I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Monday, November 20, 2023

Good generic wilderness encounter tables? (B/X vs. AD&D vs. 5e)

I've been analyzing the B/X wilderness encounter tables lately, and while I'll probably stick to that for now, I think since this blog talks about Basic, AD&D and (sometimes) 5e, one small observation is in order:

As often happens, the encounter tables in in B/X are oversimplified and the ones in AD&D are overcomplicated

And 5e got us beat again - but it took them a while!

Let me explain. 

The B/X wilderness encounter tables fit a couple of pages. While I love the fact that they are so slim, they produce strange results: dragons do not follow their natural habitats, there are too many dragon and basilisks, every result requires a sub-table, etc. 

There are (about) 96 possible results for each terrain, but many are repeated; dragons about happen 6% to 12% of the time.

AD&D, on the other hand, contains about a dozen pages of tables and sub-tables, using d100. 

You'd think they'd take the opportunity to organize all entries in single d100 table, but no, we have tables and sub-tables with incredible levels of detail; some monster will appear only 0.1% of the time.

It also has famous a sub-table to describe which type of prostitute appears if you ever find one...

[I'll ignore 2e, 3e and 4e for now because I haven't played them as much. From a  brief glance, 2e hasn't included such tables in the three core rulebooks, and 3e is even worse than 5e in forcing that encounters are adapted to the PC's needs. I'm guessing 4e is the same.].

5e did not even HAVE many random encounter tables at first - each table was part of a setting, which is fair enough if you're using a published setting - it only suggested you created your own and provided a small example, with about 20 entries and using 1d12+1d8 for some reason.

The tables included in the settings are often very good, but that's not what I am looking for. [BTW, this is why I haven't been analyzing random encounters in dungeons - I think these MUST be connected to each particular dungeon, and I simply cannot stomach a hill giant randomly appearing in a deep dungeon fro no reason].

Fortunately, Xanathar's Guide to Everything partially fixed that.

It contains simple d100 tables (simpler than AD&D but more complete than B/X) that list not only monsters but also number appearing - plus a few "cosmetic" encounters that don't really belong here (rain, "the sounds of drums", etc.).

Unfortunately, these tables are separated by CR, and are too slim unless combined.

This is a bad thing on principle - the world shouldn't conform to PC's level - and, combined with the existing tables, it is even worse - that means that past level 11 there is no more "rain" encounter but now there are "drums" for some reason (looking at the table above, I assume the yuan-ti like to play drums, but only when the PC's reach level 11).

Fortunately, you can integrate all these tables by adding another roll [e.g., "roll an extra d10, with 1-4: tier 1, 5-7: tier 2, 8-9: tier 3, 0: tier 4" - thank you Evan for commenting here!]

Maybe there is a game out there that uses the best of AD&D, BX and 5e. The tables in BFRPG look decent, but a bit slim. Dragons and rarer and appear in appropriate biomes! Yay!

I guess I could adapt my favorite bits from all these sources, but it is unlikely that no one else has compiled a better table... let me know in the comments!


  1. I actually use a sheet that combines the expert tables into single 1d100 rolls for each terrain with only 1 subtable of "special". I don't know where I got it from, but the percentages are almost always(there's a few exceptions , I think coming from limiting it to a d100) the same as in the original book, just with one roll.

    1. Sounds good, might be an improvement over the original!

  2. you need to look in the monstrous compendium for encounter tables in 2e core books.

    they were not reproduced in the monstrous manual. a terrible ommission really.

    1. Thanks! Just found them today and... they are GREAT!

      Will write about them soon.

  3. OSE encounter tables (so B/X) But using Ktrey's encounters for flavour:
    Every monster in B/X has a massive table of themed activities.

    Of Knave 2 activities table for what the NPCs are doing. Hotspings Island 3d6 motivation table also workd to make any encounter table richer

    1. Awesome!

      I really like Ktrey's tables!

      Looking forward for Knave 2, already own Hotsprings Island but haven't read yet, looks cool.

  4. I do think separate tier tables do have some good uses, which help address the problem from your next post too. You can use them to represent places that are actually more or less difficult in-world, i.e. this place is lowly Tier 1 mountains, but those ones over there are majestic Tier 4 mountains. It makes sense that the Green Mountains, Appalachians, Rockies, and Himalayas would all have different encounter tables, even if they're all mountains.

    That would be a great way to go in a hexcrawl-heavy game, if players can learn the tier of various areas before picking out their route. It's a really easy way to quantify the danger level of an area. You could also put them all together into a 1d400 table, and roll 1d100 + danger level, from 0 to 300. So if your mountains have a danger of 150, then you end up with a 50% chance to land in the top half of Tier 2, and a 50% chance to land in the bottom half of Tier 3.

    1. Yes, this is definetly a good idea. Something akin to dungeon levels, but for wilderness - the deep woods are more dangerous than the ones right outside town.