TL;DR Locations and lair types inform encounter tables.


As an exercise, I made an encounter table based on the monsters encountered in Skyrim. I’ve read on other blogs that an encounter table ought to say something about a campaign, and I would tend to agree.

I guess my main issue is in deciding what should be on the encounter table.

My Skyrim table actually featured stuff that you don’t technically encounter so often in the game, largely because I felt there wasn’t quite the encounter mix I would have liked. While there was an abundance of berserkers and bandits, I didn’t feel there were enough “adventurers.” They’re kind of important.

The Forsworn clearly fit the “berserker” mold, since everyone hates them and they will attack you on sight — even after you complete their related quest.

Skyrim has no deficiency in bandits, either.

You do encounter a number of hunters, thieves, and mages of all colors and stripes on the road, but it isn’t quite… I’m not sure how to describe it.

You know, I really liked encountering traveling caravans in Fallout 3. I realize in retrospect that they weren’t very interesting, but it felt somehow dynamic.

For a direct comparison, I enjoy periodically encountering thieves and highwaymen (thieves’ guild) in Skyrim. I like stumbling upon the Companions (fighters’ guild) slaying a giant or saber cat on the road. I like running across Imperial or Stormcloak soldiers escorting prisoners to forts.

Of all the players with whom I’ve discussed the game, I have had the most Dark Brotherhood encounters — five with a single character. To me, or for my own experience, it actually drove me to join the faction. I hadn’t been interested in the Dark Brotherhood before, but I’m glad I finally did.


Anyway, there’s this thing I noticed in my Stars Without Number game.

I built a 2d10 encounter table full of mutants, ghouls, bandits, wild dogs, and merchants. After a couple chance encounters with bandits, the party decided they wanted to try and wipe out the bandit camp.

I hadn’t intended on creating a bandit camp, but the players decided there was one, they captured and interrogated a bandit to learn the location and layout, and then there was a bandit camp. Simple as that.

To be honest, I probably would have had a more coherent idea of the bandit camp if I’d known it was there beforehand — and running a game with so much improvisation takes a toll. To me, anyway. I like for things to move.

Somewhere between this post and my post about three hundred sixty locations (2015 August), it occurred to me that building encounter tables and determining location types could be combined. Monsters come from somewhere.

There are 19 entries on a 2d10 encounter table, and interestingly enough the square root of 360 is almost nineteen. (19×19=361) I apologize if this starts looking like numerology in places. I’m looking for number patterns to make things easier to remember and to facilitate worldbuilding.

“Do X of this, and Y of that” becomes easier if there are underlying patterns in how the formulas are applied. Many of them are arbitrary, yes, and so some other significance needs to be there to provide significance.

Sometimes rolling a fistful of d6s just isn’t as helpful as we’d like.