Thursday, February 2, 2023

Forced March - Accelerating Cross Country Game Play in RPGs

Feb 2023 Blog Carnival
@Plastic Polyhedra

     I spent last Saturday night rolling dice, as the party moved across the grasslands from the human kingdom to the elven forest.  Every day has the players, in order around the table, rolling dice to determine if a random encounter had occurred, morning, (after)noon and night.  Standard procedure from the beginning of gaming, right?

     True, but I've had time to wonder as I awaited my turn to roll, why?  I know that random encounters use resources and provide variety from the adventure path - but in my decades of experience I've rarely seen them be more than one more combat in the evening.  Mechanically they slow gameplay twice, once as the players roll and then again as the DM looks up the monster and stats it out.  Let's see how we can accelerate this if we stop asking the dice if an encounter has occurred and start asking them when the next encounter occurs.

     First, please raise your hand if you always follow the encounter times in the DMG, yeah that's what I thought.  Actually game play has simplified the table to using the 'Plains' distribution more often than not.  So three chances per day, at (in Wilderness) a 10% chance of an encounter occurring.  (My current DM uses 25%, but that just changes numbers within the calculations.)  So, on average we can expect 3 encounters every 10 days; but that's the same as one encounter every 3.3333 days.  Let's round that down to one encounter every three days.

     Now, when play begins have the player roll two d6/2, to give you the number of days until the next encounter and the time of day the encounter occurs.  Make sure the group has given you their standard watch rotations and marching order before they roll; and don't let them change that after the dice have fallen.  Now play is jumping from scene to scene without the repetitive dice rolling with negative results.

    Obviously, for you purists who never deviated from the DMG, you can adapt this to any encounter check frequency you need.  If you have the prep time, you can even pre-generate the encounters themselves so you don't need to stat them out during play.



  1. Ah I like this - always a fan of getting the same end result but with less work! Presumably when you say "two d6/2" this is to get a bell curve between 1 and 6, so we're more likely to come out around 3 days (or do I misinterpret that)?

  2. I realized after posting I should have elaborated with a table. The d6/2 is a shorthand for using a d6 to generate a random value between 1-3. Just reading the face of the die, what I was describing would go like this.
    d6 #1
    1-2 encounter occurs tomorrow
    3-4 encounter occurs day after tomorrow
    5-6 encounter occurs in two days

    d6 #2
    1-2 encounter occurs in the morning
    3-4 encounter occurs in the afternoon
    5-6 encounter occurs in the night

    I do like your idea of generating it on a bell curve too. But I was being linear last night.

  3. Ah, that makes sense (especially in the context of the post) - I did think I had it wrong. I'm a fan of any process improvement that reduces dead rolls, and I think the shift of emphasis from "if" to "when" does that well.

  4. If the time to next encounter is 1, 2, or 3 days, then they're happening *one and a half times as often* as you'd intended - on average every second day, rather than every 3.3 days. You'll have somewhere between 3-10 encounters every 10 days, averaging 5, rather than 0-30 encounters every 10 days, averaging 3.