Random encounter tables

Typical random encounter table for a location is like this (since these are usually at least partially in Finnish, I am making a fictional one; a short one, to give an example):

2d6 goblins
giant spider
3d6 kobolds
gelatinous cube (area 3)
Trogdor (area 20)
4d6 orcs from Black castle with 2d6 humans as sacrifices to Trogdor
event: room 12 finally collapses
event: the larvae in room 23 cocoon
terrain: dungeon
terrain: hill [since the dungeon is in a hilly region, a monster native to hills might wander in]
location: nearby dungeon
area: Orclands
meta: twice

event: means what it means. Sometimes, if there are several events, I might have a separate table for events, to which I refer from the random encounter table

terrain: Random monster that might be met in that terrain. A sensible person would just use the terrain-specific tables from their favourite retroclone. I instead have a master table which refers to random tables I have collected and to retroclones with random tables and to whatever else I care to put there.

location: another location nearby, or wherefrom something might wander here

area: the larger geographic or cultural area on a map.

meta: twice: I roll twice and both happen at the same time.

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I do not care how long the list is. I just roll some kind of die, maybe d6 or d20 or ask the players to roll any kind of die, apply that entry and move it to the end of the list. If the list is shorter than what I rolled, I start counting again from the beginning. These are stored in a text file, so I can just move entries around and otherwise mess with the table at will. This requires having a laptop.

The system is ergodic, which means that in the long run all the options happen equally often, on average. I do not remember the tables so I do not worry that the first six or however many entries are the only that might happen the next time. The table also gets mixed up as it is used - I might or might not bother doing this by myself, too, so that in the stronghold the frequent encounter with a patrol of 2d6 soldiers will be evenly spaced within the encounter table, rather than all ten instances being at the very beginning.

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If the place is almost empty, the cross-references and rolling twice can be unwieldy. In play I might (if pressed for time) simply ignore the cross-references and move to the next fast-to-use encounter. While restocking, they pay off when residents of different areas occasionally interact.

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Creating the table requires reading through a module in some detail and writing down the residents. This is a good way of processing the module and hence learning it also for play. If I do not have time, I simply use the default encounter table in the module, or grab some relevant-looking generic encounter table and use that.

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Depending on the dungeon, I might or might not keep track of how many creatures of which kind live there. If they are an organized force, keeping track of this is often useful. But if it is a big dungeon with fire beetles in the encounter table, I probably do not bother, unless players take it upon themselves to exterminate or breed them.

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Rumour tables work in a similar way, but are simpler. When adding an adventure to the map, I often process it and extract rumours from the adventure background. This requires adapting the history to the game world and thinking more about it and thus leads to developing the game world further.

After a session I might add some entries to the rumour table. After a big even I might go through the table and clean it up, but I also do this lazily - if a clearly obsolete rumour is rolled, I instead tell an updated version of it and alter the one in the records. Or just remove the obsolete one and see what is the next rumour that is still useful.

Comments

  • I've seen charts that do part of that, but never all in the same chart.

    That strikes me as a lot of different sorts of things all combined.

    Not that this is a bad thing, but not one I'm used to. Normally, I'd be used to seeing creatures, events, and rumors as separate charts.

    I do like he moving of the entries to a less likely position after they've been rolled once, and the idea that eventually every entry should have a fairly good chance of being rolled.
  • The system is ergodic, which means that in the long run all the options happen equally often, on average.
    I've always wanted to make a random encounter (or whatever) table that morphs as play progresses. Like, seed it with 100 options in a general (but not exact) ascending order of power, and once you roll an option it's removed and the next higher one moves down into the table. Or maybe you could have a variable range on the table based on certain in-game conditions; closer to town you roll 1d6, but as you move further away the die size gets bigger.
  • Komradebob, the rumours are a in a different table, but it works in a similar way (arbitrary length, refers to rumour tables of nearby settlements).
  • edited June 10
    Ah, gotcha.

    It did get me thinking about what a Consolidated Random Stuff table would look like, and I'm not at all convinced it would be a bad thing, just a bit messy.
  • An interesting idea, the ability to easily modify an encounter table as the game progresses certainly makes this idea practical. I like the thought that when the table is longer than the dice used to generate the next occurrence that a recycled entry is guaranteed to not show up for a while (and if you have something that the place is teeming with, you can just have a rule than it re-inserts in the middle of the table, or has multiple instances. It also is nicely adaptable to circumstances changing and something new is added to the encounter list. Plus not having to come up with exactly N encounters where N is the size of the die.

    There would be a downside for those used to non-flat encounter tables which use say 1d100 to fine tune the encounter chance or use multiple dice like 2d6 to have different slots with different probability, those intricacies are not easy (something that appears 2 or 3 times on an otherwise flat probability table can still be multiple entries on this kind of table and still reflect the increased chance of encountering. Personally, I suspect those intricate tables really don't impact play that much, plus, if an encounter is too rare, it may never occur even over a long course of play and that may be disappointing. Better to put that encounter at the end of a table longer that the size die you plan on using so that it doesn't immediately occur but is likely to eventually occur.

    I also like that by using a die smaller than the length of the table it makes it much more likely that every encounter will show up (though even on 1d4, it's still possible to have a LONG run where you never roll a 1...).

    Frank
  • That's cool! (I also really want to see a thread on your, uh, work ethic or whatever; how you can do all of this so disciplinedly!)

    I really value that there is a chance that some encounters never ever happen.
  • also

    TROGDOOOOOOR
    BURNINATING THE COUNTRY SIDE
  • Good stuff, these random table techniques resonate with my own tastes.

  • There would be a downside for those used to non-flat encounter tables which use say 1d100 to fine tune the encounter chance or use multiple dice like 2d6 to have different slots with different probability, those intricacies are not easy (something that appears 2 or 3 times on an otherwise flat probability table can still be multiple entries on this kind of table and still reflect the increased chance of encountering. Personally, I suspect those intricate tables really don't impact play that much, plus, if an encounter is too rare, it may never occur even over a long course of play and that may be disappointing. Better to put that encounter at the end of a table longer that the size die you plan on using so that it doesn't immediately occur but is likely to eventually occur.
    Yeah, either add multiple copies, or add a weight that you take into when rolling and when you roll that result split it into two with conservation of weights or some other hackery like that.
    I vary my approach.

    I also really want to see a thread on your, uh, work ethic or whatever; how you can do all of this so disciplinedly!
    My players like urban adventuring and there is a war in one place. They do not go through dungeons that much, so I do not need to be constantly adding new ones. They have done very little hexcrawling ever - maybe one location has been found like that. (Emptied, almost explored, some hobgoblins with a couple of slaves moved, then giant scorpions which killed those are now living there.)

    Also, note the various levels of laziness available: I can just start by using the given encounter table, then copy-paste it into a text document, then add references to terrain and nearby adventures, and then go through the adventure in detail and add rumours about it to nearby settlements and expand the encounter table.

    There are adventures at various stages of the process throughout the map.
  • Hello,

    I don't have much more to add than that's really cool! Nice thinking and nice execution!

    Best,

    Jay
  • I like this approach, too. Having a "master table" which combines all kinds of different input is very economical and can create nice variety in play.

    It occurs to me that - although it may be annoying at first, to set up - this would work really well with a deck of cards (playing cards, index cards, etc). You draw the card on top and then place it at the bottom of the deck. If it shouldn't "reoccur" (e.g. it's a unique monster that was incinerated), you just don't place it back in the deck. If something important changed (the monster lost a leg), you make a note of on the card before placing it back in the deck. It's easy to shuffle in four new "Orc scout" cards when the Orc invasion approaches your lands, and then two more "Orc battalion" cards when they're actually here. And so on.

    We've also had a few really interesting threads before that have dealt with variations on encounter tables:

    http://www.story-games.com/forums/discussion/19252/osr-hexcrawl-sandbox-procedures/p1

    http://www.story-games.com/forums/discussion/20672/d-d-expert-set-dice-shenanigans/p1
  • Cards would be a fairly high maintenance approach, but if the game was focused on a single megadungeon or similar location, then maybe?
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