The classic posse, led by a sheriff. As long as the PCs don’t try and flee from it, things should not get nasty, unless the PCs indeed did commit the crime for which the posse has been called out in the first place. The PCs might or might not be asked to join the posse; they will certainly be asked who they are and where they are going. Perhaps they might be asked to go back to the town where things can be sorted out. If the PCs start fighting with the posse, it will get violent back with them and should be treated as #7 Vigilantes.
A horde of Orcs show up, but this need not mean that the PCs automatically have to get involved in a huge fight, as Orcs are more than just sacks of hit points for PCs to carve up. Apart from the obvious fight-on-sight option, there are other possibilities. It could be that the Orcs are an escort for Princess Helen of Grond or are looking for her and are willing to pay the PCs for help. Or they could be traders rather than a war band. Or they are a war band but are not interested in fighting the PCs unless attacked.
A long column of troops marching to somewhere or away from it, officers on horseback now and then riding up and down the lines to prevent desertions and make sure everyone is marching at speed. If the country is at peace, then the column’s officers will not care about the PCs. If they offer thirsty soldiers water they might get good information in return. If the country is at war, the officers will question the PCs as to who they are. Being mistaken for spies could be fatal. If the column is in retreat, the officers will be a lot more jumpy as they recently lost a battle.
A sandstorm blows in across the whole area, bringing clouds of choking, blinding dust. If the PCs have a tent, they have enough time if they are quick enough and the ground is firm enough to pitch it and shelter from the storm. If not they will be alright if they can protect their faces. Sandstorms at their worst can blind unprotected eyes or suffocate somebody.
A large column of wagons rolls into view. Those in the wagons turn out to be traders and have plenty of things to sell/trade, from food to clothing and armor to weapons to magical supplies to rare items. Out here in the wilds they are a little wary, but as long as the PCs are willing to behave and buy at a fair price/trade fairly they will very happily do business with them. If the PCs decide that they want to rob the traders, there are thirty traders, most are armed and ready and willing to fight, and they have a low-level mage amongst them. They may well be a group too large for even the PCs to take on and win.
6-Herd of wild horses
A large herd of fast-moving wild horses come into view. The PCs can try and catch one if they want, but that will be hard to do, and the captured horse will be almost impossible to tame. There are people in the larger cities who tame wild horses and would pay well for this one, but until they get it to market, it will be a real pain, kicking, biting and trying to escape a lot.
A couple of nasty murders of a rancher and his wife has happened nearby, and a posse of vigilantes has set off to track down and if possible, hang the killer or killers. They suspect the PCs of having carried out the killings. Depending on how many vigilantes there are the PCs can fight their way out,try to flee from them or try and persuade them that they are not the murderers. Unlike the sheriff's posse in #1, the vigilantes are very aggressive and in a killing mood.
A large gang of up to 30 Brigands show up. It may be that they decide to rob or try to rob the PCs, in which case a massive fight will break out of the PCs don't give in. But it need not have to mean that. The bandits may just be on their way somewhere with no attention of attacking the PCs; or if the PCs are famous or infamous the bandits may be friendly. Perhaps they ask the PCs to go on a robbery with them and offer shares in the loot.
Fire! The smoke turns out to be from a massive bushfire which is both miles wide and very fast moving. The PCs can turn and flee from it and hope to get to a river or some other safe place before it catches them, or they can try and get around it. Their horses (or donkeys/mules if that is what they are riding) will be terrified of the heat and smoke and flame and will want to turn and flee, and the water they have with them would be unlikely to make much of an impression on the fire is it is too big. The wrong moves here could get the PCs burned alive.
A small twirling dust devil like a miniature tornado swirls into view. It's harmless unless a PC is directly caught in it and even then it has only just enough strength to knock the PC off his or her feet.
The PCs come across a main road between two large cities, with a comparatively large amount of traffic on horseback and by coach and four, hence the dust trails they see from afar. It is not a properly paved road, more a track, dusty in hot weather, muddy in wet weather and icy in the winter.
12-Damsel in distress in burning wagon
The PCs come across an out of control coach. The coachman is dead, pinned by an arrow to the coach, and the coach itself is both riddled with arrows and on fire. If the PCs decide to intervene and manage to stop the coach before it crashes into a nearby ravine, the rich noble lady inside will reward them well for their help, and if they agree to escort her to a nearby town, she can get them an audience at the local noble's court if that is what they want.
The dust turns out to be a living Elemental of the Earth, Fire or Air variety (a Water one would not cause smoke or raise dust.) Which one it is and why such a thing is here is up to the GM. Perhaps a summoning spell went very wrong indeed. If the PCs have a magic-user of enough skill amongst them they can try to speak with it or send it back to it's own plane which is where it wants to be. Otherwise they can fight it, which is extremely ill-advised, or stay well clear.
A long column of unhappy refugees is fleeing something, be it a natural disaster, invading army, vicious dragon or plague outbreak. If the PCs do anything nice for them they will be pathetically grateful and offer information in return. The PCs can attack and rob them if they want, but they won't get much of value as the refugees have lost almost everything. If the refugees are fleeing plague there is a 5% chance that they will accidentally spread it to the PCs.
A large number of people on a Holy Pilgrimage show up, clad in clean white robes. This is no cult; these people are orthodox believers of the main religion in the area, and there are knights amongst them. Unless the PCs outright provoke them, they are no threat; if the PCs are friendly to them they will be friendly right back. Perhaps the PCs can get information of value from them.
The PCs see smoke signals coming from the top of a hill, but have no idea what they mean. It could be a desperate call for help from somebody, but could equally be something uninteresting to all but the sender and the receiver. Or if the PCs are passing through a tribal area, the tribes could be gathering together to try to capture or kill them.
A column of wagons belonging to gypsies turns up. Given that gypsies are seen by many only as vandals, squatters and outright criminals by both law enforcement and many ordinary people, the gypsies will be suspicious of the PCs at first. If the PCs prove friendly, the gypsies will be friendly too; if the PCs are aggressive the gypsies will be perfectly willing and able to fight, and there are a lot of them.
18-Herd of cattle/cowboys
A large herd of cattle turn up, escorted by cowboys to their front, flanks, and in clouds of dust to their rear. If the PCs ask the cowboys for information, they might or might not give it. They are not hostile;they just want to get their cattle to market on time.
19-Biker Gang (for modern/sci fi games only)
With a roar of engines, an outlaw motorcycle club turns up,wearing their colors. It's possible they might want to rob or kill the PCs, particularly if the PCs have had a run in with their members before. But equally they may be peacefully passing through. Maybe they want to talk to the PCs about something; in that case,as long as the PCs are polite, it need not end up in a brawl.
20-Town (not on fire)
The PCs reach the city walls of a large town. The town is not on fire; it is a cold day and the cloud of smoke the PCs saw on the horizon earlier come from the chimneys of the many houses and factories in the town, creating a pall above the crowded city. To get through the city gates the PCs have to pay a small toll; some towns have banned weapons within them to cut down on crime and these will either ask the PCs to leave them at the gatehouse, where they can be collected when they leave the city, or insist that they have Blade Hands placed on them.
21-Lava hitting water
A large volcano has erupted, and the river of red-hot lava has collided with a river of water, creating a huge warm cloud of steam. Harmless unless one gets too close and falls in.
A village is under attack by attackers of the GM's choice who have set it on fire and are slaughtering everybody. If the PCs intervene and kill half of the attackers, the rest will flee for their lives, and although the villagers cannot give the PCs much of a reward due to the circumstances, they will do whatever they can. Also, the PCs will get a very good reputation in the local area.
The PCs come across the Sorcery Springs Geyser Basin with it's many geysers and hot springs. For many years it has been a National Park, and things should be pretty safe if they stay on the established trails. But there are dangers there for the unwary of the stupid-falling into a hot spring and getting boiled alive, getting scalded by getting too close to an erupting geyser, falling foul of the Geyser Ghosts after dark. Also, the Park Rangers will try and fine or arrest PCs that they catch breaking the Park rules; they are good fighters and killing them will get the PCs into serious trouble with law enforcement.
A thick fog blows in and the PCs can see very little in any direction. It may be that there are wights or other dark and dangerous spirits within this fog, or that the fog itself is choking and poisonous to the lungs. But even if this is not the case, traveling might mean the danger of falling off a cliff that is unseen until it is too late, or just getting hopelessly lost.
25-Adventurers around a fire
The PCs come across some adventurers like themselves eating around a campfire. If either group of adventurers is wanted by the law or outright outlawed then this could easily end up in a fight; otherwise the others will treat the PCs the way they are treated, and may well offer friendship and information freely given.
The PCs come across a river with a large number of burning pyres upon the banks, along with the weeping families of the deceased. The smoke and the smell of burning flesh rises into the air, only partly countered by the sweet sandalwood and frankincense that has been placed upon the pyres. In most cases there will be little to no danger to be found here, unless an Urn Beast rises from one of the pyres and starts attacking everybody in sight, or the PCs caused the deaths of one or more of those cremated here, when they may have to face an attack from the family of whoever they killed.
The PCs come across a city that by accident, warfare or malice has been set alight. Flames are roaring through the streets at walking pace, great crowds of people are fleeing for their lives, church bells are ringing out peals as a warning. The city fire brigade, if it has one, is badly overstretched. The PCs have several choices; they can go somewhere else, they can help the fire brigade in the struggle to put the fire out, they can try and rescue someone they were trying to meet in the city, or they can loot. Looting might gain the PCs a lot of goods and/or money, but if they try and take too much they could lose it all to the fire, or they could be captured and lynched. Helping to fight the fire will make the city mayor pleased with them. Trying to find one person in the chaos will be dangerous and almost impossible.
28-Secret Society Meeting
The members of a secret society have got together from far and wide and gathered around a large fire for a meeting. It is up to the GM if the society is highly dangerous and out to cause havoc such as The Children of Ma-O or The Cultus of Vautu or is for the most part reasonably law-abiding when not bending the laws to suit itself, the game world's equivalent of the Freemasons. Perhaps the PCs will come across an important NPC here. If dangerous enough, the society might well attack the PCs on sight, but the members of even a non-violent secret society will be mildly annoyed to have strangers show up at their meeting, although not to the point of attacking without provocation. Perhaps a human sacrifice is due to take place and the PCs have to decide if they will intervene or not.
A large herd of buffalo has turned up-if the PCs have the right weapons and are hungry enough and determined enough they can try hunting and killing one for meat. But they have horns and are dangerous up close, powerful enough to gore a careless PC and toss him or her into the air. Perhaps the buffalo are being hunted by someone-or something, such as a dragon or a carnivorous dinosaur that could pose a major danger to the PCs, or maybe they are just on their normal yearly migration.
One of the most terrifying things that a volcano can do is to spout one of these fast and boiling clouds of smoke, gas and ash. Unless the PCs can find shelter or get into deep enough water, they are going to be killed in a horrible way...cooked whilst still alive.
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