Hexcrawl High: It keeps changing fast and it don’t last for long

Location, location, location. Not just a real estate agent’s mantra or a vehicle for Channel 4 to try to ensnare their viewers with Kirstie Allsopp’s sultry appeal but also the topic for this post. As I mentioned in my last post I’m working on encounter tables and I’ve been flip flopping like a fish trying to escape the belly ripping attentions of an inbred good’ol’boy.

At first I was doing it by the book, in this case the 5th edition Dungeon Masters Guide, then I was going back to AD&D 2nd edition to lift its encounter and moral system, then I was using 3.x because I was lazy and came across the tables, then I was using this ingenious hybrid table. Then I was using the Pathfinder encounter rules. Then I was using bits and pieces from all of them. Of course, during all this prevarication I hadn’t decided on even one solid encounter.

So fuck it, right here and now, I’m going to pick a method and write-up at least one full table in this post. What terrain type? Let’s go with Farmlands. And which type of encounter table? Well that’s the rub. While I do fancy a shorter table I would like these tables to be somewhat fire and forget, once written I don’t want to have to revise them until something big happens to the setting. Though thinking about it considering this location is near the settings pole it would probably make sense to have at least winter and “Not Winter” tables. Well, the game starts in the settings equivalent to March so I’ve got a few months of game time to worry about that.

While I admire the hybrid chart mentioned above because it condenses lots of things into one handy chart at the same time it feels that there’s too much intermingling. The sample chart in the blog article feels more like a mini-adventure than it does a chart of random encounters. So I’ll be going with the 2-20 chart suggested in the 5th edition DMG, but I’ll be using the categories from the hybrid table post to help populate it. While the chart in the DMG uses a d8+d12 to get something more akin to a bell curve I’ll also be using the two dice to implement the “static” and “while moving” idea from the hybrid chart article. This will mean that instead of 2-20 i.e. 19 encounters I’ll be using the full 1-20. Entries 1-8 will be encounters that work whether the party is stationary or not. So if a random encounter comes up when the party is at rest I’ll just roll 1d8 against the table. Otherwise I’ll use the 2-12 spread. This does mean the 1 result is stationary only.

I have to say before reading up on hexcrawls I’d always found random encounter tables a bit nonsensical, so 2d100 bandits just rock up to you on the road? But while reading about them I read accounts from older GM’s about how what you rolled isn’t something you necessarily just run into in the middle of the road, rather its something that you encounter within the time period associated with the roll. Which makes sense obviously, but is something I don’t think was ever explicitly pointed out in older books. Why this sudden tangent? Well because I know the first entry I’m putting in the table and I don’t want people to think I’m a dick because I’d have it drop out of the sky on a group of level one characters. Drop out of the sky? Well that may have given the game away. The first entry in our table is going to fill two slots, 1 and 20 respectively and its an Ancient White Dragon.

Now another detour I’m afraid, in conjunction with the previous paragraph something else I hadn’t considered about random encounter tables was the idea of doing a rough rule of thumb test on home-made ones. Specifically don’t have the most common encounters on the tables be something that would annihilate the areas normal residents. Unless all the villagers are secretly epic heroes you should probably try to have the most common monsters be something that a defended village could drive off, or that would have no interest in attacking a village. Thanks to D&D 5th editions bounded accuracy this is actually easier to do as big groups of even low-level combatants can be a threat. As anydice will show the most likely values to come up on 1d8+1d12 are 9-13. Actually I think I’m going to use 2d4 for the stationary table rather than 1d8 in order to get a (sharp) bell curve. So that means we’re back to 2-20 for results. So the Ancient White Dragon goes on 2 and 20.

Right so we have five “common” slots. I’d like to have a good mix across this so I’ll go with Intelligent creature/Unintelligent creature/Ambush Creature/Beneficial Creature/Plot advancing creature. So for the moment the layout looks like this:

Welp, got called away at this point, and now it’s literally a week later. I blame that on the new XCOM 2 expansion and the fact scheduling meant last weeks inaugural game got cancelled. Now I have been thinking about encounter tables in the meantime and I came up with a basic framework using descriptive terms so I can use it for all terrain by just filling in options as appropriate.

 01 NA 11 Ambush
 02 Apex Predator 12 Beneficial
 03 Combat (Medium) 13 Plot
 04 Hostile intruder 14 Conditional
 05 Natural event 15 Interesting Thing
 06 Non-hostile Intruder 16 Combat
 07 Combat (Hard) 17 Combat
 08 Conditional 18 Weather
 09 Intelligent 19 Tracks
 10 Unintelligent 20 Apex Predator

Ok, so some of these terms aren’t entirely clear so I’ll explain what each of them means:

    • Apex Predator

Now I can’t recall exactly where I came across it but one of the world building sources I ran across suggested that there should be one Apex Predator for roughly each 50 square miles. So that would be two for my hexcrawl map. At the moment an Ancient White Dragon takes up one of those two apex predator slots (it may in fact be tough enough to take up both).

    • Combat

I’m still not entirely sure if these will be straight up fights or just encounters with very belligerent groups that are just very likely to result in combat. Going to mix up the difficulty of the encounters, keeping in mind the fact that if there are settlements in the area I shouldnt have anything that a settlement couldnt fight off/hurt.

    • Hostile Intruder

As mentioned the first eight options have to work for when the party is stationary so really this is just the combat encounter with a different title to remind me to narrate that the party has stopped or camped when it happens.

    • Non-Hostile Intruder

Why not just friendly instead of the awkward sounding “Non-hostile”? Well because I want to maintain the possibility of neutral encounters.

    • Natural event

This is something of a cop-out, as I mentioned I’ll be using 2d4 to generate the result when the party is stationary, what that means is that 5 will come up ~25% of the time. So I wanted a fairly nebulous category that I could change as I wanted. Of course as I’m the only person using this encounter chart I don’t technically have to fudge it, but fuck it we all know that’s not how its done!

    • Conditional

These slots are reserved for encounters that re-enforce the current “meta events” taking place in the region or to re-enforce theme or season. They’ll also be changing to show the PC’s effects on the area. Might slot some more of these in.

    • Intelligent

An encounter with intelligent beings that will rely on role-playing and skill. Not that it might not descend into fisticuffs.

    • Unintellignet

While this might include “proper” monsters I want to use it to highlight the kind of fantasy animals that show up in the region. For immersion basically.

    • Ambush

Fairly self-explanatory. Though I think one of my players took that feat that means they can’t be surprised. Bollocks.

    • Beneficial

Fairly self-explanatory, an encounter that will benefit the PC’s (unless they completely fuck up)

    • Plot

Not sure about this one honestly, lifted it from the article I’ve mentioned and linked. But I think I might just switch it out for conditional, which seems to be the same thing. Or I might leave it in and use it to hook the players into (very) optional sidequests.

    • Interesting thing

This includes the “Ruins” category from the 5th edition Dungeon Masters Guide as well as just any auld random fantasy shit I feel like coming up with.

    • Weather

Well really this should be “Bad Weather” because I’ll be narrating ordinary weather as par for the course.

    • Tracks

Tracks that will lead the PC’s to one of the other options on the chart.

Ok, so time to make good and populate it for my Farmland table as planned.

 01 NA 11 Ambush – Herne’s Hunters
 02 Apex Predator – Ancient White Dragon 12 Beneficial – NPC (See chart)
 03 Combat (Medium) – White Worm Raiding Party 13 Plot – Frenzied livestock
 04 Hostile intruder – Veedrun Ramels 14 Conditional – Herne’s Hunters
 05 Natural event – See suggestions 15 Interesting Thing – Check Hex for details
 06 Non-hostile Intruder – Melvyn & Triana 16 Combat – Kenku scouts
 07 Combat (Hard) – Draugr 17 Combat – Black Bears
 08 Conditional – Herne’s Hunters 18 Weather – Roll
 09 Intelligent – Ogre 19 Tracks
 10 Unintelligent – Elks 20 Apex Predator – Ancient White Dragon

So there we have it, the charts all ready to go. Just need to copy and paste the stats for some of those encounters from Kobold Fight Club to my OneNote campaign notebook and I’m all good to go. Well, I also need to do out the location charts for a few other terrain types, as well as work in the Kenku angle which just came to me while filling this in now. But I’m glad it did as now I can have something else in the mountains other than dwarves and giants. I don’t know what it is about giants but they just bore the tits off me. First session is Friday but I have more or less all my hooks baited, which I’ll discuss in the next one of these. But now I must away to answer the siren call of XCOM 2 War of the Chosen.

Vent your spleen