Fisherman village encounters

I need to construct a random encounter table for a fisherman village my players are currently in. They are in the village of Dreg, in Dolmenwood. The village is ridden with crime, and is mostly not a fishing, but a farming village. Nevertheless, I have changed some things around, so I needed a table with more people to run into to supplement what has been so far released in the Dolmenwood handbook snippets.

I would roll on this table for a non-combat encounter. It is for simple flavour, though there are some entries with plot hooks. It mostly focuses on the area that would be the docks and the market. I also use a separate table for night encounters which are more “dangerous”, or for combat encounters. But those are more easily done as simple city encounters, e.g. from the OSE manual, or from any number of other sources.

Anyways, it’s a simple one for the return from the holidays. Roll a d20!

11d4 fishermen, tugging a boat in harbor. They are coming home nearly empty handed. They curse the donations made to the temple, which clearly did not help.
2Marlow, a cleric for the local temple, preaching forgiveness in the most crime-ridden area of town.
3Reena, a fishmonger who is after the freshest product. She is in fact a witch enchanting the fish: consumers are charmed to do her bidding.
4Connor Candleswick, a rich merchant who runs shipping expeditions. He is stuck in this town as his galley awaits repairs after being attacked by a sea monster. He is secretly smuggling magical herbs into the town.
5A crowd forms in the harbor. At its center, the corpse of Gundar, a veteran sailor, lies washed ashore. Its arm was mangledby a terrible beast.
6A hooded figure is seen disappearing into a wall after following the party around. A seemingly normal house is an illusion.
7A pair of elderly ladies, scaling fish. They tell stories of an ancient sea fairy who fell in love with an evil pirate to a raptured audience of small children.
8Carla, a short woman carrying several scrolls under her arm. She is an inspector for the local lord, keeping tabs on the comings and goings of ships. She is looking for smuggled cargo.
9Angus, an enterprising young kid who is sure to have found a treasure map. He asks the party to go check out the location.
10Vanda, the owner of the local tavern, out to retrieve new casks of ale. Strangely, the last batch was bad…
11Smilne, a seclusive scholar who is said to be compiling a tome on all water monsters. He is locked in a bitter academic dispute with the court historian over the first recorded appearance of sea snakes.
12Cairn, a bard/musician/jester who also dries and pickles root vegetables and sells them on the street to make ends meet.
13A group of guards passing by, mentioning that “the crazy old man in the town prison is clutching to an oyster and talking to it day and night! I could swear that oyster was smaller yesterday…”
14Nimo, once captain of a mighty warship. Ostracised for fleeing a decisive battle, he is manning his own fishing boat.
151d4 farmers from further inland, on their way into town to look for a missing child. They are convinced a witch is involved.
16Thatrout, a mercenary passing through town, travelling to a bigger city to find employment.
17Fastrada, a halfling, sitting outside a hut smoking large batches of fish, to the dismay of the neighbours.
18Timo, a beggar, walking through the street asking for small coins in exchange for a blessing. He is fond of foreigners, whom he calls “free ones”, no matter where they are from.
19Menvan, the blacksmith. He mostly produces fishing spears. He knows old legends of infusing the spirit of the sea into an anvil, and is obsessed with finding how to do it.
20A group of guards arrives on the scene and wants to search a boat or a person for contraband.
Yes, I have watched Luca. We don’t have vespas here.

Tavern rogue NPC gallery

You need some shady characters in a tavern in a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Roll 1d12 per column to generate characters and backstory!

DiceCharacterLooksSkillLast JobBond/employerKeeps..
1Cornelia, a bounty hunterWears foreign clothes, tries to avoid conversationCan open any common lock in secondsEscaped a prison by digging a tunnelAn evil fairy who controls him or herA small hourglass pendant.
2Wan, a ruthless burglar with no moral code Bolsterous, plays cards, wears expensive jewelryCan hit a target with a crossbow from 200 yardsOrganised raiding a merchant caravan in broad daylightA sibling who is an honest citizenA lucky silver coin
3Kalin, a bodyguardStrong, tall, military background. Stands straightMaster of disguiseInfiltrated a noble household as a servant and stole a precious necklaceA friend in a political movement who asks occasional favoursA special tool to open locks
4Red, a theater actor with a double lifePlays a aurdy-gurdy, rebel spirit, traditional clothesKnows secret passages and tunnels in the city/areaPretended to be a cleric and stole a rate ancient tome from the templeA vampire who promised to make him or her one of their ownA letter from a former lover
5Grimmo, a scam artist with a penchant for impersonating peopleStinky, scarred, mud-stained. On the run from someone?Has a secret library of lost artefactsRan a tavern as a front for a criminal gangA merchant with shady business practicesA knife won at a card game
6Butch, a bandit from the wildernessProsthetic hand, finely dressed, appears of noble backgroundCan prepare poisonsLived off of petty crimes in some of the poorest areasMember of a thief guildA waterskin of extremely high value elven wine
7Lena, a pickpocketer who struck it bigWears unassuming clothes, blends in background, yet somehow charismaticCan charm people into revealing informationCarried a package of unknown content for a shadowy wizard across a desertA foreign diplomatA silver earring. Is it whispering something?
8Double-hit Sam, burglar known for hitting the same people over and overTall, slender, always drinking and yet always aware Can be extremely scary and intimidatingWas a sailor on a pirate ship that terrorized the kingdom’s navyA rich collector of rare itemsA ledger. This person earns but also spends an insane amount of money
9Fain, a corrupt city guardTireless, fidgety, nervous-looking. Always playing with a small knifeUncle is a very important person and this can open many doorsIntimidated farmers into giving up crop or animalsA necromancer looking for lost or hidden secret recipesA ring etched with the icon of a noble house
10Delven, an illusionist scammerIntimidating grimace. Scar on the cheek. A belt with notchesCan hide in the shadowsSmuggled dried herbs used to make illegal potions across the borderA larger criminal gang running all sorts of crime in the cityA flask of red goo
11Thorsten, a courier for “special” packagesShort and thin, very young. Wears stolen clothes of the wrong size. Babbling, eagerImpressive sleight of hand, card cheat etcKidnapped a rich merchant to obtain ransomA monster from the woods seeking to hoard richesA magnifying glass
12Gemma, a marksman assassin Grizzled, wrinkles on the face. Moves gracefully at his or her own pace. Relaxed, experiencedSetting up ambushes, traps, only fights with the advantageWas a rogue on a mercenary adventuring bounty hunter partyA priest convinced he has a mission from godA cat

Animal Companion Exploration

Two of my players have animal companions. An owl and a dog. The players want the animals to be able to explore. This table is for them. We will roll it whenever their companions are used in exploration in a dungeon or the wilderness.

DiceOutcome when in wildernessOutcome when in dungeon
1-10The animal companion wanders off and is distracted by a small animal. It makes loud noises and alerts nearby creatures.The animal companion wanders off and is distracted by a small animal. It makes loud noises and alerts nearby creatures.
11-50The animal will report on what’s on the path ahead, but nothing more.The animal will report on what’s on the path ahead, but nothing more.
51-60The animal will make crisscrossing paths around the area and round up on its own. It will report on what’s ahead and what’s behind.The animal will make crisscrossing paths around the area and round up on its own. It will report on what’s ahead and what’s behind.
61-70The animal is particularly alert, and during his or her reconnaissance will alert the owner on the position of any ambush or trap within 300 yards of the party.The animal is particularly alert, and during his or her reconnaissance will alert the owner on the position of any ambush or trap in the next room.
71-75The animal picks up a smell, and will be able to report on anyone of interest who passed through in the past 2 days. The animal picks up a smell, and will be able to report on anyone of interest who passed through in the past 2 days.
76-80The animal scouts the area ahead, and comes back with a prey in his or her mouth (1 day ration),The animal scouts the area ahead, and comes back with a piece of what’s in the next room in his or her mouth
81-85The animal scouts the area around the party. He or she will be spooked by any non-natural magical presence. They will be able to indicate the direction of the nearest wizard or artefact.The animal scouts the area around the party. He or she will be spooked by any non-natural magical presence. They will be able to indicate the direction of the nearest wizard or artefact.
86-88The animal enters a dogged pursuit of a monster or creature for a few minutes, before returning and alerting the party.The animal enters a dogged pursuit of a monster or creature for a few minutes, before returning and alerting the party. Noise will be made though.
89-92The animal forgets all about scouting, but dig up a small treasure or artefact from the ground or from a treeThe animal digs up or finds a secret passage if there is one.
93-96The animal will perform a thorough scouting of the 500 yards surrounding the party. He or she will happen to find a good place to sleep for the night.The animal will scout the next 2 areas and go completely unnoticed.
97-99The animal will perform a thorough scouting of the 500 yards surrounding the party. He or she will find traces from anyone who crossed the area in the last 2 weeks.The animal will scout the next 2 areas and go completely unnoticed. It will also give a bonus to stealth to the party.
100The animal companion discovers the location of an enemy camp or of a wandering monster (avoid/change a random encounter) and comes back with some treasure in its mouthThe animal companion discovers the location of a wandering monster (avoid/change a random encounter) and comes back with some treasure in its mouth

What’s in that cell?

Sometimes, the party ends up in jail and they need to escape. Or tour the prison section of a dungeon. Or peek into a cell for some reason. In those times, roll on this table do determine the result of the ever-burning (ok, maybe not) question:

what’s in that cell?

Roll 2d8, will ya?

DiceAppearanceyea, but What’s in that cell?
1A barren stone cell with a latrine in the floor. Up on the wall, chains dangle with broken manacles. Coagulated green blood stains the floor. The blood can be used in potions.Under some hay, the notes of a prisoner, written in a foreign language. Observations on the guards, arguments about innocence. The prisoner (perhaps a spy) was still hoping for a fair trial.
2A table in the center of the cell has a pair of mugs and a bottle of ale. A religious icon or simbol of authority dangles from a wall. The cell was used by the guards as an interrogation room.1d4 Rusty weapons, long abandoned, lie in a corner. Although currently beyond use, one of them is magical and could be restored by expert craftmanship.
3An apparently empty room reveals, under a stone slab, a short tunnel. The tunnel is short, but it digs directly under somewhere important… if the party feels like digging some more. A vial of “mind fog”. A drop of the viscous liquid may confuse someone into revealing something, a cup will cause a permanent spotty memory. May have been used in interrogation, or smuggled in by a prisoner to forget something.
4The cell is in good condition. It has a bunk bed and a table, on which some manuscripts are laid. Someone important was imprisoned here at some point.A shivering old kobold, abandoned on the floor, long forgotten there. He recalls a lot of details about the place, but they are several years out of date.
5The empty room has a small window with bars to the outside A wooden stool lies at the center of the room, with a ring placed on it. Is this a mimic?
6An oubliette cell. A shaft where prisoners were lowered into and left there. Bones lie scattered on the floor, 15 feet below.The cell is extremely damp and moldy. Spores of a dangerous fungus fill the air. Writings on the wall clearly show this cell or its air have driven people mad.
7A cell populated with various torture devices.A small fountain occupies the floor at the center of the cell. Laying against the fountain is a book of holy scripture. Reading the book will open a communication with the the last prisoner or his or her spirit.
8An empty room, with signs of fangs and struggle on the wall. An (illusory) stone bench. Dispelling the illusion reveals an evocation circle used by a wizard to summon creatures to dispense of the guards.A guard is imprisoned here right now! Someoene escaped.
Short one this week – please don’t throw me in one of these!


Today I went for a long walk and passed through multiple graveyards. Each one similar to the others, and yet different and unique in its own way. One was an area with ordered trees and even-cut grass where you could feel the atmosphere of respectful quiet. Another cemetery was a park, with wild grass, old tombs, looking completely different from plot to plot, and lots of buidings in the park that had nothing to do with the cemetery itself, as if a community was in communication with the dead in the park. Finally, I also saw some churches with the small number of very old, near-illegible tombstones in the grass around them.

I have to say I have yet to use a cemetery in D&D as other that the location for the “spooky set piece” with undead. And that’s on me. I take the blame. So, to make up for it, here is a table generating a graveyard for a small village or medium sized town with some features and hooks.

I also have consulted a local cleric, and she has invoked the power of her god to make sure that no undead lurk in this blog post. Give your players something unexpected: all hooks do not feature undead. In a graveyard! Have I gone mad?

Roll 1d8 per column!

DiceLocationStyleNotable gravesHistoryNon-undead hooks
1A hill with a gentle slope among the farmland surrounding the town.Green grass. Popler and similar long, thin trees, scattered around the grounds.Thronil, the dwarf warrior who defeated Kraggar the Ogre not far from hereEstablished 200 years ago to bury those lost in the great migratory march across a desert.One of the graves contains sealed histories of the region that reveal the illegittimate children of local lords. Someone wants them.
2In a large plot of hand adjacent to the manor of the local nobility.A majestic, imposing dome-shaped clay-hut, containing row upon row of urns of cremated remainsMaster Branford, humble carpenter who became an acclaimed leader of the townSomething else created the graveyard. It existed long before the town that uses it. Some of the most ancient tombs are said to house unspeakable creatures..The graveyard is a meeting point for a secret society that conspires to overthrow the local lord/burgermaster etc
3In the land next to a church or temple in the town centreAn oak forest, with tall wild grass growing around the tombstones.Allison Garlen, the great record keeper. Some said she lived to be hundreds of year old, and her histories are actually first-hand accounts.A local graveyard established by early settlers. Its early purpose and size was superseded when a plage struck the community.4 people were buried last week alone. What looked like a plague actually could be an assassination campaign that used a very rare choking poison.
4A plot of land on cliffs overlooking the local river or coast.A mausoleum for important families, surrounded by grass with graves of common folk. Earendil, an elf. Famed for his magical prowess, he fell to a pack of werewolves.The local church oversaw the establishment of this graveyard and keeps local records.Every month, a person with a hidden face visits one of the graves. Everybody is wondering what he or she is up to…
5A plain where a battle was once fought. Rusted swords, the bones of majestic mount war beasts, and wrecked siege weapons are still lying around.Yellow, ever-growing hay fields.Kara, a mage, who is buried here with her faithful small wyvern familiar. Some say the secret of domesticating wyvern died with her.300 years ago Theridios, secretly a mad necromancer, established the graveyard as a way to harvest bodies for his army. He died before his plan could come to fruition.Some local ruffians have taken to grave robbing. What seems like regular crime however turns when it is revealed they are robbing components for a ritual…
6An island at the confluence of three rivers.Burial sites stretch deep underground in steep, mine-like tunnels. The deeper, the more prestigious.Dannet the Conqueror, military general who pushed the borders of the country far up north. He mercifully granted independence to a foreign city-state, and is now an enemy in his own land.Historically, only men (or women if appropriate) were buried here, with their partners by their sideA group of foreigners has made a very long pilgrimage to visit a particular grave. Some of them say that opening it would confer a blessing. The locals refuse.
7small hill mounds rising from a swamp.An abandoned fortress, partially crumbled and overgrown with ivy. Caskets are placed in the ancient thick walls, and closed by a tombstone. Hawkmoor, druid who swore to the forest. When the forest was corrupted by human settlement, he put a curse on the forest and committed suicide. The cemetery was established by a minority in the community (e.g. a non-human race) to bury their own. It is patrolled to this day by guards looking out for disrespectful outsiders.A plant is magically growing out of one of the graves at an incredible rate. Soon, it will engulf the graveyard and the town if it is not stopped.
8Underground catacomb tunnels under a temple or townhall.A magical vortex or portal in the ground, nourishing on the bodies and souls of the dead.Yeonna, a refined local noblewoman in the settlement who died in infamy after being discovered as a foreign spy.The cemetery is largely ruined or spoiled due to a vampire sect gathering here decades ago and the subsequent fightback.Someone killed somebody. He then made up a story about undead and ghosts to cover it up…
Non-undead hook 9: the undead took control of the town 10 minutes ago. You guys have to dig for people that have been buried alive in the graves that were previously filled with dead people that now aren’t dead. Any takers? No?

Local delicacies

There are a lot of food, plant and mushroom tables in D&D and the OSR. Some of the best I have seen are in several issues of Wormskin magazine. The book “Fungi of the Far realms” also looks great, though I personally have not used it.

Here is a table you can use to add flavor (pun intended) to a village or community, by giving it a local dish, which should be an expression of the environment surrounding it. No banana chips in Finland! Having a specialty the town or community is known for goes a long way in establishing character, and can even provide some plot hooks or opportunity for low-stake adventure.

Use this as a tool in worldbuilding, or roll it at the table when the PCs enter a tavern, or have some leftovers found in a pot at a kobold camp… you get the point!

Roll 1d20 per column!

DiceDishEffect (chance)Additional detail
1Boar skewers cooked over bronzewood coalsFirst time eating, add 1d4 hp to your max permanently (50%)Is conjured by priests in a ritual
2Poison Ivy and gullip mushrooms, as a stew or roastFirst time eating, dizziness for 10 minutes (50%)Prepared by people sitting in a circle and singing songs in a long-forgotten language they themselves don’t understand
3grilled (giant) octopus with marine blueberriesAllergic reaction: 1d6 damage (30%)Prepared by an outsider in the community (e.g. a lone woodelf in a hut in a human village)
4Dry spiced birch bark, aka wood jerkyAltered color perception/color swap (80%)Used to be a main food here, but the recipe is being lost as the ingredients are becoming more rare
5Wild purple citrus jamFake prophetic dreams (100%)The food is given to guests as a mark of hospitality
6Buckwheat soup with cubes of manticore meatOpens a communication with someone far away (10%)Only richer people can afford to make this
7Giant violet flowers stuffed with soft cheese and honey The eater feels a strong desire to perform a song and dance (40%)Prepared only during full moon nights
8Strongbread made of a mixture of local soft earth and wheatIncreased hearing, +1d4 to perception/spot hidden checks (100%) -WARNING: addictivePrepared by parents of teenagers. Legend has it the dish increases intelligence as a person grows
9Roasted spicy peppers preserved in jars with wood resinWater OR earth breathing (25%)This food was prepared by faries a long time ago. Once or twice a month, dozens of dishes appear on a holy stone near the community
10Singing turnip stew – a local variety of turnips sings a little song when pulled out of the earth, and happily contributes to a mild stewThe eater smells friendly to giants or other prevalent local monsters for 3 hours (80%)A local has perfected this recipe and serves it at his renowned tavern
11Lizard or Lizardman egg frittataThe eater feels sated for multiple days (50%)Prepared by hunters the day before a big hunt
12Aged goat cheese seasoned with hazelnutsMorale boost – the eater will resist fear and panic for 6 hours (75%)The dish is prepared by halflings in a nearby village and is only provided to this community via trade
13Marinated flatcap mushrooms with summoner’s rootsSkin discoloration – turn temporarily greenish or orange in color (80%)Wizards and alchemists prepare this dish with leftovers from the preparation of magical potions
14Fermented mixed fish soup – stinky as hellSleepiness (30%)This is a poor person’s dish because of the abundance of the ingredients in the surrounding area. Nobles will not eat this
15Lunar rice, a local ingredient used in many recipesThe eater can speak another language for 6 hours (25%)The recipe to the dish is in a famous section of an oral epic poem that every local learns as a child from minstrels
16A coffee-like beverage made with local pine kernels+1 strength for a day, -2 strength for the 2 days following (60%)The recipe is a natural consequence of local ingredients. Little do the locals know someone has been replacing one of them with a cursed version of it…
17Boiled spinach seasoned with dried troll bone shavings The eater has increased equilibrium and will not be knocked prone (70%)This dish is famous and people will come to the community to taste it
18Roast vegetables wrapped in rainbow cabbage leavesThe eater is very smelly: others can spot him or her more easily (100%)Only men or only women know the recipe to this dish
19Dried spider webs preserved in different seasonings Stoneskin-like effects. Add 1 AC for 6 hours (80%)The recipe is a closely guarded church/temple/shaman secret
20Catfish whiskers on a bed of steamed thistle stalksIncreased false sense of power: player perceives a +2 to STR or INT, but in reality a -2 is applied, for 6 hours (40%)The dish actually prepares itself once a blessed pot containing the ingredients is put in dedicated fireplace
To be honest, bagna cauda has all these effects combined. Also, shout out Wormskin magazine for one of these

Bridges in a dungeon

In a world where I am good at this and have endless time, I would write a book similar to the Tome of adventure design for procedural dungeon generation. I am aware there are a lot of procedural dungeon generation sites, books and ideas. Many of them are very good, especially when it comes to maps. I tend to prefer smaller dungeons full of stuff rather than the larger ones found in modules, though I have to admit I never played a true megadungeon experience.

What I am after is not something with endless possibilities and a huge amount of entries. Tables with 10 or 20 entries, filled with character, that string together an interesting experience for the players, with plenty to do, is the way for me. This table is an attempt at doing exactly that, and it aims to generate bridges in a dungeon setting. Bridges over a chasm, bridges over lava, bridges over other parts of the dungeon, etc… all of them good choke points for set pieces, traps or awe-inspiring views.

You shall not pass up the opportunity to roll a d12 per column on this table! Keep or discard the danger according to the pacing of your dungeon…

DiceAppearanceInteresting featureDanger
1A living bridge made of vines and covered in moss, with firm roots on either side. Only 3 foot wide.Despite looking ancient, the bridge was conjured in place only a few years ago by Shareen, a wandering warlock.A large lizard predator sleeps under the bridge structure.
2An archway made of volcanic rock, wide enough for a chariot to pass through. Having been used for centuries, deep trackmarks are visible.Footprints of giants are “etched” in the bridge.An incredibly strong wind chops across the bridge, pushing medium creatures to one side.
3A suspended rope bridge with wooden planks. The ropes were weaved by spiders.In the middle of the bridge, a pedestal holds a stone statue of a hand. The hand can be turned to rearranged the brige.Someone is eager to set fire or collapse the bridge after the adventurers cross to the other side.
4A flat passageway in solid iron and steel smelted from the weapons of adventurers who die in the dungeon. The edges of the bridge are lined with spears.Although the location of this bridge is unknown, it has been described in Lothar’s fantastic travels, a set of diaries that some player characters may be familiar with.A tall gate stands at the other end, which may be closed to block the way forward and set up an ambush.
5Stone slabs lie suspended in the chasm, 5-10 feet apart from each other. A collapsed statue of a titan bearing a horn sprawls across the slabs. Towards the far end of the bridge, the corpse of an ogre is rotting. An arrow pierced her neck. Poisoned and infected green humor is coagulated around the wound.The water/fire/poison cloud etc. levels of whatever is below the bridge begin rising extremely fast.
6An invisible force forms a narrow passageway accessible only by stepping into the apparently empty chasm. Just before the bridge, a lectern stands with a book opened on it. The page reads “Here we observe the rite of passage”, followed by prayers to a god of beginnings. This bridge must have been used for some sort of religious procession…The bridge architect used a golem to help the construction. The golem is somewhere else in the dungeon, but will pursue those who cross the bridge without an authorization.
7A marble staircase ascending across the gap. The sides of the staircase are lined with columns whose capitals are sculpted with warped faces of distorted wild beasts.A quartz coin is hidden somewhere of the bridge. It is one of the famous 1000 quartz coin treasure of the plane-traveling pirate Arkanth.The bones of a warrior miner are buried within the bridge, and will rise up against looters or people who have disrespected the dungeon.
8A velvet carpet gently held between two edges by an invisible magical force. The fabric of the carpet is impervious to tear, but can catch fire.The sigil for the impoverished house of Marinth, bearing a white dragon wrapped around an obelisk, marks the bridge.A group of creatures observes those who cross the bridge from elsewhere, popping volleys of fire or explosive arrows.
9The skeleton of a prehistoric bird, sprawled across the gap. The bones are extremely brittle.The bridge stands over hot lava/a frozen river/a foggy cloud etc, whatever is appropriate.An dangerous oozy monster (e.g. slithering tracker/black pudding) imperceptibly hides in a puddle.
10Thick bundles of roots dangle from the ceilings. Jump between them to cross. Are some of the roots snakes?The bridge was initially constructed with one design, but then someone else built over it. Roll again on the first column and blend the results.Oldor, a necromancer, has hidden orbs on the bridge to monitor his next preys. His ghouls are starting to rise from the bottom…
11A bridge sculpted from the natural surrounding structures. Pickaxes and shovels tems are dangling from ropes on the sides of the bridge leading below, as if the sculpting process was abruptly interrupted by something.The bridge was long contested between two factions, long after its construction. Torn banners and other insignia can be found on either side.An ogre has set up a camp on the river. He is there to CRUSH BONES but also scared to venture out deeper. A small pile of gold, looted from elsewehere in the dungeon lies next to his tent.
12The bridge is made by piles of beds and furniture pillaged from nearby settlements and cleverly stacked on top of each other.A set of ropes runs parallel to the bridge 20 feet above it. They may be used to crawl across or observe who is on the bridge.The bridge itself is a mimic.
Jungle canyon road bridges… under Thatcher… the bridges…


So, you are a DM, running a game in the wilderness (or in a large dungeon), and you rolled a random encounter. But you don’t want to make it boring. As always, the key is tactics, environment and asymmetric combat. This table generates various ambush situations to help avoiding simple frontal engagements where D&D degenerates into “I cast X/attack, they attack back”.

A surprise encounter centered around a situation makes monsters and enemies interesting, though of course a DM should make sure the tactics make sense – no 5-star generals among 4 intelligence creatures! For smarter creatures, there is always this

In many of the set-ups presented here, the enemy will be hidden from the party, and assumed to be in its natural territory, generating an “outisders vs guerilla tactics” vibe. It’s a good table to have in hand for ratcheting up the tension.

Roll 2d10!

1The ambushers shoot an incendiary arrow from a hidden position, hitting the party’s camp or setting fire to some possessionsA single sentry from the attackers, away from the main force, will be spotted and divert the party’s attention on purpose
2The ambushers roll boulders from elevated position at a choke pointA runaway horse or similar creature rushing through the party, stirring up confusion
3The ambushers are disguised as a merchant caravan, and draw swords once the party is close enough to have a conversationA really obvious trap like an poorly concealed pit of spikes. They strike from behind as the party inspects or disarms it
4The ambushers hide on either side of a bridge, waiting to surround the party. If in the wilderness, they will consider destroying the bridge.A bonfire making a large column of smoke, visible from several miles out, will hopefully attract the party to the area
5One of the ambushers can cast a magical spell to turn any dry terrain into knee-deep slushy mud. As the party struggles to regain mobility, they strike.A large bird, released by the ambushers, flies overhead
6The ambushers send a group of friendly people as guides to the party. The guides will lead them to a dead end where the ambushers have set up.No diversion – the ambushers wait in pure silence. Check if they do get spotted though.
7The ambushers use a “scortched earth” tactic, damaging the environment around the party, to deprive the party of a resting spot, and strike as the party tries to reorganise.while the party sleeps
8The ambushers set up in a village, town or other somewhat populated area and hide among the locals. They will attempt to steal from the party and attack when soon as one member of the party is more than 25 yards away from the rest
9The ambushers use a hut with a magical door. If the party enters the hut, the door will seal shut and the ambushers will pepper the party with arrows from the outside. The door may only be opened with magic or a lengthy (1 minute) lockpicking procedure.As the weather worsens and visibility is lower
10The ambushers will use hidden tunnels to attack the party with ranged weapons from a burrow and retreat. The tunnels are trapped.People with a magical sense may perceive that the nature around them is being altered in some way

Desert encounters

A random encounter table for desert hex, journey or adventure.

The desert envisioned here is of the “saharan” variety, rather than something like the Arizona or central asian deserts. I am sure those types of environments also work – but a lot of stuff here kind of presupposes sand! Also, while making this table, I read this… rip my wallet, here I go buying another book.

Where was I? Right, random tables for a DM needing an encounter, pronto.

One of the main tropes of the desert is that things are not as they seem and that, much like in the jungle, locals will have an awareness for the environment that those who are traversing it for the first time will not have.

In these encounters, things are moving around the party, and the twists can be used to shift conditions during the encounter itself, to provoke dilemmas, tactical decisions, and puzzlement.

Roll 1d10 per column!

DiceEncounterAdditional twist
11d6 traders on camel. They are proceeding along a traditional route, and can navigate regardless of conditions. They mainly carry one of the following goods (roll 1d6): salt, books, boxes of gold dust, cloths, metal armors, ivory. One of the trader is fully covered in robes, and is in reality a noble woman escaping a rebellion.As the party arrives on site, a southern wind causes a small sand storm to begin to rise…
2A dune, shifting its position on its own. The dune is the back of an ancient sand giant, long asleep, but moving sometimes. Treading on the dune will awaken the giant.A hidden someone is following the party as they walk into the encounter and observing from a dune not far behind…
3A speckle in the distance will reveal the position of a sentinel and its sand lizard for a group of kobold bandits that intercepts travellers.After a brief period spent at the encounter place, the sand under the party will start opening up and swallowing whatever is in the area…
4A destroyed, abandoned caravan, half covered in sand. The main cart was carrying some sort of mummy (as can be deduced from some bandages) and was exploded from within. Some skeletons remain, but the rest has all but disappeared… Some part of the surroundings are illusions put in place to protect something within it.
5The remains of a stone tower, seemingly abandoned. The tower used to belong to a powerful yuan-ti war mage, who is now dormant in a clay jar. A stone golem guards the jar. A trap door hides the mage’s underground treasures..As the party continues in the encounter, the temperature keeps rising, to the point that metal becomes so hot that those wearing an armor will have to sustain exhaustion or damage.
6A scimitar is planted in the sand. Around it, a small oasis with water flourishes. Nobody is here at the moment. A warrior, blessed by the gods, died here a long time ago. The scimitar will talk with the voice of the warrior and attempt to assist the party on their journey. Taking the scimitar will consume the oasis and bring a curse onto the party.The encounter happens on the incline of steep dune. The party will be carefully stepping down as things are happening. Position and footing are crucial.
7Ahead of the party, a column of golems or other large monsters marches in line, carrying on their shoulders huge blocks of stone and columns for the construction of a grand temple. At the head and sides of the column, some troops monitor the situation.In the middle of the encounter, a giant scorpion rises from a hole in the sand.
8A circle ofhooded monks, impervious to the heart, chanting deep meditative drones. At the center of the circle is a tree, visibly growing, albeit slowly. The monks belong to the “order of life”. They seem dehydrated and about to die, and yet, the plant is flourishing…If the party is not on high ground, some creature or thing will begin rolling stones down a boulder towards the party…
9A pit of 1d6 mimetic snakes hides in the sand. They will attempt to pick off any animal carrying things or the last member of the party in the marching order.Another person is currently searching the area. He or she is a desert druid searching for an extremely rare petrified flower. The flower can be used to craft a potion to preserve life in a dehydrated body.
10An black lava cube lies at the center of a hexagon of obsydian dolmens. This site of worship was erected around the lava stone by the sand people, upon observing the stone falling from the sky. The stone can deform the perception of space around it, and put people in touch with creatures from other planes of existance…A scroll lies abandoned in the ground. It’s written in a strange language, but some figures seem to imply the presence of a dark force. Surely nothing to worry about?

Long-distance travel and trade networks

I took a train today, for the first time in a year. It was great! In fact, I am writing this table on said train.

To celebrate this moment, here is a “worldbuilding” table that tries to help you, DM, answer the crucial question: how do people get around in your world? How are people and information crossink large distances?

How fast things and people travel is one of the main discriminants between high and low fantasy settings… are wizards zooming around portals in their guilds in every city? Or is information as slow-traveling as oxen wagons?

My first encounter with absolutely bewildering travel in fantasy was playing Morrowind at a friend’s house as a kid, walking up to a huge, terrifying insect with long legs expecting to be killed… only to find a dude in front of it offering you a ride! Wild.

This table generates a transport service/trade network/information highway running between cities in your world. I have refrained from airships, but i’ve put some whacky ones in. Roll 1d10 per column!

DiceMeans of travelOperated byAdditional detail
1Carts and wagons travel in underground tunnels dug by a long-lost race of giant earthwormsSpecialized knights, employed by the kingdom, travelling fixed routesThe service was disrupted not long ago by a mysterious series of abductions
2Long-distance travel is exceedingly rare. People travel from town to neighbouring town and back lead to information and goods spreading, if very slowly (think ancient silk road)An informal “relay” of merchants covering short distances of the main route, moving between towns to sell local goodsDue to extreme seasonal weather (cold winter/monsoon season/earthquake season etc), travel is only possible in part of the year. The rest of the time, regions are isolated
3Enormous turtles, thousands of years old, migrate in fixed patterns, seasonally. People and goods can travel on their back. Cities and kingdoms naturally evolve around their routesGuilds of wizards of specialists have sprung around this. The secrets involved in this enterprise are passed down in families.The routes cross treacherous mountains. Those who do travel often arrive too scarred to tell the stories of what they have seen along the way. One can tell a traveller from its quiet demeanor.
4People have managed to exploit the natural magical fields running along the earth. Secret rituals are available to the rich and powerful for travelling and trading goods and informationCriminals have sprung around this transportation network. They control who travels and when, as well as intimidate anybody trying to compete with them.People can use this to send things once a week, but transporting people is a lot harder
5For as long as people remember, small things may be left, together with a gift, at the feet of special kinds of trees. If the tree is left undisturbed, the next morning the item will be transported somewhere else. Rumor has it that sylvan people can use this too…People from all walks of life can use or run this trade. It is considered a lowly job, because anybody can do it and it is risky. The travel network crosses countless villages whose economy revolves around it. Brave young adventurers escape the villages by hitching a ride along the transport network
6A special breed of oxen is used to pull wagons. They can carry enormous loads, similar to a modern day trains, but will only do so when properly fed. And they eat entire fields worth of wheat. They travel slowly and very rarely, but are extremely effective.It is a rite of passage for the youth to operate as “runners” in this network for a year of their life before being considered as full adultsThere is a tight control over what can travel. Spies and informants control the letters, rumors and things that can move along this network
7People have trained small birds to carry messages for them along great distances on fixed routes. In big cities, large birds are available to transport noblemen, although this is so rare most commonfolk are not aware of it.The expertise for this travel is mastered in some distant land that is more technologically or magically advanced. Only those who have come in contact with these foreign people can operate with very low risk.Swamps, steppes or other specific terrain types have long been avoided by travellers because of mysterious beasts lurking in them
8Land travel is extremely difficult. Most information, items and people travels on ships across seas or along rivers. Moving on land is limited to local travelSpecific non-human creaturesTravel is frequent, which has enabled the rise of some large cities. However, any disruption carries severe consequences…
9Cities are connected by a network of merchants carrying goods and services on horsecart.A group of rival trade companies control and operates the network. They hold a lot of political sway.While travel is infrequent, it is reliable. People have developed all sorts of tricks to avoid the dangers
10Rumor has it that some archmage is developing a special catapult to launch things across hundreds of miles… but who would believe such a thing?Only people with enough money to purchase specific equipment can do it. This has created an upper class “merchant” groupThere is a community of people and creatures living in the wilderness that is endangered by this trade network
Jesus Lana, the helium!!!
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