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Multi-Layered Encounter Tables

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 [1], (specifically this part [2]) 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 2d4 Encounter
2 1d2 dust devils
3 1d6 worn skeletons with decayed weapons/armor
4 1d4 small rubble elementals (re-skinned earth elementals)
5 1d6 Treasure hunter NPCs
6 1d4 wild dogs
7 nest of 1d8 rats and 1d3 dire rats
8  giant hunting spider


Roll 2d4 Terrain feature
2 precariously balanced pile of rubble
3 Sinkhole hazard
4 Ruins with vantage point/platform
5 Water filled area (depression, fountain, basement etc…)
6 Overgrown scrub/grass may be edible variety
7 Bit of carving/plaque
8 small 5 room basement/lower level


Roll 2d4 Treasure
2 Map or note
3 piece of art or jewelry worth 10-80 gp
4 Misc interesting object*
5 3d10 lbs of bent and rusty metal salvage
6 Well preserved piece of gear
7 1d10 each loose cp, sp, gp, and pp
8 Dented lockbox with 3d4 small gems of 10-40 gp value each

So we might get any of the following encounters:

A few notes:

And a shout out:

1 Comment (Open | Close)

1 Comment To "Multi-Layered Encounter Tables"

#1 Comment By Blackjack On October 22, 2018 @ 12:22 pm

I’m a fan of this approach. I’ve been using it for years to make up NPC encounters. I created multiple small tables, each offering variation within the range of one trait. For example, is the NPC initially indifferent toward the PCs, friendly, hostile, afraid, in need of help, etc. Rolling across multiple traits helps me flesh out the encounter. I don’t have to accept all of the results. Indeed it’s often crap if I do. But usually 2-3 table results put together form an interesting basis for developing an encounter.