EZG reviews Random Encounters: Wilderness
This pdf clocks in at a weighty 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page advice of how to read statblocks, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 22 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
We kick this pdf off at a list of statblocks by CR, encounters by terrain, by EL (spanning the gamut from EL 2 to 12) and by designers. Wait, what? Yes, for this pdf is the child of Raging Swan Press’ freelancer call and as such offers us the winners of said contest. Hence, I will provide the author alongside the discussion of the encounter. Got that? All right! After author biographies (which imho wouldn’t hurt ALL RPG-companies – name-recognition for designers = good thing!), we kick off with Jesper Andersen’s “Canoes & Crocodiles” – and what a glorious first encounter it is: The premise is simple – crocodiles (which can be replaced by just about every aquatic critter, should you so choose) versus, you guessed it, canoes. What makes this encounter such a joy to run would be the quick and easy summary of base vehicle rules, concisely and coherently summed for all intents and purposes – the same, of course, goes for the terrain and the canoes. I’ve never run such an easy vehicle combat – two pages of the pdf are literally all you need and even if you usually shy away from them, this one is a cakewalk to run – even sans preparation. Two thumbs up!
Now Jeff Erwin’s “Death-Dealer of the Gloaming Hills” is something less straightforward -it’s essentially a miniature tragedy – featuring death, foreshadowing, a mini-mystery and a shapechanger – and that is all I will spoil here, in case players are reading. Still, experienced DMs will consider this one a been-there-moment.
A neat sidequest indeed and especially nice if the PCs are frequently travelling e.g. between settlements etc. Richard Bennett’s “Hunters as Bait” is all about one two types of beast fighting one another – with the PCs used as a means to spring an ambush of one of the parties, so the other monster can annihilate its competition. Nice, though probably an encounter you should foreshadow accordingly. Full-blown buff-suites included. Jacob Trier’s “Lost Love” is about a bard seeking his stunning beauty – who is not all she seems to be – and alas, heart-break will resume, should the poor sap survive finding his beloved… Still, as much as I hate to be that guy – the encounter is great, the writing neat…but I’ve seen this particular storyline done quite a few times before.
Fabian Fehr’s “Mourning Monster” once again has this touch of the absolutely special – guarded by her crestfallen young grey render, a wizard’s mortal remains lie in a circle of standing stones – will the PCs dare to loot her body? Of perhaps, they require her to be resurrected…but how do you explain that to a faithful beast, determined to guard its mistress, mad with grief? In Denver Edwards Jr’s “Secrets of the Swamp”, the PCs may save a doe and inadvertently stumble into both the undead, sinkholes, a degenerate tribe of lizardfolk and the globster-ooze they worship as a deity…Neat!
F.D. Graham’s “Stuck in the Mud” deserves special applause – good encounters don’t necessarily mean that there will be massacres and monster-blood galore – in this one, the PCs may aid a kind halfling free his wagon and horse from the mud in a thoroughly compelling and awesome change of pace. Two thumbs up for being this brave and daring for something completely different! Also by Fabian Fehrs would be an encounter, where the coolness lies in the details – a clearing that houses abandoned brownie-tunnels now is the home of a wasp swarm and may collapse as soon at the PCs step inside -great insult-to-injury encounter, with the tunnels of the fey lending the special touch to everything.
Jacob W. Michaels’ “The ants go marching in” is very much a question of morals – the PCs happen upon the gruesome execution of a faun, buried and covered with honey, via ants – slow and agonizing, while two inquisitors watch – whom to help, whom to trust – and the ants march ever onwards.
The final encounter, Brian J. Ratcliff’s “The Gray Grove”, comes with color-blighted creatures, fey and the true source of the forest’s blight, a color out of space. And I *LOVE* the interaction of fey/lovecraftiana here, I really do, but I wished this were a full-blown module; For one encounter, the resolution and scope feel too grand and somewhat too stuffed together. that being said, I very much hope to see such a module one day!
Editing and formatting, as almost always in raging Swan Press-products, are top-notch, I didn’t notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to RSP’s 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience and in two version, with one being optimized for screen use and one to be printed out. Artwork consists of thematically fitting stock art you may have already seen in other RSP-books, but oh well – take a look at the low price and page-count: Still superb in the production value department.
Random Encounters: Wilderness provides excessively-detailed encounters that range from very good to stellar . while some of the encounters here have basic plots that are a bit old, while one is slightly beyond its scope, you only notice this because they are so good – the respective encounters have many a thing going for them, with “Canoes & Crocodiles”, “Mourning Monster” ad “Stuck in the Mud” being my favorites – especially the latter, which is so fun in its utterly mundane premise, which manages to be exciting in spite of no creature-feature overkill and no deathtrap-9000-killer-combo, is just awesome – because it is about very pure roleplaying without sacrificing tension. Now I may have seemed complain-happy throughout this review, so let me make this abundantly clear – this is a neat selection of encounters and well worth 5 stars, just short of my seal of approval. And it has done one thing: Make me universally look forward to the things these authors put out in the future. So go ahead, check it out!