Random Encounter Tables – A GMs Best Friend

Random Encounter Tables – A GMs Best Friend

Random encounter tables are a great way to bring diversity to your campaign. 

The biggest error most GMs make with random encounter tables is they use stock standard ones from official books, which are filled primarily with monsters. 

A good way to make these tables usable is to add in NPC encounters and events, as well as monsters. 

Another thing to remember is the ‘random’ part of the random encounter tables means the result is randomised, not that the result should randomly appear out of nowhere. 

This is important to keep in mind. 

They are not there to throw random monsters at your party or to drain resources or to annoy them – they are, or should be, carefully crafted tables that allow you to bring your campaign world to life. 

And to create a sense of verisimilitude. 

It is also an opportunity to give your PCs lore and information about your world, as well as seeds for future adventures. 

For example, if you roll an Ogre as your random encounter, it could be on its way to deliver a message to the relatives of a kidnap victim for its master. The PCs don’t realise this until after they kill it and find the ransom note, complete with names and demands. 

This may pique the PCs interest and they may want to go and find out who has been kidnapped and rescue them (for a reward, or course). 

Building Random Encounter Tables

The best random encounter tables are the ones you build yourself. 

This is because you can tailor the encounters to your campaign world. This creates verisimilitude and gives you a chance to inform PCs about your world. 

With that in mind, let’s look at how to build a random encounter table. 

Building a Random Encounter Table

I will use an area in my own campaign world as an example. 

The Riven Basin in my world is a small part of a much larger world, but it has its own unique occupants so I will write up some random encounter tables for various areas within it, drawn from that area and the surroundings, plus a few surprises. 

The first thing we need to do is to create a list of inhabitants to this area, and also a separate list of those who may visit this place but are not native to it. This latter list will be our surprises. 

Riven Basin locals: 

      • Two human barbarian tribes
      • Human town
      • Iron mine 
      • Wraith spiders
      • Svarts
      • Dwarven burial ground
      • Brown bears
      • Hawks
      • Slavers
      • Troglodytes
      • Wild boars

In the surrounding areas: 

      • Half-orc barbarian tribe
      • Annis Hag
      • Marsh (prairie potholes)
      • Human towns (Akhithe and Levberg)
      • Night hunter bats
      • Wolves

Now we have a list of possible encounters, we can start to flesh out our tables, not forgetting some need to be NPCs and some just events. 

I have split the Riven Basin into two areas – east and west – and am going to create a table for both. 

Dice

As mentioned in Never Tell Me the Odds article in Issue 3 of d12 Monthly, we can use two dice – in this case 2D8 – to create a bell curve effect that allows certain encounters to be more common and others not so common. 

Locations

Looking at my list I can now split them up into east or west, listing them in order of how common of an encounter they are. 

West

      • Human barbarian tribe (Grim Eagle Tribe)
      • Hawks
      • Wolves
      • Troglodytes
      • Wraith spiders
      • Svarts
      • Marsh (prairie potholes)
      • Night hunter bats
      • Annis Hag

East

      • Human barbarian tribe (Falling Spear Tribe)
      • Human town
      • Iron mine 
      • Troglodytes
      • Wraith spiders
      • Svarts
      • Dwarven burial ground
      • Brown bears
      • Slavers
      • Wild boars
      • Annis Hag

As you can tell, some appear on both lists as they are far ranging. 

Back to our tables we can make the process easier by adding in some descriptors depending on how common (or not) an encounter is. These are based on the bell curve described earlier. 

One thing to keep in mind is don’t worry about balance or Challenge Rating

Encounters are not always combat encounters and you should leave it up to the players to decide if they want to fight or not. They can always try and parley with the creatures they encounter and you can use a reaction check to see how the creature responds. 

Table: Encounters Rarity

2D6 Encounter
2 Very rare
3 Rare
4 Rare 
5 Uncommon
6 Uncommon
7 Common
8 Common
9 Common
10 Common
11 Common
12 Uncommon
13 Uncommon
14 Rare
15 Rare
16 Very rare

Using this as a template, we can start to slot in encounters from our lists for each area, remembering to leave blanks for other ideas. 

The very rare results will be saved for outsiders coming into the Basin. 

Table: Encounters West Riven Basin

2D6 Encounter
2 Annis Hag 
3 2D6 Svart explorers
4 D2 Falling Spear Tribe scouts*
5 A Troglodyte war party (2D4 with leader with max HP)
6 Human hunters from the town of Dolstead (D4+2)
7 D6+2 Grim Eagle Tribe hunters*
8 A kettle of D6+2 Hawks
9 Signs or tracks of an animal or monster on this list (roll to see which one). D6 hours old
10 D4 Wraith Spider hunting
11 A cloud of Night Hunter Bats (night only)
12 D4 dead bodies scattered about. 2D6 hours old. Signs of conflict and tracks leading off
13 Lost travellers. D6: 1-2 merchants, 3-4 human hunters, 5-6 barbarians
14 Extreme weather (take precautions or suffer fatigue)
15 D4+4 Wolves
16 D4 Half-Orc barbarian scouts

Items in italics can only be encountered once. 

Table: Encounters East Riven Basin

2D6 Encounter
2 Annis Hag
3 2D6 Svart explorers
4 D4+1 Dwarven priests visiting burial ground
5 Dire Bear
6 Lost merchants (D2 + D6+2 guards)
7 D6+2 Falling Spear Tribe hunters*
8 Human hunters from the town of Dolstead or Blenhirst (D4+2)
9 D6+2 Slavers looking for new blood
10 Pack of 2D8 Wolves
11 Signs or tracks of an animal or monster on this list (roll to see which one). D6 hours old
12 D4+4 Wolves
13 D4 dead bodies scattered about. 2D6 hours old. Signs of conflict and tracks leading off
14 Extreme weather (take precautions or suffer fatigue)
15 A cloud of Night Hunter Bats (night only)
16 D4 Wraith Spider hunting

Items in italics can only be encountered once. 

Additions to the Charts

You could also make the charts shorter or longer (2D6 or 2D10) and add in other encounters like finding pre-established locations that exist in your campaign world. 

But, What are they Doing?

Combine these charts with the article What the Hell are the Monsters Doing? (also found in Issue 1 of d12 Monthly) to give you a well-rounded encounter. 

Not Always Combat

Remember that not all encounters, even those with “monsters” or creatures will necessarily lead to combat. Use your encounter reactions to see what happens!

Conclusion

As you can see, having your own random encounter tables makes your world better as it can let the players know more about it, in small chunks. 

With a little bit of imagination, these random encounters could turn out to be the best thing you have in your Dungeons & Dragons game. 

Over to You

Do you use random encounter tables? Show us what you have in the comments below.

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