Over the weekend, James over at Grognardia wrote a meditation on the Referee as a player. An integral part of this is the use of the random die roll for such things as encounters, treasures, wondering monsters, reactions, etc. because it allows for the Referee to be surprised. As I've recently admitted, the Lost Colonies campaign depends far more on random rolls and ad hoc decisions than it does on any kind of pre-planned plot or narrative. There is an overall background "theme" that evolves over time, especially as it reacts to the actions of the player characters, but it doesn't dominate the campaign, unless the players make choices to allow it to. For example, this session was almost entirely the result of a random die roll.
The players surprised me somewhat this week. After discussing their options, they decided that Headwaters had a larger claim on their interest than the portal they found beneath Trisagia (aka the City). Thus, they equipped themselves for the 10 day journey. I was actually kind of pleased by this turn of events, because the decision is the result of the players putting down roots in the small town. For example, Hamlen has made plans to build a tavern (and has even made his first hire — he offered a better life to the one-armed prostitute he garnered information from when they first arrived in Trisagia).
On they way back, I rolled a random encounter and came up with a werewolf along with some wolves. The party then used their newly purchased war dogs to track down the lycanthrope's lair. I pulled out a map of a "haunted house" that had a nice surreal and creepy ambiance. None of the encounters were necessarily dangerous, but it did allow for the rest of the werewolves to show up as the players were exploring the house in a kind of grand entrance. During their investigations, they found several knicknacks — including some highly explosive "oil" — as well as the main treasure trove hidden inside a bag of holding. The highlight of the evening was an encounter with a mummified head. In an ad hoc decision, I gave the thing the ability to talk. It claimed to have a vast amount of knowledge, but would only divulge such information if a favor was granted. Although the party was greatly tempted, they refused — given the creepy environment.
All of this was virtually made up on the spot, using a combination of my library of maps and adventures, die rolls and my own creativity. This is fairly typical. As such, I rarely place items in order to solve a problem later on in an adventure. Yet, my players often think that I do. As a result, they assumed that the explosive oil was for the purpose of ridding the world of the talking and mummified head. So, they proceeded to have a "Mythbusters" moment and blew the whole house to kingdom come. We all had a lot of fun with it.
I realize that several old-school modules from back in the day placed treasures that help parties later in the module to survive one or more encounters (a silver weapon for lycanthropes, potions of water breathing to deal with an underwater encounter, etc.); however, I wonder how much more evident this practice became in later editions of the game. In other words, is this assumption by my players that I place items to solve situations later in the adventure typical in every era of the game, or is it more prevalent in the narrative "story telling" adventures of later editions?
36 minutes ago