Fewer die rolls, rolling them up into one (Specifically wilderness and town encounters)

Yesterday I posted a thing on Thief skills and how you could let a Thief keep rolling for success, with limits. Brendan made some good points. I can’t help but cling to the value of just one die roll for success, though, since I remember times when I was sitting there rolling and rolling and spinning my wheels.

For example, let’s day I’m playing a Ranger and I say I want to look for any special herbs that I can find when we camp every day. We have a ten-day march and the DM says to roll under my WIS on d20 for success per day.
(Maybe if it had been winter, or I wasn’t a Ranger, or the terrain was dry, I would have less or no chance)
So I sit there rolling ten times. Feels kinda dumb.

Same thing with the DM rolling for random encounters over a long trip. Or for weather. Usually you roll to see if there’s a thing, and then you roll to see what the thing was. I think there’s a better way.

Instead of rolling to determine whether something happens in a time period, roll to see how many time periods it takes before something happens.

Let’s say on my encounter table I roll a 1 in 6 chance of an encounter, once per day. That’s a 16.67% chance per day, which amounts to a near-certainty that it will happen within the next 6-day period. If I translated that to a d6 roll to see how many days until the next encounter, it’s a 16.67% chance that it occurs in any of the next 6 days but it will definitely happen in one of them.

I don’t know the right way to describe the probabilities here, but this is what I think it boils down to:

Check Events Per Period: You MIGHT get a lot of encounters, or no encounters, during the next 6 days. You’ll probably get 1 encounter.
Check Delay to Next Event: You MIGHT get a lot of encounters, but you will definitely get something, during the next 6 days. You’ll probably get between 1 and 2 encounters.

Here’s the main thing: if your trip ends in a town or something, and are in town when there would have been a wilderness encounter, the encounter misses you. It’s not like the bear wanders past the town walls and everyone goes “oh okay we’re safe, let’s head out again.”

You could also have a town encounter roll, for stuff like pickpockets, muggings, tax collectors, abusive soldiers, drunken brawls spilling into the street, lovers with grudges, ex-husbands, lenders, etc. The situation is reversed though: if the PCs are in the wilderness or dungeon when the town encounter hits, nothing comes of it. Specifically, when the PCs leave the wilderness for a full day, erase your old wilderness encounter date. Same with a town.

Here is an example of how I think it would work.

PCs set out from town. DM writes down the date (DAY 0).
DM rolls d6, gets 4 for wilderness encounters. The PCs don’t know this.
DM writes down the date of next wilderness encounter, 4 days away (WILD DAY 4).
They travel 3 days and stop at a roadside inn (DAY 3). A carousing mishap results in a shotgun wedding which takes up a day (DAY 4) and they decide to leave the following morning. Since the inn counts as wilderness, the encounter wanders through on DAY 4 – let’s say it was a hungry hungry hippo and the PCs ignored the thing.
The DM rolls a new wilderness encounter check – remember they’re still in the wilderness. He gets a 6, meaning it hits 6 days away (WILD DAY 10). They travel all next day and arrive at a village near the dungeon on DAY 5.
The DM rolls town encounter and gets a 4 (hits 4 days from now, on TOWN 9).
DM writes down the date of the next town encounter (TOWN 9).
They stay the night of DAY 5 and remain 2 more days and leave morning of DAY 8. Because they stayed in town for at least a day, the old WILD 8 encounter gets wiped. The DM now has in his record DAY 8 as the date, and TOWN 9 as the town encounter.
The PCs leave the town and spend DAY 9 getting to the dungeon. They’re in the wilderness for the day, which means the town encounter missed them and the DM wipes it. But he rolls d6 for the wilderness, and gets 4 (WILD 12).
They do the dungeon on DAY 10, leaving that night and marching back to the village. They arrive on the morning of DAY 11. They’re going to stay 7 days for training, until DAY 18, so the encounter WILD 12 misses them. We wipe it from the record and don’t roll WILD again until they leave town. But on DAY 11 we need to roll for TOWN, and the d6 comes up 4. That means they’re caught by the TOWN 15 encounter. Then we roll d6 after that and get a 2, which means TOWN 17 (caught again!) and a new TOWN roll, which comes up 6 (TOWN 23). The PCs leave on the morning of DAY 19, and that TOWN 23 encounter won’t catch them if they stay out for at least a day.

Compare with rolling d6 once per day for 19 days.

At this point I’ve lost my love for this system, for a couple reasons. But I’m putting it up here because maybe someone will do something else with it. Here is why I like the old way of rolling per day better.

1: You may have different chances based on region. What if the town has a bad district where encounters are more likely? What if the Haunted Forest has a higher encounter rate than the road? You could shift the WILD or TOWN encounter appointments closer for time spent in a dangerous place, but that’s hard to get right in an ad hoc ruling and would make for a complicated rule.
2: I like the idea that a really lucky party could go weeks with no encounters, or one fateful adventure could result in encounters nearly every day.
3: It’s extra paperwork for the DM to manage. It’s enough to keep track of the date and season, no need to add more burden unless it’s really worth it.

I do like:
1: There’s this weird feeling that I get about the probabilities. It seems like the longer a party stays in an environment, the higher their chance of an encounter mounts, since after enough days it’s a guarantee. The players will feel like they can’t spend too much time in any place, even someplace as safe as town. This increases the feeling that they’re drifters uncomfortable with sitting still.
2: It’s possible to roll for long journeys in the same terrain and speed up the process. If I roll 6d6 for encounters in the old method, I get 6 days of results. If I roll those 6d6 with this new method, I average 21 days of results. The structure of those results is easy to explain: “X days into the desert this happens, another Y days later this happens, after Z more days this happens.”

So I don’t know what to make of this. The main reason for going to all this trouble instead of just adding the chances is that you can’t get multiple successes.
Let’s say I have a 1 in 6 chance to find herbs per day. I search for 5 days. DM says ok, let’s just say it’s 5 in 6 chance for finding one unit of herbs. While that does sound good because of the high success chance, it’s not quite the same as 1 in 6 rolled 5 times. If I did it 5 times I might get lucky and get 2 or 3 units of herbs! The chance seems pretty low though (1 in 6 per die, which means 1 in 36 for two 1s, 1 in 216 for three 1s, 1 in 1296 for four, 1 in 7776 for five). Effectively, rolling the 5 in 6 chance (83.33%) is like rolling 1 in 6 five times (16.67% each) except that there’s no chance of a jackpot result from multiple dice coming up 1s.

One Response to “Fewer die rolls, rolling them up into one (Specifically wilderness and town encounters)”

  1. JD Says:

    Maybe you could shortcut the whole process (with random encounters, that is) if it’s not fixed on location. Like making a list of general random encounters (monster, betrayal, theft, insult, or something like this) and connect it where the characters are at the time the encounter occurs and adapt specific setting details on the fly. A table like “why isn’t it happening earlier?” could help with the herbs seeking ranger (weather could be on something like this, or signs that someone else was seeking the same thing and was faster). I think this could streamline the whole process and work just fine with the system you’re proposing.

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