Table… layers… nothing?

Recently I was thinking my encounter tables seemed kind of dull. Taking some inspiration from this great article series from Justin Alexander, (specifically this part) I decided to add some layers to my encounter tables. This is accomplished pretty simply. By making a handful of themed tables that are rolled on simultaneously, it creates a more complicated set of results that are easy to work with and determine.

For my game I kept my standard encounter table as is, and just added another 2 layers: a table for interesting environmental features and a table for small treasures. By rolling on all three at once, I can create any combination of the three layers and make the result more interesting both because it has more interesting parts and because of interaction between the features. For example, if I roll some monsters and a small gem vein, maybe the monsters are trying to dig up the vein themselves. If I roll a water feature and a treasure maybe the treasure is corroded and lying at the bottom of the water, etc…

Here’s an example for exploring a ruined city area:

To check for an encounter, roll a d10 each of the three tables. On a 1-2 that component is present. on a 3-10 it is not. Then roll on the individual tables as needed.

Roll 2d4Encounter
21d2 dust devils
31d6 worn skeletons with decayed weapons/armor
41d4 small rubble elementals (re-skinned earth elementals)
51d6 Treasure hunter NPCs
61d4 wild dogs
7nest of 1d8 rats and 1d3 dire rats
8 giant hunting spider


Roll 2d4Terrain feature
2precariously balanced pile of rubble
3Sinkhole hazard
4Ruins with vantage point/platform
5Water filled area (depression, fountain, basement etc…)
6Overgrown scrub/grass may be edible variety
7Bit of carving/plaque
8small 5 room basement/lower level


Roll 2d4Treasure
2Map or note
3piece of art or jewelry worth 10-80 gp
4Misc interesting object*
53d10 lbs of bent and rusty metal salvage
6Well preserved piece of gear
71d10 each loose cp, sp, gp, and pp
8Dented lockbox with 3d4 small gems of 10-40 gp value each

So we might get any of the following encounters:

  • Nothing
  • The remains of an old garden. It is overgrown and thorny but a few bitter green melons can be harvested from it.
  • A group of 5 treasure hunters. They have recovered a misc interesting object.
  • 3 worn skeletons with ruined gear
  • etc…

A few notes:

  • Because we’re rolling for each table separately, it’s possible to have one or two of the components without the other(s) I don’t have a problem with that. If it doesn’t work for your game, feel free to change your roll method.
  • Also because we’re rolling separately, the chance of “something happens” isn’t .2 even though each table triggers on a 1-2. Instead the chance of “something happens” is 1-(chance of fail 1 * chance of fail 2 * chance of fail 3). In this case 1-(.8*.8*.8)=.488 If you don’t like that rate, change the base rates for the three tables. They also don’t all have to be the same. I used .2 each for simplicity, but you could decide that encounters have a .2 chance, features a .3 and treasures a .1 (which gives an overall chance of .496) or .2 .2 .05 (.392). Whatever works for you.
  • Hey, that’s a lot of rolling. If you like the old school approach, this is a great use for the die ten million. For me, I’ve got most of my notes in Google Docs anyway so I used Google Sheets and the randbetween, if, vlookup, and match functions to roll an entire day’s worth of encounters on every update. Easy-peasy.
  • Of course what tables you find useful and interesting are entirely up to you and depends on your game.

And a shout out:

  • You see the table above has a Misc Interesting object on it. On my tables, that’s just a link to the 100 Filched Items From Picked Pockets And Cut Purses PDF from Fishwife Games but you could just as well use the 5e DnD Trinkets table (Players Handbook page 160) or any other similar table you like. I just find it’s fun to have a big ol’ list of little interesting crap in my treasure tables.