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For example, say a party of adventurers is journeying through a wilderness region which is known to be patrolled by Orcs and other nasties.

A party of 2-3 adventurers would surely attract less attention than ten. Think Sam and Frodo vs. the entire Fellowship. On the other hand, monsters might steer clear of an armed party of 500 (the PCs + lots of retainers) no matter how much noise they make as they march.

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Do you really mean throughout the entirety of Dungeons and Dragons' history going back to the 1970s or do you want these for a specific edition? – Hey I Can Chan Mar 31 '14 at 16:51
Yes - I wanted to throw as broad a net as possible. I figure a 1st edition AD&D random encounter table should be applicable to a 3.5 D&D with a few additions/subtractions. – RobertF Mar 31 '14 at 17:39
up vote 5 down vote accepted

I think OP is trying to account more for the fact that a larger group of adventurers reasonably will attract more attention than a smaller group. This isn't a tailoring of difficulty persay, but more of an expression of the amount of "noise" the adventurers make going through hostile territory.

In this case I would advocate rolling multiple times on the encounter table. A nonlinear buildup would probably be accurate, so let's say we roll a number of times equal to the square root of the size of the party, which is more or less the party's cross-section if you imagine them as a vaguely circular blob moving through the region.

This means that a party of 2-3 adventurers gets encounters about as often as the rules suggest. A party of 4-8 adventurers gets encounters roughly twice as often and sometimes they run into twice as many bad guys.

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Be aware that existing random tables have numbers on the high end of the range, not low. This would make existing tables generate 100 orcs for a small party and 200+ for the larger party, which is the kind of relative difference the OP is asking for, but in absolute numbers goes in the opposite direction than requested. Consider a modification to account for that? – SevenSidedDie Mar 31 '14 at 17:37
Thanks Grubermensch, I like the mathematical approach. I can see some players finding the "optimal" party size to minimize exposure to random encounters while maximizing combat effectiveness if they do encounter monsters. – RobertF Mar 31 '14 at 17:50

No. I notice you didn't specify edition, but I'm familiar with them all—and none that use random encounters (and tables thereof) tailor their numbers to the size of the party. The editions that include that specific kind of randomness are already aiming to provide a naturalistic experience, where the world is not tailored to the party, and having random encounter tables is one way they achieve that. Tailoring the number of monsters encountered would be a small contradiction of the reason these editions include random encounters in the first place.

However, there is a "native" way of tailoring random encounters to the party in these games. First, the players are informed that it's up to them to engage with encounters or not (assuming they're not surprised), and that exploring into more dangerous areas is a choice on their part that will bring greater dangers (possibly surprising them).

Second, the DM has the option of backing this up with customised tables for certain areas of the wilderness. By choosing what is on your tables, you are effectively tailoring the encounters to a theoretical group of X ability. By placing these tables around your world, you are saying "This place is dangerous to parties below X ability". The players then explore—and their observations, and choices about whether to continue or leave for "greener" exploration pastures, is how the game adjusts difficulty to the party.

(As for the issue of attracting less attention, that is usually handled by modifiers to the surprise roll, or outright just deciding that one side is aware of the encounter before the other side is. Hence, an army of orcs is still less likely to notice a couple of hobbits, but not likely to be somehow a smaller group of orcs just because it's two hobbits and not ten.)

So to sum: No edition of D&D that uses random tables concerns itself about that kind of tailoring difficulty to the party, because it is already assuming that it's the players' responsibility to tailor difficulty using their ability to choose where they go, and what enemies to engage with there. Therefore, if you're looking for tables to use in any edition that have their numbers pegged to the party's size, you won't find any that are pre-made.

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Thanks, this is helpful. Actually my question could be split into two separate questions: 1) Is the probability of a random encounter related to party size? and 2) Are the number of monsters encountered related to party size? As you pointed out, the # monsters encountered may not vary as much as the probability of encountering monsters. – RobertF Mar 31 '14 at 17:46

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