Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Random Encounter Table Formats

Working on TSR-East (or maybe just TSR? No need to spam everyone with yet another pseudo-European clone of Ye Olde Game with mostly cosmetic changes, is there?) and I'm at the wilderness random encounter chart page.

Yes, I could skip it and return to it later. But I kinda enjoy the tedious and repetitive work of flipping through the monster section over and over, trying to find the best creatures for each terrain type!

Anyway, I started out copying the style of Cook/Marsh-Mentzer, with a general type of creature roll followed by rolling for the exact creature on a subtable. But I noticed something I hadn't before. Several of the terrain types have the exact same assortment of creature types, just in different order. Of course, several of the subtypes (men, humanoids, animals, and partially insects) each have different subtables by terrain type.

I also used this for Chanbara, adding in a few innovations (like seasonal animal encounters, and expanding the "settled" encounters for more variety of type of settlement.

But in the DMR2 Creature Catalog, there are big d% tables for each terrain/climate type, with just one roll per encounter needed to determine what it is. This is also kind of nice, and maybe less cluttered on the page, but harder to find the specific table you're looking for, perhaps.

I also checked the 1E DMG, but big sprawling tables with all monsters, and different percentages by terrain type isn't what I'm wanting here. Mentzer's version has them all on 1.5 pages (more or less), and in Chanbara I fit it all on a single page.

While I don't necessarily need to compact things as much as humanly possible for this game, I don't want to waste space, either. My character facing document is around 32 pages, the monster/treasure doc is around 60 with a few more things to add (sample artifacts, notes, a table of contents or index to find monsters easily). If I could keep the GM book to 32 (currently the wandering monster tables will start on p.13 so very possible) I'd be happy. Yes, the old printer's need to go in packets of 16 pages is no longer a concern with POD, but I kinda like the constraint. I think Chanbara is a better game because I limited what would go in it to what I could fit in 64 pages.

I'm leaning toward the BX/BECMI method of a subtype table for each terrain type, followed by more specific tables. Since I have every monster tagged with descriptors (for weapons +1, +3 vs X or certain spells/magic items), It won't be hard to fill in most subgroup categories.

But there are a few (like Shapeshifter) that don't really have that many entries. I could could leave them off, or lump them together. Mentzer (and I assume Cook/Marsh before him) includes an "Unusual" category. But do all of them belong in certain terrain types? Doing charts like in the Creature Catalog, where all the forest creatures for example are on one table, has its advantages. It also makes it easier to have charts for subtropical, temperate, and subarctic forests, or the deciduous/evergreen split. If I want to make many more charts, that is.

So, instead of deciding on one and working on it this evening, I'm asking you instead. What do you prefer in a wilderness random encounter chart?


  1. Random encounter charts are fun to run into as a player. As a dungeon master I have never considered them. Although there might be a chance or not of encountering someone or something, I have usually decided beforehand who or what it is.

    1. When I ran the original Ravenloft for my old group in Japan, I made a timeline and rolled the random encounters ahead of time. It allowed me to save some time at the table, but also gave me the opportunity to foreshadow certain encounters (although I never knew where the encounters would take place, certain creatures "are coming" warnings are fun!).