IntroductionRoll 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
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
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.
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
Honestly I wouldn’t use this one as it is unless for some reason you really have to have nine results on your table.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
What are Random Encounter Tables for?
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!)
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?
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?
We don’t really want design (as such), we want believability.
In short, verisimilitude.
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 ReadingQuite 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!?”
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!