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4 Tips to Stop the Monotony in Random Encounters and Surprise Players

Image_Portfolio_101_Fantasy Jason Walton 12Everybody can enjoy the nocturnal prowling of beasts, but eventually troll raids can get a little bit stale. When the party goes off-course and the third evening of animal attacks comes to pass, consider a few alternatives to keep your players on their toes. Any NPC could be led to act as a random encounter for the party, hired or tricked by rivals or nemeses, following a falsified bounty or another case of mistaken identity or even simply be opportunistic bandits.

Here are a few of the things I keep around when I'm GMing to make sure my group remains alert and engaged when they've fallen foul of a random encounter:

  • Keep a collection of pre-generated NPCs near the party's level (if you're trying to save space or ink, keep it to NPCs of a higher level than the party.)
    • Don't have the time to stat them all out? Do you have old character sheets? These are good to have around for surprise guests at the table or if a player dies unexpectedly at the beginning of a session and doesn't want to miss out on all the action, but can definitely stand in as mercenaries, bounty hunters or misguided enemies.
      • For some extra fun, get your players to lend you their old sheets; just make sure to reward additional XP, not to give out too many magic items, and of course to change the NPC's name.Image_Portfolio_1.14_Fantasy Butch Mapa 12
  • What about the plethora of NPCs here at AdventureAWeek.com? There are dozens of adventures for parties of every level. Bookmark your favorite characters (they all have hyperlinks for both D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder) when you browse through the modules for referencing later!
  • For the Pathfinder players out there, there are three extra suggestions I have for you:
    •  The first is the simplest: get familiar with the NPC Codex. There are characters for every core and NPC class, levels 1-20; I bought a copy and am super happy that I did.
    • The second is a little bit more complex but ultimately worth it: grab File Off the Serial Numbers. Within it, Sean K. Reynolds explains how to quickly strip down a monster and have it act in a different role (turning monsters into monks, clerics, wizards and paladins).
    • Don't forget about haunts and cursed items! The AaWBlog has been consuming them for some time, and there's already several in its gullet!
  • Sometimes monsters are unlikely or in unexpected places. If your campaign setting is a place of moderate to high magic, what's to say an awakened animal (which could quite easily gain fighter levels) or creature far removed from its normal stomping grounds hasn't taken the territory by chance?

Image_Portfolio_1.13_Fantasy Rudolf Montemayor 08

Whether the party is in a dungeon, on a mountainside, sailing the seas or resting in a wooded grove, if they're there, there's always the possibility that similar adventurers or explorers might be as well. Don't be afraid to challenge your group with some of the suggestions above if things seem to get dull.

 

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