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SYNTAX(1813) - 03 - Doctor Syntax, Stopt by Highwaymen

Random encounter tables are a cornerstone of Old-School RPGs that add a high level of verisimilitude to your game world. Not only do they make travel a more interesting (and potentially dangerous) experience, but if used on-the-fly they also allow a Ghastly Affair Presenter (or GM) to experience a level of novelty and surprise usually reserved for the Players.

The following tables are generally applicable for the spring, summer, and autumn of most late 18th / early 19th century European regions not currently at war, or undergoing a major natural disaster. Determine one potentially interesting encounter for the morning, one for the afternoon, one for the evening, and one for night (if the PCs travel then). Naturally, there might have been other travelers and animals along the way, but they are assumed to have ignored the PCs, been too far away to interact, etc. If the PCs are traveling by carriage, an encounter are likely to occur when the carriage has temporarily stopped so the horses can rest, and the passengers relieve themselves.

Old-schoolers will probably recognize the d8+d12 mechanic for encounter tables, which gives a spot of equal probability for numbers from 9 – 13, with decreasing probabilities on either side of that range. I find the limited possible range of results to be actually creatively stimulating, as it forces one to focus on only the most evocative and interesting encounters. Also, I personally enjoy rolling the odder shapes of polyhedral dice. I know, it’s a sickness.

Thanks to Blogger Ynas Midgard for suggesting a need for these tables.

Morning, Afternoon, & Evening – On the Road Between Villages (d4):

1

No Encounter

2 – 3

Roll on Table 1: Morning, Afternoon, and Evening Road Encounters

4

Roll on Table 3: Obstacles and Curiosities

Morning, Afternoon, & Evening – Passing Through a Village:

Roll on Table 4: Daylight Village Encounters

Night – On the Road Between Villages (d4):

1 – 2

No Encounter

3

Roll on Table 2: Night Road Encounters

4

Roll on Table 3: Obstacles and Curiosities

Night – Passing Through a Village:

Roll on Table 2: Night Road Encounters

If you’re not referring to an actual map, assume that travelers along a main road will pass through a village every 2 miles (roughly 3.2 km), if more than 10 miles (approximately 16 km) from a major city. Off the main roads, villages can be as much as 5 miles (approx. 8 km) apart. If within 10 miles (approx. 16 km) of a major city, travelers might pass through a new village every mile (approx. 1.6 km) until they enter the suburbs that extend about about ½ to 1 mile from the formal city limits. A village is usually part of the greater estate of an aristocratic family whose Grand House will be located within 2 miles of the village square. Travelers on main roads will reach a coaching inn (where they can eat, get lodgings, and rent a fresh team of horses) every 5 – 9 miles (approximately 8 – 14.5 km). Most travel occurs in the morning, afternoon, and evening, but a coach is also likely to travel through the night to reach its destination (or an acceptable inn). It was not unknown for coachmen traveling by night to fall asleep, causing horrible accidents.

Table 1: Morning, Afternoon, and Evening Road Encounters

d8+d12

The characters catch sight of…

2

an Immortal Wanderer.

3

Fairies. Typically Sprites disguised as ordinary people, animals, or plants.

4

a large Animal(s), predatory or dangerous. Pack of Wolves, pack of Wild Dogs, Bear, etc.

5

a small Animal(s), predatory or dangerous. Fox, Hawk, Wildcat, Polecat, Viper, etc.

6

a large Animal(s), non-predatory. Deer, Wild Boar, stray Sheep, stray Cattle, etc.

7

a small Animal(s), non-predatory. Rabbit, Raven, Crow, etc.

8

1d12 religious traveler(s). Nuns, Monks, Pilgrims, Inquisitors, etc.

9

1d12 farmer(s) or laborer(s). Shepherd with Sheep, foragers, commuting workmen, etc.

10

1d12 foot travelers. Tourists, sightseers, ramblers, etc.

11

1d4 wagon(s) or cart(s). Filled with farm produce, consumer goods, lumber, stones, cloth, babies being transported to orphanages, etc.

12

1d8 non-aristocratic rider(s) on horseback.

13

Mail or stage coach. With 2d6 passengers. Passengers past the sixth will be hanging onto the exterior.

14

1d4 aristocratic carriage(s). Each transports 1d4 Aristocrats and 1d4 servants.

15

1d20 aristocrat(s) on horseback. Pleasure ride, hunting party, etc.

16

1d20 Gypsies, or traveling entertainers.

17

1d20 Soldier(s). Gendarmes, militia, press gang, etc.

18

1d12 Bandit(s) (or other criminals).

19

1d6 strange people. Feral Child, 1d4 Degenerate(s), 1d6 Cultists, etc.

20

a member of the royal family (or highest nobility). On horseback, or in their carriage. 90% likely to be accompanied by 2d4 servants, or else will be traveling incognito.

Table 2: Night Road Encounters

d8+d12

From out of the darkness comes…

2

a dangerous Spirit. Spectral Animal, Wraith, Wayward Shadow, Possessor Demon, Fire Demon

3

a Fairy. Sprite or Goblin.

4

a usually diurnal Animal (wandering by night). Bear, stray domestic Sheep, etc.

5

a large Animal, predatory or dangerous. Pack of Wolves, pack of Wild Dogs, Wild Boar, etc.

6

a small Animal, predatory or dangerous. Owl, Fox, Badger, Wildcat, Polecat, Viper, etc.

7

a large Animal, non-predatory. Typically Deer.

8

a small Animal, non-predatory. Typically Rabbits

9

1 or 2 non-aristocratic riders on horseback. Possibly returning from (or setting out for) an evening’s entertainment, Demon Hunter(s) pursuing quarry, etc.

10

a carriage or coach. 1d4 passengers returning from (or setting out for) an evening’s entertainment, attending the meeting of a secret society, etc. 25% chance someone in the carriage is there against their will.

11

1d4 game poachers. Probably masked, or with blackened faces.

12

1d10 common criminals. Bandits, Grave Robbers, or Everyman thieves under 5th Level.

13

2 (or 3) trysting lovers. 75% likely to be from different social classes, not married to each other, or otherwise unconventional.

14

1d4 aristocratic riders on horseback.

15

2d6 soldiers. Gendarmes, press gang, deserters, drunken carousers.

16

1d4 infamous criminal(s). Bandit(s) or Grave Robber(s) of 5th Level or above. 50% likely to be accompanied by 1d10 common criminals under 5th Level.

17

1d6 strange people. Feral Child, 1d6 Cannibal(s), 1d6 Degenerate(s), 2d10 Witches, etc.

18

a Phantom.

19

a Monster. Werewolf, Demoniac, Gigantic Wolf, Bzou, Ogre, etc.

20

a Revenant. Ghoulish Revenant, Common Vampyre, Zoomorphic Revenant, Walking Skeleton, Mindless Revenant, etc.

Table 3: Obstacles and Curiosities

d8+d12

You are faced with…

2

a stray bullet striking one of your horses.

3

a collapsed section of the road, or sinkhole.

4

the evidence of a recent combat.

5

a carriage wreck. 25% chance 2d4 people are still present. 50% chance 1d6 of them are dead.

6

a strikingly picturesque view. 25% likely that 1d4 people are already here appreciating it, possibly drawing or painting the scene in watercolors.

7

an unusually large quantity of insects. Gnats, bees, flies around a mound of horse excrement etc.

8

a passenger (or fellow rider) suddenly becoming violently ill.

9

a corpse, human or animal.

10

a horse with a thrown shoe, or a broken wheel on the carriage.

11

a quantity of produce or consumer goods that have been left fallen onto the road. Most will be broken or otherwise ruined, of course, but some might be salvageable.

12

a horse that has suddenly been spooked, and is starting to bolt.

13

an object or passenger falling from a horse or carriage. Luggage slips off, passenger (or servant) hanging onto the outside loses their grip, door to carriage opens and a passenger jumps out, etc.

14

a downed tree across road.

15

a closure or barricade on the road. 50% likely to be attended by 1d4 Soldiers or Bandits.

16

foliage and / or trees on fire.

17

debris from an ancient, collapsed building on the side of road.

18

a sudden and unexpected storm, with lightning, high winds, and hard rain.

19

an extremely rare (and valuable) plant visible from road.

20

strange puddles on the road. Bloody, phosphorescent, filled with fish, etc.

Table 4: Daylight Village Encounters

d8+d12

While passing through a village, your interest is piqued by…

2

a raging fire.

3

a strikingly attractive shepherd(ess) with their flock.

4

villagers engaged in a particularly odd local custom. Burning straw animals, dancing in bear costumes, hitting each other with decorated tree branches, wearing outfits covered in small bells, etc.

5

a flamboyant procession for a local saint or hero. Procession is likely to actually be an ancient Pagan ceremony given a thin Christian veneer.

6

a wedding party.

7

a funeral procession.

8

a group of children playing a strange game you’ve never seen elsewhere.

9

a cluster of peasant women arguing.

10

1d8 rider(s). Aristocrats on a hunt, an outlaw being chased, agent(s) of the local lord collecting rents, etc.

11

a group gathered in the village square to hear the crier. A change in local laws or taxation, announcement of an upcoming wedding, warning of a visit by an important person, etc.

12

a stray (or foraging) domestic animal. Sheep, cow, pig, etc. 5% likely to be rabid, or otherwise diseased.

13

an aggressive dog or cat. 10% likely to be rabid.

14

a stumbling drunk.

15

a carriage or coach. Someone is forced into the carriage; a women locked inside screams at the window; a gun or dagger is pulled out before the curtains are drawn; etc.

16

an angry mob in the process of surrounding someone.

17

1d8 Gypsies, or traveling entertainers.

18

2d4 construction laborers heading off to their worksite. Possibly to erect a folly building for the local landlord, plant hedgerows or build walls to enclose previously open land, etc.

19

the unique architecture of a building.

20

a large predator that has wandered into town in broad daylight. A Bear, a pack of Wolves, etc.

For those wishing to make their own d8+d12 Encounter Tables, here are the assumed encounter frequencies, and actual odds of each result:

d8+d12

Encounter Frequency

2

Improbable encounter. Approximately a 1% chance. (Actual probability: 1 in 96)

3

Strange encounter. Approximately a 2% chance. (Actual probability: 2 in 96)

4

Unusual encounter. Approximately a 3% chance. (Actual probability: 3 in 96)

5

Infrequent encounter. Approximately a 4% chance. (Actual probability: 4 in 96 )

6

Occasional encounter. Approximately a 5% chance. (Actual probability: 5 in 96)

7

Occasional encounter. Approximately a 6% chance. (Actual probability: 6 in 96)

8

Frequent encounter. Approximately a 7 % chance. (Actual probability:7 in 96)

9

Ubiquitous encounter. Approximately an 8 % chance. (Actual probability: 8 in 96)

10

Ubiquitous encounter. Approximately an 8 % chance. (Actual probability: 8 in 96)

11

Ubiquitous encounter. Approximately an 8 % chance. (Actual probability: 8 in 96)

12

Ubiquitous encounter. Approximately an 8 % chance. (Actual probability: 8 in 96)

13

Ubiquitous encounter. Approximately an 8 % chance. (Actual probability: 8 in 96)

14

Frequent encounter. Approximately a 7 % chance. (Actual probability: 7 in 96)

15

Occasional encounter. Approximately a 6 % chance. (Actual probability: 6 in 96)

16

Occasional encounter. Approximately a 5 % chance. (Actual probability: 5 in 96)

17

Infrequent encounter. Approximately a 4 % chance. (Actual probability: 4 in 96)

18

Unusual encounter. Approximately a 3 % chance. (Actual probability: 3 in 96)

19

Strange encounter. Approximately a 2 % chance. (Actual probability: 2 in 96)

20

Improbable encounter. Approximately a 1 % chance. (Actual probability: 1 in 96)

 

A Helpful Reminder for my Fellow Americans

The settlement pattern of most 18th Century European countries differed quite significantly from the sprawling, low-density model of modern rural (and suburban) America. In general, the structures in a village were not spread-out, but built quite closely together. The typical inland village consisted of a square mile of farmland, with a compact nucleus of attached or semi-attached houses surrounding a central square. The population mostly preferred to live in close proximity to each other, and would generally commute out to the fields they rented (or worked in the employ of the local landlord). The exact density of the village varied by the area, of course. While the houses of an English village might possibly have a few feet of space between them, an Italian village could often be as densely packed as a city (albeit a very small one). In general, those who wanted to live a distance away from others were assumed to be criminals, religiously unorthodox, or otherwise undesirable. Isolated farmhouses were usually sizable homes inhabited by the relatively few, upper-middle class families who owned their own land, and employed live-in servants and workmen (for example, the Earnshaws of “Wuthering Heights”).

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