Friday, July 19, 2013

Encounter Tables and Time Management

I've been going over dungeon encounter tables again recently because I seem to have veered off in an insane random direction at some point in the 11th grade and begun my own hyper-aggressive encounter tables. It's only just recently that I've scaled them back again to be more in line with the guidelines suggested in every sourcebook. I didn't even realize I'd gone so off the reservation, but I think dwelling on what led me there might be a source of enlightenment.

Encounter checks are meant to be made, in a dungeon, once every "turn." That's an hour-long period. At some point in high school, my players were invading a monastery that was very much not a ruin. Instead of a 1 on a d10 every hour, I increased the encounter rate to 1-3 on a d10 every ten minutes. If they were spotted, that went up to 1-5 as the alarms were sounded. It also changed over most of the encounters from monks in twos or threes to whole squads armed with staves and pitchforks looking to do them in. What kind of monastery was it? I have no idea, but clearly not a very nice one.

Somehow, I forgot the division between wandering monsters and lairs after this. I made all my encounter checks 1-2 or 1-3 every ten minutes. I've been doing it, literally for years. It was only recently that I realized encounter checks weren't supposed to happen so damn frequently, particularly in ruins which are the standard "dungeon" setting. And you know what? Hour-long encounter checks suddenly make a whole lot of stuff more viable.

Searching (not using your brains, but rather using the thief rules) a large room for traps is suddenly possible (though still not desirable; it can take much longer than an hour and result in many encounters). The speed with which the party moves is also now a major factor. So is light, and so are long duration spells like bless (or blessings from altars which last 24 hours or longer). A whole new world of temporal possibilities has opened up to me again. I missed it. Don't make the same mistake I did and close yourself off to it. Not every dungeon site is packed to the brim with ravening monsters.

This, of course, also lends some more use to "empty" dungeon rooms. They eat away at time, players explore them, take up valuable minutes that lead to more encounter checks. When the difference between an encounter or not is 10 minutes, the number of checks they are going to make overall would change by a large amount but the difference wouldn't be felt as much as the difference between 1, 2, or 5 hour-long encounter checks.

And it makes moving loudly, fighting, or otherwise drawing attention to yourself much more (relatively) dangerous, since early encounter checks are now coming FIFTY MINUTES early, rather than 4 or 5.

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