Pathfinder 2E Creating Random Encounter Tables in PF2e


I've been looking into converting other content into PF2e and one of the sticking points for me is creating random encounters. Because of the tight math of PF2e rolling on a table that has wildly differing encounter levels is not desirable. Thankfully the encounter math works in our favor as well. We can create random encounter tables that do not need to make any assumptions about the party's level or it's size, but rather use both as part of their roll method to create the exact level of encounter needed. I know the way PF2e does encounters is divisive, but I hope that GMs can adopt or modify this method of encounter rolling if they want to produce random encounters similar to older editions without worrying about messed up balance.

Encounter Math​

There are five tiers of encounters for players: Trivial, Low, Moderate, Severe, and Extreme. These tiers are relative to the party's level, and the party being over or under leveled causes the tier of the encounter to shift on a 1 to 1 basis; a Moderate encounter for a 2nd level party would be a Low encounter for a 3rd level party, or a Severe encounter for a 1st level party. This is assuming a party of 4 players. For each player missing we treat the party as one level lower, and for each player beyond the fourth we treat the party as one level higher. So for a 2nd level party with 5 players a Severe 2nd level encounter would be Moderate, while a 2nd level party with 3 characters would have the same Severe encounter would become Extreme.

Turning Moderate Encounters into a Level-based Nested Table​

This brings us to making random encounters. The best way to make a random encounter table for this game IMO would be to create a set of Moderate encounters balanced for four players for every effective level the party would face in the campaign. For a level 1-20 campaign, this would range from level -1 to level 22. Then when you want to produce an appropriate encounter for the party, simply use a roll method that factors in the party's level and number of players. As an example, if I wanted to produce a Low, Moderate or Severe encounter for the party, I could do so by rolling on this -1 to 22 table with 1d3-6+(Party's Level)+(Number of Players). For a 5th level party of 4 players the results would be 4, 5 or 6. A moderate 4 encounter is a Low 5 encounter, and a moderate 6 is a severe 5, matching my needs perfectly. So when I roll a 6 for instance, I would could then reference a list of Level 6 Moderate Encounters and roll there as I see fit. It would not matter what came back: a level 8 enemy, a Weak level 9 enemy, 4 level 4 enemies, etc, all of them would correspond to the correct encounter budget. If I want to show they are in an area that is relatively safe I can reduce the result by 1 (allowing only for Trivial, Low and Moderate), or for an area that's fairly dangerous increase it by 1 (for Moderate, Severe and Extreme). If you want to change the weighting of individual results you can just adjust the roll method: for more Moderate encounters than Low or Severe, I can roll it as 2d2-7+(Party Level)+(Number of Players). If you so desired you could also cap the level ranges for an area: If I never wanted greater than Moderate 8 encounters in an area I could just specify that results =>8 all pull from the Moderate 8 table, and I could set a level minimum just as easily.

By using this method you can have prepped long lists of balanced and exciting encounters without having to know the party's exact level or size beforehand. This is great for a variety of campaigns, but is of particular use for Hexcrawls, Westmarches, or any campaign with a large amount of overland travel/variable party composition. For making the encounters themselves you can use a tool like this encounter builder to make sure that you're reaching the Moderate XP range for each encounter. This also makes it easier to share encounter tables with other GMs, as it makes as few assumptions as possible about the party and thus applies to more groups. Hopefully you guys find it helpful as you get more into running your own PF2e games.

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What I've been doing so far for wandering monsters is have a d12 decide between a few sets of monster groups themed to the location, and then have the number of monsters in each encounter vary from trivial to severe.

For example, at level 1 I have a haunted keep infested by various critters. The wandering monster table looked like this:

1-5: 1d3 giant flies
5-6: 1d3 giant frogs
7-12: 1d4+2 skeleton guards

At level 4 I have a hobgoblin stronghold with a bit more meat to the wandering monster table.

1-3: 1d6+2 hobgoblin soldiers
4-6: 1 hobgoblin archer and 1d6-1 hobgoblin soldiers
7-8: 1d6+2 hobgoblin soldiers and 1d3 goblin warriors*
9-10: 1d2 bugbear thugs and 1d4+1 hobgoblin soldiers
11: 2d4+2 goblin warriors*
12: 2d3 bugbear thugs.

* The goblins aren't really a threat and immediately flee if faced with aggression.

I usually have 3-5 players. When there are only 3, I have an NPC of appropriate level fill the missing spot and can still run the encounters as written. When they are all present, I just add an extra monster or two or make one or two of them elites, just as I would for a set encounter.

For wilderness encounters I use larger tables with 2d10 to determine monster type, leaving rarer monsters closer to 2 and 20, as those numbers are less likely. Depending on their level, they can come up against unwinnable encounters here, but I see that as less of an issue during overland travel as it's easier to come up with ways for the party to avoid a battle. The important part is making it clear to the players the monster is likely beyond them. For example, if they wander into the mountains, they might encounter a frost giant despite being only level 4. But the giant might be busy and disinterested in the party, or appeased by a tribute.

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