Roll for an Encounter

I was checking out my usual gaming blogs when I realized I haven’t mentioned Trollsmyth yet in my blog.  Specifically this series of articles.  I have absolutely devoured this series on hex mapping and it got me thinking about encounters.

In the olden days (waaaaaaay back in 1st and 2nd edition D&D….lol)  we used wandering monster tables and random checks while crossing wilderness hexes with quite a bit of gusto.  The interesting thing was we almost always used a D8 and low rolls meant encounters.  The result?  My players used to root for a “1” to come up…almost without exception.  They wanted something  to happen.  So most times it did.  The only time the party didn’t root for an encounter to pop up was when the party was low on healing (which happened quite a bit) or low on “big bang” wizard spells (remember prior to 4th edition the wizard was “Gladys Knight” and everyone else was “The Pips”).

I think random encounters may still have their place but I find that in 4E it takes a lot more planning.  I prefer to have “semi-random” set pieces instead of truly random encounters.  I set up three or four encounters in between gaming weeks (we play every other week as almost all of my players have children, jobs, or both) that can be used in a variety of situations.  If I end up not needing them? I just bump the levels of the critters up but keep the framework in place.  That way it’s ready for the next gaming session.


How do you handle “random” encounters?  How do you determine what’s lurking in the wilderness between dungeons?  Leave a comment and let us know!

Very Useful Stuff

Had to post this link to my man Fitz’s latest article.  Incredibly useful stuff about layout and design…a topic which I am still learning a ton about.


It’s definitely summer time and the creepy crawlers are out everywhere…time to put some into your 4e D&D game with EVGaming’s latest release…

Check this out!

My main man Billiam Babble has done it again…major cool points for drinking your favorite tea or my new fave drink “Mello Yello Zero” out of THIS mug....


Baba Yaga, perhaps the most loved/feared/respected/discussed witch in fantasy gaming history is back!  Fourth Edition fanatics need to check it out!  As noted in the pdf, the statistics for Baba Yaga’s fence are available on this site only…..

Baba Yaga’s Fence

(Terrain) – The fence occupies squares of the GM’s choosing (normally a large circle totally encompassing her hut)

The fence is comprised of stakes with skulls atop them.

Effect:  The fence is partially blocking terrain (any tiny creature can move through it as if it were difficult terrain)  It blocks movement (for small or larger than small creatures) but allows line of sight and line of effect.  If a living creature ends its turn adjacent to the fence it takes 5 necrotic damage/tier.  Baba Yaga and her undead minions are unaffected.

Review of WOTC’s HAMMERFAST: A Dwarven Outpost Adventure Site

  • Orcs and Dwarves share a city built for the dead.

That’s the hook for Hammerfast and it’s a darn good one. Hammerfast is a 32-page adventure site supplement featuring Mike Mearls as the lead designer.

First off, major kudos to WOTC for beginning to flesh out their whole “Points of Light” world. Enormous hardcovers and boxed sets are nice…but sometimes you don’t need a seven-course meal, sometimes a light lunch is plenty. Hammerfast is a delicious and satisfying overview of a town created out of conflict and originally built as a massive graveyard full of crypts, chambers, and sepulchers. The ghosts of the past make suitably spooky appearances, orcs shuffle about side-by-side with the dwarves (thanks to a special divine compact), and the maps included are top notch. All in all, this is a terrific product at its price point of $14.95 (U.S. dollars).

My favorite parts of the supplement are the maps (the town overview and the most popular tavern are on each side of a full-color poster map) and the quest links. Mearls and company demonstrate a complete heroic-tier campaign outline complete with individual quests. This is the sort of stuff that I, as a DM, absolutely crave. I also applaud a decision that WOTC has made that I’m sure will meet with derision from other camps. The interior artwork is scarce and black-and-white. I say, “good!” I’m a huge fan of evocative and beautiful color artwork but as a DM I need content…not bells and whistles. This product delivers solid, usable ideas and some corners were obviously cut on the art budget to keep costs down. Thank you WOTC!

More good stuff includes a threat to the town- a group known as “The Circle of Stone”. They represent my favorite type of “bad guys” in that they are not clichéd, “hand-wringingly“, slaughtering evil with a capital “E“. They actually see themselves as the good guys and are more like rivals to the PCs than truly evil-doers. The Circle of Stone could best be described as “dangerously misguided” and this makes them much more interesting in a long-term campaign.

My only real negative to this whole affair is a bizarre “naming” issue. Flip quickly through the supplement and you’ll see that someone on staff was positively in love with the letter “T”. The outpost of Hammerfast features a Tathik, a Toren, a Tras, a Telg, both a Tharra and a Thora, and a Thar and a Tharn. Don’t forget Trell, Therai, Terras, and Therd! Yes, keeping track of NPCs with such amazingly similar names is going to be a headache. Maybe the editor (Torah Cottrill) is to blame for the “T” party. I’m all for internal consistency, and perhaps the letter “T” is common in the dwarven language, but… please…throw us a frickin’ bone here and help the players keep their heads from spinning. Also keep in mind, the supplement features an “Old” Gaff and another NPC also named Gaff (with no indication that they are related which mighta, sorta, kinda explained things).
As I stated earlier, the name game aside, this supplement is very good and is exactly the sort of stuff I’ve been wishing WOTC would produce for years.

  • Overall rating 8.5 out of 10.

REVIEW and (Re-skin) of the Dark Sun Creature Catalog

Still on the fence about picking up the Dark Sun Creature Catalog? Let me give you the bottom line first…don’t hesitate to pick this product up.  I have been delighted with WOTC’s latest creature offerings (MM3, Monster Vault) and the Dark Sun Creature Catalog (hereafter abbreviated DSCC) may take its place at the very top as far as true value.

144 page full-color (brilliantly illustrated) hardcover for $19.95.  This is how major monster books are supposed to look.  The monsters feel extremely coherent and part of the world of Athas.  However the creatures contained therein have the ability to thrive outside of a harsh desert world.  Just the tiniest of tweaks (some requiring almost zero work other than fluff changes) and these beasties are ready to terrorize a multitude of worlds.  Need an example?Let’s dive right in to the Silt Horror.

The Silt Horror is a massive tentacled beast that bursts appendages up through the sand which constrict, rake, and sweep victims.  The tentacles are treated as separate minions in a really terrific use of the minion mechanic.  Fight going too easily for the PCs?  Just pop two more tentacles up out of the sand.  The obvious reskin is drop this badboy into the ocean and you’ve got the kraken.  How about making him slimy and green and he becomes the “Marsh Horror”.  Another example?  Glad you asked.  How about the Tembo?

The Tembo is a saber-tooth tigeresque solo apex predator.  It however has the aberrant origin and several stealth-related abilities.  Hmmmm….How about we change his origin to “shadow”.  And change his “Tainted Wounds” aura to a “Shadowy Reckoning” aura that says “While the Tembo is bloodied, creatures in the aura that take necrotic damage are pushed 1 square.”  This forces a change of tactics halfway through the battle as ranged attacks become much more effective.  Maybe even a name change?  I like “Shadow-tooth Lion”.

As far as creatures that beg to be moved to other environs…How about the Belgoi?  This eerie bell-ringing fey humanoid just asks to be put in a gothic horror setting.  The Cilops (a single-eyed centipede with psychic powers) would be right at home in a campaign world modeled after ancient Greek mythos.  Make the Obsidian Golem into a colorful precious gemstone (I like Amethyst) and drop him into a fungal cave in the feydark.

The bottom line is this….WOTC has hit a grand slam with the DSCC and it takes very little effort to move these interesting and unique monsters out of the desert and into your world!

Overall Score: 10 of 10- a flawless effort.

My Dungeon Doesn’t Even Have Corridors

Greg Bilsland (a guy I have great admiration and respect for) posted this awhile back.  I wanted to write my take on it earlier but other projects got in the way and our actual campaign has been rolling.  Bilsland talks about old-school vs. new-school dungeon design and says his dungeons aren’t just delve-style but actually contain empty rooms. You know the drill: a smashed bit of furniture, a forgotten bit of equipment, broken pottery shards, etc.  I like that old-school style, I really do…but (and you knew there would be a but) it’s time (for my players and I at least) has simply passed.  Let me explain before the flames rise up!

Bilsand talks about pacing and setting the mood as key factors in the decision to place “empty” rooms in his dungeon.  I want to really play devil’s advocate and simply argue (in a very dime-store philosopher style)  that the rooms aren’t empty…they contain mood.  Obviously not in a physical sense.  But the empty rooms are placed for a reason.  I think this is great…and I also think “old-school” dungeon design didn’t even consider the empty room for that purpose.  Gygaxian Dungeon Ecology simply stated that almost 20% of rooms were empty and so they were.  The AD&D DM’s guide (iirc) even had tables for “dungeon dressing” for empty rooms.  The empty rooms were there simply to add realism.  Not every room was going to be a jam-packed thrill-ride.  Danger really wasn’t behind every door.  It made sense.  And… I don’t run my dungeons this way…at all.

I used to.  I was the king of graph paper in middle and high school.  My players back then didn’t even ask if I had an “adventure” ready.  The question was, “Hey Bill…do u have a dungeon ready?”  Oh yeah…wandering monster chart, lettered and numbered rooms, and traps and secret doors…I was ready.  And of course there was always a room or two with that simple statement, “This room contains nothing of interest.”    Now…not so much.

Now I only build the rooms I need…my players have utter faith in me as a DM and I have faith in them as players.  Together, we cut right to the chase.  I truly understand 4e D&D’s “get to the fun” mentality.  If the dungeon is sparsely populated and three-fourths of the rooms are empty…the ones we actually encounter are full…chock to the brim with the “fun” elements.  I simply give the appropriate flavor text, “After several rooms which contain little more than blood-stains and claw marks, this oaken door creaks forward and a very startled {insert creature name}  looks your way with malice in its eyes…roll initiative!”  Now, please understand I’m not saying this is the only way to play…I am firmly in the mode that says, “If you’re having fun-you’re playing it right!”.  There is no such thing as badwrongfun.

What I am saying is the flavor texts take the place of the featureless rooms.  If the party has found nothing for half the dungeon except a few coppers and some fine examples of orcish fletching….I say so…and then we kick down the next door which actually has orcs behind it.     Again, I’m not saying Greg Bilsland is wrong, not saying old-school is wrong, just describing how we do it.  My players love that there is no frustrating mapping, no corridors,no dead ends, nothing extraneous….just set pieces with monsters to bash, npcs to get secrets from, challenges and puzzles to overcome, and loot to grab.  That’s it.  We get right to the fun and it works for us.  So no…my dungeon doesn’t have empty rooms, it doesn’t even have corridors….but it’s jam-packed with fun!