Creating Random Encounter Tables for OSE

 In a previous post I described how I created a campaign hex map for my Old-School Essentials campaigns (you can find it here). In this post I will explain how I created my random encounter tables for overland travel in that campaign setting.

As explained in that previous post, I divided the map into different zones (as seen on my Referee's map above).These zones represent an increase in danger and wildness of a given hex, irrespective of the given terrain type. A quick glance at the map and you can tell that the zones change the further you move from settlements. The zone dictates what I populate the random encounter table with and the frequency with which I check for encounters. I also keyed the zones with the "max HD" number for creatures encountered. The theory here being that the further you move away from settlements, the more powerful the monsters become (they don't like the danger presented by civilization as it were). I do not handhold my players. I will let them know (in some fashion) that a given area is more dangerous, but if a low-level party decides to wander into a high threat-level hex then may the gods protect them.

  • Zone A (green), max 1 HD, 1 in 6 chance, check 1x per day
  • Zone B (orange), max 2 HD, 2 in 6 chance, check 2x per day
  • Zone C (orange shaded), max 4 HD, 3 in 6 chance, check 2x per day
  • Zone D (red), max 6 HD, 3 in 6 chance, check 3x per day
  • Zone E (purple), 6+ HD, 3 in 6 chance, check 4x per day
I prefer to use a 2d6 encounter table, but I have used 3d6 as well. Really any multiples of a dice type work well, since you want to create a bell-curve in order to simulate encounter frequency rates. I will then place the the most unlikely and/or dangerous encounters on the extreme ends of the bell-curve and work my way inwards towards the high percentage rolls. On a 2d6 table, these high percentage rolls fall on 6-8, with 4-5 & 9-10 following them. I also like d100 tables (shout-out to AD&D), but these take more time to create.

Now let's take a closer look at the tables for Zone B (orange). There are only three terrain types located in Zone B hexes: plains, forest, and hills. Therefore, I only need to create three tables. 

2 - Goblins
3 - Deer
4 - Nomads
5 - Giant Rats
6 - Giant Fire Beetle
7 - Brigands
8 - Hunters
9 - Hobgoblins
10 - Giant Centipede
11 - Halflings
12 - Orcs

2 - Wood Elves
3 - Dryad
4 - Elves
5 - Bear (black)
6 - Brownie
7 - Foresters
8 - Deer
9 - Gnomes
10 - Boar
11 - Pixie
12 - Insect Swarm

2 - Svirfneblin
3 - Pseudo-Dragon
4 - Gnolls
5 - Miners
6 - Bandits
7 - Deer
8 - Dwarves
9 - Giant Centipede
10 - Orcs
11- Goblins
12 - Duergar

The key to a good random encounter table is to make it fit in your world. You can see that there is some overlap of encounters between terrain types. This is of course very intentional. Giant centipedes can be encountered in both plains and hills. Orcs are more likely to be encountered in the hills, where they can hide and launch raids from than in the open grasslands of the plains. The svirfneblin and duergar could be encountered in the hills, since there are caverns leading into the "world below". But the chances are rare.

I have also placed some wildlife encounters (deer, boar, bear). These can become dangerous (in the case of the bear and boar) and or act as a moment the PCs could hunt for additional food rations. There are also numerous "social" encounters (e.g. miners) on my tables. How these play out depend on the nature of the encounter, what the PCs are doing in the hex, and how the players choose to act. I can't stress enough the importance to use the encounter reaction table. If the PCs interact verbally with the encountered (intelligent) creature then adjust the roll with the appropriate Charisma modifier. If it's just a chance/surprise encounter then roll without that modifier, but you the Referee can still adjust the roll depending on the situation. And if there is no encounter on a given day, then so be it. The PCs deserve a day off too.

Now you can take these tables one step further and create them for daytime vs nighttime, as well as by season. I didn't do that for the campaign I'm using as an example, but I have created those. It adds another level of world simulation, but also extra paperwork to keep organized.

I hope this article gives you a bit of insight into creating and using random encounter tables. Using a d6 method (1d6 for chance determination and 2d6 for encounter determination) is quick and simple. Just make sure that the tables fit your campaign world theme and lean into the rolls. Let random encounters serve as inspiration, setting flavor, and unexpected turns. I absolutely love random encounter tables and use them in any RPG I can, but I find them an absolute necessity in an Old-School Essentials (or any old-school D&D) campaign. 


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