Random encounters are good, but rolling them by the book sucks.
After you've rolled to check if there's an encounter, you have to roll for what the encounter is (sometimes this is two rolls, one on a subtable, e.g. the first roll is for category of encounter like animal, human, dragon, whatever, and then the second roll for what the specific encounter is, like bear, wolf, snake etc.), then roll for number appearing, surprise, and encounter distance. That's five rolls to do one thing. Since the dice for number appearing is different per monster and encounter distance changes depending on surprise, you can't roll them all at the same time either. That fucking sucks.
Let's answer all of these questions in two rolls.
First off, encounter checks: condensing the check to see if an encounter happens into the other rolls is too much work. Instead, use the hazard sytem, which condenses an encounter check with like four other things, for maximum efficiency.
Next up, we're structuring our encounter tables like Nick does, using 2d6. In addition to allowing us to create a bell curve probability to determine the encounter, using two dice also allows us to get number appearing, surprise, and encounter distance all from one roll. Here's how it's done.
- The sum of the dice gives you the encounter.
- The first dice indicates surprise. Monsters surprise on a 1 or 2, players surprise on a 5 or 6. This allows you to give creatures different 'stealthiness' levels.
- The second dice gives number appearing. You can add a modifier or multiplier to this for specific creatures. You can also index it to specific results per monster type (e.g. 1: 4 goblins, 2: 1 goblin boss, 6 goblins, 3: 1 goblin boss, 1 goblin shaman, 8 goblins) and just note that down next to the monster entry.
- The first number multiplied by the second number multiplied by 10 gives you encounter distance. You can ignore or modify this if the result doesn't make sense, obviously; of all the rolls, encounter distance is the easiest one to ignore.
To properly understand this, we need to understand what the dice combinations on a 2d6 roll are and design the encounter table accordingly.
2 (1,1). This creature always surprises the party at a distance of 10 feet and shows up in units of one.
3 (1,2; 2,1). This creature always surprises the party at a distance of 20 feet, and shows up in units of one or two.
4 (3,1; 2,2; 1,3). This creature has a 66% chance of surprising the party, and does so in either units of two or three and at a distance of 40 or 30 feet. Otherwise, it shows up in a unit of one at a distance of 30 feet.
5 (4,1; 3,2; 2,3; 1,4). This creature has a 50% chance of surprising the party, and does so in units of three or four at a distance of 60 or 40 feet. Otherwise it shows up in a unit of two at 50 feet, or a unit of one at 40 feet.
6 (5,1; 4,2; 3,3; 2,4; 1,5). This creature has a 40% chance of surprising the party, in units of four or five at a distance of 80 or 50 feet. It has a 20% chance of being surprised by the party, in a unit of one, at a distance of 50 feet. Otherwise, it shows up in units of two or three at a distance of 80 or 90 feet.
7 (6,1; 5,2; 4,3; 3,4; 2,5; 1,6). This creature has a 33% chance of surprising the party, which it does in units of five or six at a distance of 100 or 60 feet. It has a 33% chance of being surprised by the party, in a unit of one or two at a distance of 60 or 100 feet. Otherwise, it shows up in units of three or four, at a distance of 70 feet.
8 (6,2; 5,3; 4,4; 3,5; 2,6). This creature has a 20% chance of surprising the party, which it does in units of six at a distance of 120 feet. It has a 40% chance of being surprised by the party, in units of two or three at a distance of 120 or 150 feet. Otherwise, it is encountered in units of four or five at a distance of 160 or 150 feet.
9 (6,3; 5,4; 4,5; 3,6). This creature has a 50% chance of being surprised by the party, in units of three or four at a distance of 180 or 200 feet. Otherwise, it shows up in units of five or six at a distance of 200 or 180 feet.
10 (6,4; 5,5; 4,6). This creature has a 66% chance of being surprised by the party, in units of four or five at a distance of 240 or 250 feet. Otherwise, it is encountered in a unit of six 240 feet away.
11 (6,5; 5,6). This creature is always surprised by the party, in units of five or six, at a distance of 300 feet.
12 (6,6). This creature is always surprised by the party, in units of six, at a distance of 360 feet.
So, the smaller the number is, the stealthier the creature is, the fewer numbers it is encountered in, and the closer the encounter ranges are. The inverse holds true for how big the number is. Makes sense right: stealthy things are hard to notice till they're close to you, large groups are easy to notice from a distance, whether that's by sight or sound.
If you want to do encounter sub-tables inside this roll, then the sum of the two dice gives you the category, and the result of the first dice gives you the specific creature type on a sub-table. Note that this does result in certain creatures always showing up in certain numbers and always having surprise or not. This can be remedied by making specific creatures show up multiple times both within and across encounter sub-tables. Personally that seems like a bit too much trouble, and given that you can roll on a table and a sub-table at the same time so long as they use consistent dice, I don't think it's worth the effort.
I originally wanted to include reaction rolls in this by indexing the result of the second die to reaction categories (e.g. 1: hostile, 2: neutral, 3: friendly, or 1-2: unfriendly, 3-4: neutral), but it resulted in a similar problem to above where certain types of monsters always had the same type of reaction. It can also probably be remedied the same way as the encounter sub-table problem, but reaction rolls feel just distinct enough from the other encounter rigamarole that it doesn't feel necessary; I usually decide reaction or roll it when the first player talks to the creature. And, since reaction rolls are always 2d6, you can also just roll it at the same time as an encounter (different coloured dice help).
In fact, if you're doing encounter tables with subtables, and you structure them both as 2d6 rolls, you can do encounter category, encounter type, number appearing, surprise, encounter distance, and reaction rolls with a 6d6 roll.
Anyway there's the Hyper-condensed encounter roll or the New! Dove 4-in-1 Encounter Roll or whatever the fuck. Thanks.
Addendum: Anne has pointed out that this roll is probably better suited to just determining surprise, number appearing, and distance and not actually the encounter itself, and honestly I'm inclined to agree. It fundamentally still allows you to roll for things only once as you can roll encounter+ sub-table if necessary+ distance, number, and surprise+ reaction all in one go without having to restrict specific encounter types to certain distances or surprise or whatever. In this case, it's also probably more efficient to just do encounter distance by the book as the sum of the two rolls (2d6) multiplied by 10.
I guess there's a reason shampoos max out at 3-in-1.