random encounters

How to Create D&D Random Encounters

One of the best parts of D&D is the element of mystery and potential for randomness.  But sometimes it can be difficult for a dungeon master to come up with fresh, new encounters off the top of their head. In this post, we’ll go over easy tips to create D&D random encounters for your game that can be as random or thematic as you need.

When to use D&D Random Encounters

The most common use of D&D random encounters is while players are traveling. It’s a good way to emphasize the danger of the wilderness while keeping the attention of your players.  A random encounter will snap players’ focus back to the game while making your world feel real and populated. The threat of roving monsters in the wild will have the side effect of making settlements feel safe and give your players an urgency to their travel.

While it might feel more realistic to have several days of travel pass uneventfully, realism can be very boring in a fantasy game. Some players may be hesitant to role play to fill the time, which can cause travel and downtime to crawl. Introducing random encounters can serve to break up these stagnant moments in the game. Additionally, they can also be opportunities to give your players hints and extra plot devices.

Random encounters are also useful when players choose an option that you didn’t anticipate when preparing for the current session. If you have difficulties improvising, generating an encounter from a table or program can give your players something to do while you stall for time.

What to Include in a Random Encounter

Depending on location, a random encounter can include a number of elements to engage your players. The players can encounter wild animals, humanoids (bandits or soldiers), special locations, or random items. At the bare minimum, an random encounter should have an instance that the players need to react to. This can be as basic as the party running into 1d10 wolves. But you’ll probably have a better response if your encounters are more than just basic combat.

Traveling merchants are always a welcome sight for adventurers. Not only can you give the players and opportunity to buy resources they might need (healing potions, arrows, etc.), you can also use the merchants as a way to introduce plot hooks or provide players with additional information that will help them on their current quest.

Random Encounter Resources

There are a number of resources you can use to create random encounters on the fly. You can pre-roll encounters before your session using tables either from The Dungeon Master’s Guide or from resources online. We recommend a couple from Reddit: the Table of tables and /r/d100. For more detailed random encounters, try the pdf created by Reddit user Mirmir-ion in the subreddit /r/DndBehindtheScreen called On The Road.

If you don’t have time to look at tables beforehand, or if your players are being typical players and have put you in a position where you have to make up an encounter on the fly, you can try some random encounter generators. Goblinist RPG Tools has an encounter generator that allows you to configure the encounter by location, player level, and more. Donjon also has an encounter generator you can use. It has a very similar style to the Goblinist tool.

Goblinist RPG Tools
Goblinist RPG Tools
Donjon Random Encounter Generator
Donjon Random Encounter Generator

You can also combine random encounter generators with random plot generators. Auto Roll Tables is an exceptional tool for quickly generating random resources like monsters, plot hooks, and objects. Using generators together can take a lot of the creative work out of sudden encounters.  You can check out other encounter generators and other helpful D&D generators on our Resources page.