Random Things – Fellow Prisoners

We’ve all been in the situation where our character has been caught bang-to-rights for some sort of indiscretion or perhaps has been falsely accused and has found themselves in prison. Perhaps you were taken captive whilst raiding a dungeon and now languish in a cell yourself?

One thing that can add flesh to these encounters are interactions with NPCs who have also been taken prisoner, but trying to figure out why these people are in prison can sometime be a bit tricky on short notice. Below are two tables for quickly generating these reasons, one for ‘civilised’ prisons and the other for dungeons or savage jails.

Civilised Prison
1D8 Roll Reason Prisoner is in Jail
1 This prisoner is a debtor who owes a large amount of money to a landlord, noble or guild (equal chance of each) and is currently being held until their debts are repaid. The captive swears that this is all a misunderstanding and her has the money. Roll a D6, on a 1 the person is lying and is a conman, 2-4 their possessions have been confiscated and they have no chance to repay the money, 5-6 their debts are being repaid and they will be released in 1D3 days.
2 They were caught stealing valuables from people at a local marketplace and are being held whilst the local authorities decide their fate. Roll a D6, on a 1 they will be executed, 2-3 they will have an appendage chopped of as punishment before being released, 4-5 they will be branded as a thief and released, 6 they will have to serve community service to repay their debt.
3 The person is a foreign agent caught spying and attempting to steal valuable state secrets, they will be held, tortured to find out what they know and then executed. If the PCs strike up a friendship with the prisoner, they may try to bribe the PCs to take a coded messenger to their handler, promising them rich rewards for doing so (even chance if they do so they get a reward or the handler attempts to have them silenced).
4 The prisoner accidentally killed someone in a tavern brawl and is scheduled for execution once the headsman has finished sharpening his axe.
5 The unfortunate prisoner claims to have no idea why they are in here, they were dragged by guards from their bed in the middle of the night and thrown in jail. Roll a D6 on a 1-3 the person is lying, roll again on this table or decide what their actual crime is, on a 4-5 it is a case of mistaken identity and on a 6 they are deliberately being framed by a third party.
6 The prisoner is a commoner who either refused to behave appropriately towards a noble or was found to have been carrying a weapon in public. Roll a D6, on a 1 they will be executed, 2-3 they will have an appendage chopped of as punishment before being released, 4-5 they will be flogged through the streets before being released, 6 they become the property of the offended noble.
7 The person has been arrested for outrageous drunken behaviour. Once they sober up they will be stripped and made to wear the drunkard cloak, a barrel with shoulder straps before being paraded through the town and mocked.
8 They have been arrested for a minor offence such as stealing a load of bread, they will be placed in the stocks for 1D3 days, pelted with rotten fruit and vegetables before being released.
Savage/Dungeon Jail
1D8 Roll Reason Prisoner is in Jail
1 Captured by raiding parties and bought back to the jail to serve as a either cheap labour or a source of food (even chance of each).
2 This person is the lone survivor of a previous adventuring party who attempted to raid the dungeon and has been left here to rot. Roll a D6 to see what happened to his companions, on a 1-2 they were killed exploring the dungeon, 2-3 they were taken captive but have since been removed by the jailors, 5 they died in prison, 6 they were eaten by the last survivor as the only source of food.
3 The prisoner is a member of the race who inhabit the dungeon, they once had status but failed in some manner of tribal testing and have been judged weak/unfit to remain amongst the tribe.
4 The prisoner is a spy for those who inhabit the dungeon, who has been placed here to wheedle their way into the confidence of the PCs and find out what they know before the dungeon owners decide what to do with them.
6 The current owners of the dungeon are not the original inhabitants, they seized it by force from the true owners, throwing the survivors into their own jail cells as a mark of their scorn.
7 The captive is a victim of magical experimentation by the dungeon owners, their skin is covered in strange glowing runes and brands. Roll 1D6, on a 1 the captive has gained a magical ability from the experimentation that made aid an escape plan, on 2-5 they have no useful abilities but some knowledge of the dungeon layout and on a 6 the torturous experiments have reduced them to the level of a mindless beast. Either way the experimentation will eventually prove fatal to the captive if they do not get medical help in 1D6 days.
8 The captive is being held for food, if they do not escape then in 1D3 days they are dragged screaming from their cell and never seen again.

Random Things: Nautical Tattoos

The home-base of my Rose of Westhaven campaign is a small(ish) port-town called Porthcrawl, recently we had a game where most of the people in the town had turned up to a funeral, in thinking about what the various inhabitants would look like I was scrolling through various pictures on Google Image search and noticed that a lot of the pirate/sailor types sported tattoos. I know from other reading and an interest in things piratical that lead to me creating the Fate game Storm & Sail with Lloyd Gyan (available from Drivethru RPG) that such tattoos were very common amongst sailors and that they had different meanings.

After a bit of reading I concocted the table below to randomly roll tattoos for whatever scurvy sea-dogs might be wandering the port, roll 1D20 on the chart to see what tattoo that scurvy buccaneer who’s eyeing your rum is sporting:

No.Description Meaning
1A Woman Serving as a reminder of loves left behind for a life at sea.
2Anchor The anchor tattoo represents stability and was given to represent that the sailor had traversed a particularly dangerous sea or ocean. Particularly sentimental sailors might have the name of a loved one added to the tattoo, giving them a reason to return home safely.
3Bottle Sailors were known for their love of drink so it was not uncommon to see this tattoo.
4Compass Rose Getting lost was one of the many potential dangers at sea, this tattoo was thought to ward against it.
5Cross Anchors Having such a tattoo marked you out as being a Boatswain Mate.
6Crossed Guns or Cannons Crossed guns indicate a member of the infantry army whilst cannons refer to the navy.
7Cutlass Some sailors would get this tattoo after dispatching a noteworthy foe in single combat.
8Dagger Through a Swallow Symbollising a lost comrade.
9Dice A tattoo often sported by risk-takers and gamblers.
10Dragon The seaman has survived an attack where their ship was set on fire and/or the powder exploded.
11Fully Rigged Ship Often awarded to mark sailing around a particularly dangerous cape.
12Harpoon Identifies you as part of a fishing fleet.
13Hold Fast The words hold fast mean holding onto the lines in bad weather to prevent being washed overboard, it is believed these words in a tattoo served as both reminder and a lucky charm in these circumstances.
14Neptune Given to a sailor who has successfully sailed both hemispheres of the world.
15Pig and Rooster Most often tattooed on the feet, these animals symbollised surviving a ship-wreck, since such animals would often wash ashore in cages following a shipwreck.
16Rope A rope around the wrist is a mark of being a deckhand.
17Shark This tattoo signifies having survived attack by some great beast of the ocean.
18Ship with Wind Filling the Sails This tattoo was believed to help a sailor's ship avoid getting becalmed on a windless sea.
19Skull & Bones A sailor with this tattoo marks themselves as having taken up a life of piracy, it is thought to have originated from brands once used to mark captured pirates.
20Swallow Each swallow tattoo represents 5000 nautical miles travelled (about 5754 land miles).

Random Things: Smuggled Cargo

I’ve recently been designing a random encounter chart for Porthcrawl the current base of operations in our Midderlands LOTFP campaign, at the moment it’s a fairly basic chart containing entries like 1D6 villagers on their way to church or 1D6 vendors preparing stock for market. I’m planning on expanding it in the future, but one of the entries talks about villagers moving smuggled cargo/goods so I thought I’d put together a quick table for determining what type of goods they were moving.

To determine what goods are being moved roll 1D6 on the table below.

Please note: Each of these would benefit from a bit of elaboration by the GM, nor do they apply specific game mechanics.

1Crates containing 2D6+2 bottles of beer (1-2), 2D4 bottles of spirits (3-5) or 2D6 bottles of wine (6).
2Crates containing of 2D6+2 pouches of tobacco.
3Container containing 2D6+2 weapons, either melee (1-4) or ranged (5-6).
4Container holding 2D6 doses of drugs. The specifics are left to your campaign but generally high-addictive hallucinogens.
5Crate containing 2D6 doses of medicinal herbs and supplies.
6Smugglers are trafficking in people or other humanoid slaves, if this is illegal in your setting then they have their victims hidden nearby and are seeking to make contact to arrange later pick-up.

My plan is to expand on this chart with a series of sub-charts in the future to define, what sort of alcohols, drugs, etc.

Random Roadside Encounters

I was reading a blog post the other day (unfortunately I can’t remember the blog that I saw it on) where the author was discussing how he writes down ideas for roadside/travelling encounters on index cards so that he can pull one out at random when his PCs are travelling. As a sucker for index cards I love this idea, and it got me thinking about how often the actual act of travelling is glossed over in RPGs, sometimes it’s necessary due to time restraints or for purposes of the story, but there’s a lot of interesting set dressing that could be highlighted during these parts of the game.

In my opinion not all roadside encounters should be combat based, in-fact most of them probably shouldn’t be because there’ll no doubt be enough planned combat encounters in a game, but rather they should be an opportunity to add some extra depth to your campaign setting or to socialise with NPCs.

Below are a series roadside encounter tables that you can use to determine what your PCs may stumble across during their travels. I suggest that during a game (if you were running an OSR style game) roll 2D6 (preferrably different colours) and 1D12 whenever you roll to check for a random roadside encounter. The first D6 can be used to see if an encounter occurs (as per the rules of your favourite system), the second can be your roll on Table 1 whilst the 1D12 covers your roll on table 2,3 or 4 (as applicable):

Table 1: Encounter Table
Roll Description
1 Hostile encounter (roll on the table below).
2-5 Fellow travellers on the road (roll on the table below).
6 An unusual natural feature or unexpected adventure site (roll on the table below).

Table 2: Hostile Encounters
Roll Description
1 A group of 1D6 bandits, lying concealed in wait to waylay travellers on the road.
2 A wagon train of 2D6 Dwarves who are hostile to non-Dwarves (seeming merely irritable to their own kind), they have little interest in talking because they are carrying the body of a slain hero home. Attempts to delay or question them will be met with hostility and possibly an attack.
3 A group of 1D6 thieves who poses as traders or travelling bards to ingratiate themselves with the PCs but–given a chance–they will incapacitate and rob them, leaving them lying by the roadside bereft of possessions.
4 A group of 2D6 goblins who are starving, they are looking to scavenge from a local settlement, but are not above attacking an enemy they believe that they can defeat.
5 A great beast that has been rampaging through the local area, menacing villages and causing a hazard to travel. The beast is a huge/dire version of a normal animal as appropriate for the terrain type, how the animal got so big and why it is taking out it's agression on the locals is up to the GM.
6 A hostile group of 2D6 Elves who claim guardianship of a nearby natural feature, they take a dim view of outsiders, viewing them as despoilers and corruptors of nature.
7 A group of 2D6 evil humanoids who are on a mission for their dark master, if the PCs defeat them then they will gain XP and random loot as normal. This is good opportunity for GMs to drop in items that hint at the identity of the humanoid's master and can serve as a way to introduce a new villainous mastermind to a campaign.
8 A small pack of 1D6+2 dogs that escaped from their homes and have gone feral.
9 A huge troll that makes it's lair under a local bridge, it charges all those who pass 1D6 gold pieces as a toll, attacking those who refuse.
10 A mob of torch-wielding people from a local settlement, they are chasing a mutant, a suspected witch or just someone they don't like very much with the intent of burning them alive for some crime real or imagined (as determined by the GM).
11 A brutish, inbred Ogre who is part of a tribe inhabitting the hills or mountains nearby, previously they have herded goats and caused little trouble, but a strange blight has killed their herds and now they take to raiding the nearby lowland settlements for food and other items.
12 A group of 2D6 orcs lurking in nearby hills or forest, they are preparing to attack a nearby settlement once the sun goes down.

Table 3: Fellow Travellers
Roll Description
1 A troupe of wandering troubadours and bards who are travelling the land performing plays and looking for stories and legends to add to their repertoire. If the PCs make friendly contact with them there is a 50% chance that the troupe will have heard a legend about any noteworthy beast or location (as determined by the GM).
2 A woodsman returning from a nearby forest to his home in a local village, there is a 2-in-6 chance that he can point the player party in the direction of healing herbs or some such.
3 A small group of dodgy, scruffy looking geezers pushing a barely working wheelbarrow piled high with various ramshackle goods and items. There is a 50% chance that the PCs will find any basic equipment they want if they search the cart and they will get it half-price. However there is a 50% chance the first time that the item is used that it breaks due to poor construction or lack of care, there is also a 1-in-6 chance any item purchased is stolen.
4 A small group of children fishing in a creek, they have caught 1D4 rations worth of fish that they maybe willing to share with the PCs if they ingratiate themselves (as determined by the GM).
5 A group of merchants that have been beset by hostile forces (if you wish you can roll on Table 2 to determine the nature of the hostile forces) whilst moving along a local trade route, when they meet the PCs they are fleeing with their enemies close behind them. If the PCs help the merchants then they will receive a 25% discount on any wares that they purchase from them (what the traders have is determined by the GM).
6 A young couple from a nearby village engaged in a secret tryst, if approached by the PCs they are embarrassed and worried about what their parents will say. In return for the PCs silence they will be able to give them the low-down on important NPCs in their home village.
7 A wealthy trade caravan of merchants and exotic spice dealers with an entourage of guards and mercenaries to protect them. There is a 4-in-6 chance that the caravan will have any basic equipment that the PC requests, and a 2-in-6 chance that the caravan has an exotic items they request (final say on this rests with the GM), however any exotic items will cost 25% more than the listed price due to their fine quality of workmanship.
8 A farmer returning from his fields with a barrow full of fresh produce (1D6 rations worth), if the PCs are friendly then he may be willing to barter items for his produce (although he has little use for coin).
9 A local farmer is taking their sheep, goats or cows (equal chance of either) to a nearby market, they are accompanied by 1D6 young girls and boys who help them manage the herd. The farmer will not be interested in selling his animals–since he knows he'll get a better price at market–but can supply the PCs with all the rumours from nearby villages (as determined by the GM).
10 A group of local children mock-fighting each other with sticks, wearing old pans and bits of bark as make-shift armour. If the PCs are friendly to them then they'll be able to point them in the direction of the nearest village.
11 A group of 1D6 woodsmen and rangers who are on the trail of some sort of dangerous beast that has been menacing the nearby settlements. Some of their number were killed in a recent encounter with the beast, they will happily share any rewards and glory with PCs who help them bring the monster down.
12 A noble caravan, it has become stuck in the mud and one of it's wheels has broken. If the PCs are able to repair the wagon or escort the nobles to their destination they will receive a reward of 2D6x10 gold pieces.

Table 4: Natural Feature/Adventure Site
Roll Description
1 A huge cairn of stones carved with strange symbols rises from the nearby landscape, it is either a marker or the burial place of some forgotten hero (equal chance of each).
2 A farmer's hut and a field groaning with produce, however the cabin seems to have been abandoned and all possessions–save the produce in the field–taken. PCs may freely take a total of 2D6 days worth of rations from the field, however there is a 50% chance that the produce is infected with a blight, consumption of blighted rations causes the PC to vomit for 1D4 damage.
3 A single mighty tree rises from the ground here, it is many hundreds of years old and has millenia of carvings covering it's trunk. Some of these carvings may hint at local history or lore.
4 Large worn slabs of stone bearing faint markings attest to this area having once been used as a graveyard, however it is long abandoned and extremely overgrown, but their may be underground tombs and grave goods in the area (as determined by the GM).
5 The remnants of what must have once been a village cover this area, it seems as though it burnt down some time ago, although there may still be the odd item (or danger) lurking amidst the charred ruins.
6 A mighty Oak whose trunk appears to have the pattern of a face visible in the lines and cracks of it's bark. Local legend says that when the whole land was once covered by a huge forest, great creatures, caretakers of the natural world moved across the land caring for the trees. With the coming of man they slept, but are best avoided lest they wake and be roused to furious anger.
7 A crooked stone tower rises at a jaunty angle into the sky, the barely-visible roof is missing a number of slates, their smashed remnants litter the ground around it. The tower belongs to an eccentric sage, reclusive hermit or tormented prophet (equal chance of each).
8 Pillars of rock rising from the ground, years ago primitive people carved homes in these huge pillars before some event caused them to abandon their rocky homes.
9 The remnants of what must have been an expensive cart lie just off the road here, there are 1D6 skeletons and the long-dead bodies of the horses scattered nearby. Examination of the cart results in finding 1D6 gold pieces and a miscellaneous lesser piece of equipment, along with clues that the cart was waylaid–and the occupants murdered–by bandits.
10 A tree with nooses hanging from the branches, local settlements use this tree to execute criminals who have committed capital crimes, when not in use the place has an evil reputation and is avoided.
11 A great stone circle has been erected here, whether as some sort of solar calendar or as a means of communing with the gods it is not clear, but locals either revered the place and worship there or whisper of it as haunted and avoid it entirely (equal chance of each).
12 A rocky outcropping that vaguely resembles a huge, sleeping humanoid. Local villagers say that it is a giant who once menaced these parts before he was forced into an eternal slumber by a great and powerful sorceror.

Odd Alien Encounters

It was pointed out by my lovely wife yesterday that–although I’d done a lot of fantasy themed Random Things articles I’d not really done (m)any science-fiction ones. Looking back I found that she was right, I think his is partly because I tend to create random tables inspired by games I’m running and–for right or wrong–most of those are fantasy or horror-fantasy based.

To try and re-dress this please find below a table of random aliens that could be encountered in a typical sci-fi game.

Please note: Each of these would benefit from a bit of elaboration by the GM, nor do they apply specific game mechanics.

1A race of sentient, floating crystals who communicate through subtle harmonies and manipulate their environment telephathically. They find normal forms of biological life barbaric, viewing them as little better than viruses.
2These aliens are descended from reptiles, their young are born from eggs and they are cold-blooded. The internal temperature of their ships is far hotter than comfortable for humans and they are viewed as merciless by other species.
3The individuals of this race are actually remote-holograms produced by a huge alien computer that is capable of transmitting/sharing information over vast distances with little to no delay. The computer has observed that other races feel more comfortable communicating with someone like themselves as so created the holograms to add it's studies.
4A race of insects who come together as colonies when and if the need arises, an individual insect is no more intelligent than an average earth-ant but the colony minds are often have mighty intellects, although they are very colony minded.
5These aliens are descended from amphibious/aquatic life, although they are now evolved to survive on land as well as in the water, they still have numerous adaptions such as gills, fins, etc to help them survive in an aquatic environment. Their uncanny grasp of 3-dimensional movement makes them excellent space pilots, although on their own ships they prefer to fill the compartments with oxygenated water.
6Whilst appearing as metallic humanoids, the members of this race are actually robot suits 'piloted' by swarms of sentient nano-bots who are on a mission of exploration seeking out new life and more advanced technologies. When they discover new tech they dissemble and examine it, using their upgraded knowledge to enhance their vessel and create the next improved generation of nano-bots.

Dungeon Change Chart

I’m really into OSR gaming at the moment, which means I’ve been reading a lot about how to create dungeons and keep them fresh. One of the things that is often mentioned is that dungeons are not static, they are working eco-systems that change and evolve as time passes, this can pose a potential problem for a GM. Some times when your PCs are re-visiting a dungeon, events in the campaign make it obvious was it likely to have changed in the area.

For example: Last time the heroes visiting the bandits lair they killed most of them, this has lead to the lair being abandoned and it is now colonised by natural creatures who moved in after the bandits departed.

However–at other times–there’s not an obvious change that could have occurred, but you don’t want the dungeon to feel static and unchanging, as though it only exists for the few brief moments when the PCs decide to grab their lanterns and venture into the dark depths. To help with this I’ve created a simple D6 roll table.

How to use the table

When the PCs return to a dungeon and a significant period of time 1 has passed, make a roll on the table to see what changes have occurred, these changes don’t specify specific creatures or areas affected by tunnel collapses and flooding but are intending to serve as a springboard to the GM’s imagination.

Dungeon Change Chart

  1. The exact length of the time interval is left to the GM, but generally if more than a few days have passed since the PCs have visited the dungeon then you should make a roll. If they’ve been away for a really long period then you may wish to make multiple rolls. 

10 Noises in the Darkness

We’ve all been in the situation where your PC is exploring some sort of underground dungeon, lit only by the flickering light of their lantern, suddenly someone falls into a trap or there is an unexpected gust of wind that extinguishes the lamp and plunges the group into darkness. In the darkness the PCs are forced to rely on senses other than sight, this can be challenging for a GM to come up with something on the fly since we’re so used to the convenience of visual short-hand.

Below is a D10 table of sounds and other sensory input that might occur to worry your PCs in the dark:

1A sound like something wet being dragged over stone echoes through the darkness.
2Your foot plunges into something some and sticky like a ripe melon and a foul smell wafts into the air.
3The ground becomes sharp and fragmented under foot, cracking into dagger-like shards as you walk.
4In the distance a dull, monotonous tone like sombre drumming begins.
5The high-pitched shriek of a beast or someone in trouble echoes in the blackness, but it is impossible to tell where the sound is coming from.
6In the quiet darkness only the echoes of your own footfalls and your heart beating in your chest accompany you.
7Something hisses quietly nearby and the smell of rotten grass fills the area.
8From somewhere you can hear the constant dripping of water.
9You hear a scraping sound like someone sharpening a knife and–for just a second–you see sparks up ahead, bursting and then vanishing in the gloom, leaving only an after-image.
10Up ahead you hear the sound of stone grinding against stone, like an avalanche occurring in slow motion or perhaps the working of some great and ancient machine.