Session planning is more of an art than a science sometimes. If you like coming up with stuff on the fly, it can be as simple as pulling together some basic maps, encounter descriptions, monster stats, and treasure into a pile and you’re off to the races. But sometimes you want a bit more, even in those piles of stuff.
You could handle this the Old School, “random encounter table way” and write it up like they do in the original AD&D adventure… I6:Ravenloft by Tracy & Laura Hickman back in 1983. (This example comes from Table 4: “Barovia Daytime Random Encounters (Sunup to Sundown)”.)
- “2-8 (2d4) worg wolves: AC 6; MV 18″; HD 4+4; #AT 1; Dmg 2-8; AL NE.”
Great. Now we know there are some big nasty wolves (worgs) ahead. But there’s no story there. How can we make this encounter a bit more unique?
Who? What? When? Where? and Why?
Yeah, I know – this is looking a little fishy. Why would I bring up the “5 W’s” like we’re in some sort of Journalism class? Because they help inform the story!
I can come up with a short table to give each one of them a little makeover…
- Broad scar across muzzle.
- Graying muzzle.
- Large patches of no fur on back and sides. (Mange)
- Large, fresh scratches across one flank.
- Missing one paw.
- One eye scarred shut.
- Bloody paws.
- White coat.
What? (And Why?)
Now that we know who they are, at least visually, it might be interesting to ponder what they’re after. In this case, it also gets to the “why”… Thinking about what I know about wolves from decades of National Geographic and nature specials (which isn’t much) I can come up with the following rough ideas:
- The pack is patrolling their territory, looking for invaders (other animals, creatures, and men).
- Hunger is driving the pack further and further through their territory looking for fresh meat.
- Madness, whether due to rabies or some other cause, is driving the pack to attack anything in the area, including other pack members.
- A malevolent entity has sent the pack out to find the PCs specifically and destroy them.
When is “when the PCs get there” in this case, but that could vary based on a few things…
- Full moon.
- New moon.
- Clear weather.
- Stormy weather.
The time and conditions will play with light and darkness, shadows, rain, lightning, thunder, ice and snow… any combination will change the difficulty of a battle.
- A farmer with a cart fixing a broken wheel.
- Merchants selling their wares froma wagon or freestanding market stall.
- Locals stopping off the side of the road to exhange news or trade goods.
- A small inn or tavern with even more people milling about depending on the time of day.
Some of the qualities I’ve mentioned already will help fill this in a bit, but I can think of a number of options:
- The worgs will go after the weakest or oldest people or animals at the intersection. Innocents caught in the way will be easy targets.
- Injured or sick worgs may attack with unexpected ferocity and little regard for their own lives. They may actually turn on themselves when blood is spilled.
- Worgs directed by some malevolent entity may attack with more of a hit-and-run approach or single out a particular target amongst the party./li>
- Hungry animals will go after the easiest, weakest targets and attempt to tear off limbs or severely hurt them and flee to let them perish
The fun part with this approach is you can take one or two ideas to flesh out an encounter pretty easily. You don’t have to do EVERYTHING (though that can sometimes be a useful exercise too) – but in the end you have (hopefully) a better, more fleshed out encounter rather than a few stats and a battle done on the fly.
Looking for more ideas? Steve @ Howling Tower had some good ideas a few years ago at Howling Tower in “Improving Random Encounters” and Mike Bourke had some great ideas in creating your own tables at Campaign Mastery with “Random Encounter Tables – my old-school way” just a few months ago.