I've been wondering, what's an interesting way to use random encounters while exploring dungeons?

We're currently playing D&D Next Playtest and every 10 minutes of dungeon turns or such I make a random encounter check. However, sometimes I feel my random encounters are too random and unexciting.

Last time, the party was exploring an insect based dungeon and then a group of Fire Beetles, running scared of - I don't know, they were just scared and show up, and the Druid of the party calms them down and... Well, the party just leaves and decides not to check what scared them. To be honest, I don't even know what did and I don't think I would be able to come up with something interesting since they pretty much popped out of no where from a dead end on a corridor.

I've been using Paizo's random combat tables since I converted some Pathfinder Monsters on them to Next material, and some times I read the monster manuals and I think "Well this creature seems quite neutral, how the heck am I gonna deal with them in an interesting way?".

Today the party ran into a corridor flooded with Boilborns, and just said "well, we'll just take the other corridor". In fact there was nothing interested to find there (besides being grossed out and disturbed). They just advanced and dealt with it.

So, sometimes random encounters come in corridors or uninteresting rooms, and I have no idea how to make something random interesting. Specially those damned neutral creatures since I hate the whole factions/negotiations stuff inside dungeons and usually they explore places with creatures that can barely even talk.

  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ I can't quite tell: is the problem just that they're not interesting? Are the players uninterested? (how do you know?) Are you bored by the random encounters? Or are you asking what to do with non-combat random encounter results? \$\endgroup\$ Jul 3, 2014 at 5:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think dnd-next is an appropriate tag here as the problem is not specific to that game or system, this seems rather a gm-techniques or gm-preparation question. \$\endgroup\$
    – Xabei
    Jul 3, 2014 at 8:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ As a general resource for making encounters meaningful and interesting, I think this (large) article is a great read: angrydm.com/2013/05/… . I might post a rundown of that as an answer, if I find the time and nobody beats me to it. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 3, 2014 at 12:43

2 Answers 2


Do not stop at random, ever.

That is the one answer I believe is appropriate. Why do you even want to have a random encounter in a dungeon? To surprise your party? You can do that without resorting to randomness.

Interrupting resting by a random attack can also be a good reason, as giving the players an atmosphere of impending danger, when you roll for random encounters periodically. Be wary though, that it's different to have a set encounter with a random monster ("the door opens and you see..." roll "two kobold guardians"), a random encounter with a predetermined set of monsters (roll "the patrol of two kobold guardians is apparently in another corridor, the road is safe" - roll again in 15 minutes game time) or both of those.

Remember that it's not only about creating interesting encounters. It's about creating an interesting dungeon. And that's done when a dungeon is not just a set of disparate encounters. I'm not saying that random encounters should be avoided. I am saying though, that it's actually harder to make an interesting dungeon when you use random encounters.

Use the encounters for pacing

If your party stumbles upon a block and can't figure out what to do or advances through a part of dungeon without anything of note at the moment (remember that no parts of a dungeon should be uninteresting walking space, but it may be that in a seemingly empty, bland corridor a later twist happens, like a series of doors opening or the floor is replaced with lava only after the players take some action, e.g. recover the treasure or flip a switch).

Plan your random encounters

Plan how many random encounters you would like to incorporate and when that is going to happen. It doesn't have to be very precise, but establishing to yourself that you will expect two or three random encounters will help you manage them properly.

Plan your dungeon around the randomness

Leave a space in the dungeon that will accommodate for a random encounter. this part, be it an unplanned additional room or corridor will be your "randomness sink". Use it to justify the random encounter and provide a small reward if the characters choose not to ignore the encounters. It helps

Example: Say two random encounters happened: a wight and a gelatinous cube. You look for a link between the two, and make a note. Say you figure out that the jelly secretes acid and paralysing agent. A wight is an undead raised by violent death and suffering. Following that, in your unplanned room your put a large alchemical set, some books, desks and evidence of experimenting. A few clues point out that an unknown alchemist tried to extract a new anaesthetic from cube's jelly. Something went wrong and upon ingesting the extract, alchemist died horribly and was raised as a wight. If the players has seen the wight they can figure it out with a successful INT roll. Let them have a bit of jelly, and they can extract a bit of that poison for themselves. Suddenly two bland encounters are interesting and engaging. Do it a few times and your group will never skip an encounter as "boring".

  • \$\begingroup\$ Random encounters are also used to effect the difficulty of resting. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMNoob
    Jul 3, 2014 at 12:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh yeah, fair enough, then that's even more reason to plan them. Amending... \$\endgroup\$
    – eimyr
    Jul 3, 2014 at 12:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ Random encounters can also be used to provide the impression of a "living dungeon" by having encounters in areas the players have already visited (and cleared out). It's another good situation to plan random encounters, though - a patrol of kobolds is likely to get more and more jittery if they keep on encountering corpses. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Jul 4, 2014 at 6:41

I can think of two possible ideas.

  1. Alter the terrain. When the fire beetles come rushing in, have them also create holes in the walls, or ground. And have the tunnel they create become a shortcut to an interesting part of the dungeon, nearby. Create cave ins or blockages.

  2. Cheat. If a random encounter doesn't seem fitting to that location, then pick the random monster 1 up or 1 down, or even two away from what you rolled if you think it would be more fitting for that section.

Alternatively, you can try to use the improve techniques featured elsewhere on the site. For example, you might change up the monsters a bit. These are fire beetles, AND /BUT, their feet are covered in water, or they have saddles on them. You did well in having them come in running scared, but you likely didn't project enough to the players that they were scared of something unusual. Try making the strange or unique thing about the random monsters more obvious in their physical description.


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