I’m trying to run my first game of ACKs for a crew of 1st-level adventurers, and it occurs to me that just one unlucky random wilderness encounter can wipe the entire party. So how is this supposed to work?
“Your players shouldn’t be traipsing about in the wilderness at 1st-level, you crazy, you!”
Well, no, of course not. But they have to get to the dungeon somehow. Are all of my introductory dungeons supposed to be in the same hex as my starting city? Even then, there’s a wilderness encounter listing for “city” (for those “wilderness cities”, I suppose), so death is still d10 gangs of brigands away.
I know you’re only supposed to check for wilderness encounters once per day in settled territory, but once is still enough to kill everybody. Or is that supposed to mean, “once every full day”? Like, if you can get there before the sun sets, you’re safe?
Any input would be appreciated.
Having a dungeon in the city is an interesting choice - Undermountain is reachable through a tavern! - but not your only option.
The spotting distances will often generate monster sightings at distances that permit running away. You can be generous with your description of the landscape; the exact terrain where the encounter occurs is up to you, and can and should include giant gopher holes and the like which the party can use to escape the roc thrown at them by the wandering monster chart. Running away is a vital skill, and the dungeon is often a less forgiving environment; the wilderness can be a good place for players to learn the virtues of fleeing a clearly superior force.
Also note that the spotting distances are just when the party comes face to face. When you roll a wilderness encounter, you don't have to go right to determining distance. It's quite likely that the party will see the giant's footprints, hear it crashing through the forest, etc. at a much larger remove. If they persist in advancing toward the giant, then you can roll spotting distance and leave the players to their fate.
Finally, remember to make reaction rolls. Attacking on sight is a relatively infrequent response. There is something awesome and majestic about the characters bumping into a remorhaz and having it look them over, indifferent to their shaking knees and smell of fear, then go back to its business as they slink away.
Wilderness encounters are great because they give players lots of choice. Be prepared for a TPK if the players decide to attack foolishly, but also be open to the possibility that they will come up with a great plan to avoid a confrontation, track a beast back to its lair, and make off with its hoard without ever entering combat.
Finally, when the encounter happens is up to you. I like to roll once a day, and then decide when it might happen based on the party's actions. It makes sense that traveling at night is more dangerous; if you have an encounter rolled for the day, but the party reaches safety before nightfall, you can narrate how they hear that beast crying in the woods and let them congradulate themselves on avoiding it.
There is also absolutely nothing wrong in saying that a dungeon is outside of town but still in civilized territory so there are no hostile encounters between town and there. Several old B/X mods went this route.
But I think Tavis’ advice is more fun.
The PCs in my game ran into a giant weasel first thing out of the gate. In lair, only one of them. Neutral reaction. They killed it (largely with arrows) and came out with enough treasure that they were halfway to level 2.
Goddamn giant weasels, they’re like little furry dragons. The treasure type on them is CRAZY.
Remember that since way back in the Moldvey and maybe before, there is language in the rules text about moderating random encounter rolls to suit the challenge to adventuring party, a fact that is sometimes forgotten as PC parties are butchered.
Also Tavis’ points about encounter distances, reaction rolls, AND pursuit/evasion can make the process more forgiving when you yoll that 1 in 12 chance of dragons in the wilds.
I think the process here is:
- Dragon slaughters party of first-level PCs who fail to run away, can't be bothered to pick up their molten pocket change in its teeth and bring it back to lair.
- Weasel happens upon their bones and makes off with shiny bits.
- GOTO 1
I’d say, make level specific encounter charts of your own. (especially if your setting is a bit different then the implied default within ACKS). But I wouldn’t remove ALL eminent death. Players should be smart enough to run like hades when they need to.
Darn’t no edit function on here. Any, I’d correct what I said above to “area specific” not necessarily “level specific”. I was in fact referring to dungeon level but didn’t want to sound like I meant “make it only moderately difficult for players of level X only.” I mean, if the players delve into a place thats way to wicked for them, they need to learn (the hard way), well, not to. OR to live (or die ) by the risks.