Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Random Orc

… you can’t assume the orcs you’re going to find are the same old orcs and you can kill them in the same old way….  Too often you sit there and the player says, “well, we’ll just assume that its 2 hit dice and armor class 8 etc.” and I like to say, “well, okay that’s the little ones, but you’re fighting a big one.”, or  “You’re fighting the tribe from that side of the hill, not the other side.” – Dave Arneson, Mortality radio interview, July 9th, 2004.

Though this statement comes from near the end of Dave Arnesons’ life, the philosophy behind it is perhaps most evident in young Arnesons gaming.  Dave created random charts for generating wilderness encounters, magic swords, treasure, “protection points” for dungeon stocking, yearly and monthly events, and even for generating whole maps and features.

Dave played a random game. Perhaps the preference for randomness is explained by Dave’s commitment to impartiality as a Referee, letting the dice decide, virtually everything in the game, including the details of the adventure itself.

And, as the quote above implies, monsters too.

The OSR has seen the rise of advocates of randomly generating monsters, partly as a response to players being familiar with the stats or same old same old syndrome.  Yet once again, looking at Blackmoor dungeon in the FFC, we can see evidence of Arneson doing much the same with monsters in the first years of the hobby.

The Monsters of Blackmoor dungeon are curious things.

Although the maps never changed, Blackmoor dungeon was frequently restocked.  The FFC gives us two fascinating glimpses into it’s inhabitants at different times.  Dave seems to have taken a very early, pre D&D dungeon key for levels 1-10 and reworked the first 6 levels for the gen con tournament of 1976.  How much content of those first 6 levels remained from the earlier key, if any at all, is impossible to know, but what’s of immediate interest here is the monsters.

There’s lots of standard monsters in those first 6 levels.  They all have exactly the stats given in the 3lbbs – the “new convention set” (whitebox) as the FFC informs us.  For example,   Wraiths, AC 3, HD 4/15 HTK; strictly by the book.

But there’s also lots of giant insects and animals.  There are 2 kinds of centipedes, 3 kinds of spiders, 2 kinds of giant beetles, Giant hogs, 2 kinds of Giant Scorpions, 2 kinds of Giant Weasels, 2 kinds of Giant snakes, and giant toads.

The instructions for stating insects and animals in the 3lbbs, is basically to make them up as seems fitting for the campaign: “ If the referee is not personally familiar with the various monsters included in this category the participants of the campaign can be polled to decide all characteristics.”

But that doesn’t seem to be what Arneson did at all.  Looking at the stats Arneson gives, they appear quite random.  For example, one type of centipede is AC 4, 2hp, another is AC 7, 12hp; one kind of giant scorpion is AC5. 7HD, 25 HTK, another is AC1, 6HD, 15HTK.   

Note that none of these, even in the case of such creatures as the giant toad or giant beetles, conform statistically to the “new” creatures of the same name found in Supplement II Blackmoor.

It’s worth noting that these aren’t “new” monsters.  They’re all in the 3lbb’s (and BTPbD).  They don’t appear in the monster descriptions, but they do appear on the encounter charts; named but undefined.

Arneson doesn’t say anything about these beasites, and there’s no way to know how he really came up with the stats, but I’d bet dollars to donuts he let the dice do it for him.


  1. Perhaps in a similar fashion to his note on generating robots?

    Heck, even for the descending AC, we could easily doll one six-sider with a +2 modifier (or larger) to keep from rolling better than plate armour equivalent.

    Random play is definitely good fun. It's one of the things that always kept me cautious and excited about things in those Nethack/Roguelike games. Nothing was certain ever. That bubbling purple potion could be deadly poison, but it might be the calm blue one rather.