For a second review I wanted to show some love for Purple Duck Games and decided to follow in the vein of the encounter workshop style of product–so here we are, with this rather inventive take on creating flavorful ‘random’ encounters for your gaming group and campaigns. Invariably every GM will find themselves with windows throughout their adventures where the call for random adversaries arises–but this needn’t boil down to a toss of the dice, a mishmash of monsters and–as put in this product itself: “announcing what creature suddenly blunders into view” which I loved. So, how does Random Encounters Remastered fare in this regard?
I’ll start by stating I feel that any storied campaign ought to turn random encounters into opportunities for memorable experiences and further fleshing out the flavor of your particular game. In what is introduced as the first volume of a forthcoming series, Purple Duck Games provides here a rather versatile toolbox for those looking accomplish just that.
The book opens with a brief introduction on the premise of creating more interesting circumstances and environs for otherwise random encounters, encouraging prospective GMs to weave such into the existing story by utilizing them as opportunities to drop plot hooks, reintegrate forgotten characters or story threads or otherwise provide some degree of motivations for the scene at hand.
After addressing and suggesting ways a random encounter might serve the plot at large, what follows are a set of considerations for a GM to question when staging the encounter–such as whether or not it allows all the members of the party to shine in fun ways, if the encounter provides interesting opportunities for roleplaying and what the players might hope for as a result of the encounter. Should an obstacle arise in the staging step, there is a series of suggestions for fixes to potential problems that may arise.
These, among the others considerations, are fine things to keep in mind–and a sidebar included among the material here offers suggestions for the staging of non-combat random encounters. Afterward, the book presents a thorough explanation of how to utilize its remainder mechanically–starting with what I felt was a very clever way of addressing an enormous range of potential CR on charts with near to five hundred entries through the addition of a multiplied average party level to your percentile roll.
Explained in detail as well are encounter elements (such as the disposition of those involved in the encounter and potential terrain features to take into consideration) as well as how to handle the conclusion of an encounter–suggesting that not all combats need necessarily end with the total destruction of one party or another. Sage advice!
Next is the fleshed out dispositions section which includes a variety of inventive wildcards for adding flavor to your generated encounter. Examples range from straightforward twists such as the encounter either pursuing or being pursued by another element to more involved situations–such as a ‘watery mayday’ scenario wherein one or more NPCs are experiencing trouble on the water (which includes its own random chart if you’re so inclined, for potential dilemmas).
Most of the dispositions presented hold pertinence to the environments this volume of product focuses on (eerie wilderness, jungle river, etc.) But many could be extrapolated easily to other environs. There are eight presented here; I suspect future volumes will serve to further expand the options of this section, but those presented here nevertheless are a great start to the concept and can potentially add a lot of flavor!
Terrain Features follows next and are presented with quite a wide variety of options to integrate into an encounter; each entry includes a bit of at-a-glance crunch to help a GM stage a map for the encounter (such as quick dimensions for an alleyway, the breadth and height of a cavern or the division of difficult terrain in a section of shrubland.)
There are also modifiers which can be applied to the CR of an encounter included here, some of which may make an encounter either more or less difficult depending on the circumstances (such as lighting conditions which might affect those without appropriate vision), while others serve as battlefield obstacles and hazards (such as noxious fumes).
With nearly fifty terrain features presented in this section (a number of which even include sub-features, tables and other variables), I feel that this could well serve as its own product–and presented with the rest of the included material is an excellent resource. The mechanics are presented in a clear fashion usable easily at-a-glance–a fantastic way to swiftly spice up a scene or add interesting variables to what are all too often ‘fight this random critter in a clearing’ circumstances. Fantastic stuff which I hope to see more of in future volumes!
At the tail end of the terrain features section you’re presented with a new hazard / trap combo in the ‘Widowmaker’–a CR 5 collapsing tree which can be spied through survival as well for wilderness-saavy PCs. A nice little bonus–I’d certainly like to see it expanded into its own full section in future volumes as I think combining such a resource with the prior terrain features would make for a great complete package.
Finally, we’re presented with the expanded tables–the real ‘meat’ of the rest of the product. As mentioned earlier, these tables are enormous–clocking in between 360 – 540 percentile results each and ranging from fractional CR to CR 25. Each themed table is precluded by a breakdown of minimum and maximum CR ranges as well as encounter frequency. Accompanying each of the expanded tables are smaller disposition and terrain feature tables appropriate for the associated environs, allowing you to quickly roll through once you’ve selected the stage.
In this volume there is a rather interesting variety to the themes presented: Eerie Woods, Jungle Rivers, Planar Strongholds, Restless Volcanoes, Treacherous Mires and Underworld Battlefields. For fans of flavor or those seeking ad-hoc inspiration, the collection here is just oozing with opportunities to both–with many of the entries including out of the ordinary and interesting creatures to be included in your encounters; my only regret is that these had to preclude Bestiary 3, as doubtless there will be new additions to the roster which would have worked wonderfully here.
I was eager to take the material for a spin for my own campaign and to test drive the mechanics, so I went with the Eerie Woods for a more ‘straightforward’ example to see just what it could come up with. The very first results out the gate developed a Dullahan in a foggy glade–which really to me creates an immediate and compelling visual to set a scene combined with a rather interesting adversary; potential for roleplay, a tough brawl, the works. Very cool!
Overall: This product is 35 pages, with two for the cover and credits and four for copyrights, OGL and the like; this leaves you with 29 pages which are, frankly, chock full of excellent content! There is minimal wasted space and I did not encounter any glaring editing errors–while mechanically, the formula for conjuring up a CR-appropriate encounter range worked consistently for me in practice. Six pieces of black and white artwork for setting a general mood which were fairly solid–the bulk and meat of the product is in the mechanics.
At the price point, if you’re looking for a tool to build more compelling encounters for your campaign I feel that this first volume is an excellent value; the composition is solid and the materials on terrain features alone would have made for a valuable asset in any GM’s reference library. Even if you may not foresee a need for some of the more exotic environs presented in the material here there are solid building blocks with which to expand upon a broader variety of encounters.
I give this a very solid 4.5 stars, rounded to 5 from having found the basis for several fantastic random encounters which can serve for more great story opportunities in my own campaigns. The price may influence other GMs–and if you are particularly concerned about not finding a fit for the environs presented, I would instead suggest it at 4 stars–but nevertheless, I’ll be looking forward to future offerings in this series from Purple Duck Games and was very pleasantly surprised having taken a leap of faith on this one!