Tag Archives: urban

Life In The Big City – Crowds and Mobs

In a city campaign, there’s many times where you need to reflect enough bystanders that representing them individually just doesn’t work – a pain with minis, but also it loses the crowd effect of slowing down runners, etc.

Luckily, The Alexandrian has some crowd and mob rules I found!  I’ll try these in an upcoming crowd scene and see if I want to mod them or not.

Life in the Wide World – Random Encounters

Last time, I explained why I like random encounter tables and feel like they add to both the “realism/simulation” factor but also add to the story by being bellwethers of the players’ interest.  Now, I’ll talk about how I create and use them.


The Pathfinder Bestiary has some generic random encounter tables in the back, but obviously in most cases you’ll want something tailored to the place you are.  The Paizo APs do a pretty good job of providing basic random encounter tables for the various cities and regions in which they take place.  You’ll want to put work into these tables proportionally to how long the PCs will be there.

More specific is always better, it’s just a matter of how much work you want to put into it.  The good part is, if you do this right the work you put into it is heavily reusable from campaign to campaign.

  1. City Random Encounter Table Template – consider putting some meta-thought into this so you can use it to build other charts easily.  “01-05, Wimpy Local Monster 1”, for example.
  2. Generic City Random Encounter Table – to use anywhere when you don’t have anything more specific on hand.  Some are provided in the Pathfinder Bestiary.
  3. Chelaxian-type City Random Encounter Table  – you can use this in a broad swath of locations – Cheliax, Magnimar, Korvosa, etc.   If you have a couple of these ready to cover the most likely sectors, you are ready for a lot.  “Port City Random Encounter Chart,” with maybe some entries that say “City Guard (lawful city)/Pirate Press Gang (pirate city)”  would cover a lot too.
  4. City of Korvosa Random Encounter Table – use in Korvosa.  Often there’ll be one of these provided in an adventure or AP you can modify for use.
  5. City of Korvosa Sewers Random Encounter Table – use in the sewers.  You might have a Generic City Sewer Random Encounter Chart that this inherits from too.   Sometimes an AP will publish tables down to this level of detail.
  6. City of Korvosa Midland District Random Encounter Table, During the Troubles – you can vary the charts by time as well.  If the city is under martial law, you’d expect the encounters to be pretty different.
  7. Gold Goblin Gaming Hall Random Encounter Table – don’t be shy about making charts that are very very specific to a small location, as long as the PCs are spending a lot of time there.  In the Second Darkness AP, it’s likely the PCs will end up running a gambling establishment and will be working in it a lot.  That might merit a very specific “who wanders in and/or causes trouble on a given night” chart just for that one building.


There are two philosophies of encounters in D&D.  The first is to always scale encounters to the PCs.  The other is to allow for the entire range of realistically possible encounters without regard for the PCs’ abilities.  The latter, though nice from a realism/sandbox play point of view, can be a little dangerous.

I thought the Scarred Lands products from Sword & Sorcery had an elegant solution to that problem that well served both realism and scaling needs.  They assigned CRs to actual locations that reflected the average CR of encounters there.  Then PCs should, with a modicum of care, be able to find out how dangerous a region is.

  • “Foundling’s Green?  A naked virgin with a sack of gold could wander the cornfields safely there.  Someone thought they saw a goblin 5 years ago and the Count sent troops; turns out it was just a real ugly sheep.”  CR1/2.
  • “The Schwartzwald?  Well, you wouldn’t want to wander around in it alone, there’s some dangerous things in there, but groups of loggers work those woods.  One group like that went missing six months back, though.”  CR3.
  • “The Forest of Screaming Skulls?  No one has ever entered it and returned.  The Hellknight Order of the Dragon sent in a hundred knights to pacify it; none came back out, but their mothers all died of heart attacks that very day.”  CR 16.

You can vary CRs by smaller scale, of course – the Bowery has a higher CR than the Merchant District.  Of course in most normal human cities, even “rough” areas aren’t going to have super high CRs, or else people’d get wiped out.  The crime-riddled streets of Riddleport only have an average CR of 1 on their encounter table.  This advice mostly applies to hostile/monster encounters; there may be EL5 bands of city guards about, of course, or by crossing the street and going into the Collegium you can probably toss a rock and hit a CR8 wizard, but they are not (usually) eating peasants.

I’d like to give a shout out to “Wilderness & Wasteland – Scarred Lands Encounters,” a Sword & Sorcery supplement all about building encounter tables.  It’s worth picking up.

Anyway, once areas have average CRs, PCs know where they can go safely and what’s risky, and  your campaign flavor is backed by the rules.  It allows scaling by self-selection, in the same way that World of Warcraft does with its zones.


Similarly, there are two philosophies on random encounter tables.  One, the “hostile encounter” theory, holds that they are only for monsters or people likely to provoke random encounters.  These consist solely of entries like “Bandits, bulette, owlbear, King’s Guards, orc warband.”

The other holds that they should also include “friendly” encounters, events, and other stuff. “Crying orphan, dead soldier, abandoned shrine, loose horse…”  These can be used as hooks or just to provide flavor – this example list communicates “war-torn countryside”, for example.

I personally prefer the latter, though the former require less work, as they’re a subset of the larger, more inclusive ones.

The main thing to keep in mind is that you want the frequency of encounters to be lower if you’re using an all-hostile encounter table; you can ramp up the frequency the more other stuff is on them.

Populating the Table

What, besides monsters, can go on a random encounter table?

  • Normal animals or plants – threatening, tasty, valuable, or entertaining
  • Natural phenomena or events like sandstorms, stampedes, marching strikers, or an overturned dung collection cart
  • Traps like bear traps or pungi stakes
  • Diseases like malaria or yellow fever
  • Largely friendly people like traveling merchants, con men, pilgrims, or prostitutes
  • Largely unfriendly people like city guards, roving berserkers, or bloodthirsty natives
  • Local features like totem poles or caves
  • Happy treats like ivory, an outcropping that contains valuable metals, or a dropped coin purse
  • Specific people the PCs know
  • Pretty much whatever else you could think of

Now, I will say that more isn’t always better.  Especially if you evolve your tables over time, you can easily get 100 different things on a given table.  But this runs the risk of cognitive sprawl – it’s hard to work up 100 encounters ahead of time and so they are more off the cuff, and it’s less likely to have anything recur – and from both a story and a game point of view, you want some recurrence.  Recurring threats help show theme more strongly than totally different ones every time and may become a plot element, and also PCs like to get better at fighting things.  The first time your party encounters a yellow musk creeper, it may take them a while to figure out there’s a plant behind all the zombie business.  So the second time, they can know what’s going on, target the plant, and feel proud in showing off what they’ve learned.

It’s easy enough to have a big long list of random encounters and cross ones off.  So if you have your big jungle encounter table, for a given trek through the Mwangi you might cross off a bunch of it and use a subset, just so  you can prep some of them a little, allow for recurrence, or even just not have to carry ten different books with monster stats in them to the game.  And if you’ve added a cool new monster or NPC it’s more likely to come up, and if there’s just monsters you feel more like running this week and ones you don’t…  If you have your table stored in Excel then it’s easy to cut, paste, and remove/alter entries to taste in very short order.

Chance of Encounter

Historically in D&D this has been a fixed rate; “x% per hour” or other time increment.  (Bizarrely, in Pathfinder they seem to not have addressed chance of encounter at all.)  I kinda prefer to make it dependent on the PCs’ skills.  Someone with a good Survival check (or, in the city, Diplomacy/Gather Information) should be able to avoid a lot of encounters with their knowledge of the ways of the wild/city.  In addition, the chance should probably be lower if the party’s staying still and higher if they’re romping through the underbrush.  It’d also be nice to take into account the scenario where the PCs want to provoke random encounters, for whatever demented reason happens to be at hand.  (You could argue PCs acting as a highly motivated city guard and looking to enforce the law could be simulated by provoking random encounters.)

Cautious: If you’re staying in one place or otherwise trying to avoid encounters, you check once every twelve hours.  You can travel overland  cautiously by moving at half speed.

Normal: If you’re moving about normally, you check once every six hours.

Aggressive: If you are looking for trouble deliberately, or otherwise moving about in an intrusive manner (searching the wilderness for a dungeon entrance, foraging, checking every inn in town for someone) you check once every three hours.

The DM may also modify the frequency of checks based on what’s going on – if there’s an active battle in the vicinity, it’s reasonable to say that the area is hot enough that there’s random encounter checks every hour.

Use skill checks to determine random encounters.  In the wilderness, use Survival, and in the city, use Diplomacy.  The DC to avoid an encounter is 10+the CR of the location.  So for example, in a CR3 location, a Survival check of 13+ avoids an encounter during that time period.  Feel free and combine this with other rolls of this skill; for example overland travel usually provokes Survival checks.  If someone’s rolling their Survival check to avoid getting lost, you can just compare that roll against the encounter DC and have it serve double duty.  You can always deliberately “pull” this check if you’re looking for trouble and “take zero,” so to speak.

Optionally, you can do a little more granular work and roll on the encounter table first and then check against the CR of the specific random encounter rolled.  Then you can let Knowledge checks be used to assist – if the encounter rolled is a bear, then PCs with Knowledge: Nature could roll to assist the Survival roll to avoid (or provoke) the encounter.    This rewards domain specific knowledge, which is always a plus.  It also allows for some discretion in “looking for trouble”.


Let’s say the PCs are out looking for magical beasts to capture for some dude in town that’s paying well for them, but would like to otherwise avoid pointless fights.  The PCs decide they’re looking aggressively during the day (one check every 3 hours) but taking it easy at night (one check every 12 hours).  During the day, they decide to “take zero” and provoke an encounter on a d20 roll under 10+ the encounter EL.  If you roll an encounter with orcs, for example, which they don’t want to deal with, let them make Knowledge: Nature checks to “assist” the Survival roll in the direction they want.   Let’s say two of them have Knowledge: Nature and make their DC10 assist rolls, meaning a total d20+4 on their check to avoid the encounter.  If they might encounter an owlbear according to the chart, the same Knowledge: Nature assist rolls would let them subtract two from their roll, so if both make their assist they would roll d20-4 versus the same encounter.

Bringing It All Together

Here’s what an encounter table might look like.  Let’s say it’s this party’s first trek into the Mwangi Expanse, Golarion’s equivalent to Africa.  I have a giant jungle encounter table including all the entries in the table in the back of the Bestiary.  I decide that I want to stress the more “mundane” threats that the jungle has to offer for this first outing, so I focus on the inhabitants, animals, and diseases of the Mwangi more than supernatural or monstrous threats; on later journeys I’ll crank up those and have the mundane stuff stay there but become a  smaller piece of the pie.

They’re going to be inland only three days or so, therefore probably a dozen or so entries will allow for enough variation with some chance of recurrence.

Kaava Lands, Mwangi Expanse Random Encounter Table (CR 5)

  1. Bonecrusher Fever Fort DC 12 (CR1)
  2. Sleeping Sickness Fort DC 14 (CR2)
  3. Javelin Trap (CR2)
  4. Enteric Fever Fort DC 15 (CR3)
  5. 2d6 Mwangi Tribesmen Warrior L1 (CR3)
  6. 2d6 Jungle Elves Warrior L1 (CR3)
  7. 2d10 Aspis Consortium slavers (CR4)
  8. 1 army ant swarm (CR 5)
  9. 2d4 gorillas (CR6)
  10. 1 dire tiger (CR8)
  11. Location (roll d6):
    1-3: Mwangi village – 10 warriors, about 30 souls total, starting attitude of indifferent
    4-5: Mwangi village – burned to the ground, no survivors
    6: Mwangi sacred site – any Mwangi with the party will refuse to enter the area, causing two hours of lost time maneuvering around it, and any PC taking any of the fierce little carved masks hanging from trees in the place will get a hostile reaction from any Mwangi seeing them later on.
  12. Person (roll d4):
    1-2:  That crazy explorer they met in Bloodcove
    3-4: That hottie that works for the Aspis Consortium they’re all trying to impress

This table carries out my theme for the adventure – it’s more about discovering the area than hacking on wildlife.

Other things to put in your table besides the encounter name and CR – I would have done it above but WordPress is awful at tables, sadly – put the source and page reference, like Paizo does.  A lot of their cooler new monsters are from articles in the APs, and even now I have a dickens of a time hunting down where a monster is.  Writing it down in the table once will save you much flipping later.  Also, consider putting in starting attitudes (friendly, indifferent, hostile), especially useful for people-heavy tables.  There’s a big difference between a friendly “come join us!” merchant caravan and a “don’t come within 200 feet or we fire these crossbows” merchant caravan.

Here’s a more city-focused encounter chart that I might use in my current campaign.  It uses the Riddleport Random Encounters Table from Second Darkness: Shadow in the Sky p.79 as a base, but I’ve added specifics.  The AP says  “con artist,” I’ve come up with some specific hustles and also have some specific con men added in from random places, like Mungo and his Amazing Monkeys from a Freeport supplement.   And the table completely omits certain things that seem obvious, like Riddleport Gendarmes.   Plus, as their intrigue among the city’s inhabitants heats up, I’m adding more specific people and/or spies for specific people.  CR is less meaningful as more of these aren’t (necessarily) combat encounters.

Riddleport Wharf District Random Encounter Table (CR 1)

  • 1 monkey (Avg CR 1/6, MM p.276)
  • Con artist pretending to be a shanghaied princess (CR 1/2, see notes)
  • Con artist – Mungo and his Amazing Monkeys (CR 7, Denizens of Freeport p. 65)
  • 1 leper (Avg CR 1/2, SitS p.79)
  • 1d4+1 Gendarmes, reasonably honest (Avg CR 2, use Riddleport Thug stats)
  • 1d4+1 Gendarmes, looking for trouble and/or bribes (Avg CR 2, use Riddleport Thug stats)
  • Harlot, quickwife (CR 1/2)
  • Harlot, easyboy (CR 1/2)
  • Harlot, Selene (CR 2, Maiden Voyage p.XX)
  • Harlot, Lavender Lil in disguise (CR 7)
  • Drug dealer, connected to Avery Slyeg (CR 1/2)
  • Drug dealer, unaffiliated (CR 1/2)
  • Drug dealer, the one Sindawe likes to beat up and take drugs from (CR 1/2)
  • Homeless person from St. Casperian’s (CR 1/4)
  • 1d8 Drunken pirates Ftr1/Rog1 (Avg CR 3, see notes)
  • Street vendor, spy for Clegg Zincher (CR 1/2, see notes)
  • Splithog Pauper, in disguise (CR classified, SitS p.66)
  • 1 goblin snake (CR1, Pathfinder #1)
  • 1d4 Small monstrous centipedes (CR 1, MM p.276)


Random encounters can be fun and useful, and are for way more that just monsters.  Customization is your friend, and it can be done without requiring a lot of work all the time – some upfront work to make some basic tables then lets you do minimal per-session work to customize them.

Life In The Big City – Follow The PCs

In my last Life In The Big City installment, I was asked about my random encounter tables.  In that article I describe one way in which I use random encounter tables, which is that PCs going out into the city to gather information or perform other tasks can provoke them.

I am a believer in random encounters.  Some people aren’t, and only run pre-selected, or “scripted,” encounters.  While that’s fine, I have learned over some 20 years of gaming to “trust the dice”.  As a DM, you can get predictable.  Much of the time, the things that players really get into are things you didn’t intend.  That’s worth a brief aside.  So NEXT time, I’ll get to random encounters.  This time, I’m going to talk about the philosophy of mixing simulation with player interest.

Cue Off Your Players

One of the best ways to make sure your players enjoy your game is to cue off the things they like.  Throw stuff out there and see what sticks.  Sometimes, players will be proactive enough to let  you know what they like; you as the DM can also do some things to elicit that feedback.  But analysis fades before experience.

Here’s an example.  I was running a low level game where the PCs were wandering around some loosely settled farmland.  It started to rain (I also use random weather generation, because if I don’t I frankly forget to make the weather vary, unless it’s important to the plot, in which case players start to see weather as a sign of an impending screwjob…) and the PCs took cover in a nearby abandoned barn.  “Is there anywhere we can get out of the rain?”  “Uh, there’s an abandoned barn about a half mile off…”  Being PCs, they decided to search it.  Rather than say “Come on man, I’m just making this up as I go along,” I tossed out some details.  “There’s moldy hay, the ladder up to the loft is ruined, there’s a frayed rope hanging over the center beam…”  The busybodies start rooting through the hay, looking for stuff.  Thinking “You can just say we wait till the rain stops and get back underway, you know,” I said “You find an… old human skull under the hay.” Just to make something up besides “dirt, you goons!”

Well you would have thought I tasered them all in the nutsacks.  An episode of CSI: Greyhawk broke out as they frantically tried to unravel the mystery.  They determined the person must have hung themselves over the center beam.  One PC clambered up and went all over the ruined hayloft, finding an old rusty dagger stuck into the frame of the hayloft door.  I looked around at all of them and realized they were really, really into this.  Slightly creeped out, highly engaged.

When something comes up in your game, you can pretty easily determine what your reaction as a DM should be.

1.  Players not interested- worthless color, forget it.

2.  Players moderately interested – build it up into a one off.

3.  Players fascinated – it’s totally related to the overall plot, or will be once you figure out how yourself.

In this case, I led this into a mini-horror adventure I largely made up off the cuff that I ended up making central to the overall core plot of the campaign.

Random encounters, random NPCs, etc. all work this way.   If – and this is a big if – you are making your game world somewhat realistic.  If PCs believe that there may be a legitimate reason behind the way things are, then they’ll react to it as if it were, and look for the “why” behind events.  If the “why” is that the dice or the story say so, they lose interest.  Of course, it could be that the dice or story did say so, but your job as a DM is to build out behind that.

There’s a random encounter of an owlbear.  Maybe the PCs kill it and move on without a second thought.  Maybe they take an interest instead.  “Hey, we’re mighty close to that village for a roving owlbear to be attacking people, maybe we should go check in with them.”  Maybe it’s the second owlbear encounter and they go nuts.  “The evil wizard must be creating them to destabilize the region!  I take favored enemy: magical beasts with my next ranger level!”  That doesn’t have to be the actual explanation, but it is a cue to you to make the owlbears more than just two random rolls in a row.

Same deal with NPCs, or locations.  I like random NPC generators, for sure.  But the same principle holds if things aren’t randomly generated.

In my current campaign, the PCs are on the mean streets of Riddleport.  There are some NPCs the Paizo Second Darkness Adventure Path I’m using say are important, others it just mentions, and some that I’ve made up or brought in from other random adventures I’m weaving in.  There’s some that they have really taken to, and others that have been inflicted on them against their will.  You can’t turn every beggar they take an interest in into a ninja in the employ of the BBEG (Big Bad Evil Guy), but you can definitely add some depth to them and consider how they might play a part on the larger story.

Rumors are great for this too.  I give out bunches of them, some false.  The PCs fell in love with a false one – that there was treasure hidden below a local homeless shelter.  They went all over that place with a fine toothed comb and flushed out and killed the criminal gang hiding there before  I had actually planned on incorporating them.  Though I’m not going to put in a hidden treasure just because they went there, the PCs themselves started brainstorming.  “That’s a good rumor to plant if you want some rubes to go wipe out a rival gang!”  Hmmm… Yes.  Yes, it is.

Life In The Big City – Gather Information

Once you start running an urban campaign, you start seeing the gaps in the existing rules on a lot of points.  In our case, we had a good number of times where PCs needed to go out into the city and hunt down some piece of information or person.  When we started working through it, I realized there were a lot of gaps that needed filling to make a satisfying play experience.

The rules components you have to work with from the Pathfinder core book and the APs are:

1.  A random encounter table for a given city (with no instruction as to when to roll a random encounter). Maybe I’ve missed it in poring over the Pathfinder RPG and Bestiary, but despite there being random encounter tables, I can find no place where they assign a chance of a random encounter happening.

2.  The Diplomacy skill has replaced Gather Information from 3.5e.  Information on using the skill in this way is light, just saying it’s a variable DC to find out something about a “topic or individual.”  As is traditional, there’s an unclear overlap between this skill and Knowledge: Local when it comes to the practical work of finding a nearby fence for your stolen goods.  Furthermore, there’s no accounting for a check being opposed by someone trying to hide or conceal information.

3.  The “Urban Adventures” part of Chapter 13: Environment in the Pathfinder RPG (p.433) has some other details that may be helpful – kinda.  But not really in this case.

4.  Rumors.  Every AP has a load and every DM loves having a bunch of rumors to pass out, but their incorporation is always an adventure-specific hack.

These are the ingredients, but a recipe is lacking, especially once you hit the intrigue-laden bits of any city campaign.  I wanted to bring all these things – gathering information, random encounters, rumors – into one easy to use system.  Here’s how I put them together.


When the PCs hit the streets, they may have a variety of different goals in mind.  Sometimes they are looking for a specific fact or person.  Sometimes they just want the “word on the street” about what’s going on.  In certain cases they want something else specific to happen – to spread the word about a particular rumor themselves, maybe to provoke or mislead someone.

As a result, someone seeking a specific goal will use a different skill check depending on what they’re trying to find.  Diplomacy/Gather Information is the clear choice for traditional finding stuff out, for example, but you could use Bluff instead to spread a false rumor.  Or Perform to get the peasants all singing a catchy yet treasonous little ditty.  There’s a lot of possibilities here.  Consider rewarding relevant Craft and Profession skills by letting them be used instead when relevant; if you’re looking for someone you hear is a blacksmith, then a relevant Craft or Profession check would be a great way of tracking them down by talking to other smiths, checking at places smiths would tend to buy supplies, etc.  If you are trying to find out when the Midnight Mermaid is setting sail, Profession: Sailor would be appropriate.

In many cases you’ll want to call for a complex skill check for tasks taking more than a cursory amount of time.  Each attempt would usually reflect a half day of asking around, staking out places, fending off streetwalkers and beggars, etc.  You can reflect each success with some kind of in-game description of how they’re getting closer.  “You find someone who says they’ve seen two guys with mustaches like that hanging out around the Wharf District – you can focus your search there.”  If there’s an extenuating factor like “find them before they leave town” or “figure out the cult’s leader before they sacrifice that victim” then the check should be of the “X successes before Y failures” model.

If the goal being sought is simple – a fact or public personality – then the DM simply sets the DC, with perhaps more knowledge available at higher DCs.

“I’m looking for a high quality weaponsmith!”

  • Natural 1 – “Your mother’s a weaponsmith!  She can bang on my sword anytime!”
  • DC 5 – A random blacksmith’s name, probably makes simple weapons only.
  • DC 10 -A decent weaponsmith’s name who has a selection of martial weapons.
  • DC 15 – Otto the retired adventurer reliably makes masterwork blades.
  • DC 20 – Otto hates elves, don’t take your buddy with you if you’re going there, he’ll refuse to help you.
  • Natural 20 – “Oh, I know Otto, tell him Grey sent you and he’ll cut you a deal.”

Sometimes, however, the PCs are trying to track someone down who’s actively trying to conceal themselves.  Or, they need to lay low and thwart other people’s attempts to track them down using these rules!

If someone is just trying passively to stay hidden or hide an item, place, or bit of information, they make a check using a plausible skill to set the seekers’ DC.  If you’re hiding out, you can try Stealth or even Disguise.  If you are in a friendly ethnic enclave, you can try Diplomacy to convince people not to help snoopers.  If you’re going by a fake name, use Bluff.  The DM should see fit to add on bonuses or penalties based on the circumstances.

Keep in mind the quarry may not know specifically that anyone’s looking for them.  Many criminals or other underground figures will routinely be trying to stay somewhat off the public’s radar as part of their daily routine.

Stay flexible and use common sense.  If the PCs are trying to place a false rumor to flush someone out of hiding, their seeker checks might be opposed by the target’s Sense Motive, for example.

Random Encounters

Let’s get an important distinction out of the way first.  There are several different kinds of random encounter charts, derived from different unspoken philosophies of what an encounter should consist of.

The first, which I’ll call the “normal” encounter table, includes a bunch of stuff a PC might come across in a locale, whether it’s a “hostile monster” or not.  These kinds of charts contain everything from peasants to hookers to “Event: someone empties their chamberpot out of a second floor window as you walk by” to real threats.  The first edition AD&D DMG was a great example of this theory of random encounter design, what with the random harlot table.

The second, the “hostile” encounter table, limits itself only to likely combat situations.  A city encounter chart with only “Muggers, press gangs, stirges, and vampires” is a hostile encounter chart.  This kind of chart has become more popular over time as D&D groups who “just want to kill something” don’t want to bother with chatting up some “rich panderer”.

It should be obvious why you need to understand what kind of chart you have in hand – if it’s the former, the chance of encounter should be higher, but if it’s the latter, it should be much lower.

Traditionally in D&D, there’s a flat random chance of having a random encounter.  But there’s a reason native New Yorkers run afoul of trouble less than visiting tourists; an innate knowledge for an area leads to instinctively safer behavior.  You avoid “that street,” know to ignore certain voices calling “Hey Mister!”, et cetera.  Therefore it would seem to me that Knowledge: Local is perhaps a relevant factor. It feels about right to say the chance of encounter in a normal city is when you roll a DC 5 or less for a “hostile” table and DC 10 or less for a “normal” table.  You’d manipulate these chances for special places or times – if the city is wracked by revolution or martial law reigns, crank the DCs up.  (Consider using Survival in the same way in the wilderness.)

Pro tip – consider customizing your encounter table over time.  Have 91-100 be “someone who the party knows” and keep a list of likely people.  PCs love running across people they know, it adds to their sense of belonging in the game world.


Rumors.  The lifeblood of any campaign.  You can always rely on the PCs to spend a bunch of time interacting with your lovingly crafted setting and NPCs if you feed them random information that they think might be amusing to follow up on.  It turns setting information from something you inflict on them using boxed text to something more akin to “treasure I found!” which is innately more motivating.

As with random encounters, there are a couple schools of thought on rumor creation, largely depending on how much work the DM wants to put into it.  Some create a small number of mostly valid and/or important rumors, or even customize them to individual PCs.  Some create a vast host of rumors of varying importance and accuracy.  In this case you want to divvy them up by DC (crappy false rumors=DC 5, etc.).

As the PCs roll their seeker checks, you can give them rumors according to your chosen DCs.  I usually do the “small number of good rumors” approach and give one out on a DC 15, plus an additional rumor for every 5 points of success.  You’d select DC 10 or DC 5 if you had a lot more rumors of varying provenance.

Make sure and hand out rumors you really want them to have first and then hand out the random stuff.

Keeping It Quiet

In some cases, the PCs want to track someone or something down without other people getting wind of it.

If you’re actively seeking but want to keep it quiet, you need choose a skill designed for misdirection to use as you ferret out information.  This could be Bluff (I tell people I’m a merchant from some other city who owes the guy money) to Stealth (I try to overhear conversations more than actually precipitate them) to whatever’s plausible given the circumstance.  Seeking “quietly” doubles the time required to make each seeker check.  The DC for the quarry to detect the seekers’ activity is set at 10+the selected skill bonus.  The seekers can deliberately take a penalty on their seeker checks and add that as a bonus to their keeping quiet check.

The quarry (or other interested third parties) can make seeker checks of their own to determine if someone’s looking for something or someone.

For example, the PCs are looking for a jumpy guy who owes them money.  They decide to take it easy and send a seeker group that has a good Bluff skill of +10 out to find him.  The seeker group searches at the rate of one check per day, and the jumpy guy asks around every other day to see if anyone’s after him – a DC 20 on his Diplomacy check would indicate yes, there’s some guys asking around after him.

Hitting the Streets

All of this boils down to a reasonably simple system for urban information warfare.  The various participants break up into teams as they desire.

1.  Setup

The DM sets the random encounter DC and chooses a random encounter chart, and decides the success DC, how many successes are required, and what those successes mean.

2.  Hide

If there’s an active opposition, the “hiders” roll their check first to set the DC for the “seekers” (if the hider’s an NPC it’s easiest to just take 10 on this check).  If there isn’t, the DM sets the DC based on the availability of the knowledge or whatever is being sought.

3. Seek

Each seeker team makes a DC 10 Knowledge: Local check, the team member with the best score leading and any others assisting.  Rolling below the random encounter DC  indicates a random encounter.  Success indicates that the seeker team has used their knowledge of the city to find a good audience or locale for whatever it is they’re trying to do.  Success gives a +2 bonus to subsequent checks, with an additional +2 for each 5 points by which the team beats the DC.  Each seeker team decides whether they are keeping the search quiet or not, and makes a relevant skill check to seek out their goal.  Time spent and successes are noted and rumors are handed out.

4.  Cover Up

The hider can take time to do their own seeker check against the DC of the seekers’ chosen mode of sneakiness if they want to know if anyone’s looking for them.

Repeat steps 3-4 as necessary.

Playtest: Guerilla Marketing

In this case, the PCs were looking to go out on the mean streets to promote an upcoming animal fight they were arranging; they weren’t specifically looking for information in the traditional sense.  No problem, these rules handle that.  They divided up into solo teams of one to cover the most ground and were not trying to be subtle in any way, confident that the crooked town guard would not care one bit about all this.  I gave them their choice of social skill to use – Diplomacy (“Come see the awesome matchup!”),  Bluff (“You’ll win big if you bet on the bear!”), or Intimidate (“You punks can’t handle carnage like you’re gonna see at this fight!”).  They disperse throughout the city and promote their fight.

Since this was a fairly diffuse goal, it doesn’t have a clear success or failure criteria.  The locals are, in general, all about a semi-legal animal fight.  Therefore I set the base DC at 10, with each increment of 5 above that indicating that more people would hear about the match and come. Each attempt would reflect a half day of work.  They could do as many checks as they wanted to spend the time on until fight night.

The encounter table I was using has both “normal” encounters and “hostile” encounters so I set the encounter DC level to 10.  If any PC rolled below the base DC of 10 while conducting their marketing, it would generate an encounter.

I had prepared a small number (7) of fairly juicy rumors, so set a base DC of 15 to get a rumor, with an extra for every 5 points above.

All the DCs were set, so each PC made their skill check.  1-9 indicated an encounter, 10-14 indicated limited success, 15-19 indicated moderate success and a rumor, 20-24 was good success and two rumors, and so on.

Because most of this group lacks meaningful social skills, they started provoking random encounters, and since they were alone, those encounters didn’t go well.  One PC, trying to drum up business outside the competition’s gambling halls, got beaten insensible by some goons and had his cash stolen.    One got bitten by a monstrous centipede as he sat down to rest outside an alley.  One had a nice chat with a friendly lady who owns a fruit stand (later destroyed by the PCs in the commission of a chase, that’ll show her).  After a day of that they decided to leave off; they got an OK crowd in at the fight night.

Playtest: Manhunt

In this scenario, the PCs had killed off a criminal gang but the leader, the Splithog Pauper, got away.  They decided to hunt him down (and by decided, I mean another crime lord made them an offer they couldn’t refuse and told them to).

The goal was pretty concrete – find him!   He was very much trying not to be found.  His main skill is Disguise at +11, which would normally mean a pretty hardcore DC of 21 for the seekers.  However, when they raided his gang’s headquarters the PCs got an encoded list of various IOUs to various petty criminals and business associates.  Since the Pauper was staying in town and trying to rebuild, this was an extremely relevant leverage point and I gave them a huge +5 bonus for having it in hand.  Also, they got a description of two thugs that may or may not have been affiliated with the Pauper (turns out they were).

The PCs learned their lesson about running around the streets solo.  They split into two teams, one of which was following up on the list of associates and the other of which was talking to various prostitutes and homeless people they associated with to track down the thugs.

They were rolling well, and since each team had several assists they stayed well out of random encounter DC territory, sad to say.  It took them a day and a half to get the five successes I figured were needed to track him down.  They had not been subtle in their inquiries, however, and he knew someone was looking for him, so when they went to the inn he was laying low in, he was disguised and had a bunch of thugs nearby ready to ambush intruders.

Life In The Big City – Chase Rules

My Reavers on the Seas of Fate campaign is well underway and the PCs are all over the mean streets of Riddleport.  There’s some common scenarios that come up in urban adventures that I wanted to streamline; here’s my current efforts for your edification and comment!  They’re Pathfinder based but very easily adapted to anything d20-ish.  First, we have chase rules!

Chase Rules

Exciting chase scenes, the staple of action movies everywhere, are very hard by default in D&D because though every other part of the rules has variance built in – from stats to skills to damage – movement has always been completely static.  “30 feet a round whether you need it or not!”

I got Adamant Entertainment’s Tome of Secrets for Pathfinder when it came out, and it has chase rules, but those rules are like a lot of chase rules I’ve seen in RPGs over time – way too complicated.  They’re 40 damn pages of specific maneuvers and all.  The entire Combat chapter in the Pathfinder RPG is only 25 pages.  I wanted something that could be run without everyone having to do homework; in my opinion if a new bolt-on special case ruleset is more than about 2 pages then “you’re doing it wrong.”

So here’s what I came up with.  It was hard to balance it out but after a couple playtest chases in the real campaign I think they are pretty light and easy to use, fair, and keep the PCs engaged.

The Movement Check

A character’s Move check is +2 per 5′ of base speed.  For an unencumbered human that moves 30′, that’s +12.  In a self-powered race like a footrace, you can add your STR bonus to this in a given round but then have to make a DC 15 Fort save to not become fatigued from the exertion.   Use this same formula for other movement types (riding, swimming) because it takes differing speeds into account well.  (as a bonus, this means you can have a chase where various participants are using different modes of movement).

The Chase Track

Rather than keeping up with specific distances, a chase has distance represented by an arbitrary condition track.  It’s defined relative to whoever’s in the lead, and has six levels –

  1. Close Contact – within melee range of leader.  Subject to all obstacles the leader has to deal with.
  2. Point Blank – close range (all those “within 30 feet” powers proc here).  Take leader’s obstacles or take an alternate path at DC 20.
  3. Short – Take leader’s obstacles or an alternate path at DC 15.  -2 on ranged attacks.
  4. Medium – From this far back, it’s usually easy to avoid obstacles.  -4 on ranged attacks.
  5. Long – -6 on ranged attacks.
  6. Lost – you done lost ’em.   If you have allies still in the chase and you can still run (not fatigued or just giving up) you can run after them sufficiently to at least arrive on the scene once it’s all over, but you can’t get back into the actual chase.

For each 5 points by which you beat the leader’s movement check,  you close by one category on the track; similarly you slip back by one for each 5 points by which you miss their check.

Chase participants start at a chase level that makes sense – if they are right there with the leader and take off after them when they take off, they can start at point blank.  If they’re a round of movement away, or pause to shoot or take another action before they get going, start them at medium range.


In a chase, there’s a bunch of different kinds of obstacles and complications that can come up.  Here’s a sample but not comprehensive list.  In general the checks to pass these obstacles are DC 15.  If you fail the check, you drop back one level on the chase track; if you miss by 5 you take 1d6 nonlethal damage from a collision or similar mishap.  This is an urban specific list.  In a crowded urban environment, each round has a 1 in 3 chance of bringing a mandatory obstacle, or the leader can deliberately head towards obstacles as desired.  Roll 1d8 for what type, or choose one:

  1. Simple (Acrobatics, attack an object) – barrels, gate, street vendor’s blanket, etc.
  2. Barrier (Acrobatics) – fruit cart, unexpected turn
  3. Wall (Climb) – traditional “end of alley” wall, fence
  4. Gap (Acrobatics/Jump) – ditch, open manhole, pit
  5. Traffic (Acrobatics/Overrun) – pedestrians, mule team, orc pirates
  6. Squeeze (Escape Artist) – crawlspace, hole in wall
  7. Water (Swim) – river, wharf, pool, fountain
  8. Terrain (Acrobatics) – gravel, mud bank, slick cobblestones

Chase participants farther back on the chase track can choose whether or not to hit the same obstacle.  Chasers in close contact have to negotiate the same obstacles as the leader.  Chasers in point blank can take the obstacle or make an alternate check at DC 20 to avoid it – for example, “I can’t swim, I’m going to run around the reflecting pool instead.”  Chasers at short range can take the obstacle or an alternate check at DC 15.  Chasers farther back can generally avoid routine obstacles, but the DM can require them if it’s logically necessary (the leader swam across the river, for example).

You’d choose different obstacles and skills for other kinds of chase – a horseback chase would use Ride instead of Acrobatics, and a chase in the country would have trees and hedges instead of crates and alleys.


Anyone in close contact with the leader can conduct melee attacks on them.  Whoever wins initiative gets to determine if attacks or Movement checks happen first.

A character can take a missile attack but automatically drops back one level on the chase track when they do.

If the chase goes a number of rounds equal to anyone’s CON score they have to make DC 20 Fort saves each round or become fatigued, and effectively drop out.

Chase Playtest

Our PCs ranged from halflings and humans in encumbering armor (Move +8) to barbarians and monks (Move +16).

In their first chase, they went after the Splithog Pauper, a skilled rogue.  He had a normal Move (+12) but high Acrobatics, Climb, and Escape Artist checks.

The chase was pretty long.  Everyone managed to stay in the chase; as the slower guys dropped back they benefitted from not having to negotiate as many obstacles.  The Pauper wasn’t rolling well on his movement checks and deliberately hit a lot of obstacles to try to shake the faster guys – the barbarian stayed with him, but he managed to push the rest of them back with this tactic. The cleric was the only one with a ranged attack; he shot an icicle at him a couple times but to limited effect.

There was a cool obstacle moment that everyone thought was very “parkour,” where the Pauper ran and dash vaulted through a fruit stand; one PC followed through the gap with his own leap but the next didn’t quite make it and busted, spraying fruit everywhere.  The barbarian caught up with him legitimately and was stabbing him with his boarding pike (after a pretty bad string of misses he finally was connecting); the cleric used an Infamy Point to find a shortcut to head him off and gave him a good clotheslining; at that point we dropped out of chase mode and the two PCs cut him down before he could maneuver away from them.

The next chase was interestingly different.  This was the party trying to follow a guy through the tenements, but he spotted them and ran.  He was just a level 1 expert, nothing special, but he rolled really well and lost most of the party except for the tracker (the rest of the party was staying an increment behind the tracker to avoid detection).  But the fleeing guy totally sucked at obstacles, and after a couple slowed him, the tracker got into close contact and dragged him to the ground for a good cuffing and stuffing.

In the end these rules rewarded faster Speeds and higher relevant skills without being overwhelming – in an earlier draft I was using the Acrobatics skill as the Movement check but it made that skill too much of a “whoever has it wins and whoever doesn’t loses” power.   The quarries had a good chance to get away in both situations but after a good hard run they got them.  The chases were long enough they were interesting but went quickly enough and were dynamic enough that they held interest.

These rules work well for a “one on many” chase; it’s not clear how they’d work for a complex many-on-many chase (e.g. horde of zombies vs. party of PCs).