Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Random Encounters: Flashing Blades Core Rules

As described yesterday, random encounters "represent the 'living world' which the adventurers inhabit, serving up a variety of unfolding events and chance meetings." Today i'd like to go through how I put a random encounter together, using the encounter tables provided in the core rules for Flashing Blades, plus a couple of house rules borrowed from Traveller and a random motivations table created for 4e D&D I stumbled across which seems to have since disappeared from the intrewebs.
Whenever player characters spend time traveling or in a specific locality, they will meet individuals and groups of people there. These normal everyday encounters may be used to add color and suspense to the game, or they may be expanded into adventures of their own. Powerful non-player encounters may become Patrons for characters. If characters are looking for an adventure and/or patronage, the Gamemaster may roll to see what a possible Patron wants on the Patronage table at the end of this section.

Frequency and types of encounters vary by situation and location, as detailed in the subsections below.
The description of random encounters in Flashing Blades fits very well with the principles I developed from Mad Mesa, of encounters which are complete in-and-of-themselves as well as encounters which may carry future consequences for the player characters, including the possibility of patronage arising from the encounter.

FB's encounter tables are divided between "city" and "countryside"; there are five city tables - tavern, marketplace, palace, ministry or townhall, and church - and three countryside tables - open countryside, forest, and King's Roads. I'm presently working on encounters for the royal palace of Fontainebleau for my campaign - Fontainebleau is a sprawling complex in 1626, which includes the palace proper, two chapels, and wings devoted to the royal ministers who accompany the king, plus gardens, nearby hôtels belonging to various noble families, and the forest which is the king's hunting preserve. This means developing encounters from the palace, church, ministry, forest, and King's Roads tables for Fontainebleau and its environs.

The number of random encounters I prepare in advance for a location is based on how much use I expect it to receive in actual play. Sites likely to receive regular visits from the adventurers may have a dozen encounters preparede, while less frequented locations may have just three readied. I also keep a list of drop-in encounters for locations which I improvise in actual play.

I'm going to put together an encounter for the palace of Fontainebleau proper, so my initial roll is on the Encounter at Palace table: 1d20=3, a Baroness and a possible Patron - 1d20=20, "The Patron offers the character a permanent position in his service, with some sort of special deal or pay for services rendered lin this care, it is similar to the Secret: 'Secret Loyalty.'" So, if the player characters sufficiently impress the baroness, they may be offered some sort of clientage relationship to her. An interesting start.

I incorporated the reaction, surprise, and encounter range tables from original, 'classic' Traveller into my campaign house rules for the simple reason that I know them by heart from long usage. The baroness' reaction roll is a natural 2d6=12, which corresponds t, "Generally friendly." This tells me a little something about her: she's gracious and at ease in her surroundings - a courtier, perhaps? Surprise determines whether or not a character can evade an encountert; the baroness' roll is 1d6=4, which is on the high end - she is neither blissfully unaware nor particularly vigilant. Range measures the distance between the adventurers and the baroness; with a roll of 2d6-5=2, she is at Close range, 0-4 meters away.

Finally, I roll for a motivation: 1d100=76, cooking and eating. Since she is not likely to be cooking for herself at Fontainebleau, I take this to mean she's enjoying something - a cup of chocolate, or coffee, both recently introduced novelties at the French court?

Next, per my house rule, I roll again for another encounter; if a second encounter occurs, on a roll of 5-6 on 1D6, then two encounters are merged into a single event. The second roll, 1d6=5, indicated that a second encounter is included, and it will be rolled on the Encounter at Palace table again. The second encounter is 1d20=9, a Duke, Archduke, or Grand Duke, with 2D6 (2d6=7) Attendants and 1D6 (1d6=4) sycophants, also a possible Patron - the roll for patronage is 1d20=8, "The Patron wishes to have a message taken to someone in a dangerous position (a prisoner in the Bastille, perhaps, or a soldier on the front)."

An encounter with a duke, peer, or foreign prince - the titles of archduke and grand duke are house-ruled out of my campaign - means I will incorporate an actual historical figure if I can; while I've invented a great many fictional nobles for the campaign, for the upper nobility I prefer to use the historical personages of Louis XIII's court - interacting with powerful historical figures is one of the conceits of the cape-and-sword genre. Fortunately, a possibility immediately springs to mind: the duc de Bellegarde.

Bellegarde was a mignon, one of the close circle of favorites around King Henri III; after that king's untimely end, the duke caroused regularly with his successor, the libidinous Henri IV. He is the governor of the province of Burgundy and, as grand squire of France, one of Great Officers of France. Bellegarde is a notorious gallant - a playa, in the parlance of the time - who even has the temerity to flirt with Louis' prim, uptight Spanish queen, Anne. Though he's in his sixties now, he's still vigorous and, as I roleplay him, incorrigible.

Okay, let's see how the rest of this unfolds. The duke's reaction is 2d6=8, Interested; his surprise roll, 1d6=1, is modified to 3 based on skills and military experience - his mind is elsewhere, but long habit makes him hard to catch unawares. Range, based on a roll of 2d6-5=7, is Medium, 8-24 meters away - this means that the baroness and the adventurers are effectively out of earshot of the duke, at least for a moment.

Because the duke is a known, established character, I don't feel the need to roll for a random motivation for him, and the way the encounter is shaping up, I have a pretty good idea of why he's there anyway.

I roll once more to see if a third encounter gets folded into this emerging scene: 1d6=4 - no, just the baroness and the duke and his cronies.

The next question is, who is the baroness? Do I have a non-player character already created who fits well in this spot, or do I need to create a new character instead? Searching through my list of npcs, I don't have a baroness character waiting in the wings, though I do have a few barons - could she be someone's wife? There's the baron de Gras, a member of the queen-mother's household; the baron de Saint-Jurs, a Provençal soldier, and the baron d'Île-de-Batz. I know Saint-Jurs is married, but there's no reason for his wife to be at court at the moment. Gras is a courtier to the Queen-Mother, Marie de' Medici, so he's a possibility for a baroness. D'Île-de-Batz is an agent of Cardinal Richelieu - he has mistress, a rather notorious courtesan, but there's no reason why he can't have a wife at court as well - in fact, making her a lady-in-waiting to the Queen-Mother would fit.

So, the adventurers encounter the baronne d'Île-de-Batz, courtier to Marie de' Medici, strolling in the Galere des Cerfs, perhaps, or along the Grand Parterre overlooking the gardens, sipping a cup of chocolate from a Chinese porcelain cup, occasionally stirring it with a small silver spoon. She offers a gracious nod to the characters - or a deep curtsy, if their social rank warrants it - as they pass, when the booming voice of the Grand Squire, Bellegarde, is heard, approaching. He and his coterie of aides and hangers-on are fresh from the royal stables, trailing clouds of dust and shedding clods of mud - and worse - from their boots. The duke sees the baronne and makes straight for her.

She leans slightly toward the player characters and, as the duke whips off his hat and brushes even more of the dust from his clothing as he strides toward the baronne, whispers quickly, "Sang dieu! Please, save me from this old goat! Follow my lead!" Depending on how the characters respond, she will introduce one of them as a cousin, visiting court, with whom she's eager to catch up. As introductions are made, one of Bellegarde's aides, knowing his master's predilections, whispers something in his ear, to which the duke smiles. Bellegarde is gracious to the "cousin," asking a couple of polite questions, when the aide interjects that perhaps the "cousin" and his companions could be of some small service to the Grand Squire of France.

Now the players have choices: help the baronne escape the amorous attentions of the duke, provide a service to the duke and perhaps gain the favor of a member of the king's household, or perhaps weasel their way out of the whole situation, to avoid getting dragged into the affairs of their betters. Decisions, decisions . . .

And there you have it. I need to develop the character of the baronne d'Île-de-Batz, Bellgarde's trusted aide, and one of the duke's sycophants, a boor who will mock the adventurers' discourtesy should they turn the duke's offer of service down - perhaps a duel is in order? Wife of a faithless husband, lady to the Queen-Mother, the baronne offers all sort of interesting possibilities right out of the gate, and by fleshing out her background, such as her relations, opens up other doors as well.

So that's how I do that.

On Thursday, incorporating Rory's Story Cubes into random encounters.


  1. When I eventually get around to creating the "chance encounter" tables for Regency/Arthuriana, I am totally using this style (and the name "chance encounters" -- so much classier).

    1. Chance encounters makes so much more sense for the kinds of campaigns that I run.

  2. I stand in awe, Mike. Even with you showing me what you're doing behind the curtain I'm just flabbergasted. This is too cool. And I need to start doing this myself.

    1. Thanks, Chris -as a creative process, it's lots of fun, really one of the highlights of refereeing for me.

  3. Very nicely illustrated example of how a good GM interprets random rolls on a "chance" encounter table.

    I need to figure out how to more easily create some encounter tables with named NPCs. More of a database issue really. With so many historical people and fictional creations sorting through to figure out who can or should be where seems non-trivial.

    1. My campaign wiki - linked in the right-hand column - is a huge boost for running the campaign. It makes it extremely easy to cross-link people, places, and events and keep track of it all.

  4. really, really interesting set of articles. Which I am copying and pasting into my "do not lose from the internet" file. Thank you.

    I've been reading you for a while but recently I've been spending more time on G+ so it took Erik (Wampus Country) Jensen's recommendation to bring me back. Are you on G+? Do you advertise your blog posts there? I know it seems dumb and blogs are the superior medium for these kinds of ideas but I know quite a few people who have been drifting over there but would be very interested in this.

    1. I'm glad I copied the random motivations table into my wiki - nothing on the intrewebs ever really goes away, but it can get much harder to find.

      I haven't made the leap to Google+ - blogging is time-consuming enough at the moment. Thanks for reading along.

  5. This is outstanding stuff, Mike. I love the idea of rolling twice for a "mixed" encounter. Combined with the Traveller reaction chart, the surprise roll as a measure of the NPC's situational awareness, the motivation chart, and a list of NPCs "waiting in the wings" of the sandbox, the results really stimulate the creative juices and bring the game world to life!

    In fact, I just used your method to make an FB random encounter generator with Nbos Software's Inspiration Pad. I'd be happy to send you a copy, if you're interested.

    1. The mission to ransom the vicomte de Praz-de-Lys started as a blend of six (!) random encounters - it's really fun throwing all those different pieces together and seeing what shakes out.

      I'd love to see what you came up with - thanks for offering. You can reach me at black DOT vulmea AT-SIGN gmail.

  6. Hey, just want to let you know that D&D 4e table is still visible on the Internet Archive, and it's the same table that you can find at http://kellri.blogspot.com/2009/06/group-activities-table.html


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