Saturday, June 20, 2015

Random Encounters in Superhero RPGs

I don't know which of Arneson or Gygax was responsible for the random encounter, but to me it's both narrative and non-narrative. Narrative in the sense that it provides material that the players can select among in creating their own narrative (kind of Darwinian story-telling) and non-narrative in the sense that these encounters have nothing to do with the story/adventure. If the adventure or arc of the campaign is about looting, er, cleansing the tomb of the lich-king, the  meeting with the kobolds in the frontier town on the way there has nothing to do with the story. It provides color, yes; it probably provides the PCs with enough XP to be able to tackle the first challenge in the tomb of the lich-king. In the hands of the right DM/GM it might reinforce themes in the adventure or campaign, and from a story point of view, it says you're telling a longer story, because you have time to spend on these interludes. (Of course, there can be no story, just an evening of random combat encounters. But we're going to ignore that for the moment.)

Most of which doesn't apply to superhero games in general and ICONS in particular. Color is good, sure, but combat provides experience in only the loosest sense, and there aren't levels to be concerned about. You probably don't want the random encounter to be too hard, because you don't want it to steal focus from whatever you have planned for the evening.

The rolls for Champions disadvantages were a kind of random encounter that were personalized for the campaign: DNPCs, Hunteds, and Rivals were rare (8-), moderate (11-) or common (14-). If a particular disadvantage got rolled, it was probably going to show up somehow.

Bearing in mind these purposes (buffet assortment to see what the players want to follow up on; color; soap opera), here are some ideas for random encounters in a superhero game. I have included two combat situations, but only against minion-quality foes, so the PCs should make short work of them.

Even moreso than in other games, if a random encounter doesn't make sense in context of the game, don't use it.
2d6 RollRandom Encounter
2Unusual type of minions (such as zombies shuffling out of graveyard for normal heroes)
3Informed that enemy has escaped custody/been freed
4Loved one tries to get closer to hero
5Fan tells hero of approval
6Uncomplimentary article or comment from member of public
7Loved one explains new interest that could be a source of trouble later
8Date with romantic interest
9Hero has chance to do good deed
10Persistent NPC fakes being victim of crime to get interview
11Enemy publicly claims to have reformed
12Loved one wants to break it off

Obviously, there could be many more, but this is a random (ahem) sampling. You could subdivide it like this:
1d61d6Random Encounter
1-21Trouble at work
1-22Good news at work
1-23Extra obligations at work
1-24One of the neighbours needs help
1-25There's a superhero request and the person with PC is oblivious to hints about ending this conversation
1-26A relative/old friend visits
3-41Fan tells hero of approval
3-42Someone fakes being victim of crime to get interview
3-43Hero has chance to do good deed
3-44Loved one has interest/new problem that could be a source of trouble later
3-45Loved one arranges a date/party, possibly at a bad time
3-46Loved one wants to break it off
5-61Store robbery
5-63Informed that enemy has escaped custody/been freed
5-64Enemy publicly claims to have reformed
5-65Uncomplimentary article or comment from member of public
5-66Unusual minion spotted in crime (e.g., zombies in a street-level crimefighter campaign; plant monsters; etc)