Arneson's Wandering Monsters

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: ,

For a while I'd noticed a few interesting things about the monsters in Level 2, of the 1975 Temple of the Frog.  I'd also taken note of the unusual wandering monster set up in the 1976, version of Blackmoor Dungeon detailed in the FFC.  Recently, it occurred to me that the two might be related in a systematic way. 

In fact Arneson seems to have had a different idea of how wandering monsters should work even before D&D was published.  In a letter to Scott Rich published in the Great Plains Games Newsletter in 1974, Arneson wrote "the wandering creatures are supposed to be wandering in levels where they would normally be found inhabiting, and again in somewhat smaller levels."  ("smaller levels" here I take to mean smaller numbers)

That quote seems to be demonstrated in Arenson's TotF.  A few of the monsters in the dungeon of the temple are basically trapped in a given location, but those that aren't, were consistently given information about how often they may be found outside their room and in what numerical strength.  I'll illustrate with a table.

Dungeon Room
# in Room
Chance some in Room
# wandering
Chance encountered
Out of room
Giant Lizards
Giant Trolls
Giant Snakes
Ochre Jelly
Human guards

Wandering monster checks in the 3lbbs are once per turn.  That is also the rate given in TotF for the ghouls, the guards, and how often trolls will show up if there is fighting.  It isn't stated in TotF, but it seems safe to assume that out of room encounters were intended to occur both upon entering a new area and once per turn of lingering in an area, as in the 3lbb's.

Another point of unclarity in TotF is how often all the monsters might be off wandering, leaving their room empty,  This probably only matters in the case of trolls and giant snakes who have smaller numbers than the others.  I'd assume that there are always some snakes present, but since all 4 trolls could be wandering, I assume they have as much chance of being in their room as anywhere else.

Those details aside, one of the most obvious difference from what we are accustomed to in D&D is that there is no wandering monster list - no table to roll on.  Certain areas or territories are given over to particular monsters, and when a party is in that area, they have a chance of encountering some or all of the monsters there.  For example Giant Snakes could be encountered in "the corridors leading to rooms 12-15, and also the same, and up to the door of room 16."

It is this notion of territory, and the chance of finding some number of monsters in it, that I think is particularly interesting.  

With TotF, the chance given to encounter these wandering foes ranges from 10 to 33%.  So in effect, a percentage chance for each specific monster is being substituted for the standard 1 in 6 roll.  

I've run TotF dungeon a couple of times, and didn't have any trouble applying the percentages, but I can see how it adds more of a burden on the DM, especially where multiple monsters might wander in the same area.  

The actual number of the monsters encountered while wandering also varies, but is often some seemingly arbitrary subset of the total, such as 1-3 or 1-4.

I mentioned above that there is some chance of the monsters being in their home room, and some chance of them being gone.  This idea works hand in hand with the notion of a wandering territory.  If some monsters might be wandering, then there should always be a chance that some are not in the homeroom, this includes singular monsters or monsters that always travel together, like the Ochre Jelly or the ghouls.  This means the homeroom might, for some (but not all) monsters be found unoccupied.  The stated chances of finding an empty homeroom in the text vary from 10 to 40%, but is particularly the case of singular monsters or monsters in small numbers (4 or less, seemingly).  The giant lizards seem to be the only larger group (12) that might not be all "home".  In all other cases it appears that at least 1 monster will be "home".  To me, it feels like Arneson was mostly flying by the seat of his pants here regarding which monsters always have somebody home and which don't, and that's probably as good a way as any.  If one were to look for a consistent rule, I suppose following the example from the room of ghouls, that is, having a 75% chance for monsters of 4 or less being in their home room, and 4 or more always having some presence, is a fair compromise.

Note that the chance to be present in a home room shouldn't be compared to the % lair statistic.  In most of these cases, the monsters are still in their "lair" so to speak, since they claim several rooms and passageways as their territory.  What's being said is that within a given "homeroom" of the "lair" there will be some chance that some, all, or none are present.  It is reminiscent of Arneson's rule in the FFC that 40 - 90% of a population will be present "in lair" in the wilderness.  However, in this case the amount of the population isn't what is being determined, its' presence in a particular room in a lair is.  The actual numbers are simply being determined randomly within the possible amount, for example 1-12 giant lizards in the room. 

To sum up, we have wandering monsters in territories.  Those monsters also have a homeroom.  In some cases the room might be temporarily empty.  Except for singular monsters, a roll is made to determine how many are in a homeroom out of the total possible.  Likewise, a roll is made to determine how many are present in a wandering encounter, often from some subset of the total possible.

So now let's go back to the first 6 levels of Blackmoor Dungeon, which, as we saw in the previous post, were stocked for D&D convention games in the mid-'70's.   The wandering monster situation here is a bit more familiar.  Each level has a list of monsters, chosen thru use of the Monster Determination and Level of Monster Matrix.

What is distinctive is that the wandering monster lists are remarkably short, restricted to no more than 4 encounters.  This is because the lists aren't random.  Arneson has once again assigned monsters to territories, not unlike what was done in TotF, but it is a much simpler system.  In Blackmoor, he divided each level into quadrants, and assigned one wandering monster to each quadrant.

Aside from the simplicity of this method, it had the advantage of allowing Arneson to add a monster to the adventure who was not keyed to any particular dungeon room (Sir Fang and his two dwarf vampire companions).  The idea of using the wandering monster list to bring in additional elements can also be seen in Arneson's Garbage Pits of Despair adventure, which includes a band of wandering orcs and a magically appearing sundial, for example, is clearly one Arneson embraced.

It is entirely possible to combine the TotF and Blackmoor dungeon methods.  It is certainly much easier to keep track of what quadrant a band of adventurers are in than to remember which monsters wander in which rooms and hallways.  We don't need to simplify to the extent seen in Blackmoor dungeon though, and can assign more than a single monster to each section or territory.  Each quadrant or section of whatever size can have a short list of the monsters who regularly move about that section, and any "specials" like sir Fang or the magic Sundial, could be added to the list.

As with TotF most of the monsters placed on the wandering monster list are going to be part of the population, usually found in specific rooms.  The actual number of wandering monsters being encountered can even be determined using the method given in Underworld & Wilderness Adventure pg 10-11, if desired, but any casualties should come out of the overall total.  The "homeroom" then, shouldn't have fixed numbers, but a range of the possible population.  This was you get the "realism" of TotF wandering monsters with the simplicity and versatility of the Blackmoor Dungeon method.


Unknown said...

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