On Reader Mail, Encounters

"I'm running a west marches style old school game. It's a hex crawl, and I've been trying to make a dynamic distribution of encounters that are highly dangerous, and encounters that are more matched to the players level (they tell me where they want to explore that week and I detail the area for them). 
I find myself creating one random monster & encounter table after another, and as I've done so I've been thinking a lot about how to determine what dangerous encounters should go where and how likely they are to be rolled from my tables when I'm designing (meaning encounters I'm creating for the adventure before the game).
So far I use about 60-70% matched and 40-30% that are much more dangerous. So far it has worked quite well.
So, my question: How do you go about monster generation for your worlds? Do you randomly generate your creatures/encounters with tables? Is there an equation you've made and follow? I'm interested to know what you think."

This is an ever evolving process.

If you wish an area to be thematic, reduce the total number of encounters. They total numbers of encounters are infrequent, and if you want them to be thematic, there must be few of them.

I highly suggest a 2d3 or 2d4 bell curve.

Use something like this and automatic contact with random encounters to give the flavor of an overland.

Encounters don't have to be with monsters, they can be events and things.

Encounters don't have to be hostile. I almost always preconstruct 'narratives' to my encounters. ("What's this? Has Hack & Slash lost his marbles?") Ha! No I haven't. What I mean is, you don't ever just meet 9 Gnolls. You meet Tark Rogkak who leads 8 Gnolls that are looking for their lost companion. Why is he lost? Well, they were looking for treasure. They found it, and their 'companion' absconded with it. (I wrote a little something to help you generate those types of encounters!)

At this point, the players can kill them like the same random encounter of 9 gnolls. If they don't, well, then, you have something else to go on. I have absolutely no preconceived ideas or goal to how the encounter should play out.

An entry should be reserved for 'wandering monsters' which is different then 'random encounters'. I discuss this point here.

These are the thoughts as I have them about encounter tables.


  1. One thing I do is assign each hex a "level" like it was a dungeon level using the 9 level scale of Monsters & Treasure Assortment. Hexes with towns or patrolled roads are less dangerous than those in the wilderness. When the party kills a major monster or cleans out a lair, the hex's level drops making the hex safer to travel through.

  2. I usually make wilderness encounter tables that are 50% predatory or otherwise bloody-minded creatures that attack on sight, and 50% other types of encounters that may or may not turn violent. Things like storms and earthquakes may also be on the encounter table, depending on the region. I confess I don't give every single mountain lion or band of marauding brigands a backstory. But sometimes I do.


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