In what began with woodland environs, Raging Swan Press has further expanded their line of rich random encounter sets–now presented here with the theme of hills and dales. The goal presented with each of the entries in this series is to provide for flavorful alternatives to what might ordinarily be randomly-rolled encounters during the course of your campaign. Rather than resorting to ‘1d6 hill giants harangue you with horticulture, roll for surprise!’–ideally, we’ve more memorable scenes in store for us. Let’s take a look at how this issue pans out!
Included here are 8 pre-staged encounters, ready to play out on and about hills and their surrounding environs; each begins with an introduction behind the scene’s backdrop and a quick stint of ‘box text’ to set the stage. As well, you’ll find a breakdown of tactics, any terrain or environmental features to take into consideration and spice things up and options for scaling each given encounter to either raise or lower the CR easily. As the other entries in this series, these aspects go a long way towards ensuring you’ve got everything you need to run a given encounter quickly and easily–making them quite accessible even if they’re needed on the spot.
One of the elements which I was pleased to discover continues with this entry in the series is that many of the included encounters offer opportunities for interesting roleplay–while even those that are more ‘straightforward’ combat situations still offer unusual opponents and circumstances in turn. The only wholly ‘standard’ encounter herein is found in Savage Rage, pertaining to the Savage Wolf tribe of orcs–but this makes up for a relatively vanilla fare by presenting four different bands of orcs with a mixture of different styles, lending a fair bit of utility and practicality.
Of the eight encounters, I feel that Multi-Legged is one of the coolest and certainly the most unusual of the lot. Here at first blush you have a fight with an infested shambling mound which has a symbiotic relationship with a centipede swarm, alongside a basilisk which it considers to be its pet. Creepy imagery abounds with the wriggling centipedes peeking out from inside the rotting mound–and this is a weird trio to go up against. As an added bonus, the entry also includes a template for symbiotic swarms.
The fight with the basilisk and infested mound is interesting enough–but the real prize here is the very unexpected Chandry, an intelligent handy haversack with the demeanor of an inquisitive young girl. Chandry loves to be helpful but is easily distracted and might inadvertently offer a random item instead–she makes a very entertaining find after a fun fight that is bound to bring a smile to the table. Top marks!
Beyond this, we have the Barrow of the Sleeping King which offers a very short and sweet delve with a potent pairing of cairn wight and skeletal champion–two foes which I find fairly cool. There is a nice map included with this entry and on top of that Raging Swan has released additional alternative maps on their website as a free web enhancement–very nice!
I liked the flavor of this encounter but would have really liked to see some sort of opportunity to more bring more peaceable resolution to the disturbed fellow; I know adventurers are generally apt to scoop up treasure as they go, but there was a solid chance here for divergence from the norm that I feel was missed. Nevertheless, it serves for a bite-sized ‘dungeon’–and one could easily pop a trap or haunt in the space provided as well to further spice things up.
Mercenaries is a curious encounter with a band of such by way of the Irregulars–led by Kyrim Pain, a hobgoblin fellow with impeccable decorum even in combat; making a pointed effort to be presentable and amenable to prospective contracts, the Irregulars are liable for congenial discourse with a given party and available for hire to those with such an inclination.
As presented, the Irregulars could similarly be incorporated into an existing goal of the party–as rivals perhaps, or kindred spirits in cause. Kyrim’s demeanor alone is enough to make this an interesting and very usable entry for flavor, even if only employed for roadside conversation in the course of a party’s travels.
We’ve also got the Sentinels of Thor-Dilak, a grim patrol of dwarves who recently suffered casualties as the result of an orcish ambush; dour and suspicious of any party they might encounter, the sentinels could provide a segue into the Savage Rage encounters also presented in this product as well as serving as an attaché for a dwarf-related story segment. The funeral dirge angle is an interesting one and this encounter could be fairly promisingly worked into interaction with the Thor-Dilak or a similar community.
Sound and Fury comes next, a run-in with an ogress and her hill giant companion. Both of the pair are fairly meaty combatants, bolstered by cleric and barbarian / fighter levels respectively–but what could have been a fairly vanilla fight is made much more interesting by its introduction. Rather than immediately launching into combat when the pair emerges before the party, Ing the ogress hoists her holy symbol and quickly yells for parlay–not having expected to stumble upon the force of nature that is a party of adventurers.
I liked this encounter and I think Sound and Fury strikes a particular chord with me because of the level in which it comes into play; at EL 12, a gang of PCs could are ostensibly really coming into their own in their level of capability. Having a run-in where that prowess is readily recognized makes for a fun and unexpected change–and because of it, I really think that a group of players might get a big kick out of having the chance to effectively ‘be’ the random encounter themselves, in a manner of speaking. On top of this, Ing’s presentation is a nicely flavorful vie for diplomacy–hitting up a party at this level for fifty gold is funny; I think this one deserves special attention.
Next up is What Goes Around, which entails coming across a forlorn merchant surrounded by a score of slain guards and the wounded survivor of such; panicked, desperate and deeply upset, Ulwen provides for a roleplaying encounter which could easily set up a longer-term relationship with the party. Helping Ulwen could lend an ongoing source of mercantile support throughout a party’s future endeavors.
As this is staged for beginning adventurers, I think this is a fine offering for giving them a chance to be good Samaritans as well as to gain friends and allies to meet again in future circumstances. Rather than a combat encounter, there are essentially a set of skill challenges here which is a nice touch. While fairly simple, there is a lot of charm in the presentation–poor plump Ulwen hoarse-voiced and waggling a bastard sword clumsily about strikes an evocative visual to set the scene.
Finally, we come to Wyverns?–which lends itself to the age-old conundrum of dragons spreading their templates all over the place as they are want to do. This is a pretty straightforward and potentially tough fight as presented–but the unusual mixed breed and included lore entries serve to make things more interesting.
Perhaps the most promising part of this encounter is the implications it carries with Burnfyre, the red dragon sire of these curious creatures–prompting a potential ongoing antagonist for a party and sending future threats their way. Just how resourceful or powerful the dragon himself may be is up to you to discern, but nevertheless it could be a promising adventure seed.
Overall: This product is 23 pages, with 8 occupied by cover, credits, copyrights, OGL and the like–leaving 15 for the encounters presented. There are five pieces of good black and white artwork, one of which is a nice map for the Barrow of the Sleeping King. I did not notice any glaring errors or typos and the formatting is both very crisp and professional. I did find a few minor inconsistencies–for instance, the entrance to the barrow above prompts a DC 30 Perception check, yet it is then said to be easily visible at the base of the hill; this does not detract from the product overall however.
In fine Raging Swan fashion, you receive both a screen and printer-friendly version of the PDF–as well as a third PDF with a compilation of all the stat blocks for easy reference. Not only that, there is a free web enhancement available with additional maps from Raging Swan’s website–altogether making this a very nice, quality package. If you consider the variations of the Savage Rage encounter, there are technically eleven encounters rather than eight–with three variations for each with the ad-hoc CR adjustment options presented.
Raging Swan Press once again provides excellent material for a prospective GM–with the random encounters series continuing to improve on an already high standard of quality. The material here is both easy to read and utilize and provides ample explanation, making it quite accessible. To this end, I’d say that this makes the series especially helpful for someone who is new to GMing! There is a page for reading stat blocks which could itself serve as a nice cheat sheet in this regard.
Between the inclusive stat blocks, summarized environmental variables and other information available at a glance, this product’s presentation is exceptional. Considering the broad variety of flavor found in the included encounters and the additional perks, such as a fun intelligent magic item–Random Hill Encounters does a fantastic job of turning what might ordinarily be a random mishmash of fight-fodder into what could be memorable experiences for any given campaign.
Ben Kent has done an excellent job writing interesting and flavorful scenes sure to please at any table–and I feel that this is one of the strongest offerings in the series thus far. As what may be one of my favorite purchases yet among supplements of this sort, I’ve got to rate Random Hill Encounters a very solid five stars and encourage any prospective GM to give this a look–especially those who might be new to the role. Kudos, Raging Swan!