Here is what I have to say about encounter tables. They don’t fucking work. You can spend weeks sorting out the monsters according to the climatic, vegetative or demographic region you want; you can assign them frequencies and number appearing; you can carefully construct the tables so you can roll a hundred sided or a thousand sided dice…but when you start rolling on that table because a party is stumbling through some forest, you can bet your ass that “wolf” is going to come up the dice every fucking time.
Fact is, you won’t like the results, they won’t fit into the campaign that day and you’ll find yourself rolling again and again on your carefully constructed table until you toss the piece-of-shit table out and just pick the monster you like.
This frustrates me endlessly. It has done so for the past thirty years. Whereas my world is intended to be a self-acting system, it just doesn’t work out that way when it comes to monsters and to this day I haven’t been able to fix it.
And oh, I’d like to.
I know that a great part of the problem is the relative number of monsters. There just aren’t enough. And there aren’t any new ones.
Oh, yes, I know, there are hundreds of “new” monsters in all the books that have been printed. So I am told. Except that they don’t seem very “new” to me.
I don’t need any new dogs, cats, golems, demons, dragons, jinxkins, humanoids (christ in a sidecar, tieflings?), jellies or plants that capture things with tentacles. These are not new monsters, these are the same old monsters with marginally different characteristics. They don’t add anything to the existing three-dimensional environment because most of them are too silly to a) be taken seriously; b) to be anything other than kill-the-party drones; or c) include any graspable dramatic quality not already present in the original tomes. Books like Monster Manual III are just long complicated descriptions of what are, effectively, “flail snails.”
I have read over them several times and I can’t see how their inclusion will help “fill up” the empty places in my world.
But perhaps you don’t understand what I mean by that (I haven’t really explained my problem yet).
When I take the profoundly usable original AD&D monster manual (where every monster actually makes sense) and add to it the Fiend Folio (about 50% useful) and a scattering of other monsters from other books, I get a total of about 800 useful, original monster types. Dividing this into vegetation (desert vs forest vs prairie), and further dividing this into climate (dry-hot from cold-rainy from cool arid and so on), then finally by season (winter vs. summer), I typically get from 5 to 60 monsters per region. Jungles and forests have the most types (with the exception of subterranean), but arctic/tundra regions have very, very few.
I have, for the past year, given up on the idea of a die roll to randomly determine the appearance of any monster. I have been trying to think outside of the box, and this has led me to rethink monsters in many different ways. I have come up with a few conclusions, mostly about frequency and number appearing.
Any 20-mile hex, being about 313 sq.m. in area, would have to have a healthy number of every kind of monster present. In a wilderness forested area, there would have to be dozens of bears and hundreds of deer. Those would be earth numbers. To what degree would they be supplemented or replaced by the massive herbivores and carnivores that supposedly exist? If a hill giant is 8 times as massive as a human being, would 20 hill giants be more or less easy to locate than 160 people?
These are questions that I have been as yet unable to answer. If I set some total of hit dice as the base upon which I should gauge the population of a hex, then we’re looking at a hex allowing thousands of hit dice.
How is that?
Well, 150 acres of arable land will support 75 cattle, which, as every knows, have 1-4 HD (let’s call it 2 HD, for simplicity of use). There are 640 acres in a square mile, and 313 square miles in a 20 mile hex…that’s 640 / 150 * 313 * 75 * 2 (for hit dice) = 200,320 HD per hex.
Ah, but most land is NOT arable. And forests are very not arable, at least as far as humans go. But what about treants? What do they eat? If dead leaves, then a forest could feed an awful lot of treants. Still, we ought to limit the above number somehow…lets say that 5% of the land in a forest is practical for the feeding of the monsters therein. That leaves us with 10,016 HD per hex.
If we distribute this equally throughout a given encounter table, say the temperate table of the DMG (p. 186-7), where there is a 1% chance of encountering a hill giant, then we find we have 100 HD distributed towards the hill giant population—resulting in a total population of some 12 to 13 hill giants…in every hex.
Hm. Seems a little high for me. Perhaps you could adjust the “arability” of the land downwards some…to the point where every hex would have it’s prerequisite hill giant. That would be a total of 801 HD per hex…or approximately 0.4% of the forest actually being arable.
Which seems…low. Especially for somewhere that has such a reputation for being thick with growing things.
All right, so we lower the frequency of hill giants. To what, exactly? Because to be honest, I have no idea. And it wouldn’t matter anyway, because the problem is that a hill giant encounter is going to be a LOT more interesting than a wolf encounter, though wolves are clearly going to be more common in their occurrence (thus there is an 8% chance of encountering them on the DMG table referenced). But I know of no party who would be interested in going through 8 wolf encounters (a total of 32 wolves) before encountering one hill giant.
So, clearly, there’s nothing to be gained by following any system of logic. A useful system would have to be designed on the encounter’s “interest” quotient.
Which is where I’m stuck. I’ve thought about intelligence as a guideline, on the argument that the greater the intelligence the more desirous the monster would be in bugging or attacking the party…but I’m still waiting for the scales to fall from my eyes.