Should random encounters be level appropriate?

ninjazombie42
edited January 2012 in General Discussion
So what do you think? I think, for example, it would suck if the city guards are just as hard at 11th level as they were when you was 1st level, or the same mountain is still just as hard to climb, even if you are a better climber.
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Comments

  • magavendon
    magavendon
    Posts: 112
    If you want the random encounters to be *truly* random you would do it like Stephen described. But you have to keep in mind what your group can tolerate.

    For example, I was playing in a D&D game where the DM decided to throw a random encounter at us. We got a pack of cats that were invisible (I don't remember the monster name). It didn't make any sense at all for the area we were in and they were too high level for us. On top of that we couldn't even see them. The cats showed up because they were hungry so we couldn't even run. I don't remember right now how we got out of it, but I think it was through DM intervention. The whole group was upset (myself included). In fact, I don't really remember anything beyond that as well...

    Anyway, my point is that if your players will just get upset at you there isn't any point in doing it that way. You should ask your players how they feel about random encounters. Personally I make random encounters approximately equivalent to their "level" (I run a GURPS game, no levels), but I don't have a table to roll on either. I have to make up every single enemy, so I usually just pick some numbers that sound good and let the enemies have those stats.

    On another note, in your example you describe coming back to these same random encounters later (the same city guards, the same mountain). If the players return to these same things before it isn't really a random encounter anymore. Sure it may have been the first time they came across the people or situation, but now it's known to them. I think, in your example, it could make sense for the same guards they came across a long time ago to now be stronger, NPCs can have experiences too. The mountain is less likely to be any more difficult than the first time, but not impossible either. Perhaps there was an avalanche or rock slide which now makes it more treacherous than it was the first time.
  • twiggyleaf
    twiggyleaf
    Posts: 1,465 edited January 2012
    I think it is a good rule of thumb to use but I don't have any problems increasing or decreasing power levels of random encounters according to the story and the context of the game. If the players have been cruising through the game sweeping your monsters away like dust, then you might want to just bump up that random encounter. Similarly, if you know that they have been having a hard time, spells are down, and vile damage hasn't yet been healed, you don't have to go with a full strength monster group just because it is random.

    I agree with Stephen's point of view, and particularly in towns, I might have an NPC that is a 25th Level Wizard. He may just look like an old man. He may even be a bit gruff and unfriendly but he certainly doesn't have a badge that says: "Watch Out! I am Epic Level." I believe it is important to have a wide ranging world that is not just determined by Effective Encounter Levels and Challenge Ratings. By the same token, I take your point that not every NPC has to increase at the same levels as characters and therefore it is quite plausible that the town guards that gave the characters REAL trouble during an earlier encounter are mowed down like headless chickens in the encounter a few months later, because they haven't progressed at the same rate as the characters. Certainly, I agree that a mountain may be easier to climb if you have spent a few months training and experiencing climbing and developing relevant skills. However, it is still a mountain, and there should still be risks - even of death!

    In Table 3-2 on page 49 of the Dungeon Masters Guide, the suggestion is that 50% of the encounters are challenging, 30% should be easy and 20% very difficult. I think that if you use this rating for random encounters as well as set encounters, you will still have a fairly balanced game, even if there are the odd instances of overpowering. (The same table suggests 5% of encounters SHOULD be overpowering by being EL 5+ or higher.)

    The main thing is to create an exciting environment, so whatever you feel fits right for your players at the time, then go for it, and adapt your random encounters as you see fit.


    twiggyleaf
    "Shimring - The Faces of Divinity":http://www.obsidianportal.com/campaigns/shimring
    (a multiplanar 3.5 D&D campaign)
    Post edited by twiggyleaf on

    "I met a traveller from an antique land....."

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  • Black_Vulmea
    Black_Vulmea
    Posts: 277
    Random encounters in my campaigns are location appropriate, not level appropriate.

    Relative power level _vis-
  • Morrinn
    Morrinn
    Posts: 166
    Well, it of course depends very much on the system, but generally speaking yeah, I think random encounters should be level appropriate, otherwise why bother spending too much time on them. If you got yourself a level 11 party taking on a handful of level 1-3 guards, why even bother to set up the encounter?

    I think there should just be a difficulty curve on the encounter. But that curve should range from Easy to Hard and stay away from the Effortless and Impossible ends of that spectrum.
  • ninjazombie42
    Posts: 57
    The encounters in the main adventure are level appropriate, of course. But say if they get in trouble with common city guards or decide to hunt wolfs or start a bar fight... Why level at all if everything else in the world levels with you?
  • Morrinn
    Morrinn
    Posts: 166
    If they engage in something clearly far beneath their abilities, try and downgrade the challenge to something easier and more compact, like a skill roll. If they are powerful enough to squash your average city guard effortlessly, just give it to them.
    If you are running a 4E game, a lot of this can be put into skill challenges.

    Here's an example of how one DM handled a 'common soldier' depending on the level we were playing at.
    On the hero tier we would engage them in combat as normal. On the paragon tier we might handle a legion of common soldiers with a skill challenge rather than an actual encounter.
    On the epic tier... They were just considered difficult terrain.
  • magavendon
    magavendon
    Posts: 112
    I guess... You just have to think about how your world works. Morrinn puts it in a very good way.

    If they go into some random tavern looking for a fight are they likely to find antlions or dragons in there? Probably not. So you'd give them whatever people are in the tavern. If you feel like the people in there should be equivalent level then make it so. Otherwise, make them weaker or stronger accordingly. I'm guessing in that example most of the time it would just be a bunch of drunkards so they won't be very strong, but what if an old legend of a hero was passing through and he's still got some tricks up his sleeve? Then that encounter would be super difficult.

    In my game it's pretty much assumed that if the players go visit the local IHOW(Intergalactic House of Wafaffles) (the campaign's taverns if you will) then if they choose to pick a fight with whoever they find in there they're gonna win that fight. This is because the place is filled with just a bunch of normal (i.e. not as strong as the PCs) people. Every now and then, however, something surprises them. They themselves were once attacked while in an IHOW and one of the players lost 3 limbs.

    Just remember, it really depends on what you feel would be right for your campaign world and if the players are enjoying it or not.
  • Black_Vulmea
    Black_Vulmea
    Posts: 277
    bq. IHOW

    International House of Wenches? Make mine a tall stack, please.

    Mike aka Black Vulmea
    "_Le Ballet de l'Acier_":http://www.obsidianportal.com/campaigns/le-ballet-de-l-acier - swashbuckling adventures in the age of the Three Musketeers and Captain Alatriste
    Featured Campaign of the Month - August 2011
  • magavendon
    magavendon
    Posts: 112
    Intergalactic House of Wafaffles. Did the acronym thing not work?
  • HurstGM
    HurstGM
    Posts: 205
    No, but i use random encounters to punish my players for going where they should not. (sounds bad but how else do you control them) If they are warned "there be dragons in those there hills" and go anyway then the random table comes out. Sometimes its a couple of zombies (boring and non threating) or its an ancient demon looking for souls and they should run. Ironically they love those because they never know what to expect.
  • Morrinn
    Morrinn
    Posts: 166
    Wenches > Waffles > Wafaffles
  • HurstGM
    HurstGM
    Posts: 205
    My favorite sign "here":https://plus.google.com/u/0/114475097590921252233/posts
    Ps im diabetic thats why i find it funny.
  • magavendon
    magavendon
    Posts: 112 edited January 2012
    How can Waffles be greater than Wafaffles? Wafaffles are Waffles filled with Waffles. They're kinda like super saiyan waffles.
    Post edited by magavendon on
  • killervp
    killervp
    Posts: 2,633
    Random is pretty random with us- some encounters have been a school of fish. It helps keep the players on their toes- where they do not think that a roll is death or combat. However, if it is supposed to be a tough random encounter, the level is adjusted to the pc's- which now number 8, ranging from 6-8th level, where 15 is considered legendary. So, pretty tough- last session it was 5 Pirate ships against their one.
    killervp
    "A God...Rebuilt":http://www.obsidianportal.com/campaigns/a-god-rebuilt
    Duskreign's "COTM for November 2011":http://www.obsidianportal.com/campaigns/wyrmshadow/wiki_pages/112011

    Just trying to help out.

  • Black_Vulmea
    Black_Vulmea
    Posts: 277
    I think a question to ask yourself is, what purpose does random encounters serve in your campaign? Frex, random encounters can serve the purpose of keeping the action moving - spend too much time searching a room, and you're likely to end up with company. This was a very common expectation of random encounters back in Ye Olde Days.

    In my campaigns, random encounters provide the sense that the setting is a living place, with stuff happening that has nothing to do with the adventurers directly, and as a means of producing coincidences.

    So, what is it you want random encounters to bring to your campaign?

    Mike aka Black Vulmea
    "_Le Ballet de l'Acier_":http://www.obsidianportal.com/campaigns/le-ballet-de-l-acier - swashbuckling adventures in the age of the Three Musketeers and Captain Alatriste
    Featured Campaign of the Month - August 2011
  • Morrinn
    Morrinn
    Posts: 166
    Vulmea raises a good point there, random Encounters can be a really useful tool for making the world seem like a living breathing place.
    It can end up backfiring though if you are not careful.

    I remember having something odd happen to my PC's at a market place which they mistook for an adventure hook, and they being rather well behaved players (Well broken in, I should say) they began chasing that red herring for a while and I had to sort of jury rig it into the main plot.
  • killervp
    killervp
    Posts: 2,633
    Did that mean they cut down the largest tree in the forest with that herring?

    Just trying to help out.

  • Black_Vulmea
    Black_Vulmea
    Posts: 277
    bq. I remember having something odd happen to my PC
  • killervp
    killervp
    Posts: 2,633
    Another Tree! How about a path?

    Just trying to help out.

  • Beaumains
    Beaumains
    Posts: 132
    I'd agree that "random means random," but only when it's truly random. That is, if you're in a well defined place such as the baron's castle or a local tavern, niether a wyvern nor a skeleton are likely to be in there (unless the former is dinner ... hmmmm ... moving on), so a random encounter should be area appropriate (which is generally encouraged, at least in D&D). Likewise, in such a well-defined place, the difficulty range should also be established. Afterall, if something unusual is encountered, there's got to be a reason behind it, or so most thinking PCs would be inclined to believe, and is therefore the purview of the main adventure. That is, in a known setting, random encounters are subject to the constraints of 'normal.'

    In the wilderness however, out in the open, or even a large and living place, there really shouldn't be as many restrictions on what can be encountered. While the baron's castle probably won't have anything too dangerous in it, the Grand Imperial Palace could have all sorts of things locked away in the under-dungeons, just waiting to escape.

    However, I would tend to apply a sort of double-standard. I agree that the characters should come across things too powerful for them from time to time (or more often if they go looking for trouble), and that they should be given the benefit of an encounter when they do. But it was also well put that lowly thugs eventually become minor inconveniences, and if the encounter is one they wouldn't get XP for anyway, it should just be given to them, however they opt to deal with it. Especially if the minimum damage they deal is well more than the npcs could hope to take.


    ___


    Now, as far as the city guards and mountain go, I'd say the guards shouldn't be much tougher than they were, unless there's a war on or something; but they probably have improved since the PCs last saw them - or at least some of them have, and the mountain definitely shouldn't be harder to climb - in fact it should be just a bit easier since they've done it before (perhaps a circumstantial +1 to +2 bonus for familiarity) - unless there's been an avalanche or eruption or something very unusual.
  • DreadGazebo
    DreadGazebo
    Posts: 218
    I see this thread has been going on for a bit, and with some great answers but I figure I'll toss in my two cents. If random encounters are based on environment and other similar factors, I do not think they should be level appropriate. Is your party setting up camp for the night in a forest that contains a werewolves den or other powerful denizens alongside the more common ones? Random means random, let the fate of the dice fall where they may.

    If random encounters are randomly based on the groups/factions/monsters the players are currently engaging with in the story, I don't see any problems with it being level-appropriate.
  • Black_Vulmea
    Black_Vulmea
    Posts: 277
    This is like the third thread now where one of my comments was truncated. Weird.

    Mike aka Black Vulmea
    "_Le Ballet de l'Acier_":http://www.obsidianportal.com/campaigns/le-ballet-de-l-acier - swashbuckling adventures in the age of the Three Musketeers and Captain Alatriste
    Featured Campaign of the Month - August 2011
  • rrouillard
    rrouillard
    Posts: 8
    I agree in that random encounters should be just that--random. In our games, the players usually hear about what possible creatures may lurk in the vicinity. We allow for skill challenges or skill checks for them to determine how dangerous some of the monster may be.

    But, If they still decide to take their low-level characters and head into the deep woods where an ancient green dragon is rumored to lair, it should come as no surprise to them when the green dragon runs into them and makes a meal out of all of them.

    We actually find it "cheesy" when every creature in the area they happen to be at is appropriate for their level. When that happens, everyone suddenly asks if they can switch over to their paragon or epic characters, travel to the same area, and wipe out every creature there and claim the land for themselves. Cheesy indeed.

    So I agree with DreadGazebo in that "random" in games should truly mean "random".
  • kernal
    kernal
    Posts: 4
    There are two different domains here, which require different answers.
    First: DMs who are creating games for their players;
    Second: DMs who are creating worlds for their players.

    If you are creating a game, then yes - by all means your random encounters should scale. As stated repeatedly above, it's boring to have a random encounter that is trivially bypassed and frustrating to have random encounters that you can't possibly win.

    If you are creating a world, then no - the stage of your players' progression should have no impact on the creatures they encounter randomly.

    Of course, most DMs are likely to fall into both categories; yes it's a game, but it should also be a cohesive world. Presumably this is the motivation behind the OP's inquiry.

    There are two methods for finding a solution to this apparent conflict:

    One: You can create a world in which it's natural to encounter more difficult creatures as you yourself become more powerful. An obvious example of this is Vulmea's suggestion where random encounters vary with area in parallel with adventure difficulty. Thus, more powerful adventurers are likely to be in places with higher-level adventures, but also higher-level random encounters. This is perfectly consistent.

    Two: Decide which of these two principles yields first. IMO, this is the consistent world principle. If we're just talking random encounters here, I won't bore or frustrate my players just for the sake of creating a more internally-consistent world view.

    Cheers,
    Kernal
  • vstraydogstrutv
    vstraydogstrutv
    Posts: 209 edited March 2012
    This is definitely one of the things were skill challenges (as mentioned above) fit in very well. The thing to really look at when it comes to random encounters is not just your world, but the rules you're running them from.

    ((_The next few bits of information assume you're playing D&D 3.5, but with creative tweaking you could take the concept and work it into whatever game you're playing._))

    For instance:
    If most humans in a city are levels 0, 1, 2..., maybe up to 10 max how in the hell did they survive placing a city there when they're surrounded by monsters with CR 10-17?
    Aside from sheer numbers, there's no good answer to this.

    I myself use a lot of random information generators for my games, so when I have to generate a random encounter I plug in the PC's ECL and it generates a level-appropriate encounter. I just hit refresh until it's something I like. But that's outside of the confines of a city.

    If I'm in town (where humanoids are lower levels) then it falls to what laws are established and whether or not your characters abide by those laws. Good and lawful aligned characters will naturally adhere to prescribed laws. But if they're evil or chaotic, it may be important to introduce a power that puts the fear of the gods into them so they think twice. Running urban encounters can (and usually should) be far different and removed from a hack-and-slash encounters. To that end, if there is call for a h&s encounter, I direct you to Pg. 124 of Cityscape (there's also an excerpt in the DMG II) that has to do with a mob of humanoids (CR 8). I cannot tell you how often my players moan when I pull this out, because it does a lot of damage without an attack roll. These could be soldiers, revolting villagers, a large barfight, anything. There's nothing scarier than a throng of people with the common goal to put your character's in their place. The more "intelligent" the mob is, the more dangerous it is. With creative ruleplay, a mob could strip and shackle a player in no time.

    You can find pdf copies of Cityscape that can be read online. Just remember to be liberal with the rules and break what occasionally must be broken.

    "Shared Creations(Share your links and stories here, please! Help expand this libram of knowledge!)":http://www.obsidianportal.com/campaigns/shared-creations
    "Heurdenvaar(stray's current campaign)":http://www.obsidianportal.com/campaigns/heurdenvaar
    Post edited by vstraydogstrutv on
  • Black_Vulmea
    Black_Vulmea
    Posts: 277
    I put together "a lengthier reply":http://black-vulmea.blogspot.com/2012/03/level-appropriate.html to this thread.

    Mike aka Black Vulmea
    "_Le Ballet de l'Acier_":http://www.obsidianportal.com/campaigns/le-ballet-de-l-acier - swashbuckling adventures in the age of the Three Musketeers and Captain Alatriste
    Featured Campaign of the Month - August 2011
  • arsheesh
    arsheesh
    Posts: 850
    Good article Black!

    Cheers,
    -Arsheesh
  • killervp
    killervp
    Posts: 2,633
    I second Arsheesh's comment- Well done Black!
    killervp
    "A God...Rebuilt":http://www.obsidianportal.com/campaigns/a-god-rebuilt
    "Duskreign's First Ever COTM":http://www.obsidianportal.com/campaigns/wyrmshadow/wiki_pages/112011

    Just trying to help out.

  • Black_Vulmea
    Black_Vulmea
    Posts: 277
    Thank you both!

    Mike aka Black Vulmea
    "_Le Ballet de l'Acier_":http://www.obsidianportal.com/campaigns/le-ballet-de-l-acier - swashbuckling adventures in the age of the Three Musketeers and Captain Alatriste
    Featured Campaign of the Month - August 2011
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