D&D Random Encounters FAQ

This page has several frequently asked questions regarding D&D random encounters. Keep reading to learn more and find out how you can get a ton of random table encounters for your fantasy tabletop RPG campaign.

What are random encounter tables?

Answer: Random encounter tables in a fantasy tabletop RPG campaign are a system that allows a Game Master to randomly pick a list of monsters or NPCs to populate a specific map. They are often used by Game Masters to help fill out a world with interesting encounters and encounters with different kinds of monsters. To use a random encounter table, the Game Master should roll or choose a section of the column that the party is in. Let’s say the party is in the Southern Deserts region. The Game Master would decide if the party is in the Western, Central, or Eastern part of the Southern Deserts. He would then roll on a table based on that specific region. Random encounters usually refer to monsters or NPCs, but they can occasionally be traps or other things.

Example: Let’s say the party is in the Western part of the Southern Deserts. The Game Master would then roll on the Western part of the Southern Deserts Table.

Table: Western Part of the Southern Deserts D20 Encounter

  • 1-10 No Encounter
  • 11-16 Homunculus
  • 17-21 Sand Panther.

That is an extremely basic encounter table with only three options; nothing or one of two creatures. Most random encounter tables will have 100 (written as d100) options on their lists. At it’s core, a random encounter table is a list that is used by a game master to add an element of randomness to a game.

How often do you get random encounters in 5e?

This is up to the game master, of course! In general, you don’t want to overwhelm players (or yourself) with too much randomness in a campaign or session. I can see how there might be some temptation to do so, though, especially when it comes to the rules for random encounters in the 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide.

The rules for this feature that I use are quite simple: every day, for each hour of hiking your party does, roll a d6. On a 1-4, your characters don’t encounter anything, and it’s just another day in the wilds. On a 5 or 6, however, you or the DM can choose to roll on a second table with more encounters.

This can be adjusted if you want players to encounter more creatures or NPCs in more densely populated or dangerous areas. Overall, there are many factors the DM should take into account, such as what kind of terrain the party is traveling through.

Some parties may be fine with this GM discretion (and, likewise, the DM should trust the players to know how to adjust encounters to their liking), but some may prefer to have a more rules-based approach to random encounters, regardless of whether or not those encounters will appear in the campaign.

Are random encounters good DND?

It feels like a cop out, but once again, I must say – it depends! A good game master will know when to use random encounter tables and when not to. The tables can be a good way to keep a campaign moving, when the players are traveling through an area, for example.

Random encounters can also provide a good way to introduce non-player characters or help add to the flavor you want to add to the campaign. But what if you don’t want random encounters, even a little? That is fine too.

There’s nothing wrong with pre-planned encounters. However, personally, I believe random encounter tables have a place in 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons games. I like how they provide an element of uncertainty to the game, because let’s be honest – things don’t always go according to plan.

It also provides flexibility in how you want to keep your game going. For example, if the players are investigating a dungeon complex, you could introduce an encounter while they are exploring an area. This can help keep up the tension and give the players a chance to gain some experience.

Though these rules are simple, don’t be afraid to be creative with them, and to find ways to integrate them into your game that best fit your play style. The great thing about D&D is that it allows for this kind of flexibility.

More D&D Random Encounter Tables

You can browse to our D&D Random Encounter Tables main page that lists a bunch of resources for random table goodness in your tabletop campaign. Whether you’re a new DM or a seasoned veteran, there’s sure to be something to tickle your creativity. Be sure to check out Random Encounters AI if you get a chance and are intrigued by artificial intelligence and RPG!

Paul Bellow

LitRPG Author Paul Bellow

Paul Bellow is a LitRPG author, gamer, RPG game developer, and publisher of several online communities. In other words, an old school webmaster. He also developed and runs LitRPG Adventures, a set of advanced RPG generators powered by GPT-3 AI. Here at LitRPG Reads, he publishes articles about LitRPG books, tabletop RPG books, and all sorts of DND content that's free to use in your personal tabletop campaign - i.e. non-commercial use. Enjoy your stay and reach out on Twitter or Discord if you want to make contact.

Fantasy RPG Random Tables Books

Make life as a Game Master easier.... If you play Dungeon & Dragons, Pathfinder, or other fantasy tabletop role-playing games, this RPG random tables book is full of encounters, NPCs, and more. Available as an eBook or in a classic print format. Either way, you'll have a wealth of adventure ideas at your fingertips.