Roll on your own time

For a dungeon master, tabletop games are really a hobby in two parts: preparing the game and running the game. It’s fine to prefer one over the other, and we all get short on prep time when life gets in the way. I’d like to suggest that one of the parts of a published adventure you should prepare is getting rid of any random encounter table rolls you have to do during the game.

Roll them before the game for infinitely better results, always.

I’m running Maze of the Blue Medusa at the moment, and there’s a great deal of prep that has to go into it. I’d only recommend running this adventure to the most dedicated of DMs; there are hundreds of rooms each with their own ploy, either a kind of trap or a piece of the story for the players to put together. I spend a few hours before the game to look around the potential rooms but even then, the randomness of the player choices makes anticipating their moves difficult. During the game, there’s a great deal of time where I’ve needed to tell my players to talk amongst themselves whilst I flick to the right page.

There’s not much to be done about this – other than study the book more.

There is another area of the game which slows things down though; random tables. The Maze is not a safe place, and random encounters are supposed to happen whenever the characters make too much of a disturbance or when they let their guards down. The book suggests an excessive “every twenty minutes”. These random encounters are to be rolled on a table – the table changes depending on where in the maze they are.

I’ve come to the conclusion that these tables should never be rolled on in the middle of a game. These tables aren’t unique to MotBM. You’ll find them in most published adventures. Random loot tables are less time consuming, but they also have a similar missed opportunity.

Instead, roll on these tables during your prep time. This is where fudging the dice roll can really come into its own. This buys you time during the game because you don’t need to scramble for the next battlemap or spend three minutes looking up creatures in the monster manual. More interestingly though, you can think of the story of the fight.

Nearly always your players are looking for more information about their current quest, and any smart group keeps back one of the combatants for questioning. Just give them the right person for the information they need.

In The Blue Medusa, there are a large number of potential encounters. There are half a dozen mummies, for instance, each with their own goals in the maze. Throwing those out during my game at the moment wouldn’t do anything but confuse the players. Their logic, most likely, would be that the DM is offering this NPC who’s carrying a history golem, and so it must have something to do with the quest at hand. Almost always, these random encounters don’t push the story forwards. The just distract.