What are the odds of having a random encounter in the middle of the week during a heat wave while foraging in a small party in borderlands threatened by outside invaders? Surely the odds would be different from the chances of encountering anything on an arctic seashore in late winter. The chance of having an encounter in the wilderness should vary by situation when one contemplates the dizzying array of differences possible, the situation and PC activity should certainly alter the chances.
When striving for a little emote verisimilitude and to provide the characters with choices (good and bad) that will impact the campaign and game session one has to consider what elements will be important to the adventures begin presented. At ti’s core the random encounter check is a mechanic that impairs malingering and slow travel as traditionally the longer one takes to cover ground the more encounters one may face. This creates an issue with exploration based play: it discourages exploration if the random encounter is a punishment mechanic and isn’t impacted by PC actions. what the characters in an adventuring party are doing , where they are, when they are doing it, and how they are doing it may likely impact the odds.
Where is often answered simply by the general terrain type of the area or hex the PC are within. But one one stops and thinks about just how big a hex may be the range of possibilities opens. If the party is in a hilly hex do they have cover to break line of sight, are they traveling along ridge tops allowing themselves to be seen for miles in every direction, are they clinging to low spots and keeping out of sight? Are they campaign for the day instead of traveling, do they have sentries or a lookout posted? Are there members of the party out hunting, foraging, and grazing some of the steeds ? All that will impact where the encounter happens and in where we have to wonder when.
When is the encounter happening? Does a campaign have the GM only check once a day for random encounters or multiple times a day? Time of day and activities attempted will increase or decrease the odds of encounters and the possibility of what will be encountered. A party keeping low during the middle of the day isn’t likely to encounter much at all if they are not on the move and not begin hunted. Wandring abut at night can make a lot of noise and shed unwanted attention if light is needed (even a candle can be seen for a very long distance) and the terrain is not well known to the prowlers but what beast and monsters are active during that night will vary with weather and season, a dark rainy night in cold weather and there isn’t going to be much wandering about but a days into a drought the slight cool of night will have more predators roaming about desperate to pounce on something.
Weather is a certain impact as mentioned above; the prevailing and current weather conditions will have a major impact on what is encountered. Brief heavy rains drives creatures to cover reducing the chance elf wandering encounters but possibly increasing encounters in sheltered spots. A windy day will make animals nervous and some will not wander as far from the lairs and the windier it gets the less likely there will be encounters with avians unless they have been blown in from far away because of a major storm bearing down. A hot afternoon will see less creatures wandering than would a miles morning or dusk. The weather conditions would likely have an impact on encounter chances.
Party captivity will certainly have impact on the chance of begin encountered. By example cutting firewood may be notable from a distance but far less so than the activity required to build a raft and that less so than the noise made to clear an area for a fort meant to be occupied for weeks. Does magic cause ripples that will draw the attention of monsters and wizards? Did the party just in engage in a long noisy fight? Is the party camping with no fire while huddles in a cave or are they atop a hill with a bonfire blazing? Consider activity when considering encounter chance.
Location is not everything but it surely matters. The deepest remote wilderness or a crossroad in rural county are two very different places and they shouldn’t have the same odds of a meaningful encounter. Even matters a s simple as walking on a road, following a road just off track, or trailing it from afar will all alter chances (and suspicions). The party shipwrecked on a remote shore in winter has very little chance of encountering anything but cold but waiting at the crossroads on market day it would be impossible to have no encounter.
As with the crossroad on market day mentioned above what others in the game world are doing should impact encounter chances. Is there a dragon migration, an invading army of orcs, or bothersome questing knights? What NPCS are up to will have a decided impact on encounter chances, one has little chance to not notice the royal hunt in the local forest (by example).
All the above is clerkly just a head up and notes to consider the wide range of lee,nets that could impact the chance of a random encounter in an RPG campaign and balancing these elements with good play will enhance the campaign.