Runequest Thursday #41 - River of Cradles Encounter Tables!

Clint Staples

One of the old school things that I have always enjoyed writing up, and using, for the various campaigns I have run, is the Encounter Table. You know what I am talking about, a random encounter generator for a region. The old 3.0 Dungeon Master's Guide had them for all kinds of terrain, from swamps to mountains to underwater ones [I think]. SO I had to work some out for the River of Cradles region that is home to my Brightwater campaign.

Since the heroes of Brightwater were going to be settling and exploring the River of Cradles, I expected that they would be doing a fair amount of traipsing around the bogs, flatlands, steppes, ruins, caves, islands . . .  you get the idea. So encounter tables were a good way to populate the area with wildlife, but also with other people, hostile or otherwise, monsters, spirits, and more. So I broke the River of Cradles into 4 distinct regions for rolling purposes - On or near the river itself, in the drier parts of the river valley, In the Great Bog - a huge morass of swamp, low islands, and difficult to traverse waterways close to Brightwater, and finally in Vulture Country, the arid wasteland [even compared to the arid wasteland of Prax, Vulture Country is an arid wasteland] to the east of the River valley itself.

I like Encounter Tables because, in addition to populating a place with the typical and not-so-typical fauna and inhabitants of an area, they can give you an idea of an eco-system, which gives you a handy shorthand for description, and aids you in establishing the verisimilitude of your game. With that in mind I have including birds, herd beasts and game animals in addition to the predators and monsters that tend to clutter up most Encounter Tables.


The way I like to use them is to roll up a number of encounters and make sure they are statted and ready to run before a session, if I have the luxury of knowing where the action is taking place. So if the heroes are exploring the Great Bog, I will have a few pre-generated encounters from the Great Bog Table  ready to go, and do some thinking about how they might come together. So if I rolled River Horse, Otterkin, and Sun Elk Riders, I might put two or more of the encounters together. Perhaps the Sun Elk Riders have made a sacrifice to the River Horse spirit, which has appeared to grant them a benison of some sort, perhaps a river travel spell, or the location of a herd of shovel-nose down-river. The otterkin could be encountered separately, possibly as sneak-thieves at night, or unconventional traders, or a small family group that flee in fear as they approach. They could also be part of the first set up, possibly as acolytes of River Horse.

If you want a combat encounter, the Sun Elks could be opportunistic raiders who round on the PCs and attack. Or roll another one or two. Perhaps a gang of 14 hyenas [# 14-16] are driving a small pride of 4 sabrefangs [#6-7] from a recently killed zebra [#67-73]. The sabrefangs, normally smarter than to attack a band of adventurers, are hungry and frustrated, and willing to view the PCs as potential lunch.

A couple of encounters like this can liven up a trek, or provide a change of pace, and they beat just describing a monster appearing almost by magic and attacking without a thought for its own survival.. You can also introduce interesting characters if you have personalities to go with some of your entries. So instead of Rhinox Riders [#44-45], the party might meet Barsun Spiritlance, Waha Khan, and his family. Barsun is an old, fat khan, who is willing to fight [and is still quite capable], but would rather find someone capable of repairing the wheels of the family wagon. He is gregarious, with a smattering of most of the local languages, and could be a source of a lot of information on the region.

You can, of course, use these tables on the fly too, rolling up a few interesting elements when the players hare off in a direction you were not expecting. something you roll can give you time to think about what will happen next, or could spur the adventure by providing you with a springboard for whatever you come up with while you are mulstitasking the encounter and thinking ahead.

NOTE: Many of the creatures listed here are statted up for your use over here. Enjoy. And as a bonus, I have attached one that I have not added before - Sundrinker, the Wyrm, Priest of Sundragon, and acquaintance of the Brightwaters from their time in Pavis.