Wednesday, August 31, 2022

The Rivals: One-to-one Time and Random Campaign Development

Promotional art for the Dungeons &Dragons cartoon
©️1983 D&D Entertainment

Let me tell you about how my campaign started running itself  through a curious set of random rolls inspired by my rumor chart and one-to-one time.

My Xen campaign uses a modified version of the one-to-one time tracking that Stephen Smith uses in the Wierth campaign. When my players are in the middle of a dungeon, and we have to intercession, we pause and pick up where we left off. I keep track of the turns that have passed, and occasionally tell the players approximately how long they have been in the dungeon.

When we end outside of a dungeon, I handle the player characters' return to base myself. Rolling for random encounters if necessary, and handling combat in an abstract way if they should run into danger.

Given that my Player Characters got hold of a functional ornithopter, and kept it studiously repaired and fueled (until it was stolen,) I have not had much to do that regard.

How I Handle Time Between Sessions

Between sessions, I ration one week on Xen for downtime, which is 8 days 

I have set a 1-in-6 chance that something will happen during that time.

I have only twice rolled an event. When it has happened,  I've grabbed an encounter table. The first time, I rolled for bandits, and so placed a group of bandits in a nearby hex, and then used reason to determine their impact the community.

The second time, I rolled an encounter with a rival adventuring group. I interpreted this to mean that a new adventuring group has appeared in the community.

Otherwise  during downtime I look at my current rumor chart, advance any that would have to logically advance, roll randomly to see if any other situations indicated by rumors have changed, and decide if there's anything else I want to add based on activity and other groups random rolls, or inspiration.

My players may tell me in Discord what they would like their characters to do to fill the available time. My players don't generally take the sort of  advantage of downtime that we do in the Wierth campaign, but they have some established habits:

  • The Charismatic fighter carouses once a week to update the rumor table. He spends two days a week making social calls on NPCs (we have a gp budget for this,) and one day a week volunteering at the local church.
  • The Alchemically-minded thief makes explosives, potions, and medicine with the time allotted.
  • The Monk spends time studying and tinkering with ancient machines.

It means that the PCs  replenish resources, have news, and spend their gold meaningfully in the background 

The Local Adventurers

When I rolled up the adventurers I mentioned above, I generated a very basic outline of 2d4 characters of human-only classes (The region has no demihumans ) I didn't bother detailing them except to place a rumor about their existence at first. I figured I could use a tool like donjon to create them on the fly if I needed to.

Obviously, having another adventuring party in the community meant I had to figure out what adventures they were going on. My rumor table made this easy. I looked at any rumors that had been sitting and getting uglier, and had a particular impact on the community. After all, these were local kids playing hero.

This meant that an adventure to retrieve the bodies of some poachers from the Axe-Beak nesting grounds was a good first option. Likewise, caravans not bringing supplies into town was a big deal, so I had them do a round as caravan guards.

The players had also been ignoring a local ankheg problem, much to my chagrin. When I was reading about the ecology of the anchex in the AD&D2e Monstrous Manual and realize that the rival adventurers had come back to town around the right time of year for an ankheg molt, I gave them a two in six chance of learning about the molting and taking advantage of it. These local kids got very lucky and managed to slay the monsters when they were lethargic and weak. 

Once the pressing threats to the community had been dealt with, I realized that I had a perfect tool for determining what they would do next: my rumor tables. I could simply use them as a random table to determine what these adventurers were up to once per week, with a chance that they would take a week off added.

By rolling on the rumor table to see what they would do next, I found that they followed up on an adventure the PCS had left unfinished, and got a sizable treasure out of it. And then visited a dungeon the player characters had scouted but not entered.

I could have run these NPCs as solo characters, it seemed a little indulgent and time intensive. Instead I used a mix of the vsd6 and my own Over Six system to create a quick and easy way of determining whether they got out of their adventures alive. I leveled them up for every three adventures they had. This party has been insanely lucky. The dice had let them level up without any significant loss of life or limb to a hearty third level.

In general, my players have been content to ignore these NPCs and don't regard them as competition. However, this is about to change.

When Active NPCs Do Stupid Things

One of the dungeons I had seeded in the region was a simple Temple that's now held a sleeping blue dragon on a mound of treasure from the lost city of Imran. (In the tradition of Beowulf, dragons in Xen can slumber for centuries.)

I rolled that the NPC adventurers were headed to the temple. Which makes sense, as they had reached the point where their magic would allow them to reach the temple through the dense cactus forest that surrounds it.

My dice rolls determined that half the party would be killed and consumed, two more captured, and a single adventurer would escape with her life 

Monday night's game started with the PCs receiving a desperate plea from a wounded adventurer to save her surviving companions from a small, but very old talking blue dragon (no spells.)

This was well worth the effort to track.


  1. Hey, we're seasoned adventurers. We've handled difficult and dangerous situations before. How bad could it be?

  2. That's great. When you have NPCs doing their own stuff that impacts the PCs, the adventures start writing themselves.

    1. At some point I am going to have to get all of my ideas into a single "campaign engine" tool.