Random Encounters, One Roll Resolution, and D&D 5E

One of the things that I have really loved about Fantasy Flight’s Edge of the Empire game is that there is an optional rule for one roll resolutions of combats.  Essentially, you determine that a fight happened, but it’s not one of the main plot threads you want to follow up on, but you want it to have consequences.  You set a difficulty, you have you players roll an appropriate skill check for what they did during that combat, and they either get banged up a bit  (and have some wounds they need to deal with, even if they aren’t in danger of being defeated), or they pick up a clue or minor trinket from the encounter if they roll really well.

It only just recently occurred to me that you could use this same system for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, regarding random encounters and exploration turns.

One of the good things retained from 4th Edition was the chart on page 121 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide.  Essentially it gives a range of DCs, attack bonuses, and damage ranges based on level for hazards, usually traps.

This same range could easily be used in a similar vein to the one roll resolution checks in Fantasy Flight’s Edge of the Empire, and be used in whatever exploration turns you wish to use for your characters.

What Happens Between Here and There?

Okay, I’ll admit, I’m going to borrow a bit from a third game here, using some ideas from Dungeon World.

Keep in mind, the following terms are relative.  You can determine the actual amount of time as is needed in your campaign, but the “column” used is the important part for mechanics.

Let’s say your adventurers are going straight from a big city to a dungeon far away, no stops in between.  You determine that “months” is a really long time in this case.

You would then use the “Deadly” columns for difficulty and damage for any encounter that might cause your PCs injury.

If the majority of the trip takes place in the favored terrain of a party ranger, drop the difficulty down one column.  So in the above example, from “Deadly” to “Dangerous.”  If the trip is already at “Setback” level, then all checks are advantage regardless of other circumstances.

Quartermaster–One PC will act as quartermaster, and make a straight intelligence save versus the appropriate DC.  If the check is successful, all of the supplies are kept in good order and everybody is fully healthy and ready to deal with the rigors of the road.  If the check is failed, supplies ran short, and everybody has a level of fatigue.

If PCs have some magic that lets them store food, a means of creating food and water every day, or twice as many provisions as the trip will require, don’t worry about this step.

Hunting and Foraging–If the PCs decide to forgo actually buying provisions, one PC  (who cannot be the same PC performing another function on this list), can hunt and forage for food, making a Survival check against the appropriate DC.  If the PCs decide to supplement by bringing at least half the of provisions they need, this check is made with advantage.

If this option is taken, and failed, instead of gaining one level of fatigue, the party members gain two levels of fatigue from their lack of proper provisions.

Guide–The PCs can either have a party member make a Knowledge (Nature) check or a Survival check to guide them from their home base to their destination.  If they have a detailed, accurate map, give them advantage on this roll.

Failure on this check means one of two things.  The path didn’t go well.  The PCs either got lost, or they wandered into some natural phenomenon that was especially dangerous.

If the PCs opt to be lost, they gain a level of fatigue, and then make another check.  The total time traveled  (assuming the DM is keeping track for campaign purposes) increases by 50% by each failed check.  If the next check is failed, the PCs have the same decision to make  (dangerous natural terrain or being lost).

Each additional check is made with advantage.  Eventually the PCs will start to see the same landmarks and know what to avoid and where they have been before.

Scout–The scout is checking for tracks and signs of travelers, animals, and potentially hostile creatures in the area.  The scout is making either a perception or a survival check to notice ambushes, lairs, and the like.

If this roll fails, there will be a dangerous encounter that could potentially damage the party.

Dangerous Natural Terrain

The PCs come across a cliff face that they didn’t realize was there and some of them might fall.  A forest fire causes them to get singed and breathe in smoke.  A flash flood might buffet them against rocks and trees.  An avalanche might buffet them with rocks.

Look at the terrain, and determine the hazard.  Explain what is going on, and that it is going to do damage.  The DC to avoid the damage is going to be the same one way or the other.  But once you describe the hazard, let the PCs explain what skills, abilities, or class features they will use to avoid the hazard.

There must be a check involved.  A wizard that wants to avoid falling down a cliff by casting fly might still have to make a perception check to notice the hazard in time to cast, for example.  However, if that same wizard wants to say that he blasts the rocks of an avalanche to keep himself safe, let him make an attack roll with his usual spellcasting bonus.

A character may chose to make their check at disadvantage to grant an ally advantage, so long as they can explain how they are aiding their friend.

  • Each time the PCs take damage, they may be healed by spells or use hit dice as normal.

Dangerous Monstrous Encounter

The party runs into someone or something that wants to do them harm.  The DM can still roll on encounter charts if he wants to have an idea of what the encounter is, or he may just know what tends to harrow travelers in the region.  Since these encounters have consequences across the whole trip, there may not be one single encounter, but a running fight with a band of bandits or a tribe of orcs.

Describe what the PCs are facing, in general terms.  Bandits, orcs, dragons swooping out of the sky.  Then allow them to describe how they are attempting to avoid harm.  The DC will be the same  (although there is potentially a second part to this encounter resolution), but there must be a test involved.

For example, a rogue may very well decide to hide from danger whenever it comes about.  In that case, they are making a stealth check to avoid damage.  As above, a character might roll at a disadvantage to grant an ally advantage.  For example, the stealthy rogue might be slitting throats from behind to help his allies, but not directly confronting anyone.

If a PC fails their check against the monstrous encounter, use the attack bonus given under the appropriate column.  If it hits, the PCs take damage from the encounter.  If it misses, they still managed to get out without a scratch.

  • After the PCs take damage, they may be healed by spells or use hit dice as normal.
Upon Arrival

Every spell, hit dice, or resource used, as well as every level of fatigue, is present when the PCs arrive at their destination.  All of the above is to model the aggregate effects of the trip.  So if the PCs traveled for months to reach the Temple of Ultimate Doom and Treasure Storing, as soon as they arrive at the doorstep of the dungeon, they have all of the wounds and fatigue they accrued, as well as lacking all of the spells they used on the way here.  If they want to take rests to recover anything at this point, it will be right here, at adventure central, with whatever consequences that might bring.

As often is the case when I think of something and try to capture it here, there are rules interactions I may not have thought about, and I have not had a chance to try these out in a game myself.  If you see a potential problem, I’d love to discuss it.  If you use this system, I’d also love to hear about it.

In case it isn’t clear or I missed a reference here or there, the following games influenced this post:

  • Star Wars–Edge of the Empire  (one roll combat resolution)
  • 13th Age  (narrative based travel)
  • Dungeon World  (party roles for exploration)
  • The One Ring  (for making travel and hazards a really important part of the adventure)


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