Last in our series of random fixed encounters is natural phenomena—strange stuff of nature what exists in the setting.
Any natural locale—given sufficient size, rarity, and distinction—qualifies as natural phenomena. It could be a volcano, a geyser, a grove of acidic trees, or something more fantastic like a perpetual cyclone that pulls in everything around it like a black hole and leads to the elemental plane of air. If the National Geographic Society of your world would do a documentary on it, it’s a phenomenon.
When creating a phenomenon, roll once each for: Aspect (the phenomenon’s focus), Effect (what happens to people when they interact with the phenomenon), Description (a basic adjective applied to the Aspect and possibly responsible for delivering the Effect), and Quirk (an optional feature that makes the phenomenon even more interesting):
ROLL ASPECT EFFECT DESCRIPTION QUIRK
1 Air* Sense of Awe Hot Follows Lunar Cycle
2 Earth* It Looks Weird Cold Unusual Colour
3 Fire* No Big Deal Wet Attracts Vermin
4 Water* Magic Focus Dry Distorts Sound
5 Elemental Combo** Divine Focus Light Portal/Gateway
6 Plants Hazardous† Heavy Adapted Monster
7 Animals Mental Benefit‡ Crystalline Odd Local Backstory
8 Precipitation Mental Detriment‡ Organic Bigger Inside
9 Sunlight Physical Benefit§ Misty Artefact/Relic
10 Moonlight Physical Detriment§ Dusty Sacred Ground
* Use the following guidelines for detail:
- Air (d4: 1 breathable air; 2 wind; 3 sky; 4 cyclone)
- Earth (d4: 1 volcano (dormant); 2 formations; 3 seismic; 4 canyon)
- Fire (d4; 1 volcano (active); 2 natural vents; 3 lava; 4 open flame)
- Water (d4: 1 geyser; 2 spring; 3 whirlpool; 4 waterfall)
** Roll 1d4 twice to combine two elements (air, earth, fire, water)
† Exploring, traversing, or even proximity to the phenomenon is dangerous
to visitors in the hex
‡ (d6: 1 Intelligence; 2 Memory; 3 Awareness; 4 Personality; 5 Sanity;
§ (d6: 1 Strength; 2 Dexterity; 3 Size; 4 Age; 5 Health; 6 Appearance)
The table above can produce some fantastic outcomes, but it’s important not to overdo it—not every phenomenon has to be a secret and amazing danger—sometimes a waterfall is just a waterfall.
The first three Effects cover this. For example, a “Sense of Awe” simply gives the GM license to tell the PCs that the phenomenon is truly impressive, but there’s no real game effect. Conversely, “No Big Deal” means that the reality falls short of the hype: “The Hell Gorge of Ixion” might be nothing more than a 30’ chasm with a colourful local history (though that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be spiced up with a Quirk).
Using the table above, here’s what I came up with for Minocra’s two major phenomena (my results are included to show you what I was working with).
Hex #2003: The Crunch (What I rolled: water, hazardous, cold, distorts sound)
The sea immediately south of Sharmat Isle is uncharacteristically cold, and the choppy surface is littered with large and jagged ice floes that crash together with a thunderous roar heard for miles (1 hex radius). Nautical travel through The Crunch is hazardous: there is a 2/6 chance of a collision per mile traversed, causing 1d6 points of structural damage to a ship’s hull. Sailing at half speed reduces the chance of collision to 1/8, with hull damage further reduced to 1d4 points. At night, without proper illumination, spotters, watchmen, etc., the chance increases to 4/6 regardless. Many sailors have met a cold and desperate end in these waters, for those unfortunate enough to fall overboard risk hypothermia, and their cries for help are invariably drowned out by the thunderous clamour of the floes.
Hex #2421: Nuril’s Teeth (What I rolled: water, divine focus, crystalline, portal/gateway)
There is a 1/6 chance that any vessel entering this hex is caught by Nuril’s Teeth, a roiling whirlpool that opens and closes at random intervals. Sailing out of Nuril’s pull requires a piloting or similar check against a Target Number equal to 20 minus the vessel’s current speed. Success hurls the vessel across one of the hex’s six sides (determined randomly). Failure means capture by the whirlpool, which is lined with massive jutting crystal spars that cause 1 point of structural damage to a ship’s hull per round. It takes 7-12 rounds for a vessel to reach the bottom. Occupants may attempt to climb onto one of the crystal spars with an Athletics roll, though they’ll have to negotiate 1 spar per round spent in the whirlpool to reach the top. Even then, those who manage to ascend to the surface must still contend with the swirling waters. Those who fail to secure themselves, or who are stranded on a doomed vessel, encounter a massive crystalline portal at the pool’s bottom. Those sucked through are teleported to a random location on the Minocra map (roll 4d10 in order to determine the destination hex).
This table really only scratches the surface of what might be possible for natural phenomena—a look at a real Earth atlas reveals all sorts of such things, and that’s not including the fantasy stuff an RPG setting heaps on. For more inspiration, I can suggest a good sit-down in front of the Science or Discovery channel (hint: stuff on alien worlds, including our solar system’s many moons, will be of especial value).
Thus ends the major encounter series. Naturally (haha…get it?) your thoughts and suggestions are welcome. What’s missing, what’s not working, and—most importantly—how does this table make you feel?
Next up, I think I’ll share a good, old fashioned hex map of Minocra. Let’s start wrapping this setting up, all proper-like.