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When refereeing OSR sandbox game (using whatever rules; key parts are player-driven sandbox play with neutral referee, and rules as negotiable representation of fiction) I use random encounters: typically, wandering monsters (or other random events) happen with 1/6 chance per location-dependent time interval; maybe once per ten minutes, maybe only thrice a day.

When rolling d6:

    1. Random encounter.
  • 2-3. Tracks, signs, howls in the distance, or other such hints of a wandering monster. Alternatively, a dragon flying high in the sky or some other voluntary encounter.
  • 4-6. Nothing.

The only problem is that I often forget to use the result 2-3, and instead roll a random encounter on a result of 1 and have nothing happen on the other results. This reduces the amount of information players have on their environment and makes the environment less of a real place, thus making play both harder and less interesting.

How can I remember to add tracks and such when checking for random monsters? Alternatively, is there a rules mechanic with similar effects that is less easy to forget to use in midst of play?

Please answer from experience, yours or reported somewhere.

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    \$\begingroup\$ What do you do when the 2 or 3 shows on the die? I mean, are you looking at the result and thinking "not a 1, nothing to see here" and then only remembering when you look back at your rules that it should have been tracks? Or are you seeing the result and not quickly able to come up with something that fits tracks/signs/hints? \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Mar 21 '17 at 13:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 The first. To determine what kinds of signs there are I should be rolling a random encounter and then create signs of that. Easy enough when I remember to do it. \$\endgroup\$ – Thanuir Mar 21 '17 at 14:04
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Change the order of evaluation.

Currently it is determine "random encounter" or "signs and tracks", then roll on table. The payoff of rolling on the table for mere "signs and tracks" is low.

Instead, roll for the random encounter first. Then roll what kind of encounter: signs and tracks, lair, ambush, etc.

So 1-3 is "roll random encounter". 4-6 means "nothing".

Now you roll the random encounter.

Afterwards, you roll 1d6 again:

1: Players spot encounter nearby
2: Encounter spots players nearby
3-6: Signs and tracks

and you can embellish this table. Have "lair", "spotted at distance", "mutually spot each other", etc.

You can add in skill checks on this table; they can save against the event described by making a skill check, or change the result of the narrative. So when you spot encounter, you roll perception: on success, they don't spot you back. When they spot you, you roll stealth: on success, you are hidden and aren't spotted.

The core of this is to move the decision about if there is an encounter or not to a later point in the resolution, so you don't get lazy and skip it.

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It's always easy to remember the flashiest effects of any roll. Everyone remembers rolling a 20 is a crit, right?

Get into the habit of putting signs and tracks everywhere

Since you mention your worlds can be a little empty, start every single random encounter as a give-more-information cue. Only then roll for effect. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but you might find it useful to just spice up your narration AND remember about the random encounter rule, killing two birds with one stone. I use it all the time in story games, and while I do know OSR is a completely different beast, some ideas are worth using across the whole RPG activity.

So, your random encounter would look like this:

As a GM you decide it's time for a random encounter. You narrate...

You traverse the woods, getting deeper into the forest. Near one of the trees you spot a puddle of yellowish fluid and you recoil instantly from the horrible stench. This is obviously troll urine, you know of nothing else so revoltingly pungent.

Roll d6! Continue as follows...

1 - One of you groans and you hear a rustle. You are attacked by a troll! What do you do?
2-3 - One of you groans as you turn away. This puddle is fresh and there are troll tracks leading towards the mountain. What do you do?
4-6 - One of you groans, as you turn away. This puddle is at least couple days old, whoever is responsible for it is probably miles away. You continue through the forest...

Now, as an addendum, notice I added "What do you do?" question to the effects of the roll 1,2 and 3. That's to make them actionable - your players obviously need to fight the troll, but finding tracks on 2-3 should also allow them to react. Having the ability to follow the troll, avoid that direction entirely, look for more troll signs, head to town to buy anti-troll weaponry etc. is important for player agency and will give you the leverage on how the story develops. You can then adjust your adventure to include trolls (dungeon guardian?), give villagers something to talk about (Are you here to deal with the troll? We can't pay you, but...) or even introduce plots (You see a troupe of adventurers you would totally meet here anyway. They have a troll's head with them and are celebrating. One of them approaches you...)

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1: A good answer, however, on a 1, I'd tell they players what they'd do: roll initiative, as that sounds like being forced into combat. \$\endgroup\$ – sharur Mar 22 '17 at 0:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Of course the players don't need to fight the troll: they could sneak away, run away, go do something else, burn the entire forest and drive it away like that, etc. Otherwise a solid answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Thanuir Mar 22 '17 at 5:29
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  1. Take a spare 6-sided die. If you don't have one, buy a cheap one at a dollar store.
  2. Print out two monster footprint icons like these and one monster icon like this.
  3. Cut out the icons into small squares and glue them to the appropriate sides of your die. Optionally, glue blank pieces of paper to sides 4, 5, and 6.
  4. Use the die only for monster encounter rolls.
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    \$\begingroup\$ Or, use the Lego die with sides which can be customized. \$\endgroup\$ – nijineko Mar 21 '17 at 19:44
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Your problem seems to be that you forgot the rules. This happens to many GMs. The most common technique is to have a summary of the rules you tend to forget behind your GM screen (where you can easily find them) (most of my GMs do that).

As a GM I prefer having these on a sheet of paper (without the screen) but it works the same.

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    \$\begingroup\$ In my experience, having a summary is not enough. You need to have a summary somewhere you will consistently look at it. \$\endgroup\$ – BobTheAverage Mar 21 '17 at 14:40
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Turn your random encounter table into a random encounter matrix

This is not my idea, it comes from the Retired Adventurer.

You roll (at least) two dice for random encounters - if using the same size you need different colors or another way of distinguishing them. You then look up the result in your matrix.

For example:

          1                  2                           3                   4-6
1    Green Dragon    Flying in distance    Plants destroyed by chlorine    Nothing
2        Orcs          Abandoned camp                 Tracks               Nothing
3        etc.

While a d6 is fine for choosing the column, I suggest adding dice of different sizes for the row (d4+d8 for 12 rows, d8+d12 for 20 rows) as this gives the monsters a different frequency of occurring. The ones you put in the middle will be more commonly encountered than the ones at the extremes.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Not a bad idea, but far too much work. The encounter tables are reasonably large, contain cross-references, and also reference various monster books. \$\endgroup\$ – Thanuir Mar 22 '17 at 5:34
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Ask your players to remind you. Roll for wandering monsters and have them approach, etc., but motivated players can prompt you for signs of approach. They may not always be lucky enough to get a warning, but this reinforces the opportunity to do so.

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