Random Encounters for 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons
Or, why would anyone make a giant chart of Random Encounters?
The simple explanation is, because it’s fun to let randomness dictate how the adventure is going to play out. But why is that fun? Ah, yes. Good show.
Random encounters are fun because they add a bit of mystery and exploration for the player in a game of Dungeons and Dragons who knows everything else that’s going to happen in his game: The Dungeon Master. This sense of confusion and wonder spills over to the players as well. If the Dungeon Master doesn’t know what will happen next, then anything is possible. Your game will feel fresh, and alive, and the possibilities in your campaign will widen.
Random Encounters are also useful because they can fill in gaps for when you don’t know what happens next. Instead of stilted conversations, or another tedious fight with the guards, a random encounter can let you borrow something from someone else’s playbook for a while, before getting back on track.
There will always be criticism when playing like this, of course. Some people will maintain that true creativity can’t come from a chart and that Dungeon Masters who subject themselves to this process will only subject their game to forced chaos. Those people are one hundred percent correct. Random Encounter charts are not a replacement for the hard work of building a living breathing adventure. They are a launch point for what to do when you don’t know what to do. They are the equivalent of a writer’s prompt. Except, instead of writing a story of a priest who burns his own church to the ground, we are instead asking “What if two gnolls and an elf were bartering over a goblin slave.” Or, “what would a zombie slime be like?”
Why are we using a giant chart? Aren’t there better ways to determine random encounters? Hasn’t Game Mastering technology improved since the 1970s?
It’s true, there are plenty of software programs out there that will spit out random dungeons for you. Insert the level, and lickity split, out pops a full encounter. These programs, so far, can’t add a human element to this randomness. It doesn’t let you take time-off in the middle of all this “rolling” to have you question where you’re going with this. And, even with the best of programs, the result will either be a repetitive pattern, or a pile of questionable super-details. Like I said before, you’re not using a random encounter generator to replace the Dungeon Master. Ideally, you’re here to jog the storyteller’s imagination. Computer programs give you results, but don’t give you the chance to take an active role in those results.
Doesn’t the Dungeon Master’s Guide supply a way to randomize encounters?
The 4th edition Dungeon Master’s guide encourages a unique way to handle random encounters. It suggests you make a random monster deck out of all the creatures your players may come across. When your players find a hive of monsters, draw a monster card for each character in your party of that level. Presto! One complete, and somewhat wacky combat at your service.
I’ve done this myself. It’s a lot of fun, but it suffers from a few problems:
1). Creating the deck is time consuming. Like, take off an hour or so to come up with something you can write on and shuffle, that isn’t annoying to flip through (marked up playing cards may be the easiest, and simultaneously, the ugliest option). Then, after gathering your materials, you can expect to take another 30-45 minutes making cards for your deck… if you plan on keeping it random enough so that you don’t repeat encounters, and you, the Game Master are surprised by the results. Why does it take so long to do something so simple? It’s a little like writing poetry. It takes no time to write your first haiku or limerick. That first poem may have inspired another one as well. But, soon, the process of writing won’t be as fun. You’ll be scratching your head to come up with something interesting and different, or laboring over writing the same stuff over and over again. Yeah. It can get a bit boring.
2). It doesn’t end. If you had fun with your random monster generating deck, great! Unfortunately, your players level up throughout the course of the game. The good news is, you can just set some cards aside in your random monster deck, and toss a few more of the appropriate level in. The bad news is, you have to find time to do it. I don’t know about you, but for me, updating my stuff for ten minutes is more of a chore than setting aside an hour to make something new. I know. Weird.
3). You can’t share it. And this is the reason why I’m making random charts instead of adding to my random deck. I could find a card maker program online, and make a printable version of my deck, it’s true. But I have to assume that most Game Masters would rather bookmark my random monster chart and come back to it when they need a quick random encounter. It seems much easier than printing out a bunch of cards, cutting them up, then sleeving them (never mind the cost of the ink). I may go back and make a printable version of this later, as well, but for now, let’s do something that benefits the largest amount of players, shall we?
The random encounter chart is a work in progress. I plan to outfit it with everything you need to get a completely random fight going. In the future, I plan to add a random dungeon generator to this, so that you can have a full out adventure. But all of this will take time. In the meanwhile, enjoy what I have so far (which, for right now, is the First , Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Levels. Don’t worry, though. Level Six is scheduled to come out in a couple days, and I’ve got levels 7 thru 10, as well as the random hindrances chart ready to go. Since I post two times a week, everything will be up shortly. I’d suggest clicking on the link above, checking it out, then bookmarking the page).