Random Encounter Tables: Second Thoughts

After talking about Building Random Encounter Tables a couple days ago, I’ve seen a few suggestions that could improve the results somewhat.

Erik Tenkar talks about deliberately leaving blanks in the random encounter table so a single table handles not only the selection of encounter but whether or not there is an encounter at all.

I’ll be frank, I don’t really like this idea.  If encounter frequency varies (as it should) then you commit varying and different amounts of the table to… nothing.  The mechanism described is somethat adaptable, true, but applying it correctly depends on accurate knowledge of the frequency of each possible result (such as 10-11 coming up 25% of the time when rolling 3d6… unless you’re rolling ability scores, true enough).

Chakat Firepaw also suggested on Building Random Encounter Tables including encounters or events that are definitely out of the PCs’ league… but at low frequency, and then only evidence of the encounter.  For example, finding signs that the local big bad dragon was here not too long ago.  I like this idea, but my normal random encounter table range (d8+d12, 2..20) doesn’t really leave a good amount of room for this sort of idea.

Then I considered Dragon Age’s ‘Dragon Die’.  You often roll 3d6, but one of them is a different color and may be used to determine unusual results.  What if something similar were done here?

Add a d10 to the mix.  This extends the range from 2..20 to 3..30, and it lets me introduce some modifiers to the encounter.  Assuming the encounters are all creatures (because it’s easier to explain that way), you might have:

d10 Encounter Modifier Example
1-4 Enhanced Encounter Bigger group than normal, unusual helpful item, ally, ambush
5-7 Standard Encounter Normal numbers, gear, and preparation — might be smaller group than normal, but better gear
8-9 Reduced Encounter Smaller group than normal, injured, want a peaceful encounter (looking to make a deal?)
10 Evidence only Not actually present, but may have just been here or left a message or something

Populate the table normally.  I would expect to do it least dangerous encounters to most dangerous. This way the normally less dangerous encounters are likely to get some kind of enhancement (anything six or less on the table must be an enhanced encounter, sevens will often be enhanced encounters, and so on) and the most dangerous (that might normally be expected to lead to TPK) might be softened a little.  The most dangerous of all (the big bad dragon) will only be present by evidence.

This also provides a more standardized mechanism for adjusting the encounter frequencies.  You might drop an entire section (only consider 5-10, with 1-4 meaning ‘no encounter’), or specific slots (4, 7, and 9 indicate no encounter), or some other mechanism.  Single-die frequencies are dead easy, especially when you use a d10 (units of 10%) or d12 (which lets you do 1/12, 1/6, 1/4, 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, 3/4, and 5/6 trivially).

As just suggested, you could make any one of the three dice the modifier die, which will obviously change the frequencies of the encounter modifiers.

I’ll aim to do the frequency tables for the three options (d8 modifier die, d10 modifier die, and d12 modifier die) tonight after we get back from town; expect to see it tomorrow morning.


  1. Pingback: Random Encounter Tables: Second Thoughts (Heavy Lifting) | Keith Davies — In My Campaign - Keith's thoughts on RPG design and play.

  2. Pingback: Links of the Week: April 30, 2012 | Keith Davies — In My Campaign - Keith's thoughts on RPG design and play.

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