord for the question of the week this week.

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Materials Referenced in this Episode

Transcript

Randall 

Welcome to the RPGBOT.Podcast. I’m Randall James and I got the good ending. With me is Tyler Kamstra.

Random 

Evening.

Randall 

And Random Powell.

Tyler 

Hi, everybody.

Randall 

All right, Tyler, what are we going to do today?

Tyler 

Today we’re going to talk about random encounters. It’s kind of a staple premise in role playing games, both tabletop and video games. The basic premise of a random encounter is I am going from A to B, and somewhere in between, I’m going to be attacked by wild Pokemon. Now, normally, you can avoid random encounters by keeping out of tall grass. But…

Randall 

I see what you’re doing there. I’m in Final Fantasy mode, what’s going to happen is I’m going to have, like, seizure-inducing flashing before my eyes. And then I’m gonna go to a brand new screen and I’m gonna have to have the fight there.

Random 

Following you into Final Fantasy. I’m instead working on my step counter so that I can trigger the random aim counter at the same time as a boss to skip the boss.

Tyler 

Which game can you do that in?

Random 

Seven. No, eight? It’s been a long time since I’ve watched that run. But basically, there’s a one of the Final Fantasies, you have to you have to track your step count for about 45 minutes to hit…

Randall 

Which emo hair was the main character in the game because I can nail this down.

Random 

I’m the wrong person to ask, I’ve never actually played any of the Final Fantasies.

Randall 

We’ve talked about this. It makes me a little sad.

Random 

I have watched speed runs of several of them, though. And that is one of the tricks is managing your step count for about 45 minutes to hit a random encounter on a boss and skip over the boss.

Tyler 

How was that speed? Anyway…

Randall 

They step very fast. You have to put on haste boots, obviously. Random encounters, huh?

Tyler 

Yeah. Random emcounters. So random encounters where you meet our friend Random here.

Randall  

I was gonna say it’s the random segways you take when you’re doing a podcast where you encounter a new subject that you want to dive deep on.

Tyler 

That’s good, too.

Random 

I was going to say it’s anything that I come across, but… So now that we’ve made all of those jokes, yeah. So random encounters, right? It’s, it’s really interesting, the range of stuff that you can have. These have gone back since forever in tabletop games, there have been tables for random encounters. The dungeon master’s guide has lots of them. The individual modules will tend to have their own for various sections. And there’s a lot of problems with them in 5th edition. Like, as a general mechanic, they’re not good.

Randall 

Yeah, I mean, that that’s exactly what I was gonna say my version of a random encounter is it’s the reason that despite the fact we play every week, like I’ve still been trying to go from point A to point B for the past month,

Random 

I’m not even talking about as a story mechanic. As a story mechanic, some people do enjoy that and there’s some things that you can have, and some don’t. But I’m talking about just as a game mechanic, and more importantly, with how they implemented it as a game mechanic. That is awful. So if you look at one of your standard Random Encounter tables in the DMG, the encounter… The, uh, is it still CR in this edition? Yeah. The CR range on a random encounter table is like, five, which is absurd. You’re either at one end, you’re either going to have your characters have zero challenge at one end, and then a decent challenge at one end, or you’re going to have a good chance of your characters having like a challenging Random Encounter, or then 25% of the time that they just die. That’s, that’s just one problem. That ignores the fact that some things are drastically under-costed in their CR. One of the other things that gets seen a lot is it, you know, a random encounter might be, like, a d6 of these things. And one of them is a reasonable challenge. Six of them is ludicrously deadly. And they just, it’s just part of the table. Like, why? Why would you do that?

Randall 

I think this might be a good thing to attack first. Like, what should be random about a random encounter? And so you’ve already identified two things that maybe don’t make so set so much sense. The difficulty of the encounter, maybe it’s okay, if it’s a little random, but it can’t be this wide swath of like, walk in the park all the way to death.

Tyler 

I’m going to disagree with you there actually.

Randall 

Okay.

Tyler 

So this issue isn’t unique to fifth edition. This has been a problem in basically every published campaign I’ve ever read going back to third edition. Random encounters… the base assumption for the encounter is that you will encounter this thing and immediately start fighting it. And the way that random encounters are presented, intentionally or not, gives you that impression because when the only information you’re given is “one blue dragon,” like, that is the entire description of the encounter. You’re, you’re gonna assume you’re gonna fight this thing most likely. Like, that is one of the biggest problems with random encounters just that baseline assumption that all random encounters are inherently violent. And because you have that assumption that random encounters are going to be violent, the CR does become a problem like you guys said. Where, yes, one end of the table is 1d4-1 goblins and the other end of the table is a d6 adult Blue Dragons. Like, those are two wildly different encounters that the same party could not reasonably expect to enjoy both of those encounters. There are many things wrong with the way published modules typically handle random encounters. CR is a problem. The assumption of violence in every random encounter is, in my opinion, the largest problem with random encounters. But also just the absolute lack of information that we’re given for any given encounter. Now, if you open up any of the official published adventures, and 5e almost all of them have random encounters in them somewhere. Strixhaven is a game about adventuring on a college campus. And there are random encounter tables because apparently, when you’re walking back and forth between classes, there’s a chance that you’ll just be attacked by monsters, which…

Randall 

That checks out.

Tyler 

I don’t know what your college experience was like, but it might have involved being attacked by monsters every every 1d4 hours, I don’t know.

Randall 

There were a iguannas amd very large spiders. So…

Random 

My Strahd DM was very famously attacked by squirrels.

Tyler 

What?

Random 

On the UW campus. It’s a thing.

Tyler 

I say I went to UW where we don’t have to worry about monster attacks. And apparently I’m wrong.

Randall 

Yeah, well, the problem is if you aggro squirrel, that’s step one.

Tyler 

Yeah….

Randall 

Yeah, you were on to something, right? That not every encounter should be violent. And I’ll argue even if you’re building a random, random encounter table for your game, some of these things should obviously be non-threatening. And occasionally, if you use it well enough, occasionally some of these things won’t appear threatening, but they should.

Random 

I really like that we talked an episode or two or three ago about the Gloom Haven, the way that Hloomhaven handles encounters like this. The the road events in particular, are, like 20, 30%, positive, and kind of, you know, 70% negative.

Randall 

And actually run through that mechanic real quick because I think we may have actually had that conversation, post-recording, not live.

Random 

Fabulous. Basically, there’s just a deck of cards that wherever you go from the town of gloom Haven out to your mission, you just draw one off the top, read the front, and then your party has one of two options, and you flip it over and you read the appropriate outcome. In nearly every case, there is a better outcome and a worse outcome. But in every case, also, not every, but in a lot of cases. Some of the cards are just inherently negative. And it’s like bad option, worse option. Rarely, you might get one that’s like, good option neutral option. I think that while some of those do tend to become a little stale, because you end up encountering them again and again, sometimes just because of how the mechanics around that dech work. That’s way more interesting than any random encounter mechanic that I’ve come across in a role playing game. You know, we’re talking about the CR range stuff. I have accidentally TPK’ed on a random encounter. We rolled up some fast zombie bullettes.

Tyler 

Oh, jeese.

Random 

Like, four of them, and it just ate the party. They just literally, 2 turns, everyone dead.

Randall 

Like you say you accidentally TPK’ed. Have you ever purposely TPK’ed?

Tyler 

No comment.

Randall 

I guess, yeah, well, I guess the culmination. You’ve talked about a new like, we know we’re done. Let’s go ahead and see.

Random 

Right.

Randall 

That’s fair. Okay.

Tyler 

So I think your example being TPK’ed by a random encounter really does kind of reinforce the issue. Both of the, the assumption that every encounter is going to be violent, that the only way to get through the encounter is by force of arms. And basically this is a this is a table of randomly generated fights. Crack open, uh… Picking at random I think I talked about Strixhaven earlier. So yeah, I’ll pick on strict save then again, but there are… there are worse examples in the official D&D adventures than Strixhaven, this is just the one that I happen to have opened up this sec, at this exact moment. There’s a different random encounter table for each year. So like as you as you advance as a character and as a student within the campaign, these, the table gets replaced with one that’s more CR-appropriate. So that’s actually not awful. But they’re still assuming whenever you meet these things, you’re going to fight them. And at the same time, they’re also assuming that these will happen on some, like, fixed schedule that you will roll. So like every X hours of gameplay or whatever, you’re going to roll for a random encounter. And it’s entirely possible that you’ll roll the same encounter back to back. So like one of the encounters is you… I think it’s like some mephits run out of a classroom with a stolen wedding dress or something like that. It’s like, Ah, well, that’s weird. We should probably stop that. So you go and you stop them like, Okay, that was weird. Back to plot. Oh, no, another random encounter. Hey, it’s the same thing. Cool. Yeah, that that isn’t great. I guess I want to talk a little bit like dive deeper. So talking about the social effects of what we do as a as a DM. If you want your players to not consider violence for every single random encounter, how does that conversation go? Is, do you do you say, like, Hey, folks, in this campaign, we’re going to have random encounters, and some of them are resolvable without violence?

Random 

I would be hesitant to do that. And I think that realistically, what you’re more going to run into as an answer to that question is, what does your group want? The group that I have spent a lot of time running is a very crunch-focused, kind of do this to hang out and enjoy throwing numbers at each other type of group. Yeah, they don’t mind.

Randall 

They choose violence.

Random 

They choose violence. They wake up every day and choose violence. And, you know, compare that to… so, like, when when I was going through Strahd, with me being the only player who had played before,  we ran through a random encounter. There’s like a revenant, basically, that wanders around, and we ran into him and we had a real awesome roleplay conversation, because that’s what the group wanted to do. And then we ran into him again, later. And it was great plot continuity. If I had put that same Revenant, that was entirely resolvable by just diplomacy in front of the the other group, I am 100%, certain, they would have just tried to attack it.

Tyler 

Is it carrying gold or magic items? It’s dead.

Random 

And the thing is, that that’s a valid way to play, right? It’s just… if your social fix, if you’re trying to talk about this with people ahead of time, then maybe, maybe this is something that you’re going to need to compromise on. And rather than try and put that compromise in random encounters, you know, if you want to tell a more story-driven game, and your your table is no more about the crunchy fight numbers, maybe you’re going to want to do that in a more railroad linear fashion so that you give them less option to solve it with violence. Because I think that that’s gonna get you a better outcome in terms of trying to do that.

Randall 

Okay, I guess the other option is that very vital NPC for later in the story, all of a sudden gets dragged away with plot hook.

Random 

Absolutely.

Tyler 

Yeah. Yes. Right before they kill him?

Randall 

Yes, exactly. Yeah, just just save this out.

Tyler 

So one thing that that you can do with the random encounters, we had Keith Ammann on the podcast recently for The Monsters Know What They’re Doing. And one of the things he talks about in his books is how some creatures will be more more predisposed to respond with violence than others. So like, if the creature is aggressive, evil-aligned in a situation where it thinks it can win the fight. Maybe the random encounter is violent because of that creature’s behavior. Or maybe the creature sees the party and is like, these guys are wearing a lot of armor. I don’t know if I feel like dying today. So maybe we just give each other nasty looks from a safe distance and, like, go separate ways. And then yeah, many encounters could just be like, Ah, it’s a 1d10, human NPCs. And you wave politely as you pass each other on the road. And so that takes us back to the problem we’ve been hitting on: the assumption that random encounters are violent. And if we’re going to make random encounters good, we need to get away from that assumption. But there are already some good reasons to use random encounters that I want to talk about. Probably my favorite thing about random encounters is that they make it feel like there’s something going on in the world besides whatever the PCs are doing. Any given adventure is going to have here’s stuff at interesting place A, here’s stuff at place B, here’s stuff at place C. All of the places in between, that’s where everybody else lives/ Like, that’s, that’s farms, houses, forests, caves where goblins are hanging out, like, all those places. And as the PCs travel from A to B, you’re going to see a lot of that stuff reasonably. Not all of it’s going to be super interesting. Like it might just be like, oh, there’s a farmer tilling a field with their goat or something.

Randall 

But I do I think even that can be really interesting, right? Like if the farmer happens, or if you run into the farmer, that’s what you roll first off your table. Maybe they give the hint that, you know, bandits, were coming through going the direction that you’re going earlier. And that the farmer ran and hid inside, it’s, hid inside the cottage a bit ago and actually just came out to resume the farming because, you know, farming never ends. And so now maybe you have some advantage going into the fight if you happen to roll the bandits later. You know, vice versa. Let’s say you already rolled the bandits and the farmers like oh, yeah, I saw these bandits. You know, like, we killed the bandits. Maybe the bandits are like, Oh, well, here’s a reward because you did a great thing. Like you can really have some fun. It feels like you, right? Going back to kind of the video game idea. Yeah, I notched off that mini quest. Got it out of the way. I get to go forward now.

Tyler 

That’s actually comparing it to video games is a good idea. So we’ve spoken about Skyrim previously, in in less negative, er, in a less positive sense. I do really like how dense Skyrim’ map is with what are functionally random encounters. You can be walking down the road, and you’ll hear somebody shout “never should have come here” and then they’ll run at you with an inexplicable combination of weapons and armor, and I mean, the fight…

Random 

And a death wish.

Tyler 

And a death wish, yeah. Fus-Ro-Dah this random encounter out the window. Yeah, like, you’ll meet sometimes named sometimes unnamed. NPCs. Like you’ll see pilgrims walking between shrines, you’ll meet Maik the Liar multiple times for some reason. But just stuff like that is like, oh, yeah, I’m, I’m in this world and there are people moving about who do not care what I’m doing today.

Randall 

Maybe to bring it a little closer to home. So we’re playing through the Icewind Dale campaign, Rime of the Frostmaiden right now. One of the things that I thought was really clever, that I think fits what we’re talking about now, is they’re the rumors. And the rumors sometimes lead to side quesst. And what I think I’m putting together is that sometimes they’re actually leading to main arcs in the actual campaign. Or at least these things have to be closed to move us forward. And in that way, again, like the idea that it makes the world feel alive, I think, is 100% right. Because you, you, you know, you need to listen to these things, you know, that you’re kind of being fed them randomly. And we’re just choosing a thread to tug on. And sometimes, hey, you know, it took us a two hour session, and we closed it. And sometimes it opened up the saying that, okay, look, we’ve actually spent two months resolving what we thought was like, going to be a spoon quest.

Tyler 

Yes, I totally agree. Yeah, the rumor system in Icewind Dale is really good. It gives you a lot of plot hooks to explore other towns. Following those rumors that we’ve collected has taken us to, I think, nine of the towns in Ten Towns already. And like there’s still a couple of rumors that we just haven’t managed to, to explore just because we haven’t physically reached the place where they matter. We should do, like, a whole separate discussion on like rumor tables and stuff. But the the concept is similar, yes.

Randall 

Yeah, absolutely. I do. I want to roll back. So like these are these are great things. Random, I think you made a great point earlier that if your campaign if your folks if you have that conversation, and what they want, is they want to just be drug from fight to fight and that’s the most exciting thing, then maybe these things are fine. And if you have people who really want to develop the story, I think we can use random counters to help develop the story. I think there’s a little bit of bad that maybe I want to keep nailing down. So what should be random about the random encounter? And I think we had a little bit of debate about CR and I made fun of but we haven’t resolved dice rolls.

Random 

The original concept of these tables that I talked about like in the DMG the reason why the range is so wide is because what they’re trying to do is provide environment appropriate monsters. Their categorized by like, mountain random encounters, planes, random encounters, forest random encounters, swamp random and oh, no wait, other WotC. Realistically, sure. Could I run into a crocodile and a… which dragons live in swamps? Green?

Tyler 

Black.

Random 

Black, there we go. could I resist? audible, you run into both a crocodile and a black dragon in the same swamp. Yes. Is that fun for players? No. A crocodile is going to be not at all a challenge. Whereas the dragon is going to be ludicrous if you try and fight it. So again, this goes back to why combat is not necessarily the thing that you want to lean into. One of the things about combat I mean, I’m sure that anyone who has played D&D Basically at all will have noticed. Combat is difficult. It is time consuming, particularly combat you are not prepared for as a DM is way harder. Because you are having to look up things you’re unfamiliar with. You are having to flip back and forth between various pages in a book or tabs in a browser trying to manage like, you know, especially hod forbid and fear. It’s like, oh, yes, you’re ready to encounter is two goblins, three bugbears, a hoboblin, and a shaman, and they’re all on different pages. Haha. For things that should be random, whether or not you run into an encounter, I love that you got your 20% chance. Great. The CR, if you’re going to have a range of CRs, keep it tight. Even if you have to say that things are drastically out of their environment. Fine. No one cares. This is a fantasy game. The last thing is don’t have the numbers of things be random. Because then your CR is random. Keep your CRs tight, and then everything else will be fine. And honestly, that can even be like a really interesting thing. Like, why is there this tiger here? Why is there this tiger in a swamp?

Randall 

Or how why is there a polar bear on this tropical island?

Random 

Why is there a polar bear? And that could be, I mean, like if you’re willing to improvise off of that. If your players say, boy, that’s weird. And you can say Yeah, it really is. And then take some downtime between sessions and come up with the lore for why the polar bear was on this tropical island.

Randall 

At some point before you finish the campaign, please.

Random 

Or just run any paizo module. And then you know why every polar bear is on every island and you can’t share it with your players because they never find out. But right. So that’s that’s that’s sort of my thoughts about like, there are definitely some things that can be random. Particularly the thing that I like is whether or not you run into anything at all. And then what you run into should definitely be much more deterministic.

Randall 

Well, and I love everything that you just said. I want to nail something down. I think you talked about CR and then being considering that if you’re going to roll to see how many creatures are there. One, you probably shouldn’t be rolling a d10. I’m gonna make the argument. That fair?

Random 

Yes.

Tyler 

Yeah, that’s a really big range.

Randall 

So maybe when you think about the CR, what you really should be looking at is the encounter CR. And there are better tools for doing this than when the DMG originally came out. Actually, which text is this in?

Tyler 

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything has a a section on designing encounters.

Randall 

Okay, perfect. And so maybe you use these rules to figure out, like, look, only a d4 makes sense for this particular creature? Because that’s the only thing that’s actually going to get us in the encounter challenge rating that that we think is fair. Okay, awesome. Yeah, how do we how do we build an encounter like if, you know, we understand that we maybe don’t love the tables that are available in the text available to us? We’re building our own campaign and we want to have an encounter table that makes sense or a single random encounter that we really like.

Tyler 

Well the first thing you need think about is what’s going to happen in the encounter. The baseline assumption of this is a table of random fights does simplify that question, but as we’ve talked about, it’s not very satisfying. You should generally with the random encounter provide a description of like 1 to 3 short sentences. It doesn’t need to be super elaborate. It could be 1d6 human commoners traveling to the next town for the farmers market. It could be 1d4+1 goblins. They are currently lost after having been chased out of their cave by a dragon. Just a little bit of context for what is going on with the encounter. Besides their statblocks does a lot to make this better. If you open up Explorers Guide to Wildemount there’s a, there is an included adventure in the book that has a surprisingly good series of random encounter tables. Like I’m going to pick one at random. A dwindalian veteran leads a patrol of 1d4+2 guards from fort adventure through the marsh searching for goblinoids out of Urzen to be interrogated if the party includes any goblinoids the dwindling forces demand those goblinoids immediate surrender than attack in response to any resistance. So that tells you who you encounter, where they’re from, what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and how they’ll respond to the party based on certain stimuli. So that tells you so much in that was two sentences, like, three lines of text. And you could come up with that in 30 seconds. Like, it’s not hard to do this, and it will produce much more satisfying random encounters.

Random 

Yeah, one of the things that I have to say. Particularly if you’re going to try and supplement, either replace, like random encounter tables in an existing module, or if you’re doing this for your own homebrew stuff. Rather than, you know, think about, like, what monsters are going to be here. That’s certainly a thing that you can include, but honestly, I would make that the minority. You know, if you think about something like, rather than say, Oh, yes, I have a 50% chance of hitting a random encounter. And then to keep it interesting, I’d have to make sure that there’s 15 options. If you instead say, I only have a 20% chance of hitting a random encounter. And so I’m going to instead have six really good options to cover the same amount of time. And so humanoids from your campaign, either from your published module or from your homebrew,humanoids have motivations. That’s one of the the main things about them. Think about, why would some local humanoids be out there? Exactly like, you know, this, this one called out, you know, like, we have these these veterans searching for things. But if you take a look at, you know, some of the important named PCs, some of the important factions in the area, and just think about, like, why might they be out here? What would drive them to… would there be several of them in a hunting party, maybe they’re trying to, like, bring down food. Maybe they’re searching for a lost child. Maybe, you know, they’re they’re trying to go infiltrate and ambush some other faction. And honestly, I think that just the more that you can include other humanoids, the much more interesting this is going to be, because that’s where you immediately run into okay, this is a humanoid, this is something that is immediately obvious that I don’t have to solve with violence. Some of them absolutely, you may, this is at least going to prompt, you know, like, Ah, this is something I share a language with, I can try and talk to it.

Randall 

Yeah, I think that sounds great. Do you want to dive a little deeper? Because I think there’s something a little tricky about what you just described. Tyler, can you give us the first line of that description one more time?

Tyler 

Yeah, a Dwindalianveteran leads a patrol of 1d4+2 guards from Fort Venture through the marsh searching for goblinoids out of Urzen to be interrogated.

Randall 

Okay, so veteran with guards is obvious from the front and makes perfect sense. Now, my question to you as a DM, how do you convey the rest of that information? I think with this scenario, it makes sense that that veteran might just say “who goes there? we’re doing, you know, we’re going from this place to that place. And we’re looking looking for goblinoids.” Or they might immediately like in this case, maybe immediately occurred. And if you have a goblinoid in your party, just say, “give me the goblinoid.” And then when you try to push back, they explain the rest of it. I think some things it can be a little bit harder. And I think reviewing that table ahead of time, and knowing is a DM how you want to approach how you want to spoon feed the information to entice them without also turning this into a 30-minute encounter.

Random 

If your players are the type that has signed up for actual more narrative play, then a 30 minute random encounter can be awesome. Hitting the major story beats, you feel the railroad, which is a good thing, right? That’s that’s how the story is moved. But putting both your characters and you as the DM, or if you’re a player, putting your DM and yourself in unexpected situations, is how you’re going to really flesh out a character. This is if I am this Paladin that we talked about forever. And I know like I have some some basic principles for the character but I don’t know how I’m gonna react to suddenly, two half-naked hunters walk up out of the brush, bow deeply to my riding wolf and then wander away, which is a thing that sort of happened. This is where you can really get into the inhabiting of the character because these random encounters are going to force you to think much more than the, you know, a big scripted DM reads from a text block thing. I would love a half hour tandom encounter because, like, combat random encounters, it is absolutely filler arc, no argument. Which, some of that is fine. But narrative random encounters is a chance for really cool story, which is what I’m here for.

Randall 

Now, I think I think I’m with you, I guess my call is as a DM, you might have your goals, you might know where you’re trying to get to and exactly as you say, you know, what your, your players are up for. And so having a way, like, if it’s, you know, you’re crossing paths, and basically, they say, you know, I don’t have a lot of time to, you know, say like, we have to, we have to get going, we’ve got to hit this point, it’s a good signal to the characters that, or to the players, I suppose, that this is going to be brief, this isn’t something that is meant to fill the session. This isn’t one of the three rails that we’re meant to get on. And, you know, even even at one like, introducing, you know, happy to meet you, let’s stop for a moment and talk well, I breathe. How far is it to so and so and you give an answer is like, Okay, well, I’ve got to be there, in exactly that long. So thanks for letting me know, I gotta get out of here. But by the way, do you you know, do you have any money? Or, you know, I have fine clothes for sale something like this? You can you can have that  Kajhit has wares. Exactly. No, you got it. So you can have that encounter, you can kind of set the tone of, I wasn’t really expecting this to spend a lot of time here. But let’s have a little bit of fun with it. And then we can hit our timer and we can kind of move on. I think that can add a lot of value.

Random 

And that’s why I was saying that I think really an important aspect to this is make them less frequent and have more depth. So that you know, you know, and even even if you’re more depth is like, just some motivations about the guy who only has three hours for the three hour trip, so that you know why he’s going there. So that maybe if the party does convince him to stay for a little bit, and you know, like have a chat, so that you’re not just you know, struggling to pull stuff out of thin air. This is why I’m saying I think that a smaller table of more in depth options is going to work better for you.

Randall  

I think that makes really good sense. This actually, this makes me worry about like another DM problem. How do you think about balancing the difficulty of random encounters when you build your table? I think we’re going to talk about tables in a second. So maybe I’m jumping the gun. The difficulty of a random encounter versus the rest economy?

Tyler 

Yeah, that’s a difficult challenge. Just because pacing in 5e and many tabletop RPGs can often be really difficult. Pathfinder second edition, it’s assumed that players will finish an encounter, sit down for a few minutes and get back to full hit points and get right back going. But in 5e, you’re expected to take one or two short rests per day and have encounters spaced out, you know, in roughly even thirds. So if the party takes a long rest, gets out on the road, immediately hits a random encounter, they’re, like, fully loaded and have nothing else that they’re going to be fighting that day most likely. So it is borderline impossible to make that encounter an adequate challenge. Now sometimes that’s perfectly fine. Like you can say, ah, yes, you are attacked by 1d6 bandits. They’re looking for an easy target. And they misread you and they’re like, Hey, give us money and someone casts Magic Missile, the bandits are like “nevermind” and they run away. And that could be the entire encounter, and that’s fine. Or you could roll the 1d6 adult blue dragons and they can come down and be like “this tuna is in a can for some reason. I’m still gonna eat it.”

Randall 

Never never roll 1d7 blue dragons. Just that feels…

Tyler 

Yeah.

Random 

So many problems with that.

Tyler 

Yeah.

Randall 

And just to be very clear, the tin can in this case, was you and your armor.

Random 

Yes.

Tyler 

Yes, exactly. So. So it’s difficult to balance the encounters in a way that’s going to provide a consistently adequate challenge because the inherent nature of random encounters is you don’t know when the players are going to hit them. It might be they’ve just walked out of a dungeon. They’re borderline dead and just need to get back to town and they run into like, those six bandits from earlier like, Ah, I see here at one hit point, let’s have a conversation. Or maybe the players just walked out of town. They roll a one on the 1d6 adult blue dragons and suddenly they’re like, Ah, yes, you look like a treasure pinata.

Randall 

Oh, you just said something interesting. So are you having your players roll their random dice for the encounter or you rolling it behind the DM screen typically?

Tyler 

It doesn’t matter.

Randall 

Okay. Well, I’m gonna argue it does. Well, you gotta you have to be prepared to lie, right? So if, if I’m in that situation described where they’re walking out of the dungeon, they’re almost dead. And I roll the Blue Dragon comes and wants to eat them. I lie. I mone on.

Tyler 

That’s fine.

Randall 

If they roll the one, unlike one’s great. One’s wonderful.

Random 

Here’s where I think I would take that. I typically have my players role, random encounters. And in particular, I will often have whoever is either explicitly leading the party through some skill, like survival, if they’re, you know, trying to forage… Someone to blame. Good. You know, everyone is just sort of walking then have people take turns. But the thing is, when you have them roll, all they know is what they’ve rolled. They don’t know what that’s like on your table. They don’t know. And here’s another interesting thing, you know, some, particularly for the random encounter tables in published modules. You know, if you’re running across, like, this unique monster, if you roll it again, it’s just gone. Maybe, maybe they’ve rolled something and you say, oh, you know, no encounter there as you’re staring at the table, and it says “murder the party.” Weird. I don’t know why you’d have this encounter on your random encounter table. But that’s the part where I would lie. Because players enjoy rolling dice. I mean, that’s, that’s just a thing. Let them roll it. And then if you need to fudge what the result meant, that’s definitely a place where you can exercise that, that rule zero behind the screen.

Randall 

100%. I’d just say, it feels awful to me like, Okay, I know, we just TPK’ed but, you know, it said we were supposed to roll here and it didn’t work out for you. I, yeah.

Tyler 

So one of the things that we should try to reinforce is because of that assumption of violence, like there, there’s kind of a mistaken impression that people get that in D&D, any encounter you run into is going to be an appropriate challenge for your party. So there is a reasonable chance that unless you roll nothing but ones or just make all the bad decisions, there’s a reasonable chance that you are going to win any fight that you get into. And for the most part, that’s true. Like if you go into the dungeon, the dungeon is written to your party’s capabilities. But a random encounter table which is intended to last for, like, some huge duration of the campaign or might not even be specific for campaign. Yeah, it’s going to have that huge CR range. Players need to learn to pick their battle. If you roll that 1d6 adult blue dragons and you see six dragons coming down, the party should think okay, what is the fastest way to get out of here? Because there’s no way we’re winning this fight. I am as guilty of this as anybody else. We’ve told the story once before when Random ran Red Hand of Doom for us. We got TPK’ed by a random encounter. It was… oh gosh, the giant… Shambling mound. we got attacked by a shambling mound. Round one it ate my horse which was carrying all of our loot, and we should have just cut our losses and bailed. Like, we were not equipped to fight that thing. We did not have, like, we did not have anything that would have made that fight go well for us and it immediately went south. So we should have cut our losses and run. But we being idiots stuck around, fought it out. Every one of us died. You as the DM may need to explain to your players, like, hey, these random encounters are not here for you. These are things that are happening in the world that don’t care about you one bit. Some of them will eat you. Some of them you will just walk through. Like, sometimes your will 1d4 goblins. Goblins will look at the party be like “no” and run. But the players need to know the difference. Essentially, for those violent encounters. Fighting isn’t always the answer. Sometimes it is okay to run. And you as the DM if your, if your players are smart enough to run away from the encounter, maybe give them a little chase just to make them feel scared. But, like, just let ‘en go. It’s not going to make the game better by TPK them with a random encounter.

Randall 

But also don’t confuse them in making them think that there is no escape from the fight. So walk that line.

Tyler 

Yeah, yeah, that’s hard. The very slow monster which gradually recedes into the distance as you run away for no apparent reason.

Randall 

Everybody hide quick. Cool. So let’s talk a little bit about how do we build a random encounter table, you know, for our region or for our campaigns that we’re running. So what are some of the choices that we have to make?

Tyler 

So I’m going to go back to grade school elementary or grade school English devices here and we’re going to talk about who, what, when, where, why, and how. And we’re going to use those concepts to to describe our encounter. So the first thing is just “who.” What are the creatures? Who’s in this thing? Is it 1d6 goblins? Is it 1d4+1 human commoners? Is it 1d6 adult blue dragons? I’m seeing a lot of shaking heads. I’m not allowed to put that on our table? Missed opportunity, guys. Okay, so yeah, first is just “who.” What is in the encounter? Then “what.” What are they doing? The random encounter tables will frequently just give you here’s what is in the encounter. You have no idea what they’re doing, you have no idea why they’re there, you have no idea what they want. So it’s assumed that their intent is violence. That example we, we pointed to in Explorers Guide to Wildemount. That was a really good example because it told us who’s in the encounter. What are they doing? They were out from the fort patrolling looking for goblins to interrogate. Next question is… I have these written …

Random 

Where.

Tyler 

Where, thank you. Yes. So where’s generally pretty easy because your encounter table will be just for a place like I have the encounter table for the Dessarin Valley for Princes of the Apocalypse. I have the encounter table for the Neverwinter slums or something.

Randall 

I do. I do even think this could be more interesting, right? That if, if it’s, if it’s longer, well known road? Do they catch up to you? Do you catch up to them? Do you pass? If it’s at a fork, do you meet at a fork? And then there’s a decision of are you going the same direction or not? If it’s a happy, otherwise, maybe you know, a fight. Certain creatures make sense coming out of forest, certain creatures make sense coming out of water, so even acutely you can have some fun with the land.

Tyler 

Yeah, totally. And you can include that information in your “what.” Like, maybe your encounter is the the human commoners are traveling to the nearby city that the players just left. So you can say, Oh, they’re going to the city, the players are on the road. So you can fill in those gaps on your own and say, yeah, these commoners are on the road going the opposite direction. If the players are out in the field, maybe those commoners stopped camp, or maybe they got lost or something and they’re like “hey, we’re trying to get to blank.” Let’s have a nice 20, 30-minute role playing encounter and get to know each other in the setting. It’ll be great.

Randall 

Perfect.

Tyler 

Yeah. Wwe talked about who, what, where. When is basically just whenever they hit the encounter. It’s entirely possible that you could come up with different random encounter tables for different times of day. Like, maybe, maybe you have a nighttime encounter where you’ve got like, nocturnal animals, humanoids with darkvision, vampires, other stuff that likes to be out at night being spooky and random. And then you have one for during the day or like, maybe they’re seasonal or something. So depending on how much work you want to put into generating your table, “when” can do a lot to influence what you put on the table. “Why” is probably… probably the most important really, in my opinion. Like, what is the motivation of the creatures in this encounter? What do they want? Why are they here? We talk about like, what are they doing, they’re traveling to… the human NPCs are traveling to some nearby city to do something. Maybe they are going there for trade. Maybe they’re, maybe they’re going there for weddings. And like if they’re going there for a wedding, they’re probably in a really nice mood. So that tells you like yeah, these are these are revelers. It isn’t just like, we are going to grouchily, unfeelingly march towards the city for vague purposes. Like, no, we’re going to go have a party. Or maybe it’s a bear out looking for food because it’s a bear. They need food. Having some sense of motivation is really helpful. Going back to that Wildemount example, the soldiers were out looking for goblins to interrogate. It didn’t actually tell us why within the encounter table. But I imagine if I had read a couple paragraphs before or after the Random Encounter table, there’s probably some context that would have explained that for me.

Randall 

Well, and also how does that motivation interact with the player characters also feels exciting. In this case, if there are goblinoids, they’re going to be impacted. If it’s bandits, they’re looking for like cheap wealthy targets. If it’s revelers, they’re looking for more wine.

Tyler 

Yes.

Randall 

And so you know, or Bard, please pay me a song. No Bard in the party. No songs to be played.

Tyler 

Yeah, that’s perfect like that. That adds a ton of detail with like two or three words.

Random 

One of the other things that I sort of mentioned when I was talking about the Gloomhaven deck earlier a thing to really consider is this something that you know, is going to be encountered well, more than once. For something like, like the bear. If the bear sees you and goes, “Ah, humans!” and leaves, great, you might encounter the bear again. If you kill the bear, you’re probably not going to encounter that bear again,

Randall 

Probably.

Random 

Right? Well, I did say probably. Suddenly necromancy bears is a problem, and you are the worst Druid necromancer. For things like commoners going one way on a road, if this is something where you could decide like, is this for a particular celebration, like Tyler was talking about maybe your wedding? Or is this maybe particular, like, is this a pilgrimage path? Maybe you’re gonna have like actually a decent number, like, maybe this is one of the other things that we’re going to get into building a table, having the same encounter more than once is not strictly speaking a problem, right? If you want to say like Yeah, I’ve got eight options, but two of them are the same. A pilgrim on the path, because it’s very popular. That’s fine, right? And that’s a thing that you can do to tweak probabilities as to what you’re going to get and how often you’re going to get them. That’s, that’s a very much a thing that you’re going to want to do, especially as you transition into, how do I take this encounter and fit it into the table?

Randall 

Yeah, I think, so… Now’s a good time, let’s actually break out what are the decision points we have to make to build a table out of each of these random encounters that we’ve designed?

Tyler 

Yeah. So the first thing you want to decide is how frequently you want to have random encounters. Now any published module you look at will have some guidelines with the random encounters for, like, how, how much of a block of time do you consider for one random encounter, so like, it might be four hours while traveling or, like, just once per day of travel. It might be once every hour, and depending on how big that block of time is, it tells you how densely populated the area is. If you’re in an area that’s densely populated with monsters, like if you’re playing Out of the Abyss, and you’re down in the Underdark, where it’s all spooky monsters and mushrooms and stuff, you’re going to find random encounters pretty often because there’s a lot of corners to turn around. Like, ah! If you’re traveling a well civilized, open plane near a major city, you’re probably not going to have a ton of encounters unless you’re right on a major road. If you’re on a major road, you’re going to encounter a lot of friendly NPCs. If you’re off the road, like mostly small animals.

Randall 

Yeah, I mean, that feels exactly right. And maybe even having like a set of friendly encounters and a set of of unfriendly encounters, you might adjust to the likelihood of each based on whether you’re in a safe area or not, but be able to kind of leverage a core set of the encounters at the same time.

Tyler 

So usually, when you’re looking at a table, you’ll have like some single die that you’ll roll like a percentage, die, d20, a d10, whatever. You could very easily change the way that those probability work, probabilities work. So you could have, let’s say, you’ve got a random encounter table of 12 options, and you roll it 2d6 on that table. So most frequently, you’re going to get those options that are right in the middle, because the average of 2d6 is seven. So you know, a bell curve of probabilities. If you adjust those numbers, either direction, it’ll change which encounters you get more frequently, and it’ll change which ones are available. So like maybe the players are… you use the same random encounter table, but they’re on a major road. So instead of using 2d6 to roll us 2d4. So that both changes what the average encounter is, and knocks off those higher options, which maybe only encounter those things away from the main road where it’s a little bit more dangerous. So you can use the same random encounter table and just by changing the way you roll on the table, you could very easily cut out or bring in different encounters. Or you could just like add +1 or -1 one depending on whatever factors you like,

Random 

This is a mandate: if you are rolling 2d6 on your random encounter table and you hit seven, it is a robber, that’s that’s just the rules. And I’m sorry. Who knows what a single robber is going to do to you apart from preventing you from getting resources?

Tyler 

Well, you know, bandits would be a… bandits could just be your common thing. And I could just completely ignore the Settlers of Catan reference you’re trying to make.

Randall 

Yeah. It’s really strange, like they take something from you, but they take it at random. So odds are, it’s not gonna be that big of a deal.

Random 

Right.

Tyler 

Pick your least favorite magic item.

Randall 

I do love the idea of like, using statistics to your advantage in this case, and then, right, the core thing to realize being that you would then need to structure your table to either like, things start good, and then they get worse, potentially, than the method that you described, would be really useful, and would actually be pretty simply too simple to execute in a game.

Tyler 

Yeah, totally. You could, you could go either direction with that, too. Like you could start your game with a massive random encounter table. Like, let’s say you go all the way up to 40. And at the high end of your 40 entries in the table, it’s real dangerous, crazy stuff. Like a graveyard has risen as zombies and is marching the countryside looking for brains. And you start the game rolling like 2d6, and every time like every time you you introduce some like negative plot point, like, ah, there’s a new necromancer in town, you’re now rolling 2d8. The bandits came out of the woods and burned down a local village. 2d10. Like, things get crazier and crazier as you go. And if the players successfully remove those threats, things get less crazy. There’s a very tangible… the world is getting more or less dangerous based on what the players are doing and they can feel that in the random encounters.

Randall 

I really like that a lot.

Random 

Yeah, I also like that a lot. I’ve never heard of anything like that.

Tyler 

Well, that’s great because I just made it up on the spot.

Randall 

Okay, we’re gonna have to build a thing. Everybody stay tuned, here it comes.

Tyler 

Alright, if we ever publish a big module, we’re doing that because, yeah, I’m really happy with that idea, too. Alright, so we’ve talked about how frequently encounters are. So that’s just like, what is the block of time. And then sometimes you’ll also have roll once for every, like, let’s say four hours. And you’ll roll for an encounter once every four hours. And maybe there’s only a probability chance that it happens. So like, maybe you roll a d20. And on an 18, 19, or 20, you get an encounter. So at that point, you’ve got a 15% chance of having a random encounter that’s worth talking about. And then you go to the table. That system is generally used with the assumption that every random encounter is going to be violent. If not every encounter is going to be violent, it’s much easier to just say, every four hours, you have a random encounter. Just period. Because the world isn’t like devoid of life, except life that wants to kill you. The more peaceful encounters you have in your table, the easier it is to use that method because if you’re if you’re rolling 2d6 on your table, and options, 1 through 10 are all peaceful, you’re only going to get a fight 2 in 12 times. And that’s that’s really not a big deal. Did I do that math wrong? I’m getting some very funny looks. I promise I can count on my fingers, but I ran out. So yeah, so figure out how many of the encounters… figure out how many the encounters you want to be hostile. If you’re only going to have encounters some portion of the time, it’s much safer to have more of those encounters be hostile. If you’re going to have frequent encounters, it’s generally better to have some of them be peaceful unless you’re in a, a place that is by its nature, incredibly hostile. Like if the players are in some kind of maze-like dungeon, if they’re wandering the plains of the Abyss, like, those are going to be hostile places, everything you’re going to meet is want going to want to kill and eat you. Outside of that, if you’re just like walking around roads, have peaceful encounters. Let the encounters happen. Sometimes players will just be like, Ah, yes, friendly NPCs. We do not care to engage at this moment so we can just skip this and carry on. I also want to add, it’s a little late but let’s toss this in. You also might have encounters that are generally negative, but don’t directly negatively impact the party. In the Discord server, we were having a cool conversation where they were trying to build tension in a situation where some creature was plucking villagers as they were huddling around a campfire protecting themselves. And there was this idea of like, on a random dice roll instead of a player getting sideswiped. Instead, maybe a villager gets popped off. Right? Another example is like, you encounter a goat in the road. It’s grazing alongside you’re like, okay, cool. Go, this sounds great. A T-Rex comes out of the underbrush and eats it. Whoa! I didn’t expect that! The T-Rex runs off. And the party moves on. But it is that moment of like, oh, there was there was danger here. It has passed. That could still be really exciting. Yeah! And that would tell you a whole lot about the place you’re in if there’s just a wandering T-Rex. And then like you’d go to town, you’d be like, “hey, there’s a wandering T-Rex” and depending on how people respond, that could be a huge plot point. Like, “what is a T-Rex” is a very different answer from like, “oh, yeah, there’s a whole herd of them. You must be new here.”

Randall 

You only saw one?

Tyler 

That’s a good day.

Randall 

I just saw a bunch of abyssal chickens. So yeah, definitely. I’m feeling that right now.

Tyler 

So we’ve talked about how frequent encounters are. We’ve talked about how many we want to be hostile. We talked earlier in the episode about the potential of having multiple tables for the same area. So you might have a table for daytime and nighttime. You might have tables for different weather. You might have tables for, like, different biomes essentially within the areas. Like one that’s in the city, one that’s outside the city, one that’s in the forest. Like, because those are very reasonably have different things. If you have a T-Rex, come and eat a goat in the middle of the city as a random encounter that’s a very different story from if it’s just out out in the boonies. We, let’s see, we talked about using probability to change basically how the tables feel and how useful that can be. We’ve got all these tools. We’ve talked about all these things. Now let’s real quick make a small random encounter table.  All right. I’m in.  Yeah? Okay, so so just to keep things super short, let’s say How about we roll two d3s? So we’ll say six encounters. And I realized that a d3 is not a real die and does not physically exist, but you know, there are people 3d printing very clever things these days and I’m sure someone’s gonna figure out real d3. 6 encounters. How many of them do we want to be hospital?

Random 

Well, first off, five encounters Because 2d3 can’t roll a one.

Tyler 

Okay, you’re right. She’s I’m just dropping the ball on math today.

Random 

At that point, maybe three friendly to unfriendly.

Tyler 

Okay, so since we’re since it’s an uneven probability curve, we should also talk about where we put things at the table because the middle result is going to be the most common because it is a bell shaped probability curve. The things on the ends are going to be less common. Let’s say we do 2 on our 2d3 is something very rare but very positive and 6 on our 2d3 is something very rare but very scary.

Random 

And then what will in 2d3 average out to 3? Yeah, so then 3 would be like a standard… You’ve got your two goblins patrolling. And then that leaves a less common. It, like, two less common friendlies, but not super rare. On the 3 and 5, respectively.

Randall 

Yeah, there’s the there’s the most opportunities to roll 4, right?

Random 

Right. Okay.

Tyler 

Yes. On a… Yes.

Randall 

Yes. On our imaginary 1d3 that we’ve, er, yeah, d3 that we’ve imagine. Okay. So 4 is gonna be the most common. 3 and 5 will be equal. 2 and 6 will be equal. Yeah, yeah. Okay, good. And we’ve already said 2 is gonna be real great. Rare. 6 is gonna be real bad. Rare. And so maybe we want to pin, like, what the middle thing looks like. I guess if we’re saying we want to go 3 good, 2 bad. Then 4 needs to be, you know, mundane and can probably happen all the time. And it’s and it’s happy.

Tyler 

Yeah. So that ,that would be a good time to have just like traveling NPCs. People who the players could ask information about the setting, maybe do some light trading with if they’re short on supplies. They can be like, hey, sell us some of your trail rations for a crazy inflated price so that we don’t have to actually hike back to town to get more.

Randall 

And then congratulations, you get to… we get to roll a rumor now. Like, every time you run into these random people that you happen to be finding.

Tyler 

Yeah. Went in for a random encounter. Maybe some trading came out with a plot book. I like that idea.

Randall 

Okay, good, good, good. I have put together a say a negative encounter that I would love to share who tell me that, please. Okay. All right, here we go. As you pull yourself through the muddy road surrounded on either side by treacherous bogs, you suddenly see bright colors approaching in the distance. You’ve heard rumors of these creatures. A traveling carnival fell illto some evil along this road. Now, the zombie clowns approach.

Tyler 

I thought it was gonna be will o’ wisps! It got so much better.!

Random 

My immediate thought was to Left For Dead. Anyway, carry on.

Randall 

For, so, 1d4 zombie clowns. Flip a coin as to whether or not you get a zombie horse to come with them because all traveling carnivals are pulled along by horses.

Random 

That’s fabulous.

Tyler 

Yeah, that’s great.

Random 

I’ve been going through that underdark campaign that Tyler was talking about, which I’m forgetting the name of.

Tyler 

Out of the Abyss?

Random 

That’s the one we’re getting a lot of magical surge because the Underdark and we have managed to roll the same unicorn appearing three times so far. And so I want to include our wonderful plot unicorn in as our super rare encounter. Like, a unicorn just appears because they can teleport. So a unicorn just appears on the road. Basically what i…t looks at you and like tilts his head questioningly. Will try to help as best it can if you ask for help, and then teleports away.

Tyler 

Didn’t it, like, steal NPCs from you one time or something?

Random 

Yeah, but well, I… we asked it to.

Tyler 

Oh, okay. I was gonna suggest like, okay, the unicorn shows up. Your party now has like 1d4-2 more NPCs. If you roll a negative value, it takes some and leaves. It shows up “here’s these, here’s these NPCs from completely different campaign. Can you guys watch these until I come back?”

Random 

Perfect.

Randall 

Like, this escort mission is terrible. Can you please take people? No, but I’m leaving you these people.

Tyler 

It’s fine. They’ll escort each other. Okay, so we’ve got a unicorn on 1. Zombie clowns on 6. Er, sorry, 2 and 6.

Randall  

Wait, actually is that 5 and 6? Like, zombie clownds could be fun… oh, no, unicorns are good. Yeah, that was happy. Okay.

Tyler 

Yeah.

Randall 

I was thinking we lost people and I got…

Tyler 

Oh, yeah, I got a little carried away.

Randall 

Okay. I’m with you. I’m excited. Okay.

Tyler 

So unicorns on 2, friendly NPCs on 4, zombie clowns on 6. 5 is probably something hostile. Maybe,,, Maybe bandits? Or if we established that there’s zombies in the area, maybe they’re just regular zombies instead of clown zombies.

Random 

And then like, a zombie. You know.

Tyler 

Yeah, you encounter a zombie shuffling around on the side of the road and then maybe you give them a, like, table of what kind of zombie it is. Like, one is human commoner. 10 is like Tyrannosaurus Rex. I don’t know.

Randall 

Perhaps a bear?

Tyler 

Perhaps a bear.

Random 

Perhaps a bear.

Tyler 

And then too we can make that something benign but less common. Like, I don’t know, maybe there’s Paladins out hunting those clown zombies. Paladin mimes.

Randall 

Is theere an oath of silence? Because that’d be perfect.

Tyler 

Ah…

Random 

In Dot Dungeon, so the the class that, er the… that’s not a class. The game system that I talked about, I think last week in in our adapting media to tabletop. What is time? there’s a knight class which starts off with, like, starts off the campaign with four vows, one of which has a vow of silence which you break and lose its benefit by talking in front of an NPC. So, yes, mime paladins. They just wandered in from Dot Dungeon. It’s fine.

Tyler 

Okay.

Randall 

Perfect. Perfect.

Tyler 

So okay, so that random encounter table has told us a lot about the world that we are theoretically putting this table in. There are Paladins with a vow of silence that hunt undead. There are random undead wandering the land in enough quantity that there needs to be an order of paladins to hunt them. There are unicorns who may or may not abduct and abandon NPCs. And despite all of this craziness going around, ther’re still normal people living their lives traveling through this madness who are still, like, sane enough to just have a polite conversation with a bunch of murder hoboes. That small table that we came up with in like three, four minutes total, tells us so much about our world and adds a lot of opportunity for role playing, for storytelling, for world building. This is a good tool that you can drop right into your game and that can do a lot for you and it is so much more than just here’s a table of semi-randomly generated fights. Perfect. Alright. I think it’s, I think we did it. We did a whole episode. All right.

Random 

Or at least most of one. I think we have a question of the week, don’t we?

Randall 

Yeah, I know. We have a question the week. I’m getting to it. I’m just, I’m excited about what we’ve just done. Zobmie clowns, zombie bears, and all. Okay, question of the week. This week, our question of the week comes to us from Jedyst on Discord. Jedyst? Jedyst?

Tyler 

We should have asked.

Randall 

We’ll have to ask the person. Okay, so Jedyst on Discord: “what are some underutilized creatures from Monster manual or any other core book for encounters for each tier?”

Random 

So I’m going to start us off at the wonderful tier one, which has a lot of entries, because you know, you can have things that are CR zero, a quarter, a half, an eighth, and then all this other stuff. So just a few personal favorites. Cockatrice are there and they’re horrifying. Get petrified. Now, it’s much less horrifying than it was in previous editions. There was a much higher CR version of the cockatrice. There’s also things like low level devils. Bearded devils are down in there. You’ve got some other things. Quadrones. These are rogue modrons. They get four shortbow attacks per turn at a CR one.

Tyler 

How?

Random 

Exactly. Exactly. Yeah, I mean, just all kinds of crazy stuff. Phase spiders are my favorite addition that they’re basically like… think a trap door spider, but instead of a trap door in the ground, they trap door you to the ethereal plane.

Tyler 

Yes.

Randall 

That sounds terrible.

Tyler 

Yes, it is. Yeah, the time that random random demon webs. With pits for us. We didn’t have a counter to that. And it abducted one of our party members to the ethereal plane while she was dying and we couldn’t do anything. They are very scary. So for tier two. So that’s levels roughly 5 to 10. One of my personal favorites is slaads. They’re from the plane of Limbo, so they are chaotic neutral, which means that they’re not inherently evil by nature, but they are all about just causing mayhem. They run the full CR range from like 5 to 10. So you can use them through the whole tier. They’re diverse enough that you can build a bunch of encounters. The way that the the red, blue and green slaads can implant you wtih slaad eggs if they hit you with their claws, which gives you this like long-running problem that you have to deal with. They’re very interesting bunch of creatures and like they’re perfect if you need something to pop out of another plane of existence and come and just cause a mess for you. And if you’re like, Oh great. I’ve done demons in the past like three or four of my campaigns. Maybe we should do something different. I know: Giant frogs. So Slaads. They’re one of my favorites. I like them a lot. Also, they have, they have control gems so the players can rip the control gems out of their heads and gain a pet slaad.

Randall 

Bonus! Bonus slaad, that sounds great.

Tyler 

Yeah!

Random 

Right.

Randall 

Yeah. Also, I mean, for like, one of the cool things with slaads is there is a rich body of text about their culture and origin. And so if you want to have like a mini arc, just about this, there’s enough content that you could actually build out of it.

Tyler 

Totally.

Random 

And speaking of if we go up another tier in tier three, which there are substantially fewer of these and so you start running out of things to be considered, like, underutilized. But Rackshasa. Rakshasa are super freaking cool. A holdover from previous editions, and they’re actually just from the Indian region mythology. They are really neat. Apart from the ridiculous trait that is always there, they’re basically humanoid lions with backwards hands. They do, like, cool shapeshifting stuff, which is represented in this edition with innate spellcasting. They… limited magical immunity. If they don’t feel like being affected by a spell of sixth level or… Yeah, yeah, they don’t feel like being affected by a spell six level and Lord, they just don’t. They just… not.

Randall 

Solid choice.

Tyler 

Yeah.

Random 

Arcanoloths. Another big fun one. It’s basically like, evil, Fox, Wizard, devil. Those are great. And then of course, also at the top end of this tier, purple worms may his passind cleanse the world.

Tyler 

Yes, and then. So tier four, which is your, like 17. And above, this is where players have wish. Anything in this tier is pretty much by definition underutilized because most people only get to play like a couple of sessions and their entire entire careers with D&D at these levels. Because it takes so long to get that high, most campaigns and well beforehand, and a lot of people the only time you get to play a level 20 is if you’re doing a level 20 one shots. So just by definition, these monsters don’t get a whole lot of use. So honestly, anything of CR, like, 17 and above is just by definition, underutilized. And there are some really, really cool creatures in there that you might be able to use, like as a boss fight for a lower tier if, if you give the party some help, like maybe they have a bunch of items or some NPCs or something. Yeah, look to higher tiers for scarier monsters that see less play and then yeah, if you can bring them into your game, but don’t kill your players with them to do it.

Randall 

Alright, thanks, folks. Next week’s episode is going to be on flight. I’m Randall James you’ll find me at amateurjack.com and @JackAmateur on Twitter and Instagram,

Tyler 

I’m Tyler Kamstra. You’ll find me at RPG bot dotnet Facebook and Twitter at RPGBOTDOTNET and patreon.com/RPGBOT.

Random 

And I’m random Powell 15% of the time you will find a d5 of me. But usually it’s going to be here on the website contributing articles, which includes a new one that just came out. I finally got around to writing a lot of information down about magical secrets for bards, so check that out. Also here on the podcast or in places where people play games I’m often there as Hartlequin or Hartlequint.

Randall 

Alright, perfect all hail the Leisure Illuminati.

All 

*sudden chaos*

Randall 

You’ll find affiliate links for source books and other materials linked in the show notes. Following these links helps us to make this show happen every week. You could find our podcast wherever find podcasts are sold. If you enjoyed this podcast, please rate review and subscribe and share it with your friends. If your questions should be the question of the week next week, please email podcasy@RPGBOT.net or message us on Twitter at RPGBOTDOTNET. Thanks folks. Have a good one.

Tyler 

My cat got loose.

Randall 

That’s fair.

Random 

Good luck.

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