Comments on 2016-10-28 Classifying Treasure and Number Appearing

Part of the discussion copied from Google+.


I was actually thinking about the old school random hexcrawl with number appearing recently. For men (and most humanoids) this is 30-300. Which is actually a pretty good size for “something” discovered on the map.

It could be a village, a temple, a school (this is an inheritance from Bushido), a monastery, a caravanaserai (those orcish caravans have to put in somewhere), an inn, a manor house, a dwarvish mine, etc. The footprint of the place will of course depend on it’s size. And a part of the footprint is what happens around it. In the wilderness a village is probably always going to have at least a wooden wall and a watchtower (percent chance equal to the population is probably a good idea, reduced by a divisor for how expensive a defence it is. For example stone walls might have a 5 divisor for a village.

[Bushido has some nice tables on what actually can be encountered.]

The castle rules were always interesting, since they would patrol the region around them. Moving through a castle hex had a 3 in 6 chance of an encounter with the owner of the castle, which dropped to 2 in 6 at one hex distance, and 1 in 6 at two hex distance. But then the object of a castle is to control the surrounding land, so it is much more likely that a castle would be alert to intruders in their domain. Of course you could always purposefully encounter a castle

Admittedly the main reason for thinking of this was using the Treasure Tables as is. For example most Men have Type A treasure, so that Place would have a Type A treasure in their possession. Most of the coin would be in the form of trade goods. Magic items would be prized relics, and gems and jewelry would most likely be special high value items.

Anyway having an encounter chance of 2 in 6 sounds about right for encountering something that isn’t a castle that’s in a hex, if you don’t want to knock on the door. Maybe 1 in 6 in close terrain. Perhaps compare it to the surprise rolls to see who stumbles on whom. The encounter is only going to be with 1d10 people at best.

Remember that locals will have local knowledge of the terrain so have every advantage in both moving, tracking, and ambushing an enemy, particularly in rough terrain.

And skulking about a place, whilst heavily armed, is not going to sit as well with the locals as going up to the gates and announcing your presence.

– Reverance Pavane 2016-10-25


In my normal campaign an “encounter” only happens when something interesting happens. This means that, especially in settled lands, the characters will meet lots of people, usually nod at them, and go on their way. Even villages are encountered with such regularity that it is not worth commenting. Encounters are things that actually directly affect them or are unusual. This means, for example, that many of my encounters have a distinct military orientation (since the military is going to take an interest in passing adventurers because they are armed an armoured - they might be brigands or bandits).

Even places, events, and natural disasters are on my encounter tables. If a village is encountered, it is going to be because that village is something out of the ordinary and will directly affect the characters (unlike all the other villages they passed).

Monsters and predators are more likely to be encountered than sheep, for example. That’s because monsters and predators are more likely to confront a party. On the other hand if the party wants to go hunt a deer or other wild life, then that is a hunting roll. On a fumble the hunt turns on the hunter (although there is also the encounter roll during the hunt).

Anyway the number of people encountered depends on the specific encounter. For example a patrol will typically be between 20-30 cavalry under a lieutenant or a troop of 12-15 under a sergeant.

– Reverance Pavane 2016-10-25


That last point is interesting, but it brings me to another thing that has been troubling me. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that we’re playing a game where power levels make a big difference, and wilderness travel is a thing. So now if you’re low level, encountering 1d4 lizard people is a dangerous, but for a high level party, they’re just going to run – no challenge, no encounter. They see your shining armor and your crown of feathers and they run. No you only need to stop for the encounter when you’re meeting 1d4×100 lizards, right? But where were they, when you were low level? Down that road lies auto-scaling à la Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion – and I didn’t like it. I guess that’s why I’m interested in a die roll and I can always narrate the bandits as fleeing – or maybe as offering their services as soon as you approach.

All your comments mentioning Bushido make me want to buy the game!

– Alex Schroeder 2016-10-25


I don’t adjust encounters for level but I do try to make the encounters interesting, since it is the encounter system that substantially drives play in my game.

Not everything is combat. In fact an outright attack generally only happens on a hostile encounter roll (”snake-eyes”), although this is modified by animosity (but generally not charisma until people have a chance to talk). Usually such bad luck is a result of mistaken identity. Similarly even a generally antagonistic encounter may turn out well with a friendly result (”box cars”).

The classic encounter is players encountering a dragon. On a very bad reaction roll the dragon is angry (perhaps a thief stole some of the dragon’s treasure and the dragon thinks the party is responsible). On a very good reaction roll the dragon might approach the party with an offer. But most of the time the dragon generally won’t bother with a party of adventurers (they can be more dangerous than they seem and are a lot of hassle to kill for not much return), unless the party has tempting amounts of treasure or magic - but again that will deter the dragon as much as attract it, being the greedy cowards that they are (in general). So generally the dragon will “encounter” the players on the wing, while hunting. A non-encounter you say? But now the party knows that a dragon has a lair somewhere around here (and given the “colour” of the dragon they may have a clue as to where it actually might be). And that lair probably has treasure in it...

And even if they don’t go treasure hunting immediately it’s going to affect the future encounters because people are going to react to having a dragon in the area. It will inform future encounters. farmers may tray to raise a bounty to deal with it (or get it to shift), especially if it is a young dragon.

Your 1d4 lizardmen have the same sort of reaction. A small group of lizardmen is likely to be a hunting party. Which means that a lizard man settlement may be nearby (assuming the appropriate terrain). They may make a reaction roll (with a negative modifier due to animosity with the local humans), but they are not going to act against their self-interest. If the party looks too powerful they won’t even try an ambush at a hostile reaction. Rather they will try to run away, just like players would do in the same situation. [They are not there for player gratification (or at least that is what they believe in their heads).]

Or maybe they are not there at all. Maybe the players traversing the swamp find a lizardman totem in the middle of the path - as a warning not to proceed. Because a hideous Gnashig has made a lair in a nearby pool and the trail is now too dangerous to use. But ignorant humans...

Or maybe the lizardmen are seeking out the characters (good reaction roll), especially if they are high level. perhaps they seek help of some kind. Or justice. Or wish to hire as mercenaries, guides, or scientists.

And if the lizardmen are encountered in a strange place then there must be a reason for this. In a swamp you might expect to meet lizardmen, but on the King’s Road miles from any swamp - there is a story there that is of potential interest to the players because it is unusual (and thus makes a valid encounter). [And it is perfectly fine for them to ignore the presence of the lizardmen and tip their hat to them and move on. Encounters are only the opportunity for adventure.]

The other half of the encounter system is that I use a adjective system that is derived from the board game Tales of the Arabian Knights and that I just won’t encounter 1d4 lizardmen. Instead I’ll encounter 1d4 angry lizardmen, 1d4 dying/dead lizardmen, 1d4 mysterious lizardmen, 1d4 disguised lizardmen or even 1d4 beautiful lizardmen (although I’m not sure off the top of my head how I would implement that one, but it would depend on player reaction as to whether they would become friends or fashion accessories...)

Of course the other half is how the players react to the encounter and what they want out of it. If players are focused on violence then obviously there is a local bounty on lizardmen tails (not to mention making nice eating) and those 1d4 lizardmen provide an opportunity if the players want to be bothered.

[But if they are high enough level why would they bother with the lizardmen? Maybe they might make a note that the area has lizardmen that need to be either recruited, moved on, or shuffled off the mortal coil. In which case rather than waste time with a pointless battle all the players need to know is that they are being watched by the lizardmen. If the power mismatch is sufficient, just let the players pluck their eyes out for having the temerity of gazing upon them in their glory...]

One of the reasons that encounters started being “balanced”, especially in 4E and later, was that there was a large amount of effort required to set up a battlemap and arrange a battle that would be “balanced” (ie the players would win unless they suffered bad luck). You didn’t want to go to that effort if the players took one look at what was there and ran away or if it was an easy kill. But in OD&D running away (for either side) is a vital strategy (and because an OD&D combat is simple, there is no wasted effort in not actually having a combat).

[Oh, and I tend to use the % in lair as the chance of finding the lair of the encounter rather than of encountering the wilderness creature in it’s lair. It may be inaccurate but it’s a handy number to pull out of the hat. When I’m not using it as the % chance of the creature being a liar... =9) ]

– Reverance Pavane 2016-10-25


I think I will go down a route like what Brendan has described. A crocodile, a chimera, a dragon, no problem. But civilized people need more variety. Perhaps I can even use the same table for all the people but vary the die: bugbears use 1d4, gnomes use 1d4+1, halflings use 1d4+2, bandits use 1d6, elves use 1d6, humans use 1d8.

  1. Lone scout
  2. Scout party (1d4+1)
  3. Encampment (2d6)
  4. War Party (3d10)
  5. Hamlet or keep (5d6)
  6. Village or castle (5d8)
  7. Town and tower (3d6x10)
  8. Large town and castle (5d6x10)

– Alex Schroeder 2016-10-26


The question of whether to codify treasure or not is always on my mind. For a while now I just wrote whatever and said to myself I could categorize it later. As I’m preparing for games I find that the indirection with treasure types is both slower and confusing (because I don’t quite understand why this type and not another).

– Alex Schroeder 2016-10-27


I started drawing up a lot of tables until I discovered that I actually don’t want to roll on three or four tables in order to figure out whether the party runs into a small group of scouts, a war band, or whether it discovers a settlement. It’s too much work. So I think I’m going to fall back on typical Labyrinth Lord numbers. Maybe write a suggestion for what larger settlements would entail.

– Alex Schroeder 2016-10-29 01:59 UTC


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