Friday, September 16, 2011

Hex Mapping Part 17: You're Everything That a Big Bad Wolf Could Want

I'm going to assume that most of you are already familiar with wandering monster tables. The idea is pretty simple: you write up a list of monsters you want the players to be able to encounter and then number them so that they can be chosen by a die roll.

The outdoor wondering monster list in Cook's Expert book is a little more complex. It involves nested lists; that is rolling on one list references other lists. The monsters are grouped by similarity. For instance, the lists you can roll for a swamp encounter include Men, Flyer, Humanoid, Swimmer, Undead, Insect, and Dragon. Each of these send you to another list which actually includes the monsters. Not only does this give you a huge variety of monsters without having to resort to d100s, it also makes certain types of monsters more common in one place that in another. In the swamp list Undead appear twice. Animal is listed twice for the woods list, and Men is listed six times for encounters in a hex that includes a city.

When it comes to actually listing the monsters, some tables just list the names and often in alphabetical order. Again, redundancy is used to increase the likelihood of encountering a particular type of critter. This is the sort of wandering monster table most of us are used to.

In Vault of the Drow, Gygax gives us a very different sort of list. His wandering monster lists include detailed groups, each of which has a specific purpose or goal that they are pursuing when the PCs encounter them. Zack does something very similar with his expansive random encounter lists in Vornheim.

The great thing about these lists is that they do a lot of the heavy lifting for you. You don't have to guess why this particular band of slaves and drow overseers are wandering through the fungus forest. Gygax lays it all out for you. The bad thing about this sort of list is that you can only roll on it so many times before it starts repeating itself. Zack suggests crossing encounters off in his lists and replacing them with new ones as they are used.

Cook's list is the opposite. Even if your rolls do turn up two different groups of nomads, the lack of details means its very easy for you to make each distinctive. Unfortunately, by that same token, it's entirely up to you, in the heat of the moment, to make them distinctive. If you're good at that sort of on-the-fly encounter creation, this is great. Not everyone is, though, and you're going to be rolling on these tables a lot as you run your hex crawl. There's no reason you can't give yourself a little more help if you need it.

So let’s investigate a compromise option. In addition to a list of monsters, you can also use a list of motivations. This simply tells us what is foremost on the mind of the wandering monster. It serves principally as a springboard for improvisation.

You can roll all the dice at once, but I'd suggest rolling the monster first and then the motivation. I designed this list so that rolling a 2d4 returns a reasonable motivation for bestial monsters. For sentient creatures, roll a 1d10.

  1. - diplomacy
  2. - patrolling territory
  3. - hurt
  4. - horny
  5. - hungry
  6. - napping
  7. - fighting! (roll again on the wandering monster table to see who the monsters you first rolled are, or are planning on, fighting)
  8. - home
  9. - raiding
  10. - art

This list is purposefully vague. “Diplomacy” might mean you’ve encountered an envoy from one tribe to another, or it might mean a caravan carrying tribute, or a craftsman gathering materials to build a peace-offering. “Horny” might mean a couple preparing to get frisky, humanoids raiding to engage in a bit of bride-kidnapping, or a more poetic soul pining for a lost love. “Home” could mean they’re in their lair, or they’re seeking a new lair, or they’re improving their lair in some way.

Now we simply combine this with territory-specific lists of creatures. This list is for the eastern jungles. If the PCs are traveling through the goblin territory, roll a d8. If they are in the Lizardfolk territory, roll 3d4. When they have reached the orc territories, you can roll a 5d4. And you can always roll a straight-up d20 when you want something really random.

1 - goblins
2 - rock baboon
3 - python
4 - giant bees
5 - crab spiders
6 - goblins with (roll a d6):
1 - 2: harmless giant spider mounts (doubles movement rate)
3: black widow spider mounts
4 - 6: tarantella spider mounts
7 - lizardfolk
8 - black widow spiders
9 - basilisk
10 - lizardfolk mounted on tuatara lizards
11 - spitting cobra
12 - orcs mounted on dire wolves
13 - hydra
14 - orcs
15 - ogre
16 - robber fly
17 - orcs
18 - wolves
19 - ogres riding elephants
20 - displacer beasts

There is, of course, lots of room for expanding this list. I didn’t manage to get most of the giant lizards listed in Moldvay’s Basic, for instance, or any fey, etc. But this, combined with our motivations table and the reactions table mentioned last time, gives us a good working list that can provide a wide variety of encounters on the fly.


Ray K said...

Eagerly awaiting the next installment. This is a great series.

trollsmyth said...

Ray K.: Thanks for the kind words. Don't worry, haven't dropped it, just got really busy with family and work. I do most of my writing on the weekends and this last one (and likely the next one to a lesser extent) was given over to family. I'm hoping to get two up this week and two next and be back up to three the week after, and then have the series done by the end of the year.

I think. The more I poke at it, the more it grows.

Scott said...

Nested wandering encounter lists first appeared in the Eldritch Wizardry supplement, not Cook's Expert rules.

LS said...

I just took the time to read through all of your Hex Mapping posts thus far, and I have a few things to say.

Thank you. This has been amazing. I'm a very historically minded and enthusiastic gamer, but have only been a part of the hobby since the release of D&D 3.5, so I've missed out on a lot of the great parts of gaming's past.

I honestly feel as though I've been enlightened by these posts. As though an entire category has been added to my Game Mastering repertoire.

Thank you again. You made my week.

trollsmyth said...

Scott: I didn't claim Cook did it first (I've learned better than to do that sort of thing ;) ), only used his as an example because it was the example I had at hand.

LS: Thank you for the kind words and for adding me to your blog roll. I just posted Part 18, and I have no idea how long this series is going to run now. It was originally planned to just be 12. The more I look, however, the more I find to talk about.

I believe Paizo attempted something kinda-sorta sandboxy with their Kingmaker adventure path. Have you looked at it? How does it compare to the sort of things I've been talking about?