I've been fiddling with encounter tables again (as always) as i find them very useful in an open (sandbox) campaign. A good set of table is descriptive and can really drive a lot of adventure. A proper set of tables allows the DM to present a seemingly complete campaign. wondering about what such a set of tables may include got me thinking on ways to classify and organize tables. So far I've worked out a number of elements worthy of consideration: Activity Mode, Party Size, Composition, Climate, Civilization, Terrain, Season, Weather, and Time of Day.
Activity Mode- just what are the players doing, this should have a major impact on what encounters they have to deal with and makes player choice a major element in what happens to them. Are they Traveling, Sneaking about, Camping, Hiding Out, Exploring, Hunting, In Residence, Engaged in some Industry, or Raiding? Each of activities can bring about a different set of encounters. A party hunting in a dukes forest is going to drum up a different set of reactions and encounter than they would bristiling with weapons to pillage the same dukes holdings beyond the woods.
Party Size- a definite impact, some encounters will be missed or avoided simply by party size. An Individual or Pair is going to have a different experience from a small or large party, as would a caravan, or army.
Composition- is the party On Foot, Mounted, Mixed (with some walking and some riding), A wagon Train, Water-Born, or Flying?
Climate- pretty obvious stuff here is the region generally Cold, Cool, Mild, Warm, or Hot?
Civilization- how dense is the local population and how is it organized? Urban, Rural, Borderland, Frontier, Wild?
Terrain- Lot's of room here in fantasy lands beyond the obvious: Mountains, Hills, Swamp, Plains, Forest, and Desert. What about Faerie Forests, Dragon Wrack, Mushroom Forests, and Shadowlands? don't gorget the impact of civilization on the terrain which can be reshaped to include Pasture, Fields, Worked Wood, Road, Village, Town, Metropolis, Castle, Ruins and Monuments.
Season- often ignored but the world is a different place when it's Winter, Spring, Summer or Autumn.
Weather- maybe a variable condition, or a predictable one that will certainly impact what those out and about have to deal with, Is it Cloudy, Windy, Rainy, A cold spell or a heat wave; all those conditions will impact what is roaming about and who is doing what.
Time of Day- time of day if broken down by the hour or broader periods of Dawn, morning, Afternoon, Dusk and Night will impact sights to be seen and encounters, not just likelihood and frequency.
Certainly a lot of ground there and not every combination need be considered but if many are a richer experience may be developed that describes the campaign setting and drives play. Combining most of the factors above would result in over a quarter million tables alone...