Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Great Encounter Table

I had my doubts about printing this table, as it represents only the beginning of the work that I am doing on monsters. But I’ve reached the first milestone ... I’ve completed all the ‘non-intelligent’ monsters I use in my world. I wanted to see how this would play.

First off, this is not meant to be an encounter table. This is meant to be the substance from which I derive the encounter table. But before we get into that, I’ll explain what the above means.

This is the ‘Grouped Hunter’ table – it includes those non-intelligent creatures which act as a group, and which do not ‘nest’ in a lair. These are all wandering hunters. Because of their lack of intelligence, they have pretty much one tactic (or nearly one tactic) where it comes to encounters. For the most part, to feed. The one exception on this table is the giant centipede ... which, in the right season, will also inject its eggs into a victim, so the eggs will have something to eat when they hatch. This obviously works best for the centipede when the dead body falls into a trench of some kind, or is underground.

Where it reads ‘Number & Density’, I designated to each creature a specific pattern of association. A tight group would be creatures which do not move more than a hex from one another. An ordinary group would be 2-5 hexes apart when encountered. A loose group could be much farther apart ... dozens of hexes or more. You’ll notice that many of the loose groups attack ‘progressively’, meaning that they come a runnin’ when the food’s available.

What doesn’t appear here are any ‘scattered’ monsters. A scattered density suggests that there a numerous monsters in the area, but they don’t act in concert. The party will likely encounter a series of them, all day long, or even at random intervals during a week, as long as they remain in the same area – until all the number of appearing have been killed. Thus, if there are 1-6 rhinoceros beetles indicated (a scattered monster not appearing on the above table), the party would kill one Tuesday morning, and might find Wednesday afternoon that they were faced with another. ‘Loosely scattered’ monster appear less frequently.

Under action you can see that the monsters will swarm, attack progressively, have a steady or milling approach, strike from murk or weeds, or be movement sensitive. A steady approach is the one most commonly used in D&D – the straight forward movement towards the party and attack. The swarming attack means that the creatures will swamp the party, with multiple individuals moving into the same hex as the player – a mass of giant centipedes attack like this. The strike attack or the progressive attack should be self-explanatory. A ‘milling approach’ describes a circumstance where the hunter doesn’t really notice the party. Suddenly you find yourself surrounded by manta rays ... and if you quietly swim out of the area and don’t disturb them, you might simply get away. On the other hand, if you attack, or make sharp movements, so will they.

The part of this table I’m least happy with is the ‘Range.’ This is the distance the creature is from the party when it is first seen. I would like a clean, consistent system for determining these distances, but I’m afraid many of the numbers are rather ad hoc. I’ll be working on that from time to time over the next few months.

Finally, there is the column about ‘Gestation & Growth.’ Very little exists in D&D about young creatures. My thought is that occasionally the party should run across a creature’s eggsack, or young creatures (probably in greater number than adults, since most insects and molluscs gestate mass numbers when they do reproduce), or the occasional infested carcass. The description of ‘swift growth’ on the table is to indicate that the newborn creature gains a hit die every one to two weeks until it is fully grown. Slow growth would be a hit die per season or per year; very slow growth, like that for humanoids, would be even slower.

I hope to create similar tables to this above for higher intelligence creatures – though of course such tables are already going to be too complex to list as one table. I am thinking of building a database, just as soon as I learn how.

The main complexity comes from the number of possible actions that higher intelligence creatures can take. I am thinking of generally limiting the table so that an animal intelligence will have 2 actions, semi intelligent will have 4, low intelligence 7, average intelligence 12, very intelligent 20, highly intelligent 33, extraordinary 56 and genius 90. I have a long, long task ahead.

When I’m ready to build encounter tables, then, they won’t be based upon the monsters themselves, but upon the vast array of actions which a vast number of monsters might chance to take, plus the effects of their biology on the landscape ... the ‘non-combat encounters’ listed on the table.

Aim big, that’s what I think.

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