Random Encounter Table Design

Introduction

Roll up, roll up, welcome to Honest Mart’n’s New and Used Random Encounter Emporium. Here I’ve got a whole range of Random Tables that you bet your butts I’ve got one just right for you! Come on in, let’s have a gander and see what I got, and if it fits what you need!

Types of Table


D6 Table

This is a Table I Promise
1

2

3

4

5

6


Right, so this one is your bog standard, roll and done kinda deal. Does that mean its bad? Of course not. Its stood the test of time. Its quick to understand, and easy to make. I recommend this kinds dealio for smaller, more intimate environments that you won’t be visiting too often, or have a limited scope, such as smaller dungeons.

Its main advantage, and disadvantage at the same time, is that it has a limited number of options that come up with exactly the same chances. Hence why I say use it for small environments, so that you aren’t as likely to waste mental effort on results that will never be rolled.

These same principles apply to any table where you roll 1 die.

2D6 (and XD6) Table

Ooh, look here, this one isn’t the same
2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12


Ooh, okay now we’re getting somewhere.

This one is much the same as before, but with one key difference. The unkey difference is that there are more results. The key difference is that the statistical distribution of results isn’t flat like the D6 table.

In short, results towards the middle (7) are more likely than the results at the end (2 and 12). This becomes more pronounced the more dice you add, and the larger the dice sizes you use if you go for that sort of thing.

This “Bell Curve” is good for environments where you want to have encounters that are more likely, and ones that are less. Middling to larger dungeons and more limited overworld environments I would suggest. There are enough different results for some variety, thus an environment you’re more likely to spend some time in, whilst also making some events rarer than others, creating some procedural storytelling in the table.

D6D6

Okay this table is beginning to get a little out there I’ll admit

1
2
3
4
5
6
1






2






3






4






5






6







Here is where we start to hit the cutting edge of Table creation.

Now, D6D6 (which is just the notation I use to denote the type of table able as opposed to 2D6) is in essence, just a D36 table. Each result is equally probable, but by producing it in this table form we make it a little easier to mess around with and visualise the probabilities with, since it is displayed, well, visually.

Let’s get into that.

Different Distributions of D6D6


D3D3

This is sort of the same jobie, but with less numbers, phew

Onneee
Twwooo
Thhrrreeeeeeeee
1
9
Different
Cells
2
With
Equal
Chance
3
Of
Being
Rolled
This one isn’t really all that interesting, again it has a flat distribution, but it illustrates the point here. You can see visually that they all have the same probability of being rolled since each space has the same spatial area.

Honestly I wouldn’t use this one as it is unless for some reason you really have to have nine results on your table.

D3D6

Erk, more numbers than before, send help, I’m frothing at the mouth

Onneee
Twwooo
Thhrrreeeeeeeeee
1
This
One
Is
2
Is
A
Bit
3
Like
The
One
4
Above
But
It
5
Has
18
Cells
6
Instead
Of
9
Again, demonstrating the same principle as with the D3D3 table.

1,23,45,6


Alright, this one I’m actually pretty proud of.

1
2 & 3
4 & 5
6
1
Not Very
A Bit Likely
A Bit Likely
Not Very
2
&
3
A Bit Likely
Quite Likely
Quite Likely
A Bit Likely
4
&
5
A Bit Likely
Quite Likely
Quite Likely
A Bit Likely
6
Not Very
A Bit Likely
A Bit Likely
Not Very

Now, this is the cutting edge of Table design. [Editor’s Note: If you pay attention, you can actually *hear* the exact moment the author’s head/ego reaches maximal inflation.]

This Blends some of the best parts of the flat and the un-flat distributions together, you can see how much the different results are going to be different in terms of their probabilities. The four central spaces are twice as likely as the eight “edge” spaces, which are themselves twice as likely as the four “corner” spaces.

This gives you some room to present some encounters/results that are much more likely, and some that are again, much less likely to be encountered.

As such, I recommend this for spaces that you anticipate spending a lot of time in, such as larger overworld areas, or much larger dungeons. You could even do something along the lines of using the four “quadrants” of the table to be different factions, each with four encounters of differing probability.

We will now have a peak at some more ways we can manipulate the tables to create novel distributions of results. 

123,45,6

The Hee-yuuge Corner v The Teeny Weeny Widdle Corner

1 & 2 & 3
4 & 5
6
1,
2,
&
3
Quite Likely
A Bit Less
A Bit Less More
4
&
5
A Bit Less
A Bit Less Still
Even More Less
6
A Bit Less More
Even More Less
Unlikely

As you can see with this table, we have very heavily favoured the top left corner compared to the bottom right corner, with a fairly even-ish shrinking distribution of probability as you transition between the two.

This one could perhaps be good for an area where one faction is dominant, so you can have some encounters that are quite likely, and some that approach very rare indeed, to encourage further engagement with the faction.

1,2345,6

The Big Boi and their Many Tiny Siblings

1
2 & 3 & 4 & 5
6
1
Not Very
Sort Of
Not Very
2,
3,
4,
&
5
Sort of
Very
Sort of
6
Not Very
Sort Of
Not Very

This one is something of a variant of 1,23,45,6, in that we have one HUGE space in the middle, instead of four, and even more extreme differences between the edge spaces and the corner spaces. I’m not even sure what you could use it for, since the centre space would be so dominant, but I’m sure there’s a use for it somewhere.

1,2,34,5,6

Many Tiny Little Ones and a Few Less Tiny Ones

1
2
Three & Four
5
6
1
Less
Less
Some
Less
Less
2
Less
Less
Some
Less
Less
3
&
4
Some
Some
More
Some
Some
5
Less
Less
Some
Less
Less
6
Less
Less
Some
Less
Less

And now, the sort of inversion of 1,2345,6. Lots of unlikely results, and a few results that are more likely, and one that is a bit more likely still. This would suit a more diverse kind of area, while still retaining some sort of bias towards a few results.

A Truly Bizarre Table


D6xD6



HELP HELP HELP HELP HELP HELP HELP HELP HELP HELP
Result
Chance of
Percentage Chance
Resultant Rolls
1
1/36
~3%
11
2
2/36
~5.5%
12, 21
3
2/36
~5.5%
13, 31
4
3/36
~8%
14, 22, 41
5
2/36
~5.5%
15, 51
6
4/36
~11%
16, 23, 32, 61
8
2/36
~5.5%
24, 42
9
1/36
~3%
33
10
2/36
~5.5%
25, 52
12
4/36
~11%
26, 34, 43, 62
15
2/36
~5.5%
35, 53
18
2/36
~5.5%
36, 63
20
2/36
~5.5%
45, 54
24
2/36
~5.5%
46, 64
25
1/36
~3%
55
30
2/36
~5.5%
56, 65
36
1/36
~3%
66

This one is so hard it needs its own supplementary table.

Chance of Appearing
Number of Such Appearing
1/36
4
2/36
10
3/26
1
4/36
2

Ppphhhhffffpppp where to even start with this one.

Its cool? It has some weird, really weird distributions that kind of really defy expectation to be honest. No one result is going to be really, really high off the charts either direction, and at 17 different results, there’s a lot you could put on there without it being overwhelming.

But at the same time, since it's so hard to wrap your head around, I suggest you ignore it for the reasons I’ll get to below.

And Now, A Simple, But Effective Table Effectiviser Tool


D6&D6

Simple, But Effective with the Info-Packing
1
Main Encounter
1
Encounter Modifier
2
Main Encounter
2
Encounter Modifier
3
Main Encounter
3
Encounter Modifier
4
Main Encounter
4
Encounter Modifier
5
Main Encounter
5
Encounter Modifier
6
Main Encounter
6
Encounter Modifier

And indeed, one could add considerably more columns, assuming one could remember which die is assigned to which column… colour coding could help.

This one is less a table on its own and more of an add on force multiplier. You can attach additional results to any of the above tables to help nest more information into a single roll. Of course, the more information you have, the better, to a point presumably. There’s only so much information a human brain can hold in active use at any time, and you can only process new information so quickly.

But the key use here would be to add another column or maybe two to each roll you make, to provide some useful information, such as Best Left Buried’s Monster Moods (or indeed, Troika!’s miens), or the terrain of the fight, how far away the encounter is, tactical considerations, all sorts.

Consider


What are Random Encounter Tables for?


First you should ask yourself:

What am I actually doing here? Is this useful? Is it worth the brain effort and page space?

I hope that usually the answer is yes but let’s look at why. Much has been said on the purpose of encounter tables, such as;
  • Constant resource drain throughout the dungeon to limit exploration
  • Constant threat to keep players on their toes
  • Represent the overall populace of the dungeon
  • Reinforce storytelling
  • Generally keep the Players on their Toes
  • Keep the DM on their Toes
  • To help present parts/themes/moods in the world or environment (thanks to Ahistorian from the OSR discord for this one!)
Worthwhile pursuits one and all, but a curious dichotomy emerges for me at least, the tension between the desire for randomness (and thus unpredictability) and careful design (to reinforce themes of the dungeon).

What is the use of Randomness?


One of the most common tenets of Old School Play that I’ve seen, and one of the core enjoyments is the desire for procedural and emergent storytelling, the stuff that might be anticipated in part, but never planned for in its entirety. Randomness thus serves us well in this regard, you’re never sure what’s going to come up next.

But this can only go so far. One of my favourite results from old DnD random encounter tables is Bandits, no. appearing: 30 to 300 (!). This is clearly the seed of a cool random encounter, but to see it pop up too often, or in places that don’t make sense, are either the catalysts for truly special moments, or for the breaking of the communal kayfabe.

Thus, to minimise the prospect of the truly outrageous, we have already partly answered

What is the use of Design?


As we have just said, a truly random random encounter table would at the very least, not be a benefit to play. There must be some form of design to the tables we use. This is partly what my breakdown of types of random table is for; by looking at things like probability distribution we can add some for of modulation for results. Maybe D6 patrolling bandits is sort of likely, a 3D6 patrol of bandits, and the 30-300 horde quite unlikely. There we go, somewhat fixed and a nice start to a random encounter table!

But then, overdesign would work counter to what we have said the benefits of randomness are to an extent right? So what are we really working towards with this middle of the road design?
Put them together and what do we get? 

Verisimilitude


I posit thusly, that we don’t really want randomness, we want the unexpected.
We don’t really want design (as such), we want believability.

In short, verisimilitude.
(Note, that in this case, I think verisimilitude is quite different to realistic.)

We want to be able to come across true curve-balls, as life is oft want to pass around, but we also want some sort of restrictions on them so that they conform to the ideas we have of each area. We want things to have the appearance of realism whilst still being able to hand out interesting and overall gameable encounters.

Thus, I provide this sort-of comprehensive list of general ways to organise your tables to offer your random encounter rolls some verisimilitude through design of randomness.
And all in a way that you don’t have to think too hard about it!

Key Take Aways/Final Thoughts


  • Only actually put in as much effort as you need to in a table, no point giving a D100 table to a 6 room dungeon.
  • Put in enough effort, a D6 table is going to get boring in a large overworld area the party crosses often.
  • Consider the shape of your table - it can be easier to visualise probabilities rather than strictly by numbers.
  • Consider different distributions of results to include rare/more common results on the same table for reduced notes-space.
  • Consider nesting a few table columns together into a single table: push comes to shove you can always read across the table rather than roll for each one!
  • Aim for Verisimilitude: realism can be boring and true randomness overwhelming.

Further Reading

Quite an interesting way to further modulate random results by party level:


The oft-quoth classic; the Overloaded Encounter Die:


An interesting variation of the Overloaded Encounter Die:


“What if it isn’t an uncertainty of the occurrence of encounters, but a dread, ever-ticking certainty!?”

A bit of my inspiration for the “why” reasons of the way we do random encounters:


Further reasonings for the nesting of information in encounter rolls:

If you think there are other tables or links about table design that could do well in this, let me know below!

3 comments:

  1. Luka pointed out on the OSR Discord this wonderful blog post which, to be honest, would require a post all of its own to talk about! It uses hexagons to essentially create D6 tables with a form of memory, check it out!
    https://goblinshenchman.wordpress.com/hex-power-flower/

    ReplyDelete
  2. I use a six row table ordered from common encounter to rare encounter, then take the lower die of a 2d6 roll.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I really enjoyed reading this post, I always appreciate topics like this being discussed to us. Information very nice. I will follow post Thanks for sharing.
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