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    Creating Encounter Tables
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    Journeyman Greytalker

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    Sat Jul 14, 2018 6:29 pm  
    Creating Encounter Tables

    I'm going to be creating some encounter tables for the Eryptian desert soon, and after that an encounter tables for my Shadow Faerie land planarly-adjacent to Sterich, and a very pedantic little question began to consume me:

    On an utterly generic wilderness encounter table, what should the average proportions be of the following items?

    • monster encounter
    • hazard encounter (e.g. quicksand, mirage)
    • ordinary travelers
    • adventurers
    • interesting site, probably non-dangerous (e.g. rock pillar, waterfall)
    • amusing incident (e.g. a toad gets into somebody's backpack)

    Yeah yeah, I know someone is going to say, Whatever you want them to be! You're the DM! It's your world! You can do whatever you want!

    What I'm thinking of here is the admonition from the 1e DMG of 25% of wilderness encounters involve patrols. I love having that as a guide, so the party encounters representatives of local power and that becomes real.

    What I don't have are good %s for the other things, and without them I usually forget to include them on my encounter tables and default to just monsters, monsters, monsters, day after day.

    Does anyone have any thought on creating good balanced encounter tables?
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    Sat Jul 14, 2018 8:50 pm  

    edmundscott,

    I find it interesting that you include geography (interesting sites) on your list. That to me adds to the burden of DMing as your players may want to refer back to that site, and use it as a long-term landmark. How do you accommodate that? I am working on a programming project with the original encounter tables for Greyhawk, combining them with the standard environment tables in the Monstrous Compendium. Base on the gold box, up to 80% of encounters in some realms are some form of military force, the remainder defaulting to the standard encounter tables.

    I might have only one hazard for the environment on the table, with say a 5% chance of occurring. Wildlife, to include monsters make up the majority of the table, though I also compare encounter time to activity cycle... a mismatch means that either nothing occurs, or the creature is at rest in a nearby lair that the players may or may not stumble upon. As far as other travelers, that is really up to the environment... are their people moving about in the area, and what would they be? Nomads, merchants, vagrants? Adventurers are much the same, but should be pregenerated with an objective (i.e. they are not merely wandering around, but are looking for dungeon # 102 or some such).
    GreySage

    Joined: Sep 09, 2009
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    Mon Jul 16, 2018 7:50 am  

    Greetings, I also try to add a spin of 'realism' to my encounter tables, too. It's the scientist in me. Wink

    Keep in mind that seasons have a major influence on the probability of an encounter. There will be more critters moving around in milder seasons (spring, for instance) than winter. If you are so inclined, you could have the chance of encounter more possible at night, dawn, and dusk than the height, and heat, of day. The type of terrain might also factor as well. Forests are more rich in diversity than plains and mountains, for instance.

    Furthermore, there should be a greater probability of prey species to large predators in your average ecosystem (unless they are cold-blooded, b/c they don't need as much energy to stay alive in comparison by maintaining constant body temperature). It takes so many prey critters to feed an apex predator, which is why you see more zebras, wildebeests and gazelles in the savanna than you do hyenas, lions, and wild dogs. Limit your number of BIG predators in an area, unless they can range far and wide (especially if they can fly, like griffons, hippogriffs, etc.).

    I also like to add what I call 'spoor' encounters. If I just barely miss the encounter roll (say by a factor of 1 or 2), I still roll the encounter up but make it the footprints, bedding area (lair, campsite), scratch mark, left over meal (or excrement!), etc. of the encounter than the actual creature itself, just to add some tension, curiosity, or realism to the wilderness excursion. Sometimes you don't actually meet the bear, but rather the traces of its passing.

    Just my two coppers. Biology lesson over.

    -Lanthorn
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    Tue Jul 17, 2018 5:12 pm  

    Tarelton & Lanthorn, thanks for reminding me about activity cycle (helpfully included in 2e Monstrous Compendiums) & season. Also I should've included "spoor" in my list of desirable elements above--a good catch, Lanthorn.

    Tarelton, I include interesting sites in the spirit of the 1e DMG (p182) which gives (in an uncivilized, wilderness area) a 1/20 chance of any encounter being with a fortress. (This is right below the entry that states civilized areas have a 1/4 chance of any encounter actually being with a patrol.)

    I should probably be more clear what my purposes are for these tables. I certainly wouldn't allow a castle to be randomly generated, for instance, on the road between Hommlet and Nulb: That area is mapped, defined, well-known.

    I want a way to generate a wilderness akin to what I suspect was the way wilderness was happened way back in 0e days, where the DM is rolling up a totally undefined area as the PCs explore it and then noting where significant encounters are located in case those areas are returned to (e.g. fortresses, monster lairs, landmarks, etc.) This was the whole reason behind the inclusion in 1e MM of % in lair--you just encountered some trolls, are they wandering around or at home?

    To the best of my knowledge, nobody has really developed a detailed gazetteer or smaller scale map for Erypt/Khemit and I don't really have the time or inclination to create the entire thing before the PCs start wandering around. So I'd like to generate it as they go, old-school style.

    My other motivation for trying to get these percentages right is the massive number of interesting random tables I've collected over the years from various D&D & OSR products, stuff like "What you find along the road" or "Strange travelers" or pretty much any day's random table over at Elfmaids & Octopi. I'd love to have an excuse to use all these, and this seems like as good a time as any.
    Journeyman Greytalker

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    Tue Jul 17, 2018 5:53 pm  

    Anyway, here are some percentages for these various things for a generic civilized situation and a generic wilderness situation (where the DM doesn't have the area mapped or keyed). I'm not really attached to these proportions but am more just putting something out there to get started.

    I'd be really interested to hear anyone's feedback on how they'd tweak these if using something like this in their own campaign.

    Roll for encounters by terrain. If an encounter is indicated, roll on the appropriate table below.

    CIVILIZED (d%)
    01-03 Single Dwelling
    04-09 Settlement
    10 Geographical Feature
    11 Interesting Site
    12-14 Castle
    15-16 Ruins
    17-21 Hazard
    22-26 Incident
    27-50 Monster (if rolled monster's activity cycle incompatible, then monster's Spoor encountered instead)
    51-75 Patrol
    76-88 Livestock
    89-00 Travelers

    WILDERNESS (d%)
    01-16 d4: 1-2 Geographical Feature 3-4 Interesting Site
    01-08 Geographical Feature
    09-16 Interesting Site
    17-19 Fortress
    20-21 Settlement
    22-26 Hazard
    27-31 Incident
    32-77 Prey Animals
    78-00 Monster Encounter (if rolled monster's activity cycle incompatible, then monster's Spoor encountered instead)

    My biggest hesitation about the tables above are the inclusion of livestock & prey animals. For livestock, this is the kind of thing maybe doesn't need to be on an encounter table at all, assuming in a civilized area PCs are passing herds of cows, etc. How often can you actually make an encounter out of this?

    Prey animals are a realistic addition to the Wilderness table but maybe unnecessary and taken care of as part of hunting/foraging on the part of rangers and druids. Do I really want 40% of encounters to be some deer? Maybe interesting encounters with prey animals can be subsumed under Incidents.

    All thoughts welcome on this admittedly pedantic topic.
    CF Admin

    Joined: Jun 29, 2001
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    From: Wichita, KS, USA

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    Tue Jul 24, 2018 8:30 pm  

    edmundscott wrote:
    I'm going to be creating some encounter tables for the Eryptian desert soon, and after that an encounter tables for my Shadow Faerie land planarly-adjacent to Sterich,


    My fascination with shadowy creatures, spells, and magics knows no bounds, so do please point me to your writing on the Shadow Faerie when you get a chance, JC!

    edmundscott wrote:
    On an utterly generic wilderness encounter table, what should the average proportions be of the following items?

    • monster encounter
    • hazard encounter (e.g. quicksand, mirage)
    • ordinary travelers
    • adventurers
    • interesting site, probably non-dangerous (e.g. rock pillar, waterfall)
    • amusing incident (e.g. a toad gets into somebody's backpack)


    In a dungeon, I usually divide up encounters in the following types (more at https://grodog.blogspot.com/2017/05/dungeon-strangitude-variations-on.html if you're curious):

    grodog in Knockspell #2 wrote:
    • Nothing: literally nothing to see here—search for secret doors and move along; I try to insure that that a number of seemingly-empty rooms are, in fact, empty, to help dungeon dressing stand out further
    • Dungeon dressing: spot color to maintain the game’s flow, provide distraction, and avoid player boredom; some dressing will be simple spot color, while some will be “special” dungeon dressing---dressing with inspirational potential that could build into a something of significance, and perhaps even a true encounter, depending upon the players’ actions in response (i.e., when I'm winging it); in general, dungeon dressing should also highlight the unique aspects of a level in the small, details that make A1 differ from A4 (I dislike the term “special” so if you think of a better adjective, please let me know!)
    • Encounters: the usual mix of monsters, treasures, traps, hazards, riddles, puzzles, tricks, enigmas, and other dungeon features that wreak havoc upon PCs
    • Centerpiece encounters: the unique and distinctive encounters that resonate with players across the years of a campaign, like the Black Reservoir and Great Stone Face of Castle Greyhawk, and the Unopenable Doors and Terrible Iron Golem of Maure Castle


    I bring these up because in my mind some of what you're talking about including are incidental encounters (non-combat roleplaying encounters if the PCs or NPCs engage in witty repartee, etc.) as well as wilderness-based dungeon dressing (the weather, spoor, prey animals, etc.) alongside and integrated with standard encounters (which could include not just monsters but hazards, tricks, traps, weird/magical weather or other odd phenomena, Faerie rings, etc., etc.). I've used this approach in some of my dungeon level keys and WM tables, but not with any super regularity.

    edmundscott wrote:
    What I don't have are good %s for the other things, and without them I usually forget to include them on my encounter tables and default to just monsters, monsters, monsters, day after day.

    Does anyone have any thought on creating good balanced encounter tables?


    To quote Han Solo, that's the trick, of course :D I like the advice at the back of the MM2 for building encounter tables, and it's a useful guide for thinking through non-1dX-based tables in terms of probability spreads (see pages 137-138) . Dave Axler's weather tables for the World of Greyhawk in Dragon #68 (and included in the 1983 boxed set) also offered a 1% chance per form of precipitation that it would be a Special Phenomena (earthquake, volcano, quicksand, windstorm, etc., with a further 10% chance that it would be caused by elementals, giants, NPCs, demons/et al, warring gods, etc.). That 1% chance is far too small for my taste, so I'd definitely bump that up somehow.

    In theory, I'm inclined toward using the MM monster frequency results to help shape such tables, but I'm less likely to follow-through on the math religiously:

    - Common encounters: 65%
    - Uncommon: 20%
    - Rare: 11%
    - Very Rare: 4%
    - Unique: special/thrown in/DM fiat/whatever

    (The MM2 tables do this as well, but I've not checked their math, which looks skewed a bit more toward Rare/Very Rare encounters than perhaps it should be, at least at first glance).

    You might also look at the old Cities book from Midkemia Press (or in the Thieves World boxed set from Chaosium---same content, slightly tweaked for Sanctuary). It's random encounters system incorporated non-traditional encounter types IIRC.

    And FWIW, here's a sample from my unpublished Black Reservoir WM tables (context stripped for brevity; if you want to see the entire blurb, you can do so over in the Knights & Knaves Megadungeons! forum @ http://knights-n-knaves.com/phpbb3/viewtopic.php?p=160465#p160465):

    3d6 Roll = Encounter/Monster
    ====================
    1 = Rogue Wave (1-4)/Buried Treasure (5-6)
    2 = Giant Crayfish
    3 = Trapper
    4 = Black Pudding (1-4)/Grey Ooze (5-6)
    5 = Eels (1-3)/Jelly Fish (4-6)
    6 = Sandbars/Shoals/Reef
    7 = Piercers
    8 = Fish (1-4)/Flying Fish (5-6)
    9 = Giant Crabs
    10 = Bats (1-2)/Stirges (3-5)/Pterandons (6)
    11 = Giant Crabs - Albino
    12 = Giant Gar
    13 = Giant Water Spider
    14 = Floating Eye (and re-roll with +2)
    15 = Masher
    16 = Water Weird
    17 = Pteranadons
    18 = Sea Snake
    19 = Black Pudding (1-3)/Grey Ooze (4-6)
    20 = Rogue Wave
    21 = Sea Hag
    22 = Message in a Bottle (1-4)/Submarine (5-6

    4d6 Roll = Encounter/Monster
    ====================
    4 = Whirlpool
    5 = Bats (1-2)/Stirges (4-6)
    6 = Pteranadons
    7 = Black Pudding/Grey Ooze
    8 = Piercers
    9 = Giant Crayfish
    10 = Giant Water Spider
    11 = The Black Sorcerer on his skiff
    12 = Lacedons and Tsagadons (my name for aquatic ghasts)
    13 = Giant Pike
    14 = Pteranadons/Piercers
    15 = Ghost
    16 = Wraiths
    17 = Sea Maw
    18 = Water Weird (1-2= std/3-6 = big @ 6+6 HD attack as 12 HD)
    19 = Sea Snake (1-2 std/3-6 Amphisbaena)
    20 = Sea Hag (1-2)/Sea Maw (3-6)
    21 = Dinichtys
    22 = Giant Snapping Turtle
    23 = Reef 1-4/Wreck 5-6
    24 = Dragon Turtle 1-2/Plesiosaurus 3-6
    25 = Sea Hydra 1-4/Lankhmar German guy with Sea Monster 5-6
    26 = Sea Hydra/Plesiosaur
    27 = Mottled Worm/Whirlpool
    28 = Special 1-4/Whirlpool 5-6

    edmundscott wrote:
    My other motivation for trying to get these percentages right is the massive number of interesting random tables I've collected over the years from various D&D & OSR products, stuff like "What you find along the road" or "Strange travelers" or pretty much any day's random table over at Elfmaids & Octopi. I'd love to have an excuse to use all these, and this seems like as good a time as any.


    That's a good idea, too. I've long loved Jason Sholtis' Dungeon Dozen blog (d12 based tables) @ http://roll1d12.blogspot.com/ and there were a lot of random tables published in Knockspell and Fight On! too.

    edmundscott wrote:
    Anyway, here are some percentages for these various things for a generic civilized situation and a generic wilderness situation (where the DM doesn't have the area mapped or keyed). I'm not really attached to these proportions but am more just putting something out there to get started.

    I'd be really interested to hear anyone's feedback on how they'd tweak these if using something like this in their own campaign.


    I think they look like a good baseline approach. I would still want to consider the rarity of monster/other encounter type for each result, but perhaps that's all driven from the appropriate sub-tables?

    Aside: some random encounters require quite a bit more prep work than others---monsters with spell-casting abilities like titans, couatl, liches; classed NPCs; large groups with varied strengths of creatures like humanoid tribes, pilgrims, bandits, etc.---and would be worth leveraging from published sources like Rogues Gallery or designing ahead of time.

    Allan.
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    Allan Grohe (grodog@gmail.com)
    http://www.greyhawkonline.com/grodog/greyhawk.html
    Adept Greytalker

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    Wed Jul 25, 2018 10:34 am  
    Fantasy Egypt

    It seems to me that you might want to research "Gary Gygax's Necropolis (D20)."
    Adept Greytalker

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    Wed Jul 25, 2018 10:47 am  
    HWR2

    Or you might be interested in the Kingdom of Nithia module.

    A map with encounter areas for that fantastical version of Egypt is available at:

    https://mystara.thorfmaps.com/hw-southern-iciria-40/

    But you'd have to crop that map to fit Oerth's Erypt coastline.
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    Fri Jul 27, 2018 9:51 am  

    Grodog, I love those weather tables, and I've been using the online generator for years in my games, compiling a year's worth of weather for a particular terrain at a time and then just cross-referencing as needed.

    Also loved the shout-out to the non-pareil Cities supplement from Midkemia. I think I own the Thieves World box set too, but I didn't remember the encounter tables therein being related to the Midkemia ones (which I still use whenever PCs run into trouble in a settlement).

    Using the % breakdown from AD&D is a great idea, because (at least in wilderness) then I can assign monsters the common category, and stick hazards, etc. as more infrequent encounters. Having used my tables above for the last couple weeks since I posted them, I think there's way too much chance for boring stuff like prey animals to be met. What I'm doing in my current game is whenever something uninteresting is generated I add a monster on top of it, so, for instance, prey animals, but being pursued by sand hunters or a sphinx.

    It's possible this is just a failure of my own creativity to make a mundane prey animal encounter interesting all on its own.

    I really need to revise my %s, though, as I'm unwilling to give up all my random tables. The Dungeon Dozen one are great, as are Elfmaids and Octopi, or the stuff in the back of Joseph Bloch's gamemaster guide.

    Raymond, I'm actually basing my Erypt/Khemit on a combination of stuff from this board, an article Erik Mona wrote in the 90's (in Oerth Journal, I think), both versions of Gygax's Necropolis, Joseph Bloch's Beyond the Flanaess maps, with chunks of content from Kobold Press' Southlands book. I've never seen or had anyone recommend the Kingdom of Nithia supplement before: What kind of stuff does it have? Is it worth tracking down?

    Oh, and Grodog, in your link, I loved how you modified the 3d6 encounter roll by depth in the Black Reservoir. That's great. I'd also forgotten about the old d8+d12 method from MM2, the probabilities of which I could never keep straight in my head, which is why I defaulted to good old % dice.
    Adept Greytalker

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    Thu Aug 02, 2018 3:53 pm  
    Nithia

    HWR2 is a Hollow World module so as written the encounter is located inside the world of Mystara. One of the civilizations there is Nithia and is based on Egypt. But Nithia is on a continent where the life-giving river feeds into a lake instead of a sea.

    I haven't used it. I see one review gives it 5/10 rating:

    https://index.rpg.net/display-entry.phtml?mainid=5361

    Since I thought you were looking for something that might help you place which hexes have encounters, I think you could use this. I'm looking through a copy and it doesn't have a wandering monster table. It has a lot of fluff. The crunchy parts include a map of a palace, a map of a pyramid, map of area surrounding pyramid, Cultural Melee Weapons Chart, Cultural Missile & Hurled Weapons, Arrows, Heat Exhaustion Triggers, Heat Exhaustion Effects, and map of the Kingdom of Nithia.
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