As far as random generators go, here’s an oldie but a goody worth revisiting.
GMs run the gamut when it comes to their appreciation for compiling random encounter charts.
For some, it’s an hour well-spent, a selection of monsters and NPC’s that fits perfectly with the next adventure you plan on running. If the adventure is one you devised, then it further enforces your vision of the fantasy world you are presenting to the players.
But even if it is a published product, a custom random encounter chart is a great way to “own” the adventure. Having encounters ready to go that fit your interpretation of the material emphasizes your command of the material.
For those GMs, though, who think making such charts are akin to a visit to the dentist’s chair for a good ol’ teeth pulling, let me make this suggestion:
Pull that box of Magic The Gathering cards off the shelf. A quick perusal of your deck should provide a selection of monsters appropriate to the adventure you are running. Set those cards aside in a pile. Then shuffle and place it face down on the game table. When the time comes for an encounter, just have one of the players — preferably the one considered unluckiest, pull from the top. Presto, chango, that monster depicted on the card is your next encounter. Find an entry approximate to the picture on the card, roll for initiative and you’re off to the races.
As an example, I pulled the following forest cards for a wilderness encounter chart. In all, it took about 3 minutes once I had the cards in hand. There were 19, so I’ll throw a forest land card into the deck, a freebie “no encounter” if it gets pulled, which lets the players think fate is on their side. Here is a d20 version of my pulls for this article (minus the proper nouns that are likely MTG product identity).
- 1 acidic slime
- 2 grave bramble (plant)
- 3 wildwood geist (ghost)
- 4 hollowhenge scanvenger (plant)
- 5 ambush viper
- 6 flinthoof boar
- 7 bond beetle
- 8 briarpack alpha
- 9 deadly recluse (spider)
- 10 primal huntbeast (herd animal)
- 11 roaring paradox (owlbear?)
- 12 best tracker (NPC)
- 13 hamlet captain (NPC)
- 14 borderland ranger (NPC)
- 15 pilgrim (NPC)
- 16 elvish visionary (NPC)
- 17 arbor elf (NPC)
- 18 force mage (NPC)
- 19 timberland guide (NPC)
- 20 forest (free)
The real advantage to using a deck for random encounters is the instant visual reference. Hold up the card and say: “You run into this!” As the artwork for MTG is particularly evocative, it can only serve to enhance the presentation. Of course, as the GM, it’s up to you to say exactly how many of said creatures the party will encounter (or go old school, roll a d6+1, and let the party take its chances with the result). Will they run and hide or stand their ground and fight? Silly adventurers.
Of course, you could, if you wish, stock an entire dungeon in this fashion. I find swamp cards deliciously suited for that purpose, but your mileage may vary.
In any event, using MTG cards in this fashion can serve as a nice diversion to your usual gaming session preparation, or an elegant solution if you find yourself playing a roleplaying game on the go, say in a car on a long trip.
Either way, it’s worth a try. And if you’ve used this method before, give us a shout in the comments and let us know how it went.