A random table is simply a way to spark a white hot flame in the furnace of your imagination. Our brains are the most powerful systems on earth for coming up with creative situations, ideas, and stories. These random tables are simply an ignition switch to help us avoid falling back to the familiar and get us thinking in a new direction.
SlyFlourish, Random Tables of DMG
Here is a list of some of my favourite resources when it comes to generating the (semi-)random encounter tables for different areas of the map. This page is a work in progress – please feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments below.
Resources that I use:
This site has developed a series of robust of encounter tables, broken down by Challenge Rating (CR). Whilst those are versatile and useful on their own and as written, I find these tables more instructive in terms of the presentation of the table format. The tables use the DMG’s recommended 1d8+1d12, which is about the right balance for variation and a bell-curve of probabilities, but also serve as a checklist for ensuring each table has a variety of encounter types. For example, have I included a low chance deadly encounter? Have I included a fortuitous discovery, or a hazard, or an environmental condition, or a roleplaying opportunity? Have I included some slots just for evocative dressing? This approach also forces me to ask meaningful questions about the location in these terms as well. How frequently are we likely to come across ruins here, or social interactions, or traps? Almost all of my encounter tables use this format now.
I use Kobold Fight Club for two things. First, to check if the encounter I have in mind is going to lead to a total party kill or a walk in the park. It’s never totally reliable in this regard, given that it uses the CR algorithm (which is notoriously imprecise, according to at least one developer of the Monsters Manual) but provides a very useful bit of quality assurance so that your encounters aren’t woefully out of balance. Second, I use it to make lists of potential and relevant combat encounters. Both of these functions are a button click or two away.
Is every random thing we encounter at full strength and charging? This is a detailed and balanced table to mix up encounters, and creates provocative questions for me as DM. Why is this creature wounded, or vulnerable, or devious? Answers to these questions might just help to populate surrounding hexes. Typically I’ll use this table to vary a combat encounter, along with tracks or lairs probabilities.
This is a mandatory resource for this purpose. There is more than a lifetime of encounters, events and dressing for all of your hex mapping needs in this volume, and there are other collections for urban environments and dungeons as well. The creativity in these publications are humbling.
If you want a taste, Raging Swan also provide free resources on their website, and frankly you could probably run a dozen adventures with these alone.
I can’t recommend this enough.
My encounter tables usually include a couple of linked tables – ruins, lairs and items, as a general rule – which means that on occasion I’ll need to pull out a location or side-quest in a way that makes it seem like I intended the PCs to make this discovery all along. There isn’t a Dungeon Delve equivalent for 5th edition (that I am aware of, at least), but I typically use these pre-made dungeons for inspiration more than detailed stats. I can add those myself. All of the ‘dungeons’ in here are reliable, adaptable and flexible, and give me an added sense of confidence that I can pull out a memorable, engaging side-trek at a moment’s notice. More of these, Wizards.