Here’s a mostly-blank 2d10 encounter table for reference.


What I want to talk about today are two of the three entries in the dead-center of the table: 10 & 12 on either side of the “Rival Adventurers.”

I have this idea about how your humanoid enemies help set the tone for your other monstrous encounters. See, partly because you encounter humans and demihumans in larger groups than other monsters.

(With the possible exception of goblins, kobolds, and zombies.)

Now, when you encounter NPC adventurers, there’s a clear “us and them” contrast. Your PCs are the party, and the NPCs are . . . well, they are the competition. They’re stronger, more numerous, and better-equipped.

They’re also the primary source of a group of “intelligent encounters,” you’re likely to have — enemies you can talk with instead of just, slugging it out.

It can be easy to forget when you’re carving a path through orcs, that there’s any other way to resolve an encounter. It’s totally different when you bump into a couple of humans in the company of a dwarf. There’s a bit of disconnect, when you remember there are other people in the world.

It’s also worth noting that NPC adventurers are a great way to recruit henchmen. Because other NPCs (hirelings, followers), aren’t going into the dungeon.

NPCs you find in the dungeon are a lot more likely to be willing to go back than Joe Bluecollar you hired off the street. I mean, categorically.

Ironically, the princess you save from the dungeon is more likely to accompany you back into the lightless depths than a group of soldiers in armor.

I mean, she at least knows what’s down there.

But there are other humans to consider. In fact, more often than you encounter NPC adventurers, you’re going to run into ruthless humans who are a lot . . . less likely to want to talk. And in greater numbers, too.

These are your bandits, your berserkers, your cultists.

And the human adversaries you (as GM) put on your encounter table say something about your campaign. These are the guys who couldn’t (or didn’t) hack it in society. This is what they turned to instead of a profession.

You don’t really want more than a couple types. Or they get diluted.

I mean, unless you’re running a campaign that’s all about evil humans and humanoids — but that gets tedious. I mean, look at FPS games where the enemies are all human. Shoot enough dudes in the head and you long for an alien dog.

Monsters are important for changing the pace.

But! You need humans for that contrast. You hack on orcs for a while, maybe cut down some ogres, . . . but you need bandits for perspective. And you need someone to compare to quaint villagers.

I have a feeling that a lot of players might burn down villagers because they lack perspective. They don’t have enough bandits to hate on, they don’t have rival adventurers to fear and mistrust. And so, . . . villagers suffer.

I’ve broken it down to five types:
– Bandits want your stuff.
– Berserkers want you off their land.
– Cannibals want your body (to eat).
– Cultists want your soul.
– Slavers want your body (to sell).

Each of them has a pretty unreasonable demand which, if you’re willing to negotiate with someone like that . . . might actually be bargained with — they’d rather not work too hard. They are still human, after all.

If you’re willing to convert to the cultists’ worship, or offer yourself (or a friend, or henchman) as a sacrifice, they might not try to kill you.

And here’s the thing: simply choosing two of these very human groups to serve as enemies in your campaign says a lot about the cultural climate of the setting.

Cultists & Cannibals could practically be the name of an RPG.

Not to mention, a setting with Bandits & Slavers would be totally different from the above. Each group wants something fundamentally different. Now, Cannibals & Slavers would be interesting. The two might join forces on occasion.

If you want a “primal” setting, you can have Berserkers & Cannibals. “Get off my land or I’ll eat you” sends a powerful message.

These human enemies can be (and have been) adapted to almost any period of history and genre. Cannibals in space? How about Firefly’s Reavers?

Try and limit yourself to two types.