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So I'm running a somewhat sandbox typed game and it relies quite a bit on random encounters for various locales. Because the players are allowed to muck around, there tends to be quite a bit of change to what kinds of encounters are available. For example, discovering a special location can only happen once; if you raze the Goblin camp you won't encounter anymore Goblins, etc.

Right now, it's a bunch of work on my end to write dice-based encounter tables, and from the player's perspective it's sort of vague and non-exciting. They have to take it on fate that I'm adding things based on what happens around them and they don't really get the feeling of accomplishment that they should when they change the world and thus the things in it change with them.

I was thinking about the idea of changing the random encounter table to physical encounter decks, with each card representing an encounter. I could print them to cardstock and then instead of me rolling, I could draw actual cards and reveal them to the players. Then, I can also physically shuffle in new cards based on things that happen, or search the deck and remove cards when they accomplish something.

However, one of the advantages of the dice-based encounters is that I always roll 2 dice, which gives a nice bell-curve that allows me to make some encounters more likely than others. When creating the deck, I'd ideally like to keep that distribution, and ideally I'd like to not have to add 5 copies of all the common encounters. (Some events are just rarer then others...)

Is there a known mechanic from a published game, or a tested homebrew solution that allows me to have an encounter deck in which not every card is as likely to be resolved as another, without having lots of copies?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ How many encounter types would you want to include in your deck? Also, how many copies is too many? If you design a deck based off a 2d6 distribution (12 possible encounters), you would only need one category of 6, followed by two categories of 5, two of 4, etc. Is this too clunky for you? \$\endgroup\$ – Hard Core Fig Bar Oct 15 '17 at 18:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HardCoreFigBar I'm not sure I follow. 2d6 is 12 possible encounters, but 36 possible outcomes. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Oct 15 '17 at 21:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ Warning: Remember our Good Subjective, Bad Subjective guidelines on this SE. Don't post answers you just thought up but haven't used, seen used, or have evidence have been used - they'll get deleted. Real experts answer with what they've done or seen done, not something they just came up with off top of their head that might suck at the gaming table. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Oct 16 '17 at 18:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have no relevant experience but any card draw system will have equal chance for any given card so I am hard pressed to think of any way of doing this without multiple copies of cards. Can you explain why multiple copies of cards is not something you are happy with? It occurs to me that knowing why you don't want to do this could influence any relevant answers... Duplicate cards are common in many deck building games which you could kind of view this as (you start with a deck and "build" it up based on player actions. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Oct 20 '17 at 15:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Chris mostly because you'd need a lot of cards. To make something have a 1/36 chance of happening (a 12 on 2d6), you'd need 36 cards, most of my encounter tables only have 8 or so entries. I'd rather have something clever and 8 cards. (Lots of cards is both expensive and cumbersome if you have to print 5+ encounter decks.) \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Oct 20 '17 at 16:18
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Multiple Cards Yield One Encounter.

Map multiple cards, such as "any ace card" to a specific encounter. You can guarantee a bell curve by writing down your encounters and using those as "bins" to place cards in. I would use a grid paper or an evenly-spaced font for this.

For instance, if I had 5 encounters (A, B, C, D, and E), I could start off like this:

  • Encounter A: 1H
  • Encounter B: KH, KD,
  • Encounter C: 1S, KS, KC
  • Encounter D: 2S, QS,
  • Encounter E: QC

I would continue placing cards in there, keeping the bell-curve shape as much as I could.

I would then re-write this in such a way that I can easily find the encounter based off of the card I found. For instance, drawing the Queen of Spades in the example above yield encounter D, but I might have trouble using that table.

The Downsides

  • You can only increase or decrease odds of an encounter happening by 1/52 (or whatever you deck size is).
  • Removing cards may be a bit of a hassle. You need to find all of the ones that relate to an encounter that can't happen anymore!
  • You may draw already-done encounters if you draw again without removing all the cards.
  • There is a better way to do this, I'm sure. This specific method may be time consuming, but could be relaxing.

The Upsides

  • This is visual, and for us visual people, this is easy!
  • You get your bell curve without crunching numbers
  • You get to blame whomever drew the card for the encounter!
  • This scales with many encounters, but the distribution becomes more flat as you approach your deck size. (In other words: you'll still have a normal distribution, but the quantization of the cards make it flat)

In Practice

I've noticed some things with this kind of adventuring:

  1. This can slow down pacing quite a bit. You have pull the card out (or roll the dice, or what have you), look up what that means on a table, and then set up the encounter. This can be both good and bad. Acceptable at the beginning of a session when everyone is still chatting about whatever, not so great in the middle.
  2. Overarching plots can be difficult to weave in. You'll need to consider this as you make encounters, but this does allow for various side quests and whatnot to happen easily. This is good for sandbox-y or "an adventure a day" kinds of groups where overarching, grand narratives take a back seat to slogging through a dungeon or going off in random directions. To each their own, I suppose.
  3. All fancy things only happen in the DM's head. The players never know the odds of something happening: they just know some card was drawn (or dice rolled) and the result!
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Instead of actually going through the deck to physically remove cards, you could just keep a "blacklist" of cards which you will immediately discard and replace if and when they come up. For example, "Oh, this is a goblin encounter, but you already destroyed the goblin camp, so let's discard it and draw a new one." \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Oct 16 '17 at 0:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you actually used this before? How did it go? \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Oct 16 '17 at 5:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Erik I have made such a campaign (with random encounters) before, but I did not mess with a normal distribution or with a deck of cards. I have had a DM use cards for encounters before, but I never knew if it was on a bell curve or not: I suspect this solution will yield a very similar experience. \$\endgroup\$ – PipperChip Oct 16 '17 at 12:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PipperChip Could you speak to your experience of how stuff like this has worked out at the gaming table? (Whatever's comparable will do.) \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 16 '17 at 20:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ The OP said "without having lots of copies?" - isn't this basically what you are doing? Sure, 2S and QS are technically different cards but in the context of the encounters they are just multiple copies of the same encounter card. Or am I missing something on how this system works? \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Oct 20 '17 at 15:19
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As far as I am aware, from a mathematical standpoint, drawing any card from a deck that has been fairly shuffled should result in an equal chance for any card to be drawn. The best solution for getting a good distribution is to add multiple copies of the more common card. Another possible solution is, in a small deck, let's say 6-12 cards , mark each card for a level of rarity, for example four levels. if a card of rarity one is drawn, play it. If a card of rarity level 2 is drawn, place it back in the deck, shuffle and then draw again. if a card of the same rarity comes up again, play it. do two reshuffles for rarity level three and three for level four. This would resemble a bell curve albeit a very steep one.

Another solution could be to just have more common encounters in the deck than rare ones. lets say you had a deck of 10 cards, with 6 common, 3 rare and one very rare. there would be a high chance of drawing a common (60%) and a low chance of drawing a rare (30%). While this would not be a bell curve, it would have a similar effect.

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Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you actually used this before? How did it go? \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Oct 16 '17 at 5:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Practical experience is required to answer this question because what works in theory may have logistical/play problems in practice which void its utility. The difference between (e.g.) “In practice this is [very quick and effective] / [really awkward and we abandoned it]” is critical to an answer being a real, practical solution to our site's focus on real, practical problems. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 18 '17 at 2:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ The OP said "without having lots of copies" so your second option is not suitable. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Oct 20 '17 at 15:28

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