Attrition is a fundamental part of any long-term conflict. If the PC’s are fully healed and equipped each combat it’s going to be much less stressful than if they need to decide whether to use a daily power in this fight or the one that is probably around the corner. Less stress can often mean less drama, which probably eventually leads to the Dark Side.
In the most ancient ways, attrition was handled by random encounters. 1d4 rats kept gnawing at the PC’s heels, and eventually after leaving a bloody trail of rat carcasses, the PC’s would be greeted by an actual encounter (like 2d6 goblins and their chieftain). In 13th Age, I first saw the use of skill-checks as random encounters. Instead of throwing down with 1d4 rats, why not roll a skill to see if the PC can skillfully just take care of the rats. Or falling rocks. Or poisonous vines. Failure means attrition in the form of loss of hit points, recoveries, or items.
There are a few elements to a Waylay Random Encounter. The first is context, which is easily answered with regards to “right here, right now”. The second, is the Waylay itself without a solution since the PC’s will be part of the solution. The solution is the third element, which is really what tool is available for the PC’s to use to overcome the Waylay Random Encounter. Possible suggestions are combat, a skill check, or a sacrifice with narration. Finally, and optionally, determine further attrition penalties, such as what happens when the PC’s fail a skill check.
The following are examples of Waylay Random Encounters in 13th Age:
Context: The PC’s are in the Wild Wood, which is a wood filled with the primal and chaotic energies of the High Druid. A few good peoples of the Dragon Empire eek their living out of the vast forest.
Waylay 1: Ravenous tavern – As a “haven” Waylay, my favorite idea is to get the PC’s through the door, and then give them the we-shouldn’t-be-here feeling. Perhaps this tavern is filled with cannibals and/or sentient-being hunters. The “rolls” would be diplomatic in seeing how easily the PC’s can get back out the door. By the end of the narration I want them to be running away while being hunted so the penalty will be damage rolls. Alternatively, I could have the PC’s sacrificing gold or supplies to slow down the hunters.
Another Waylay could be a tavern in need of food (foraging checks), or an abandoned tavern that was swallowed by the Wild Wood. Finally, if I want a combat encounter, I would make it an enemy tavern. Cannibal halflings are known to live in the Wild Wood, why shouldn’t they have a friendly watering hole?
Waylay 2: Exclusive relative – This was a really interesting roll. For the sake of brevity I decide that I don’t really want a conversational roleplaying encounter that could eat up precious table time. I decide as the GM that there is someone PC’s or allied NPC’s relative nearby. Maybe she is a hedge wizard, literally, that created a wall of poisonous brambles around her land. It might be worth stopping in for a hospitality visit, but it’ll cost the party in scratches and hallucinations.
Alternatively, the “cost” could be in the form of roleplaying. The relative grants room and board, but demands stories and news from the PC’s. Alternatively, the relative could have a minor problem that requires the special assistance of a PC or two, depending on skills and abilities.
Waylay 3: The noble wild – The creature I immediately think of is the royal stag. You know the one, with 30-point antlers and an ivory hide that would make a unicorn jealous. It’s a guide; it’s a protector. However, we’re thinking attrition here. I think I would use it as a “red herring” guide. The PC’s would see it, and maybe move a bit closer to view it better. Then it bolts, and a one-roll combat occurs (like a skill check) with say a wolf. Let the players think that the reason it bolted was because of the wolf. Then the players see it off in the distance watching them. Again if they get near it, it bolts, and then another wild animal attacks. Rinse and repeat.
Alternatively, use it as a lore check. Let the player make up the lore, too! However, keep in mind that if there is a lore check failure perhaps the PC’s did not pay correct homage to the guardian of the Wild Wood. Bad mojo begins to creep around them as they trespass through the forest.