improving D&D monster encounter tables

2016.01.21 (updated : 2016.01.20)

I've devised a random monster encounter table that utilizes the distributions I've built on this page. Click the 'graph' button about 1/3 of the way down the page (or see the bottom of this page).

My list puts all the big bads at the beginning of the range, and puts all of the aberrations, slimes*, etc at the bottom. Rolling a d16 + d10 (black line) gives a nice flat curve across the middle, but tapers off perfectly for the top-most and bottom-most parts of the range. So, the big bads and horrors are less likely to come up.

But in some conditions, you *want* those big bads and horrors. It can be done using the same table. I roll 3d6 and add up the lowest two if I'm interested in trolls & hill giants (blue line). If I'm interested in aberrations, I roll 3d6 and add up the highest three, then add 14 (orange line).

Finally, there's my (almost eight-year-old) son and his low-level character. Still using the same chart but a different selection: 2d6 + 7 (green line). This cuts out the things that will kill them outright, and keeps the neutral encounters, the pranksters, easier confrontations, etc. I decided to make my own monster encounter tables because the second thing my son ever ran into – on the first day of gaming, at age six – was an eight-sided hydra. As he likes to say, "no fair".

*I replaced the traditional slimes with a type of demon that's essentially the "grey goo" of nanotech fears.

big bads cute and cuddlies aberrations
four distributions for determining random monsters from a D&D table

output 1 d16 + d10

output 2 14+ [highest 2 of 3d6]

output 3 [lowest 2 of 3d6]

output 4 7 + 2d6

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Fantastic tutorial. Really well done and I am sure that the lessons contained here will improve other aspects of photography as well. Thank you for sharing this. All the best. David.

2010.02.08 10:53:19

I'm glad you found it useful, Harry. If you've got any suggestions for improvement I'm all ears. 8^)


Thank you very much for sharing this wisdom. I'm developing my product photo skills but have, until now, found jewellery to be nigh on impossible. Thank you again.

Paul Campbell-Castle
2010.02.08 13:00:05

Yes, I agree it is maddeningly difficult. For some reason I thought I'd be able to tackle it myself. My early results were very disappointing and while I made some progress on my own I suppose eventually came to accept .. 'acceptable'.

Happily, our test group demanded something better and my partner thought of putting some questions to Rick (on the other side of the world) who put me on the right track.


Hi great tutorial, just wondering how you lose the camera lens reflection, thanks.Marty

2010.03.23 07:34:44

Hi, Marty, thanks for the feedback. I was shooting through a soft box, so most of the camera was hidden from the ring's shiny surface. Only the lens itself pops through, and even that was sitting atop the long piece of stiff card-stock paper that I was shooting on (it curled up in front, under the lens, just as it curled up out of sight in the back). I would then try to ensure that the lens wasn't reflected in a particularly noticeable location on the ring's surface. Also, I was using a fairly small lens, an old manual-focus item with a fairly small front element and overall diameter.

Wiping out any stray reflections is always possible in Photoshop, but to tell you the truth I didn't find it necessary when taking care with the placement of the objects in the image.


Standing a ring using wax is indeed tricky & messy. Here's what I do. It uses no wax and works with every size and width ring: Take a hard surface (wood, plastic or metal)and drill a 1/16" hole about 1/8" deep. Take a 1/8" drill and (by hand) chamfer the top of the hole slightly. Level this surface and stand ring over the hole. The ring will stay upright, and even though the bottom is slightly below the surface, it won't show in your photo.

2010.05.20 04:12:31

Thanks for the advice, it sounds like a delicate but fruitful technique.


excellent tutorial! now if only I had a diamond ring ^_^

2010.05.29 15:00:35

Well if you're ever in the market you know where to go! 8^P

Thanks for the comment.


Great Jewelry design ! Really nice ! I like it. Thanks.

Al Kamal Md. Razib
2010.07.15 10:20:23

Thanks for the comment, sir! I see you're with Clipping Path. Thanks to you for the good work your team did on our images.


This is an amazing and useful tutorial. Thank you so much. I work full time as an antique jewelry photographer with no training on the subject and it is so hard to find information like this. I pretty much gave up on getting standing ring shots with wax and I love your angled technique. Now how to you achieve those perfect shadows??

Suzanne Pressman
2010.07.23 19:38:30

Thanks for the feedback. The shadows were dropped in on another layer in photoshop. I was given a couple of hand-made "shadows" by a professional illustrator friend.


Thanks for the information! So glad I decided to check out your site; this will come in very handy. Very well written and illustrated.

Edith Hopson
2011.03.28 23:45:06

I'm glad you were able to make use of it, Edith. Please pass on any suggestions or improvements you might discover.


The diamond looks black. How do you prevent that?

2011.05.31 16:58:11

It does indeed. In our case we were building an interface with minimal colour and we were aiming for a desaturated look. I found the use of a clip-on LED light with a "snoot" made from electrical tape helped make bring out some fire.


Thank you for the tips and techniques.. now to get to work! I think you missed a key ingredient from your list :) patience.

2011.06.21 12:15:57

That\'s a very good point! 8^)

Thanks for your comments.


Are Brio blocks glossy or matt and will it matter? Ed suggested hole to support any ring. Most rings are top heavy and will not easily balance as I tried and could not get a single one to stay. An old bar trick may work here. Sprinkle grains of salt and they will assist in balancing but providing side support. carefully blow excess away to remove the visible unwedged grains, supporting grains will stay. It always worked with salt shakers balanced on an angle. It's easier than it sounds when done.

2011.07.16 22:23:21

Sounds like fun! But I found that simply photographing the jewelry on its side and righting the image in software was far more effective than manually propping the ring into the desired position.


Thanks for the information, do you have any ideas on taking photos of diamonds only (not as part of a jewelry piece)?

Jimmy du Preez
2011.11.11 13:51:42

Diamonds are damn hard. I never had much luck photographing the stones directly, but have to admit that I didn\'t take it too far because my focus was on the jewelry. I did find that I could get somewhere by shooting with a tight snoot on the strobe, in an otherwise dark environment, and lots and lots of experimentation. I did try some work with a cheap laser penlight and found that great for bringing out \"fire\" but it\'s damn difficult to capture.

Do let me know if you sort it out!


This is what I always use and it comes out perfect I use the one with the shampoo

2012.02.02 06:03:26

Thanks for your comment as well as the tip, Jessica. I've been warned off of the ultrasonic devices for good, though, having heard too many stories about stones being knocked out of alignment.


Thank You for Your advices. Using the wax was driving me crazy :). For me Your tutorial is the most helpful from all that i found in the net. Thank You once again and I'm going to put your advices into practice... Sorry for my poor english.

2012.02.24 09:01:19

I'm very glad that you found it useful, Adam. The wax method is a dead end, isn't it.

(And your English is fine! The only Polish I ever learned was "jedno piwo")


Thank You for Your advices. Using the wax was driving me crazy :). For me Your tutorial is the most helpful from all that i found in the net. Thank You once again and I'm going to put your advices into practice... Sorry for my poor english.

2012.02.24 09:01:19

I'm very glad that you found it useful, Adam. The wax method is a dead end, isn't it.

(And your English is fine! The only Polish I ever learned was "jedno piwo")


thank you so much for sharing the technique :)

Jon Soriano
2012.04.23 05:35:12

My pleasure, I hope it's helpful to you.

Let me know when your site's out of construction; there is some nice work on the main page from what I can see at this point.


Always learning man. Great article! I hope my customers will understand that dirty products make long Photoshop hours and imperfect results!

Jules Product Photographer in Toronto
2012.06.15 16:31:26

Very glad you found it useful, Jules.


hmm how about some photoshop tips? great tutorial btw!

korkmaz atadinc
2012.08.20 20:25:00

Thanks for the comments. What is this Photoshop of which I hear so much? Certainly nothing for which I have a license. ;^)


What are you thoughts about shooting a ring that doesn't go 360 degrees? The bottom of the shank may be shot separately and layered in using photoshop. I haven't tried this myself but I was thinking about trying it. It would be a good solution, if it works that is, to have a holder that is notched out like a ring gift box, sponge covered with card stock, take the picture with the bottom of the shank missing and then take another picture with the ring upside down so it is easy to match together with photoshop. Great tutorial by the way, thank for doing this.

2013.05.24 16:15:30

That's an interesting idea. I found that any kind of holder for the jewelry at all wound up being reflected in the metal and left strange lines that ran against the shape of the piece in weird ways. I've seen this many times in the jewelry photography I've seen since. But I'd be interested to see your results, especially how it works out with turning the ring and stitching the results in photoshop. Would you mind sending along a pic of two once you're happy with it?


Oh, so much efforts! Really appreciated. Are the clients ready to pay top $ for all the efforts involved? in most of the cases for the e-commerce based websites, they hardly have any funds in place for the photography of their artificial jewelry.

pashminu mansukhani
2013.12.12 09:36:08

I developed this procedure for my own e-commerce site, which is now defunct. I agree, performing photography for other sites would probably be a difficult way of making a living.


Hi Michael, Thank you for this article. I have been wondering for years looking at jewelery catalogs how in the world they managed to take pictures or upright rings without wax. But I will have to say that the technique you mentioned here will not work for everybody. First of all, you did not get any shadow of the ring on the acrylic base (or you removed it with photoshop). So it was easier for you to rotate the image and make the ring appear upright. Secondly, you had your ready-made shadows to place them just under the ring with the help of photoshop. And this will not work when using black acrylic or glass to give a reflection of the ring. I tried your technique, but without the ready-made shadows and a very soft shadow of the ring on the base, I could not get your effects.

2014.01.03 13:49:40

Thanks for the feedback, this is the first time someone's presented such a case. I can certainly see the difficulty, and if possible, I'd recommend asking a Photoshop whiz for some advice. Perhaps a forum for people who make a living with such things? I suggest this because I needed assistance from someone in that line in order to accomplish what I did.

And you're quite right, I removed every bit of the surface of the acrylic using a "clipping path" in Photoshop. In truth, I outsourced it to an outfit in India which at the time charged only $1 for each image. You can find them here:

Barring that, can I ask why you're using black acrylic? Are you looking for a certain effect, for instance a broad black reflection on the ring's surface? I tried quite a number of different surfaces, including different colors and textures, but ultimately decided that to control the appearance of the rings I had to use a white environment and selectively add black elements for reflections that would highlight the shapes.

It's now been about 4-5 years since I was working on that diamond ring business (which never took off); I'm glad someone's still finding this technique worth a try.


Hi Michael, Great efforts and thanks a lot for sharing. i'm working in a diamond firm and on diamond photography experiments are going on. yet have not succeed but trying everyday to do something. your tutorial is very helpful and i would like to try this way. as in a diamond firm, generally we took diamond photos by using USB cameras connecting through the microscope. i would like to be in touch with you. and would like to know your email address. thanks, keep going ahead. sameer

2014.07.24 22:41:59

You certainly need to use some form of micro- or macro-photography to do this work, it's true. I believe I had a lens reverse-mounted for the macro-effect when I did this work.

Let me know if I can help with any questions.


Good advice. I'm still working on this technique. Unfortunately I have very bad lighting and I always have the unwanted shadow.

2015.03.05 10:29:40

It took me three months to develop this technique, Marie. Keep trying!


Hello Michael, I am wondering if you would also know how to take images of the inside of a diamond instead of a jewellery. I need to take photos of the diamonds insides to show its clarity. Thanks

Mr. He
2015.03.10 03:09:53

Good day, sir. Off hand, I can't think of a way to do this with most modern photography equipment. Back in the manual focus days we might have reverse-mounted a lens to get the magnification – but with today's auto-everything lenses I'm not so sure. I have seen such images from diamond producers, so it must be possible; perhaps they have special equipment for the purpose.

Good question!


Hello sir im Amandeep Singh from India I want to learn diamond jewellery photography. actually sir im photographer but im always fail to click the diamond jewellery. Im trying so many time but mostly same ruselt pls help me

Amandeep Singh
2016.10.23 00:00:00

Most of what I know is on the page you found & commented on. I found jewelry photography to be a terribly difficult task, but I'd be happy to help if I can.

What do you want to know?


rand()m quote

Naturally the common people don't want war: Neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.

Hermann Goering