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Review: Game Master's Book of Random Encounters by Jeff Ashworth

Do you need help coming up with random encounters to either add to your homebrew campaign or to pad out the pre-written adventure you're running? Then The Game Master's Book of Random Encounters(*) by Jeff Ashworth might be just what you're looking for! This is not a sponsored post - I just bought this book and love it, so thought you might like to hear my thoughts before deciding whether or not to add it to your DM toolbox. That said:

*N.B. The Amazon links on this page (marked with an *) are affiliate links. This doesn't cost you any extra, but I make a small commission from any sales - which helps support the site :)

So, I've reviewed The Gamemaster's Book of Random NPCs(*) by Jeff Ashworth here, and readers of that will know that I'm a big fan of his work. It's the same story with this book - and for DMs short on prep time, it could be an invaluable (and relatively inexpensive) addition to your prep tools.

What's in the book?

The book is split roughly in two, with the first half containing 8 complete one-shot adventures, and the second half containing dozens of smaller random encounters, which you can use as sidequests in your games. Finally, there are several rollable tables scattered throughout, allowing you to tailor these encounters, the NPCs within them, and any loot or items your players might find during them. The great thing about this book is just how customisable everything is - so you'll have loads of options to tweak any adventures so they suit your players' styles (or, indeed, your own style as a DM).

The One Shots

So, in general I prefer to write my own one shots, so I've only actually played through one of the 8 written here. But, that said, both me and my players had an absolute blast when we did. We played through Presto Change-O (the first one-shot in the book) and found it to be super fun, with some cool NPCs, and a good mix of combat and deduction work. I was DMing for a party of 2 and had to trim a few aspects of the one-shot to keep within our time constraints - and with that our play time came in around 2 hours. Therefore, with a larger group and without cutting anything, I'd expect a normal run-time of closer to 3 hours (though again, you can tailor this depending on your party's preferences).

Having looked through the other one-shots, I'd expect them to all be of a similar length. There's also plenty of information about relevant NPCs and surroundings to make the adventures feel engaging and interesting. Each adventure also gives guidelines for the appropriate party level to tackle them -spanning the whole range from levels 1-20 (though there are more options for lower level parties). Honestly, if you're looking for a book of one-shot adventures, these are probably worth the cost of the book by themselves.

The Random Encounters

We then get to the meat of the book, the Random Encounters. These are separated out into 5 different sections:

  1. Taverns, Inns, Shops and Guilds

  2. Temples, Tombs and Crypts

  3. The Great Outdoors

  4. Homes, Hideouts, Labs and Lairs

  5. Rooftops, Alleyways and Tunnels

Each of these sections then has a certain number of individual random encounters associated with it, with approximately 75 in total across all the sections.

Each random encounter is written over approximately 2 pages of the book, often with an accompanying map or image to help you better visualise what's going on. What's great though is that most of these encounters come with their own rollable tables, so you can change various aspects of them to suit your needs. That way, the 75 or so encounters actually morph into several hundred different encounters - enough to keep you busy for thousands of hours of play time.

Lots of inspiration

When I use this book, I often don't even run the encounters straight as they're written. Instead, I'll often just use it as a source of inspiration to then develop my own ideas. Perhaps one encounter has a cool backdrop, or an interesting mechanic or something - and often that's enough to spark my imagination to create an encounter of my own.

A couple of years back I'd been due to run a one-shot for my partner's birthday with a group of her friends. Due to someone getting covid though, that got scrapped on the morning of her birthday, and she was bummed that she wouldn't get to play and see her friends. In an attempt to cheer her up, I grabbed this book and started flicking through the encounters for some inspiration. One of them took place in a cool backdrop with a waterfall that ran upwards, against gravity. I thought that a cool little detail, and over the next hour or so, used it as a starting point to write my own single-player one-shot adventure for her, rather than running the encounter from the book as written (If you want to know more about single player D&D adventures - check out this post). Due to your time commitments, then, this book can be used completely as written, or just as a source of inspiration to drive your own creativity. It works really well either way.

Rollable tables

As well as all the random encounters, throughout the book there's also a number of additional rollable tables, to try and make your encounters a little more entertaining. These include lists of guild contacts, visions, items available in shops, random NPCs, curses and backstory hooks. These are all indexed in the contents section of the book, so they're easy to find even if you don't know which particular random encounter they're associated with. Again, these can be great sources of inspiration when you're just looking to give your imagination a nudge and don't need a fully written encounter.

Final thoughts

Just like with The Gamemaster's Book of NPCs(*), I love the Gamemaster's book of Random Encounters(*). It looks beautiful, it's really useful for either running full one-shots, individual encounters, or just giving you those sparks of inspiration. It's also significantly cheaper than Wizards of the Coast books, so at a RRP of around $20/ £20 it doesn't break the bank. It's one of the DM resources that I refer back to the most, so I can wholeheartedly recommend it.


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