Spicing Up Encounter Tables

There are several things that can be done to make encounter tables both easier and more exciting to use. Some of these are strictly for the convenience of the DM, making the job of running the game easier. Others are different ways to pose exciting challenges for players, keeping everyone from being bored.

The first trick is to include basic monster statistics along with each entry on an encounter table. While this means taking a little longer to set up an encounter table, it also means the DM doesn't have to stop and look up information as often in the middle of the game. A shorthand notation similar to the one given below can be used.

Creature—APP #, AT #, THACO #, D #, AC #, HD #, MV #, special notes on attacks and defenses.

APP lists the number of creatures likely to appear. This is given as a die range.

AT is the number of attacks the creature can make.

THAC0 is the combat value of the creature (see Chapter 9 : Combat).

D is the damage caused by a successful hit; more than one entry may be needed here.

AC is the creature's Armor Class.

HD tells how many Hit Dice the creature has; hit points aren't given since this should vary from encounter to encounter.

MV is the creature's movement rate.

Special notes should remind the DM of any special abilities, magical items, or defenses the creature might possess.

For DMs willing to devote more time to advance preparation, another good trick is to slowly build a collection of file cards describing special encounters. Each card could have a more detailed description of a person, creature, group, or thing on it.

Once the DM has this collection, "Special Encounter" entries can be added to random encounter tables. When a special encounter occurs, the DM chooses a card from his collection and uses the detailed information there to role-play the encounter. Some possible special encounters include:

The den or lair of a creature, complete with a small map, short key, tactics, and special treasure. (For example, "The nest of a female wyvern and her brood located in an aerie on the side of a cliff. Woven into the nest are two suits of chain mail +1.")

A detailed description of an NPC, including weapons, magical items, spells (if any), goods, physical appearance, attitudes, companions, and perhaps even a mission or story. (For example, "The friar seeking companionship along a lonely trail who is really a bandit leading the party into a trap.")

A cunning trap describing detailed workings and effects. (For example, "A kobold deadfall meant to gather fresh meat rigged in an old mine corridor.")

A vignette complete with characters, actions, and motives. (For example, "A near riot breaks out on a city street after a band of Voorish outlanders, squabbling with a merchant, overturn his melon cart.")

The great advantage of these special encounters is that there is no requirement to use them at any given time. The DM can prepare such cards in his spare time and produce them whenever he needs them. Players will become convinced that the DM is a genius, and his game will never be dull.

Random encounters need not be limited to NPCs and monsters. All manner of things can be included, dangerous or just mysterious. Other possibilities for encounter tables include:

Shrieks in the distance


Changes in the weather

Rustling of nearby bushes

Lights in the distance

Celestial wonders

Sudden gusts of wind

The clatter of a rock falling from the ceiling

All of these help build atmosphere. Furthermore, if these are cleverly mixed with real encounters that begin in similar ways, players become attentive and involved. Exploring a dark, dank cave where hideous beasts may live, with only a guttering torch, should be a nervous and scary event. Adding "fake'' random encounters will give players some idea of the uncertainty their characters experience. If nothing else, this kind of encounter will give players some respect for the risks their imaginary characters are taking!

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