Wandering Monster
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Basic Information

There are two basic kinds of monsters one can meet in a traditional Gygaxian Dungeon Crawl. One is the type you find when you enter a specific room, for example: "ROOM 27: You enter a 30'x40' room. There is a large barrel of beer in one corner. In the centre is a long table where 4 ORCS are seated and playing Schafkopf. They put down their cards and draw their swords." Those four orcs, the table and the beer are a part of that room, and when you enter the room, you'll encounter the orcs; and you are unlikely to meet those particular orcs anyplace else in the dungeon. This is a Planned Encounter/.

Then there's the Wandering Monster, also known as the Random Encounter. These are monsters you could meet anywhere. They just happen to be walking down the hallway at the same time as you are.

The dungeon is usually built with the assumption that the players will run into so many Wandering Monsters as they make their way through the labyrinth, and the Dungeon Master will have a "Random Encounter Chart" that he can roll against at appropriate times to determine which monster will turn up. Will it be a pack of Kobolds, or a Minotaur with an Uzi?

Wandering Monsters and Random Encounters are often used by the DM to liven up dull stretches of travel between the Town and the Dungeon. Sometimes, if the PC's aren't powerful enough to meet the next threat in the dungeon, they can improve themselves by finding some Wandering Monsters to kill and use the resulting Experience Points to achieve the next Character Level


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • In this Arcanist's opinion, Wandering Monsters are best deployed strategically, at the needs of the plot, rather than randomly according to the whim of the dice. The GM should prepare a short list of potential encounters ahead of time, and pull out an appropriate one whenever things seem to be getting dull
  • Randomly-placed are risky for several reasons:
    • A monster that's too-powerful can possibly wipe out the party before they even get to the dungeon!
    • If the encounter is irrelevant to the plot, the players can find them annoying obstacles diverting them from the meat of the adventure.
    • Sometimes a random encounter just makes no sense. "You enter a clearing in the forest and you spot a Drow Life Insurance Salesman. Save vs. Terror." Encounters need to be tailored to fit the location and the setting.
  • On the other hand, if the party is traveling for several days, for example, or staying in a town between adventures, a well-placed Random Encounter can provide an entertaining and memorable incident.
    • As long as the PCs are convinced of the idea that they are not meant to kill everything that appears. Whilst random encounters in a dungeon may just be another set of falling plates, that attitude has historically been known to make its way into surface adventures as well, usually with campaign derailing results.
      • One approach is to have non-combat encounters even in the dungeon. "As you pass this door, you hear a loud argument. Those of you who speak Orcish catch 'new management' and a word you don't know but are pretty sure is an expletive."
  • Even in a traditional dungeon crawl the wandering monsters break up the sense of the dungeon as a series of static encounters linked by corridors - the real trick is for the GM to make them look like a seamless part of the dungeon rather than randomly spawned weirdness.
    • One thing that can help is to create a random encounter list drawn from a fixed pool of monsters which are also allocated 'bases' in the dungeon. This serves to simulate a living environment (animals going looking for food and water, working parties hauling supplies and guards on patrol) and answers the question of where the hell they all came from.
    • In integrating the encounters, the GM needs to be careful not to be too realistic unless he's made sure the dungeon is survivable - or at least escapable - in even of a fast spreading alert: if the working party or patrolling guards immediately react by running to the nearest occupied rooms and hammering on the doors (or even just running away screaming for help) the PCs can fast find themselves facing all the encounters at once (or a significant proportion of them), which can be a game breaker.
      • It's worth planning in advance how some of the sapient and better organised inhabitants will react if alerted - if the PCs have just fought a prolonged battle in the corridor outside those orcs in Room 27: might not be playing Schakopf anymore - in fact, they might have already emerged and joined the fight. Generally designing the dungeon (or going over a published one) and figuring out what the inhabitants of each room are for is a good idea - are those four orcs off duty and in their quarters, or are they on call guards?
      • In addition, having wandering monsters can help build tension: disturbing the PCs if they don't find someplace out-of-the-way to rest and helping build a feeling that the PCs are in hostile territory.
  • The other, non-Gygaxian use for "wandering monsters" is to simulate the inherent randomness of patrolling in the great outdoors - if the PCs establish a roadblock, or sweep through a forest looking for trouble there is a great variety of things they could find. The encounter tables in Palladium Games' RECON RPG were a good example - your LRRP could encounter practically anything in the Vietnamese jungle - friendly US or ARVN troops, VC guerrillas or staff units and NVA regulars (sometimes with tanks!) were obvious, but they were equally likely to run into civilian hunters, travelling pedlars, a party of Buddhist monks or a wild pig. And once the appearance of randomness is established, the GM can then sneak in his plot relevant encounters.
  • Take a tip from Professor Tolkien - if unwanted PvP starts, roll up a wandering monster and send it in to break things up - or even do so before the fight starts. You can also invoke Chandler's Law and send them in to deal with dry spots in the action ("man walks in with a gun") and to deliver clues to PCs at an impasse (for example, when faced with a puzzle door, one of the dead orcs is carrying a cue card that helped him remember how to open it).
  • In the modern era, these help counter the "fifteen minute adventuring day" by encouraging players to retain resources in case of unplanned encounters - those that have burned off all their renewables on a couple of rooms will feel the pain as they run into patrols on the way out, or as they camp in the dungeon for twenty three hours until their spells replenish.
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