Since I started the World of WeirthTM playtest campaign I’ve been working on updated and enhancing existing modules and tuning my own homebrew adventures into the Swords & Sorcery feel. I’ve done a lot of reading on creating atmosphere and researched other blogs for optimizing descriptions and creating encounter tables with a theme.
I have gone and created a custom Encounter Table Template for the campaign, based on the excellent article at Papers and Pencils, Structuring Encounter Tables. It is a long article and difficult to excerpt, so I will encourage you to read the whole thing.
Then I stumbled across an inspirational post at I Cast Light, on the same subject, how Kitchen Sink Encounter Tables don’t add to the aesthetic of the setting, based on yet another post via Delta’s DnD. (I know, this is Rabbit-hole territory, but it’ll get there, I promise).
Yes, yes, keep going…another post about using the other five results on the encounter die roll, to get a “something” result every turn. I did something like this on my Overland Travel tables, but this idea streamlines it:
the “overloaded encounter die” mechanic described by Necropraxis.
When the party moves into a new area or spends time on an exploration activity, roll the encounter die and interpret the results as follows.
Percept (clue, spoor)
Locality (context-dependent timer)
Exhaustion (rest or take penalties)
Here we go! My first thought was that each result on the d6 above would lead to a sub-table, detailing what happens with each concept. this is where the Thematic Encounter Table comes in.
For the World of Weirth TM, the Thematic Encounter Table Template looks like this:
|2d6 Roll||Encounter Type|
|2||A “Dragon” – an “atmospheric/aesthetic” monster|
|3||Dangerous normal animal|
|4||Manifestation feature/creature for the level|
|5||Immature/Larval “Dragon” foreshadowing|
|6||2d6 Faction Members – Primary – Match Purpose|
|7||Recurring Character or Character Type|
|8||2d6 Faction Members – Secondary – Cross-purposes|
|9||“Social” monster or NPC encounter|
|10||Evidence of spell failure or magical detritus|
|11||Item/Creature with “out-of-the-ordinary” feature|
|12||Magic-User with unusual specialty or purpose (plus a well-armed bodyguard of 2-12 hirelings)|
Therefore, we can construct the various sub-tables needed for results of 1 – 3 on this ‘Overloaded Encounter Die‘ roll with the various thematic elements for each dungeon level, Faction zone or wilderness area.
For example, on a roll of 2 the PCs discover a clue or leaving of one of the creatures on the actual encounter table. This can be a useful tool for foreshadowing and building tension.
A result of 3, for Locality, is the one that can be really exciting and thematic. Warren D writes in Dungeon Weather:
…what are the typical environmental changes I would want in a dungeon and what are typical dungeon PC actions complicated by this change (or helping; after all some days are sunny). It also reinforces the idea of the mythic underworld; the dungeon as a being unto itself. Here is my list:
DUNGEON WEATHER (d10)
1 | SLAM! All doors slam shut; 3-in-6 if staked; all doors now a flat 1-in-6 to open
2 | FOG: A gray fog rises from the floor, ankle to knee height, obscuring the ground; -1 to detect traps
3 | SLIME BLOOMS: Green slime oozes from the ceiling on all hallways leading from the current room
4 | DUNGEON RIME: Armor ages unnaturally; -1 AC to non-magical armor & shields
5 | DARKNESS EXPANDS: All light operates at 1/2 strength
6 | SHADOW of DEATH: -1 to all Save rolls
7 | SPONTANEOUS GENERATION: Each PC roll d10; 5+ rations are spoiled by maggots
8 | ALTERED PERCEPTION: Secret doors +1 to locate
9 | EUPHORIC SPOOR RELEASE: +1 to all rxn encounter checks; divination/illusion spells enhanced
0 | TOO STILL: Dungeon weather effect ends
Of course, if your dungeon has a strong theme, I think it better to tailor the above list to fit the aesthetics.
This sub-table is ripe with possibilities for enhancing the theme or aesthetic of the area being explored. If you tailor these effects to match the concept of the Boss of each level, if only in a descriptive way without any mechanical effects, and you can have your PCs jumping at shadows in no time.