Thursday, June 21, 2012

Randoms & You

I've heard it said that the easiest way to make an event decent is to run randoms every 20 minutes.  For me, that doesn't make my event, and I don't really like randoms at all as a PC.  Usually they are not presented in any interesting way, they can break game momentum, they can roll PCs who just want a break, and as Staff they can drain resources that PCs would prefer to use on mods.  And worst for me, they don't make sense.  Why did a squad of orcs decide to attack superior numbers of armed adventurers in what is supposed to be a well-established and guarded settlement?  I don't know :)

That being said, I think they might be necessary in a lot of games, and can add a lot.  So how can randoms work for you?

That being said, randoms can work to your advantage.  When you have a larger PC group, they're not going to be going on all your mods, and giving them something to fight can help entertain them.  Newer players or players who just like the thrill of killing things can enjoy random monster slaying.  And you also don't want your PC areas to feel too safe - the thrill of danger is part of the draw for a lot of players. 

So, how to do it right?

First, timing is everything.  If you send randoms out at the wrong time, you could derail mods - which most people enjoy much more than any random!  Be aware of what the rest of your team is doing and what mods need to get done.  Don't take resources away from them if you can help it (you can be a one-man random!).  And try to keep an eye on what the PCs are doing.  Ask your NPCs who were just in town, or PCs who are at the shack, how things are going.  Also, if your PCs have set up some major event, like a ceremony or festival, try not to ruin it (unless it's good plot, of course! :) ). 

Second, scaling is still important.  If you're sending out goblins into a town that's all above level 20, it's probably not going to be as fun (unless there's plot or you do something interesting).  And if you send down a horde of death knights and there are only 2 people awake, that can make for grumpy PCs.  Again, ask people what the town atmosphere is like and scout it out. If you're not sure if people are around, try starting out with something small and work your way up to the big guns if needed.  Also, make sure that your NPCs aren't out to kill people. Always make sure they know the limits you want on the encounter and how tough they should be.  No one likes to resurrect from random spiders :)

Make it worth their while.  PCs hate it when they get through a fight and the NPC doesn't have treasure.  Don't over-reward, but make sure and put appropriate treasure on the monsters.  You can then use this to even out treasure distribution for your event as well.  If you have the space, put a couple random minor magic items on the occasional kobold, and people will be more interested in engaging them!

Spread the love - alternate where the randoms come from and what they're doing.  If you do the same thing every time, you can get those types of folks who just sit and splatter the NPC as it spawns before anyone else can get to it.  Especially if you start giving out good items here and there.  Changing it up can help keep more people entertained.

And finally, my favorite point.  Try to make the randoms make sense.  A pack of wolves isn't going to attack a town under normal circumstances, so think about things that might.  You can really use this to your advantage to reinforce plot lines.  If there's an evil druid plot, maybe they are sending their new twisted tree creations in to test their strength.  Maybe the goblin army has suicide bombers trying to destroy morale.  Or the mad alchemist is sending minions to plant poison distributors.  Or the ancient elder dragon's presence is driving the forest creatures mad.  Not only are you entertaining people, you're fleshing out your plot lines!

If you run out of those ideas, try "hook randoms."  These are mini encounters that take place within eye/ear shot of town. They're not just monster x attacking the PCs, but they can still be of any level, and the entire town can engage.  Example - a traveling merchant runs in saying orcs attacked his wagon on his way to the tavern. Something that requires basically no prep, and you can run it in town.  You're adding a little bit of extra depth to the random to have it make sense and be a little more exciting to the PCs, but you can use the exact same resources and monsters.  All you need is a little creativity and a few minutes of planning to figure out an idea that will work.  This is basically putting hook mods in Staff's hands from time to time.

Don't forget that role-play NPCs entertain people too.  Not every random has to be for fighters!  Your role-players and puzzle-solvers are also waiting around town for their next mod, so send in a strange merchant, an old story-teller, or some other engaging NPC.  These tend to entertain smaller amounts of people, but can be very welcome to those PCs who don't like killing poor, defenseless bugbears all day :)  You can use random time to put in an informative NPC for your plot line, or to engage a character's back story.  Or just for fun.  To get a little wider appeal, have them do things like host impromptu contests (riddles? singing?  stories from the PCs?). You can even use these types of characters to help recharge a drained PC group by selling or giving out supplies or recharges - for the right price. 

Purposeful randoms can be a great chance for Staff & NPCs who had some wacky ideas that don't quite work for plots or mods to use them!

In smaller games where PCs can go on more mods, randoms may not be as necessary.  In these cases, if the PCs aren't modding, they're probably resting or refreshing and randoms can actually hurt more than they help by draining resources on both sides of the table.  But then again, you can use a few of these ideas to bring danger into the town - instead of hooking a mod, have it happen there! 

What ideas do you have for making random monsters fun and useful?


  1. Mark Henry ~MariusJune 22, 2012 at 4:00 PM

    A lot of good advice Karin.

    I try to have several randoms in town that makes sense to my plot, but my problem is 1/2 through event I get overwhelmed and I start having staff just send stuff in so I can focus elsewhere. The battle of immersion vs boredom.

    I really liked the idea of have several random town encounters within earshot. All of a sudden those 4 orcs attacking make sense when they are chasing a scout in to town.

    I think 90% of the time town randoms is an after though of plot teams and is something that needs more attention.

  2. We try to plan our "randoms" before the event, so that they correspond roughly to what's going on, plot-wise.

    A Nature grove was corrupted? Send in animals.
    The orcs are going to stage a large battle? Send in the impatient orcs that couldn't wait for the big battle.
    A mummy is building up his army? Send in lesser undead that were created from the corruption around him.