Playing-Card Encounter Generation

The premise here is to draw cards to get a day’s travel results. You can adapt this system for other things like running a business, training, etc.

For this to work you have to use a standard deck of playing cards, including two jokers.

Draw three cards. The first card is the weather, the second card is the ruins and settlements, and the third card is the monster encounters. Replace and shuffle if you want to draw for another time period.

The number value of the card gives the type of weather. A-3 is weak weather, 4-10 is normal, face cards are heavy weather. You have to take the climate’s average into account. If it’s monsoon season then drawing A just means it’s one of the rare days when the rain is intermittent. If it’s a desert’s dry season no rain will come regardless except on a K result and then it’s a flash flood.
If you care to specify a type of precipitation, when multiple types can occur in that climate and season, consider red suits as peaceful precipitation (fog) and black suits as harsh (rain, sleet, hail).

There is a ruin if the card’s number value is a multiple of 3 (counting face cards as 10s), so 3/6/9. There is a settlement or castle if it’s a multiple of 4, so 4/8.
Ruins are inhabited by monsters if it’s a Club, by bandits if Spade, by food animals if Heart, and valuable animals if Diamond.

Wandering monsters appear based on the suit. You need to write up a list of 4 monsters that appear in groups and what the group multiplier is. If you get a number card, multiply the number value by the group multiplier. For example, if you decide Giant Black Squirrels appear as Spades with a multiplier of x1.5, and you draw a S9, your encounter is with 13.5 (14) squirrels.
Face cards are individual special encounters. As these monsters are slain, captured, or driven away they might be one of many or else truly individuals. Generally Jacks and Queens should be encountered every time, while Kings should be unique creatures.
Off the to of my head, for a swamp, I might write this:
H = Leeches x 2.5
(J = Giant Leech, Q = Rot Grub Infested Corpse, K = Will-o-Wisp)
D = Hairy Spiders x 1
(J = Giant Spider, Q = Big Anaconda, K = Hydra)
S = Slugmen x 1.5
(J = Giant Slug, Q = Slugwitch, K = Exiled Slugprince)
C = Yellow Musk Zombies x 1
(J = Inactive Floater Corpse, Q = Yellow Musk Creeper, K = Jeweler Zombie)
Joker: Peat-cutting villagers
TM Joker: Adventuring party

This results in a lot of the same types of lowbie monsters and fewer encounters with interesting single monsters. The face monsters don’t need to be the same type as the main number monsters, but it helps to organize them that way. The example above has unique encounters for KC and KS, but non-unique for all the other cards. Also note that there are some tricks (you don’t know if that floating body is inactive or full of grubs, or one of the zombies in a group underwater, or the zombie of a gem-laden jeweler who died in the swamp).

You could use the same type of structure for generating a treasure chest (number value x 100 x dungeon level is the amount of coin value, black is locked/ red unlocked. Spade and Diamond (sharp symbols) are trapped (d6 damage per dungeon level), Heart and Club untrapped. Multiple of 2 has silver and copper, multiple of 3 has gold, multiple of 5 has platinum, face cards have equipment instead of coinage, J = adventuring stuffs (rope, oil, food), Q = armor, K = weapons. So a H10 on level 10 has 1,000 of silver and copper, 1,000 of gold, and 1,000 of platinum. S3 on level 4 is trapped (4d6 damage), contains 1,200 GP.

3 Responses to “Playing-Card Encounter Generation”

  1. Von Says:

    I do something similar with Tarot cards, which I like because the Major Arcana offer a strong symbol-set for characterising interesting monsters or NPCs. Your trick of folding the location details into the same flip is one I’d not thought of, though. I may have to try that.

    • 1d30 Says:

      I prefer Tarot to playing cards too, especially because of the evocative art you find on them. There was a Tarot Deck of Many Things in one of the 2E D&D magic item encyclopedias, though I don’t remember if its card results were any more interesting than the standard.

      Of course, the coolest option would be to make a set of cards for the Deck of Many Things (Donjon, Eurayle, Throne, etc) which I had started on a while back but never finished. Again, I think one of these is floating around as a product. Using the Deck of Many Things cards for other purposes in-game seems pretty sweet.

      • Von Says:

        If your world has the Deck of Many Things, that would indeed be a fine choice, and I agree that if you’re going to use it, embedding it in the design of the world makes a great deal of sense!

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