How-To DM: Using a Random Encounter Table

So, you have a great campaign, maybe one you wrote, maybe a prewritten one. Who knows. And you have a random encounter table. The question usually comes up: what do you do with it and when do you use it…

Here are some ideas:

The Players Derail the Campaign

So the players have gone totally off the rails. They made a left when you and the story pointed them right. Whichever. In any case, the players are off the charted part of the map.

Toss them a random encounter while you go about trying to figure out how to get them back on track.

dungeons and dragons - cartoon - The chaotic good war cleric chilling in a tavern and being approached by a terrified villager telling her the paladin and the warlock hearded and entire village into a church and burning down said church Nude Wait, What?

Pre-roll It

You don’t want the game to grind to a halt while you look up the table and roll on it. Pre-roll the table and know what encounters that the party can possibly run into. Make a list. You can either pick your favorites, or you can just roll each one and jot it down ahead of time, marking them off as you go along.

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You Didn’t Prepare as Well as You Should Have

Sometimes it happens. You were busy and totally forgot to prepare for this week’s game. Well, shoot. Now what? Random frickin’ encounter tables, folks. Throw a random encounter to them. Improve some roleplay. Take a story hook and roll (no pun intended) with it.

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Toss a Deadly Encounter

Teach players the benefits of occasionally running the heck away. Or maybe the massive giant dismisses the players as inconsequential and not worth its time. Maybe they find it, but it’s dead, having fallen to something even worse than that. Maybe it’s something that explains, in no uncertain terms, that they should just move along.

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Take Some Time For Character Story Advancement

I totally forgot to prep for the week. See above. In any case, I had a random sidequest involving an inn that had been taken over by a trio of werewolves using it to have meals come to them. During dinner, the werewolves attacked. During the melee she got bitten. She’s now dealing with the reality that she is a were-creature. She’s already been having identity crises, and this just added to the problem. The player is currently enjoying the character development. Now she, a paladin nonetheless, is having another issue to deal with.

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Speaking of Role-Playing Encounters…Make the Encounter an NPC

It’s really interesting to have a memorable NPC encountered along the road/trail/in the middle of the wilderness. What are they doing out here? Why do they engage the NPCs? Maybe they have a wonderful side-quest that the party can go on while you are developing the story (see above reasons).

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Give Them a Solveable or Unsolveable Mystery

Maybe they find a strange rock. The party will spend tons of time trying to figure out what it’s all about. Why would the DM describe this random thing in such detail? It’s a great way to get some time while you are prepping the next planned encounter. It’s a great time-filler when you need one. This kind of thing can be just about anything. A set of standing stones. A large skull of a long-dead creature. Etc…

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So, what do you think? Do you use random encounter tables? How do YOU use them? What kinds of reasons do you use them for? Let me know in the comment section below!

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Just one more D&D Meme for the road…

Until next time, Dear Readers…

Published by The Daily DM

I'm just a DM telling the stories of my tables.

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