Random encounters are the potatoes to the meat of the RPG adventure. Potatoes are a versatile staple, bland on their own but you can do some impressive things with them, rather than just boil them and plop them out on a plate. This is what happens the gang of street hooligans or band of goblins attacks. You ho-hum cut through them with a fork and nary a thought spared, other than considering the level of beverage you have left, or the status of the remaining pizza in the next room. It's time to sneak a ghost chili into the mash, and then watch them sweat it out. Enough of the food metaphors and time for the Oh-Shit-ometer to be turned up to 11.
1. Mega Goblins
Goblins are standard fare, small, easily dispatched and they swarm in large numbers. Upon first encounter this band of goblins seems little different than any other band of hairy smelly unkept goblins, except that they all have small blue flasksand are carrying comicly oversized weapons. When the PCs are encountered the goblins alternate between projectile weapons and drinking from their little blue bottles. In three turns the goblins triple in size (roughly the size of trolls or ogres now) with their strength and constitutions adjusted. Instead of daggers and goblin knives they attack with branches ripped off of trees, hurling boulders, and now the giant weapons they were dragging around are suddenly the right size for them. They swarm the PCs roaring and gnashing their teeth. The goblins will attempt to eat anyone or any animals they kill before the effects of the potion wear off.
2. Battle in Progress
PCs like to bandy about the word battle when they are really involved in fights or skirmishes. While the typical group of 3-5 PCs is out adventuring they hear a growing din, and quite by accident have ridden/walked into an honest to the Gods battle. On one side a battalion of hobgoblins are holding their own against a platoon strength group of hill giants and giant blooded hybrids. The field is littered with several dead bodies, and the PCs have been noticed and are now about to be caught in a hobgoblin assault against the hill giant's flanks. The PCs are outnumbered on both sides of the field and the two forces very well might team up to take out the PCs if they are predominantly human, magic users, or prove capable of holding a defensive line. The sheer weight of giants and the military competency of the hobgoblins should force the PCs into a route. This could also be a good time to kill annoying hirelings of the PCs, break irritating magic items or force them to burn up their overstock of potions and one shot magic items.
3. A Dance of Dragons
Dragons have never been known to be a family oriented species, more traditionally loners. The PCs while exploring a ruined mountain city discover that the halls were blasted out by the claws and breath of a dragon. Inside they find a family unit of several baby dragons. The dragons are still only a few years old, barely have magical capability and have limited breath weapons. While this should not be a difficult fight should they decide to wade into the dragonlings there will be a new level of Hell on Earth when the two parental dragons return to the roost to feed their offspring. The PCs are caught between the claws of two dragons, and their breath weapons fueled by the hatred that only parents of captured or harmed childen can muster. Should the PCs kill the dragonlings and escape with their lives the two dragons will use their resources and allies to hound the PCs to the ends of the Earth, and they can expect that the dragons will seek out their families to return the favor. This is even more evil and devious if the dragons have human minions and the ability to shapeshift.
4. The Tsunami
Tsunamis in the real world are the side effect of underwater earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. This is all fine and dandy but such mundane explanations are not acceptable in the land of fantasy. The stars are right and the gods of the deep have woken. For a short amount of time hundreds of water elementals and wave spirits have come up from the unseen depths of the ocean to the shoreline. Why they have done this is a question for the ages. The damage is immense and many have died as the elementals destroy things and fight one another and then just as quickly team up to rip down a rock ridge or splinter a copse of trees or a town. The PCs just happen to be in the coastal town when the elementals appear. They ride in on a tidal surge, shooting up out of the flooded areas to take vaguely humanoid or tentacled shapes. The PCs can fight a few but they are hard to injure and for every one destroyed there are plenty more coming. The only way to survive is to take the high road and get out of the low lands. This is a fantastic time to break out rules for fatigue, extended combat and dealing with watery and flooded environments. Getting knocked out in two feet of water is a good way to drown.
5. The Royal Rumble
In typical fashion a bar brawl breaks out and the PCs are brushing up on their improvised weapons and hand to hand rules. But this is no ordinary bar fight, the King is in the bar, he's dressed as a commoner to go slumming among the people and the King's personal body guard is also here. Since he can't take a score of soldiers into a bar without drawing attention to himself he has a much smaller number, three or four, who happen to be masters of combat. Now this wouldn't normally be a problem, but the guy the party fighter just punched out... well that was his Majesty and the Kings guards are moving in to rescue the King and to take the fighter and his friends out for daring to strike the King. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Time to run or they get to sit out an adventure in the dungeons and maybe the King is benevolent and lets them out, or he doesnt.
6. Final Destination
The PCs encounter Death. Not a dead body or bodily harm, but the personification of mortality itself. The God of all Ends wishes to travel with them, observe them. Death will speak to them in a not unpleasant voice, and will know a horrifying amount of detail about them, specifically the names of every sentient being they have killed. If they attack Death they cannot harm it and instead it will vanish in a peal of laughter, apparently the Entity of Entropy made a wager against the PCs with a God of Chaos and whomever wins it cannot be good for the PCs. If Death wins the wager the PCs gain some significant combat abilities, the natural ability to Cause Fear and become immune to natural diseases. Death wants to them to continue mindlessly killing. (Cause Fear will make sure that no one will ever wait on them in a bar, or in a shop,or even be allowed in a town again) These effects last a month. If the God of Chaos wins, each of the PCs receives a random boon. An incidental wish is granted (minor) or they are affected by unnaturally good luck or their foes face unnaturally bad luck. This also lasts a month.
7. We just met and this is crazy...
The PCs are in a bar again, and things get hazy. The serving wench has a pretty smile and keeps the drinks flowing, strong and on the house. She pulls out all of the stops, dragon meade, dwarven ale, Elfin Gin, efreeti firewater. The PCs come to the next morning Hangover-esque style. They've been stripped or weapons and armor and confined inside a building. The serving wench returns, she decided to keep the adventuring party as a male harem. Last night she drugged the PCs in their alcohol and worked diligently while they were unconscious to move them here. The strongest party member and the highest charisma party member have already been doped with a love potion moving them to her side. The PCs now face forced love potion dosing and the attention of a hyper psychotic wench. It's going to take some time to have a baby from each of them, best to get started quickly. To make it more interesting, this happens in a small kingdom that allows polyamory and multiple marriage. While a woman with five husbands might seen a tad odd, the locals think little of it.
8. The Genie
The PCs find an old oil lamp that radiates magic. When they rub it a genie appears, but the genie is disconcerting in appearance. It is hermaphroditic and has its boy parts and girl parts on open display while the rest of it is clad in tight oiled leather. And with that disturbing mental image...
9.The Crazy 88s
The PCs are typically used to fighting and winning, either by outnumbering a superior foe or overpowering weaker numerically superior foes. They seldom fight on an even playing field, and we're not about to start. The PCs are in a major city and have been following up a typical sort of thieve's guild plot. The Guild is none too happy about having the PCs snooping around in their territory and decided to ambush the PCs when they aren't expecting it. The thieves and their hired muscle, mercenaries, and allies from other city guilds all fall on the PCs like an avalanche. In Hong Kong Martial Arts Theatre style, the goons, thugs, thieves, mercenaries and miscreants attack in force, with weapons, shields, armor, and sneaky underhanded tactics used by people fighting on their home turf. The PCs, if truly obnoxious can find themselves caught between a cadre of city guards on one side, a band of mercenaries on the other, and then be blindsided by a murder of thieves and assassins who know the undercity secret passages. The PCs might be able to kill many of these men, but they are going to be worn down, and pelted with arrows and crossbow bolts from the rooftops, and might even find a random siege weapon, or siege trap turned against them. How about some boiling oil? Or an uncovered street level pit trap that the locals open and then force the PCs towards. Time to Run Away!!!
10. Volcanic/Seismic Event
The earth heaves and sighs, the mountains belch forth smoke and there is soon a great panic. The burning blood of the earth is moving up into the throats of the volcanoes and the Dwarves are fleeing the fuming peaks, causing all sorts of battles and skirmishes with the mountain dwelling folk. The dwarves arrange themselves into armies and columns to make good their escape and woe to any force that arrays against them. Once the smoke clears they plan on returning to the mountains but once they find land they approve of, they are going to settle in and occupy it. Forests will be leveled and in a matter of days fields will be plowed. This would not normally affect the PCs,but once they reach a certain level it isn't uncommon for them to gain lands, a castle, and the like. A dwarven column under the leadership of Odrin Stonehand, a lord among the dwarves is heading directly for the fruited plain the PCs call home. They aren't going to pay taxes,they aren't going to defend anything but themselves, and if they need something you have, well they are going to take it.
11. A Plague of Flesh Eating Grasshoppers
Insects are seldom used in games, even when there are rules for actually having them. They are immune to most basic damage and cant be fought with fists or arrows. PCs have to be ingenious with magical spells, clouds of poison gasses and other inventions and potions. The grasshoppers come, their tiny jaws gnashing for flesh and blood. They arrive in a cloud (equivalent to a large air elemental) and there are multiple prongs to the swarm, and each prong can be treated as a 'swarm creature' or what could typically get into a house before the door is slammed shut, or small groups that get into a castle, separated from the main body. The main body can be manipulated as multiple air elementals of large to colossal size. Rather than making hit and damage rolls, exposure to the swarm causes gradual erosion of hitpoints as the PCs and victims are bitten and chewed one tiny bite at a time. A massive swarm can skeletonize a human in 1D6+4 rounds, and each size can affect a larger number of people: swarm - 1 person at half speed damage, small swarm elemental 2 victims, medium swarm Elemental 4 people, large elemental, 16 victims, and so on.
Additional Ideas (2)
Any good evil overlord knows that there is nothing like a horde of kobolds to make adventurers wade in with abandon. A tribe of kobolds worship an evil wizard or dragon or whoever the master of the dungeon is. This evil overlord knows better than to leave the kobolds to their own devices simply to be slaughtered by the first adventuring party to come along.
First the kobolds have been brainwashed to an extreme level of religious fanaticism. As such their moral is extremely high. There is no greater honor than to die in the service of their overlord.
Second they have been trained to take full advantage of defensive tactics. Well--defensive for the overlord anyway.
“Magic Armor” the overlord has given them “holy” weapons and armor that will see them to the afterlife. This holy armor is made from the tentacles of rust monsters any metal weapon striking these kobolds is subject to being destroyed (see rust monster), a similar tactic has been applied to some of their clubs (sticks wrapped in rust monster tentacles) a successful touch attack will damage metal armor being worn.
A few of the more elite kobolds carry “holy symbols” that have been enchanted with an anti magic field making spells and magic items useless. (Yeah that +2 sword of kobold beheading--not so much) (If you don’t want your players getting hold of such an item maybe just douse some strategic locations in antimagic.)
The area of the dungeon that the kobolds defend is riddled with passages to small for medium sized creatures to walk in (they could belly crawl) but comfortable for the kobolds. Trained teams use hit and run tactics to harry the adventurers.
A large kobold weighs maybe 40 pounds sopping wet. The dungeon has been designed with this in mind. All the trap pressure plates are set for 90 pounds so the kobolds can run over them with ease but that 190 pound fighter with 80 pounds of gear is going to have a rough day. Likewise there are numerous stairs, ladders and catwalks built to only handle around 70 -90 pounds. That ladder the kobold scampered up is going to crumble under the fighter’s weight.
The dungeon will be full of simple traps that the kobolds can easily maintain pits with spikes are a common favorite.
The kobolds will have been trained to use ranged weapons and height to their advantage. That trap that you have to disarm is goanna be a bit harder while under a barrage of crossbow bolts. Of course all the kobold archers have at least ¾ cover.
Also our overlord knows that wands of magic missile are cheap so he has trained some of the brighter kobolds as adepts and equipped them with wands of magic missile. These adepts join the archers and will of course keep behind cover and focus on the pc’s that their comrades have the most trouble hitting.
The kobolds also have several setups that are somewhere between a trap and an ambush. Hidden murder holes come to mind. The evil overlord could supply them with alchemist fire, poison, tar or any manner of nasty things to drop on the adventurers from above.
With a little creativity and forethought a devious GM should have a pack of cocky adventures running back to the village tails between their legs to lick their wounds. All from a warren of kobolds and they before the even get close to the big bad and his more powerful minions. Your players will never look at kobolds the same way again.
P.S. Don’t forget to have the kobolds cheer as the adventurers run away.
Some nasty demons have taken animal form and are roaming the forest. The PCs may get a little nervous when that cute little bunny rabbit or delicate seeming doe boldly walks up to them or are standing at the entrance of the dungeon. Imagine their surprise, though, when these critters turn out to be quite tougher and deadlier than they appear to be, and attack with no known reason.