The Whens and Hows of Random Encounters

Role-players have always had a love-hate relationship with Random Encounters. Back in the day they were always used, but as the game became more advanced, the Dungeon Masters tended to do away with them. Recently, since the resurrection of the classic gaming style, many DMs have decided to include them in their play style once again. The problem that can arise now is that it is kind of a lost art.

Above ground, Random Encounters aren’t so hard to figure out how to handle. All you have to do is judge how long the party is going to be traveling, and then check the tables for the area that they are in. Below ground, however, is a completely different subject. While much of the time spent traversing wide open spaces is pretty much unaccountable for, each moment spent underground IS accountable. For this reason dungeon masters had to figure out ways of measuring time.

Time in 2e is measured in units of rounds or turns. For reasons of simplicity rounds are about a minute, sometimes shorter and sometimes longer but for purposes of tracking time we will always assume that they are a minute. Turns are roughly ten minutes. This unit of time is only usable during fights, but what about when they are exploring? Well, for times like this we must assume other things.


Typically, in modules which use random encounters, they will list how often that random encounters are to be checked. Often it tells you to check for random encounters ever turn, which is ten minutes. There is another thing which old-timers have taken for granted, and without this little clue about time keeping, you are in a world of confusion. This little known clue is that once a party enters an underground dungeon, or a building which is a big part of the dungeon, the units which we use are changed. Instead of time being abstract, we change this logic to Dungeon Time = real-time. This will float, and it really isn’t the same as real-time, but for time itself we assume that each session = 1 day in game time. Thus, wizards who run out of spells are out of luck until the next game unless they can convince the party to take them above ground, or back to town to let them rest and memorize new spells.

Now then, with this understood, if you would like, you can go out and purchase one of those cooking timers, or borrow your wife’s but for reasons of personal safety, it is best that we return it once we are done using it. If the module has dictated that we should check for random encounters every turn, then we set our timers for 10 minutes, and when it goes off, the players all go silent and look at you expectantly while you roll percentile dice for some reason which they may or may not understand exactly what it is for.

With that said, many factors can affect how often we check for random encounters. In combat which is either pre-set, or listed in the key, the moment that the players enter the room, we must subtract the number of minutes which has expired from the Random Encounter Check time.

As an example, we know that there are 4 trolls in the room which the party has just entered, we look at our timer and there is still 5 minutes left to the random encounter check. This means that we now ignore the timer and instead judge the number of minutes in rounds. Thus in 5 rounds we will check to see if a random encounter has happened.


The percentage listed (if we are going by percentages) assumes that the party is being quiet as possible. This doesn’t factor in noisy armor which we must determine how noisy the armor is if someone is an idiot and wearing full-plate armor in the dungeon. Perhaps a fair modifier to the percentage chance of attracting a random encounter is +25%.

Loud noises, such as bashing in a door, setting off alarms, or the loud clanging of weapons striking armor, and the yelling and screaming involved in combat is very likely to call attention to one’s location. These instances will increase a party’s chance of being discovered by a random encounter considerably! +50% sounds like a fair modifier to me.

You must always be aware of a noise level, bashing in a door worth 50hp takes time and makes a lot of noise. It also allows those on the other side of the door to prepare themselves and take appropriate action. A quiet castle will be on low alert as long as the party uses stealth and wisdom in moving around, but once it is discovered that the walls have been breached, all of the guards and monsters will be on high alert. This also factors into Random Encounters.


A way to cut down on the amount of dice that you are rolling is to change the way that you check for them. Many times a percentage number is given, but we can also use a d20. During our prep we assign which monsters we want to have running around our dungeon. The lower the number the more of these creatures will be running around. The mid-numbers, say 8-11 can be limited, if the party defeats these creatures they will be depleting the monsters from a limited supply which is normally found elsewhere in the dungeon level. Say a snake that normally can be found in room A43 on the Dungeon Key can be encountered randomly, if they kill it before finding its lair, then once they get to room A43 there will be no encounter in that room, also, if they already killed the snake in its lair, then there will be no random encounter. The higher numbers always represent No Encounter.

Another method of checking for random encounters, which is much easier then rolling percentile dice is to just use a d6 or some other die. Prior to play we must decide what is the base chance of having an encounter, say, 1-3 results in an encounter, and this number can float up or down depending on how the players are acting. Loudness or engaged in noisy combat will give the odds of an encounter to 1-4 or even 1-5 on a d6, but we can also improve this by allowing a thief to lead the party, making it 1-2 on a 1d6 to dictate encounters.

Use your imagination, but remember to keep it fair and logical. You can have all of the monsters on the Random Encounter list to be limited, or have them not have any effect on the dungeon population at all! Random Encounters are used to add depth and richness to the world, they can also be dangerous! Don’t be afraid to judge them properly, if a party has had the crap kicked out of them, they may be worth more to the villain alive then they are dead. An incredibly powerful party will cause fear, the random encounter could run away and alert those around them to the powerful parties presence in their lair. Just because something is random, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have to make sense.

Ripper DMing: Temple of Elemental Evil I-III

Apparently a lot of us bloggers are running the classic module "Temple of Elemental Evil", myself included. This is my very first true fantasy game that I have ever ran. Normally I've only DMed in the realm of Ravenloft, thus I am kind of struggling with the new ruleset. Of course I am also experimenting with things. My biggest change is that we are going to be using the training rules. Not for every level, as I feel that that is too excessive, however levels that grant the players either Weapon Prof. or a None Weapon Prof. will require training time and money.

We completed our third game last Sunday, and completed the Hommlet section of the Mod.. I had no hardcopy of this module, but painstakingly updated it to 2e by retyping the entire thing out.


I have grown sick of CN alignments, my players are addicted to this one and it really throws a wrench in my games. I replaced CN with Neutral Evil to see how that goes. So far, so good.

Shannon is our only Fighter, and an elf.
Summer is trying out the Cleric class again, seeing if she can keep this one alive.
Ryden is once again playing a mage, he wasn't too thrilled with me about forbidding the Warrior/Mage subclass but I have always felt that that class should not be.
Kim is trying out the Thief class, she is new to the class and an inexperienced player. All of the above players are playing elves with the exception of my wife who is playing a human witch class which is also a first for the table. She is trying out the NE alignment, which to me is easier to live with then Chaotic Crazy.

The odd thing is that we've got 2 mages, I do not expect both of them to survive. Protecting one mage is hard enough, nevertheless trying to keep two out of danger.

I ran into my first problem early. I had granted my wife access to the spell of "Burning Sphere" and she became a one-man-gang. In the moathouse, she single handedly routed the thieves living in the uppermost section of the moathouse with a single spell. The leader instantly surrendered after all of his men were wiped out in just a couple of rounds. I was going to modify this spell, however she talked me out of it as she played the spell as written in the handbook, and it is balanced by the fact that she can only use it once per day. I am trying to stick as close to CORE as I can, and while I find that spell to be excessive, it is still Core. We decided that we'd have to really pay attention to room dimensions and where everybody was at, which is tough because I refuse to play with miniatures.

I, at first, questioned if the moathouse was actually a 1st level adventure, and once again I screwed myself. I had everybody roll a 1d6 with the two highest scores being started at 2nd level. Well everybody but poor Kim rolled a 6, lucky them. Thus all but 1 person became 2nd level just like that.

I think that they probably could had entered the moathouse insantly, however I wanted them to gain another level, or at least get close to 3rd before attempting it. I had them protect a wagon out of Hommlet escorting a child up to Verbonce and then bringing fresh supplies back into town as in my version I had the Thieves of the Temple completely cripple the town by not allowing anything in or out. The party did this task with no problems.

I'm not used to playing off of a module either. Many of the descriptions are so long winded I honestly don't know what to do about them and I think that I am going to ignore them completely. It is just that I'm used to having all of the facts in my head, and running off a script, while much easier in the Prepping Department, is much harder for me to remember to factor in. This is such an advanced story, remembering everything is very difficult for me.

I had the spies of Hommlet attack, punishing the hamlet for bringing supplies in by burning fields during the night. This forced the hamlet to admit the secret of the Moathouse and have the adventures go check it out. I had tricked them into hiring a spy to accompany them, as well as the father of a missing boy. Elmo the Ranger, their greatest ally in Hommlet was injured while fighting the fire, so he couldn't go with them.

The moathouse itself took two games to complete. They quickly completed the upper level of the moathouse, making fun of me because they tried to run away from a Giant Snake and I had it batter through the rotten door. My wife said that the snake was to much of a wimp to knock the door in, and I get razed by it to this day. Apparently my wife isn't scared of a giant snake, which I looked up in the module to determine its size, and it is only as big as a boa, but it was a Rattler that size! Not scary to my wife. Oh well, the snake still bashed in the door and sacrificed its life to give the party the XP I wanted them to have before heading downstairs.

The dungeon itself gave them some serious challenges but didn't overwhelm them like I thought that it would have. It took two games to complete, and Kim got a lot of use from her thief. I did change a few things on the fly, and gave Shannon a better sword because they were exploring very well.

The finale turned out really well, the bad guys were not overwhelmed like the ones upstairs, though the wizards kept the boss on the run, forcing him on defense at the first possible time. He was able to buy his life, and turned over a list of all of the spies in Hommlet.

The next game had the players track down the spies, the mole had escaped and was able to warn the others. They had believed that they had him charmed, he and the others holed up in the tradingpost. The players devised a method of getting them out so that they could be arrested, sending a local child over there to get some intel, however when he didn't return they realized that they had unwittingly given the badguys a hostage, which made the situation even worse.

They were able to breach the walls, save the hostage, and were even able to arrest one of the badguys! Next game they will make their way to Nulb, and I've got to figure out what I want to do there.

Rating Your Players for Fun & Profit

I have been tinkering with an idea; on one hand it is rather gamy, but it would increase the difficulty level of the game, and can help players become better then they normally would be.

In the past I have written about training and leveling up. Implementing the training rules does encourage the players to collect as much money as they can. While it does make the milieu economy meaningless, there are other benefits to charging gp to level up, namely being that the level up rate will be more evenly distributed.

First Edition had an interesting take on the leveling up process, one in which how the player acted and played the game determined how hard or how easy it was to level up. Now my idea takes that theory a bit further, I do want to see some competition going on as I find that when people compete with each other, they become better players for it.

My idea is to assign everybody a grade based on the player’s nightly performance. I will only pass out 1 of each high score, and I must pass out a very low score as well. The scores will reflect on how many weeks it will take the PC to level up, as well as how much they will have to pay. Now please understand that this hasn’t been play-tested yet, and currently it is just a theory, but it could be fun!


It is the DM’s job to track how the players are doing individually, and look for problems. Is the player properly role-playing his character? Is the wizard smart enough to use a magical item at a critical moment? Is the Cleric role-playing devotion to his faith? Is the thief fighting in face-to-face melee combat in the front with the warriors? Players some times chose to play the game to accomplish a goal that perhaps the character itself would be incapable of. If you offer the chance for extra gold to a thief, he should always take it! Wizards should always refuse to fight in the front, and Paladins will never guard a door when their fellow warriors are fighting in the front.

It is the DM’s job to look for inconsistencies. Is the ranger renting a room in the city? Is the Druid fighting plant-based monsters right along side his fellow players? We shouldn’t comment on it, but make a note of it to the side. Not to say that we shouldn’t let the players role-play their characters, but once they have chosen their personalities, such as a cowardly cleric, then it wouldn’t make much sense for him to run into combat later on down the line just because his party needs help. Let the player’s have their fun, but if they do it too often then it will cost them money and time later on down the road.

Many tables also have problems with how players conduct themselves. Are they argumentative, not show up regularly, or worse, show up late without calling first? All of this can also be factored into how the DM judges the players ability to play.


A scale of grading will determine how many weeks a PC requires to train based on his in game actions. Alternatively you can limit A’s and B’s to only one player per game. These grades should be assigned at the time that you give out XP at the end of the night.

A—Superior gaming skills = 1
B—Above Average Skills = 2
C—Average Player = 3
D—Weak Playing Skills = 4


Once a player qualifies to level up, the DM must tally up all of his grades and determine which was most common. This way, an off night once in a while won’t affect your over-all score.

C should be average, but truly good players will have access to A’s or B’s. And truly bad players will get the hint that they need to improve. While it isn’t required for the D category to be used, I think that some tables might enjoy it being given out, especially if all of the players are equally good.


The base cost to level up is 1,500 gp per level, per week of training. This money is to pay the teacher, and pay for his time, supplies, expertise, tithes, whatever. Characters with a C or below must seek out an NPC of the same class and of a higher level to have them teach them. A character with a score of B or higher can opt to do independent study which may be a bit more expensive, but doesn’t require one to seek out a teacher.

No adventuring can be done while the character is in training, and if for some reason he must stop training, he must start over from the beginning and the money that he spent will be lost.


Independent study still takes the same number of weeks of dedicated training, and training only. A place must be located which is suitable to accomplish the training, and the cost below reflects that.

FIGHTER: 1,000 gp per level/week
MAGE: 4,000 gp per level/week
CLERIC: 2,000 gp per level/week
ROGUE: 2,000 gp per level/week


A character can only level up once per training session. A 1st level character who has gained enough xp to level up to 3rd must first train and level up to 2nd level before he can level up to 3rd.

A character may still earn XP until he has collected enough to level up twice. At that time, no more XP can be earned until he spends the time and the money to level up.

Thus, Fran the Terrible, a 1st level Fighter, has collected 3,985 xp. He qualifies to level up to 2nd level, however he hasn’t been able to escape the hellish pit that he and his mates have been exploring. Killing a monster worth 50 xp, he’ll only get 25 of that, as it will push him into qualifying for 3rd level. All other XP is lost until Fran can surface and train to become 2nd level. After he is second level, he can either spend more time and money leveling up to 3rd, or go back down into the hole as a 2nd level fighter and keep earning more XP until he’s earned enough to level up to 4th.


If you plan on using this experimental rule system, you may want to let the encumbrance rules slide, a least in regards to transporting gold, as it will take a hell-a-lot of it to pay to level up.

On paper, this system looks kind of fun, and it is based on an AD&D rule found in the 1e DMG, all I did was make it a bit more competitive. I am interested to know if anybody has ever played under that particular leveling up rule, and how it worked. I suppose that in this day and age players will bitch because they want their damned level up right NOW!!! But why should they instantly get it? I mean many of my players laugh at a player’s ability in 4th edition to demand specific magical items from the DM, who says that Leveling up should be a freebee too?


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