Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Friday, 27 May 2022

Mapping Your Encounter

There have always been encounters in roleplaying because fundamentally, roleplaying is built on encounters, and the most fun has come from great encounters and their outcome and the roleplaying which comes from them. Yet coming up with interesting, involving, or even challenging encounters can hinder the most creative of Game Masters. So it is no surprise that the industry has fulfilled this need all the way back to books such as Dungeons & Dragons Monster & Treasure Assortment Set One: Levels One-Three, published by TSR, Inc. in 1977 and Traveller Supplement 6: 76 Patrons, published in in 1980 by GDW. This need has never gone away, with roleplaying genres such as fantasy, horror, and fantasy, along with specific roleplaying games and settings all being treated to their supplements of encounters, personalities, and places. In each book, each of their encounters can obviously be run as written, but each can also be adapted to fit the Game Master’s campaign, or even simply serve as inspiration. One of the latest entries to join this long list of supplements is Untold Encounters of the Random Kind.

Untold Encounters of the Random Kind is published by Loke BattleMats, a publisher best known for its maps for roleplaying games, such as The Towns & Taverns Books of Battle Mats, The Wilderness Books of Battle Mats, and The Dungeon Books of Battle MatsUntold Encounters of the Random Kind promises over a thousand random encounters, much like the ‘Books of Battle Mats’ series across towns, wildernesses, and dungeons, as well as adventure generators, random tables, and more. The latter includes six sample adventures.

Untold Encounters of the Random Kind is designed to be compatible with Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. However, it is not actually a Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition supplement and there are no Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition stats or content in the supplement. Instead it uses Keywords across seven categories—Mechanics, Damage, Difficulty, Challenge, Enemy Types, Group Sizes, and NPC Types. So for example, Damage which can be inflicted by an attack, a trap, a spell, an environmental effect, and so on, is listed as Minor, Light, Major, and Lethal, whilst the Difficulty of a task is listed as Simple, Routine, Difficult, Very Difficult, or Near Impossible. All of these are easily adapted to the fantasy roleplaying game of the Game Master’s choice, whilst the ‘5E Mechanics’ section suggests how the supplement’s Keywords can be translated into Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. This is via Keywords, primarily the Keywords for Damage, Difficulty, and Challenge—the latter to Challenge Rating, and together it amounts to just two pages. In a supplement which is over three hundred pages long… The point is that Untold Encounters of the Random Kind is just as easy to use with Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition as it is with the retroclone of the Game Master’s choice, be it Old School Essentials, Swords & Wizardry, or Labyrinth Lord. In other words, Untold Encounters of the Random Kind is very much Old School Renaissance compatible.

Untold Encounters of the Random Kind is tidily organised into its three sections covering town, wilderness, and dungeon encounters. Each section begins with an overview of the nature of the location type, terrain, district, or encounter types (so cemeteries, docks, and noble quarters for towns, arctic, forests, and sea and shore for wildernesses, and dungeon doors, enemies, and intrigue for dungeons), advice on using the encounters, as well as information particular to the section. Thus for Town Encounters there notes on town dignitaries, wilderness and dungeon crossovers, townsfolk, types of town, and how to create non-human towns. For the different types of wilderness, there is guidance on the weather, visibility, geography, and travel and survival, whilst for dungeons there is advice on traps, denizens, building dungeons, crossovers, and more. None of these entries is accorded more than a few short paragraphs, and arguably, any one of them is likely worth an essay or two of their very own. As a starting point though, the advice in Untold Encounters of the Random Kind is solid throughout.

None of the advice in each section is more than three pages in length before Untold Encounters of the Random Kind delves into its encounters. There are more than fifty entries in each of these tables and each one is expanded upon with a full description. These are given alphabetically following all of the tables. There is a degree of repetition here, for example, the ‘Abandoned Cart’ encounter, found with signs of something heavy having been dragged from it, can be found in the Castle Ward, Guild Quarter, High Street, Lanes, and Noble Quarter, but for most part the encounters are confined to one area or district. For example, the ‘Jury’ is only found in the Noble Quarter and a ‘Hollow Tree’ is found in the Forest. Some entries add flavour and feel, such as ‘Fantastic Music’, the wind whistling through past them sounds so happy as they trek across the Arctic region that the spirits of the Player Characters are uplifted, whilst on the Sea & Shore, the heavy salt content in the water and the air matts hair giving the Player Characters odd hairdos. It also affects fur coats. Boons may also be found in be the wilderness and dungeons, such as a ‘Coin Stash’ or ‘Mechanical Oddity’ with an as yet unfathomable purpose, and a dungeon or ‘Ring of the Lost’ which provides protection and a strange effect on compasses and ‘Salvage Onshore’ of valuable trade goods, similarly both found, though in the wilderness. Wilderness boons consist of coins and valuables, survival and supply caches, and even ores and gems. Similarly, dungeon boons consist of coins and other valuables, but also can be clues and of course, magical items. In both cases of wilderness and dungeon boons there is advice on how to include them and their potential story ramifications.

In comparison to the earlier sections of town and wilderness encounters, the dungeon encounter section goes into a bit more detail. There are tables here for location and back story, plus sample monster suggestions and building particular encounters. Again whole essays or even supplements have been written about dungeon design, so the advice is solid, but not deep.

Included at the end of the three sections—town, wilderness, and dungeon—is a pair of scenarios. These are designed for either Second, Fourth, or Eighth Level Players and each consists of a two-page spread. These have been constructed using the tables and encounters in Untold Encounters of the Random Kind with differently formatted text used to refer to encounter types and also Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition monster types. This is by name only, so again no stats. The six include ‘Wanted’ in which a local watch captain wants a shady relative brought in before the con artist’s enemies catch up with him; ‘Parched’, which opens with the Player Characters shipwrecked on the shores of a desert and a five-day trek to the nearest oasis with little water between them; and in ‘The Cursed Folly’, the Player Characters have been paid well to clear out a folly by a somewhat dotty member of the owning noble family who wants to live in it. Each of the six comes with a decent map of the adventure location, but each will require the Game Master to provide the stats for the various monsters. All six are all decent adventures, each offering little more than a session’s worth of play, and potentially the publisher could take the format and do a whole supplement of full encounters like it.

Physically, Untold Encounters of the Random Kind is decently presented. It does need an edit in places, but the artwork is excellent. Overall, the supplement is a clean and attractive book.

Untold Encounters of the Random Kind is not necessarily a book that as a Game Master you need to own. However, as a book of prompts, ideas, and inspiration, Untold Encounters of the Random Kind is a useful tome to have on the shelf—whichever version of Dungeons & Dragons or retroclone that the Game Master prefers because this supplement will work with them all.


Loke BattleMats will be at UK Games Expo which takes place from Friday, June 3rd to Sunday, June 5th, 2022.

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