Sunday, April 14, 2019

The Most Important Encounter Table

[Normally I'd just have pointed it out on G+, but...]

The Most Important Encounter Table (IMNSHO) first makes it's appearance in the original City State of the Invincible Overlord by the Judges Guild, as part of the encounter sequence. Now this was a set of tables that determines the encounter you had in the city and is still one of the best examples of it's kind (even if you can meet a god walking the streets of the city). You don't have CSIO then you can also find these tables at the start of Judges Guild ready reference Sheets, Volume 1 (there never was a volume 2).

Anyway the table in question is simply this one (the very first table of the encounter sequence):

1d6Type of Encounter
1Attacked by Surprise
4Questions Player(s)
5Propositions Player(s)
6Special Encounter (below)

In other words the most important part of the encounter is why it is an encounter. After all the city is full of people (and other things), so why are these people important to the characters? The CSIO encounter sequence then goes on to determine what is encountered (from a patrol of constables [naturally quite frequent given that OD&D adventurers tend to be suspicious looking types, to a chamber pot being carelessly emptied out the window).

Most encounter systems in D&D work the other way. They determine the what and generally assume the why is an innate hostility (or use a treaction roll to determine how friendly the encounter is). The emphasis is on what is encountered, which biases the nature of the encounter. On the other hand, with the CSIO, with a dice sequence of 5, 5, 1, 6 you have a Troll sexually propositioning one of the players, which is a much more intriguing proposition for an encounter (admittedly only a 0.02% chance of it though).

Of course this table is rather simple. Midkhemia Press created a much more involved encounter tables with their Cities supplement (later repreinted by Chaosium and used in their Thieves World setting. Although the nature of encounter is second to what is encountered, you still have motivation as the primary drive of the encounter. For example you don't just meet a Mercenary Warrior, you meet a lonely Mercenary Warrior who wants a friend, or a band of mercenary warriors recruiting for a mission. Context is king.

This should be applied to wilderness encounters as well. After all what you encounter in the wilderness is likely to be out there for a reason themselves and will have a reason for why this is an actual encounter as far as the players are concerned. For example a hostile encounter of a single deer may not be of much concern, but what if the hostility does not come from the deer itself but a later encounter with the Royal Forester as they are enjoying the fruits of their chance encounter with the King's Deer.

The boardgame Tales of the Arabian Nights modifies it's encounters by adding a adjective. You don't just meet a Prince, you meet a Vengeful Prince or a Foolish Prince or a Mad Prince. One of the nice tricks (which works for the boardgame but is less suited for a roleplaying game) is that the player then chooses how they wish to encounter the Lost Prince. Do they Grovel to, Aid, Rob, Avoid, Converse with, Attack, Court, Abduct or Honour the Lost Prince? Which action will lead to a story that is of the greatest benefit to the players. They (and the gamemaster) have a lot more information to go on by knowing that the Prince they have encountered is "Lost," and that shopuld affect what everyone does.

[Just an idle thought whilst I slowly go mad repairing my RPG collection database.]


  1. I've been thinking about stuff like this a lot recently.

    Multi-Table Approach (1d6 Types of Encounter, 1d6 Encounters, etc.)
    Pros: very compact.
    Pro: produces a huge number of possible results.
    Con: requires all the entries to harmonize. You could meet a [lonely][mercenary warrior] or a [hostile][mercenary warrior] but could you meet a [lonely][runaway horse] or a [hostile][street-seller of baked apples]?
    Con: requires the GM to do a bit more improvising and legwork.
    Con: slower to roll on (roll multiple dice, track entries, hold results in head, then improvise).

    One-Table Approach (1d100 encounters with detail baked into each one]
    Pro: less legwork for the GM and faster to roll
    Pro: pre-harmonized flavour
    Pro: can put worldbuilding info into the table more easily
    Con: takes up more space and takes much more time to write
    Con: limited number of possible results (less chance of an unexpected or serendipitous encounter).

    Overall... I'm still not sure which one comes out ahead.

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  2. A lonely runaway horse has a story to tell, especially if still saddled but with no rider. The lonely for me would indicate the horse approaches the party. It may be a companion seeking aid for the lost master. or a kelpie, of course.

    A hostile seller of baked apples is theoretically easy in my case since the reaction attitude affects the pricelist I use for the apples. One the other hand it not being a sought after adventurer item, she is probably angry because the player upset her apple cart and she is demanding payment for the lost merchandise. Did the player do so, or is it a ploy?

    I want procedurally generated index cards that I can shuffle and put in a box for each terrain. Actually it would be all virtual, but that's the general idea. I get away then from limiting myself to a table.

  3. Man, I love Cities, such a great supplement. Enjoyed this post; I linked some folks over here on my blog/podcast this week.

  4. I like the idea but that's a hell of a violent city. I would have more building of menace. Parties being stalked to catch them in a weak moment, but not outright surprise-attacked in the street.