Wednesday 20 April 2016

Random Encounter Tables: The Steppe

This is the first of a bunch of wilderness encounter tables to complement the ones I wrote last year for the Wicked City itself. I'll do one each for the desert, steppe, and taiga, and then maybe one for the tundra. After that, I'm really not sure there's much of ATWC left to write. Maybe something about hirelings?

The main thing to remember about encounters in the steppe is that it's very, very big and has very, very little cover. You are going to see them coming. They are going to see you coming. Evasion is going to be about speed rather than stealth nine times out of ten. Consider investing in a very high-quality telescope and you might just see them before they see you...

Woman with yak, Mongoilia:

Random Steppe Encounters (Roll 1d12)

  1. A band of evil spirits are camped out on the steppe; they look mostly human apart from their very long noses, but closer examination will reveal both that they have no shadows and that their horses have no tails. They are eating a horrible tarry black sludge of indeterminate origin, which they cook up in a huge pot over a fire, and invite travellers to share it with them. They will interpret outright refusal as an insult, but will accept polite excuses if they can't think of a plausible-sounding reason not to. Actually eating their food will induce vomiting, sickness, and spirit possession, in that order.
  2. A shaman from one of the steppe tribes, riding with her apprentices to make offerings to a powerful spirit of the land. She has a deep knowledge of the personal histories, likes, and dislikes of all the nearby spirits, but will be reluctant to share it with outsiders unless bribed with high-quality drink or tobacco from the city, for both of which she has something of a secret weakness. Anyone who harms her can expect furious retribution from both the local spirits and the local tribes. 
  3. A warband of steppe warriors looking for a chance to do some opportunistic raiding. They're heading in the direction of the Great Road, hoping to shake down a few caravans for 'tribute' and maybe steal some horses from rival clans along the way. Their leader is one of the sons of a minor local khan, and is keen to achieve some deed that will help him to stand out from amongst his many brothers. Wise PCs will want to persuade him that helping them with their mission will be a better route to glory than robbing them of their treasure or besting them in combat. 
  4. A team of wrestlers on their way to a major competition. (They'll take part in the horsemanship and archery events too, which they're also pretty good at, but for them the wrestling contest is the main event.) They are always looking for chances to show off their prowess and will challenge people to wrestling matches on the slightest of pretexts. PCs who demonstrate high levels of skill and sportsmanship will be rapidly befriended and invited to attend the next tournament for a rematch. 
  5. A headless clockwork giant, 14' high, stumbles across the steppe with a distinctive lurching gait: one of its legs is slightly longer than the other. Creaking windmills rise from its shoulders, allowing it to partially power itself with the wind that blows across the steppe. Its pilot, a middle-aged woman from one of the far-off Rust Clans, steers it from her seat within its torso, peering out at the world through the ancient bullet holes which riddle its armour plating; a chain around its waist attaches it to a sturdy cart, in which her two brothers bump along behind it. The three of them have heard of the Cogwheel Sage, and are midway through an epic pilgrimage to find one of her holiest shrines, in which they hope to be initiated into her faith. They regard any non-initiates they encounter along the way as completely fair game for raiding, especially if they happen to be carrying supplies of spare parts or coal.
  6. A band of treasure seekers from a nearby city, accompanied by local guides. Their leader is a scholar who believes that he has discovered the approximate location of the tomb of one of the Wolf Khans, and maybe he has; but his knowledge of their empire comes entirely from books, and he's now riding back and forth across the steppe, eagerly examining every grassy mound in case there's a ruin under it. It is worryingly easy to persuade him that just about any vertical stone of man-size or larger was originally a balbal. He is willing to pay for information about any ruins or monuments the PCs come across in the area. Each month after he is encountered, there is a 10% chance that he finds the tomb he's looking for and promptly gets beaten to death by its guardians.
  7. A clanking caravan of brass men on bronze horses, stomping their way slowly across the steppe. They wouldn't normally come this far from the cities, but a wealthy local khan has commissioned them to make guns for his warriors and clockwork toys for his children and they don't want to pass up the opportunity to earn some of his gold. The greatest artificer among them is an enthusiastic advocate of the benefits of logician implants, and will offer to bolt clockwork computers onto people's skulls at very reasonable rates. (Weirdly, none of the nomads he's met so far have been interested.) He dreams of building a new generation of brass men to serve as his 'children' and apprentices, and hopes that the khan's gold will help him to achieve this.
  8. A group of Blood Man mercenaries wandering across the steppe, looking for a good war to get stuck into. They ride big, angry, poorly-trained stallions, and are constantly getting bitten and kicked by them, which they mostly think is hilarious. In the last town they stopped in, someone tried to steal their enchanted cauldron; as a result of this their chief is extremely paranoid about its safety, and never lets it out of his sight, going so far as to sleep inside it at night. Anyone behaving remotely suspiciously will be assumed to be in league with the thieves.
  9. A murderous band of skull wearers haunt this part of the steppe, preying upon anyone who looks weak enough to ambush, loot, and eat. Their victims are littered all around the area, buried in dozens of shallow graves. They avoid anything resembling a fair fight, and much prefer to attack at night. They are strong, skilled, and ruthless killers; but they all hate each other, and only barely manage to function together as a group. It would only take a very small amount of provocation or frustration to set them at one another's throats.
  10. A large grassy mound with a few stones sticking out of it is all that marks the fact that this was once the site of an ancient city. The local inhabitants are members of a wizard-cult, who believe that the sorceress who once ruled the city will one day return to rebuild it. In the meantime they worship a bejewelled statue of her which they believe to be inhabited by her spirit, but which is actually just haunted by the ghost of a child who starved to death nearby on a cold night two thousand years ago. Their 'goddess' demands constant offerings of food and fire, but in truth she is nothing but the spirit of a scared little girl whom any sympathetic shaman could probably lay to rest if given the chance. 
  11. A nomadic clan is encamped here. Fearing that their enemies may attack them at any time, they have decided to activate their greatest asset, a skull chieftain: so now the spirit of one of their great warrior-ancestors is wandering around the camp, giving the young men archery tips and watching out for raiders, while everyone around him does their very best to avoid reminding him that he's actually been dead for a couple of hundred years. Enemy scouts lurk nearby, and will offer substantial bounties to any outsiders willing to enter the camp and get rid of the skull chieftain in order to clear the way for an attack.
  12. The grave of a recently-deceased heroine of the steppes, complete with newly-erected balbals and a modest shrine in case she returns as an ancestor spirit. Her faithful Kergerden mount refuses to leave the side of its mistress, even in death, until it meets someone else worthy of riding it: until then it simply grazes the land around her tomb. So far everyone who has attempted to mount the beast has been impaled or trampled for their troubles. Anyone riding it would win enormous prestige among the heroine's clansmen, who are much the most powerful clan in this region of the steppe.


  1. You've produced a large number of interesting pieces; I'd be interested in seeing more on how they fit together - more adventures, and possibly even an adventure path or similar, to illustrate how you envisage them being used.

    Also, is the 1-12 format here just a convenient way of laying out a list of hooks, or do you actually envisage rolling on this table? I'd have thought most GMs, especially less confident ones, would want to pick one of these and flesh it out in advance rather than having to ad-lib it.

    1. The thing about adventures is that they're really labour-intensive to write. Even 'The Tower of Broken Gears' took forever, and that's, like, seven people sitting in locked rooms waiting for something to happen. Besides, I'd be astonished if anyone actually ran ATWC 'as-written': like most good settings, it primarily exists as a toolbox for people to steal things from to use in their own games.

      As for the tables, the point is to provide a bunch of weird-looking hooks which could be good for anything from a five-minute comedy encounter to a multi-session saga, depending on whether or not the players decide to 'bite'. So I guess the idea is that a GM could pick or roll something for a quick encounter, and then flesh it out further if the PCs are sufficiently interested to make it something more than a bit of throw-away colour.