Friday, March 4, 2016

Threat Level and Encounters

In a post last June, JD Jarvis of Aeons & Auguries raised an interesting point. Namely, that terrain should not be the only variable in encounter probability. For example, a party traveling along an unforested ridgeline should be much easier to spot (potentially leading to more encounters) than a party who is carefully moving along low spots and using available cover to keep out of sight. A party that is staying hidden in a cave should have fewer encounters than one that has spread out for foraging or hunting. Bad weather - say a cold, hard rain - will cause both sentient and non-sentient creatures to find shelter and stay in it which should lessen the odds of an encounter.

I like this idea. It makes sense and it provides appropriate risks and benefits to player choices about travel. Keep off roads and ridge-lines and you are less likely to be noticed. However you may have to travel through the thick brush by the side of the road or along the valley floor or even wade in the stream that fills the narrow valley floor which slows your travel and may introduce complications due to wet clothing. Unfortunately there is seldom much guidance or mechanics to support the effects of these choices. Rolling an extra wandering counter is one method, but I'd prefer something that allows for more nuance.

In a previous post, I suggested one solution, which was not a rule, but more of a guideline. But it requires a lot of modifier calculation and adjustment on the fly. I can't say that I was very satisfied with my guidelines as a solution. In Thursday's post, JD Jarvis has provided a rather elegant alternate solution that he calls Threat Level that is fairly easy to implement and that allows for considerable nuance. The solution does require the GM to create location specific encounter table(s) ahead of time.

Jarvis is using Threat Level to do multiple things. Since this is a random progressive dungeon, High Threat level leads to more interesting and sometimes more dangerous locations. To reach the Big Boss of the dungeon, one needs to roll a 40 on the table which can only occur when rolling at the highest threat level.
  • Threat Level is a proxy for difficulty similar to dungeon level in classic D&D.
  • Threat Level expands the table for generating dungeon rooms and corridors.
  • Threat Level is a proxy for uniqueness or interest of rooms and corridors. Low Threat generates a lot of the same rooms and not very interesting rooms at that. While high Threat generates interesting or unique rooms. 
  • Threat Level is a counter that prevents the party from reaching the Big Boss or the Big Boss' lair too quickly. 
While this works well for a random, progressive dungeon it will need some adjustment for use in a not entirely random, non-progressive outdoor travel.

I like the idea of generating certain situations in the outdoors randomly e.g. bend in the road, defile, ford or bridge, woods, brush close to the road, mud, etc. So I will try playing around with that. I'm a bit leery of using threat level to control what sort of terrain or situation the party encounters. In a setting with a similar ontology to the real world, there is no reason that a party that makes more noise or attracts more attention will encounter more interesting terrain or road side attractions. So I'd rather avoid that. I think a location table varied by terrain type would be useful as a way of randomly generating situations during travel. So I will want to have that as a separate table.

I do like the idea that a party that is moving carefully and quietly will come across different encounters than a party that is moving boldly and loudly. When I have some time, I'll adapt the modifiers I created for encounters in my previous post to use the Threat Level mechanic. Then I'll create some adjusted outdoor encounter tables based on location/terrain and Threat Level for travel in 1624 France.

1 comment:

  1. Glad I could inspire you, looking forward to seeing how you adapt this to the style of campaign you enjoy.