I hold my hands up. Since I started gaming over 20 years ago I only ever used random encounter charts for the first three years of GMing. Of all the game mechanics that seem to crop up in almost every system this has to be the one that has got me most annoyed.

Vegas Decker@Flickr

It’s not even the kind of annoyance where I would be angry at something or someone. It’s that kind of annoyance where you’ve just spent days building a bookshelf for your bedroom only to that it doesn’t quite fit all your books. It’s minor in the grand scheme of things but it’s going to be there for a long long time.

I have always enjoyed the fact that both as a player and a GM I’ve never had to suffer the “oh it’s been 10 minutes of game time I must roll some dice to work out what’s going to happen next” moments. Don’t get me wrong the occasional secret skill check by the DM works great but the structured approach to random encounters that most systems encourage is beyond me.

Taking them out completely isn’t an option for me either. I actually like the supposed randomness the idea can give to gaming sessions if you’ll believe that or not. It’s the ‘regular’ rolling of dice I despise as it turns the game into a series of turns. That’s fine when it comes to combat but for general play it’s to much of a hindrance for me at times.

So how did I every get around this part of the mechanics? For a couple of years I had a small computer program that produced a page full of random numbers from whatever dice you chose to roll. I coupled this with maps that had specific points where an encounter ‘roll’ would take place rather than at set times during the game. It did mean that if a group stayed at one point they shouldn’t come across any enemy until they moved off if they had already encountered something whilst there but these were flaws I was willing to live with.

Having the number sheet meant I could keep the game flowing without stopping for dice rolls every time I needed to check something. If they group needed a check traps roll then I marked off the next number on the percentile page and any time I needed to roll for awareness or a similar skill the players need never know that they failed. I did love the effect of randomly rolling a dice during dungeon crawls and watching the players panic though.

These days I’m not as much of a fan of this method but I’m struggling to find a happy medium that stops never ending dice rolling outside of combat and keeps the secret rolls from the players. Any ideas people?

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  1. Omar says:

    I think dice rolling has it’s place. Although I did have a Gm who had our rougue preroll all her find traps/search rolls and then just crossed them off whenever appropriate. It worked becasue we didn’t nessisarilly even know there was something to spot.

    I think that works with spot hidden/awareness checks too but I like the idea of freaking players out with spot checks when there is nothing to spot.

    It depends on how you use the dice, they can become a help to build suspense of they can get in the way.

  2. Bob says:

    I generally don’t like the players rolling those kind of rolls anyway so I get away with prerolling those dice for the characters.

    You do have to keep the random dice rolling going though even if it is all a charade just to keep the suspense going.

  3. Joshua says:

    I think I must be missing something, since I don’t see why the answer isn’t just roll less frequently.

  4. Bob says:

    Which removes that element of chance from the game almost.

    From a mechanics pov I have no problem with the rolling of dice for random encounters and observation skills. It’s the feel they give the game. When a DM rolls a dice without telling the group what it’s for it either puts them on edge or it chops the game up into neat sections. I don’t like that feeling to be there all the time but I like to have that option to use those mechanics when I want to.

    Rolling less than what I do just now would effectively mean I stop rolling.

  5. Dyson Logos says:

    In most games I use the random encounter tables between games and decide on a few good ones that I can use when needed in the next game.

    In most games, the random encounter tables are a great example of “what to expect” and “what works” for the GM. It helps set the tone of the game.

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