Monday, 25 November 2013

Wandering Monsters, Theory and Practice

In theory: The Dungeon Master keeps careful track of time as the party explores the dungeon, minute by minute, and at prescribed intervals he or she rolls dice for wandering monsters.

In practice: The Dungeon Master rolls for wandering monsters when he or she remembers that wandering monsters are supposed to be rolled for. This usually happens at a time when the party is dithering, arguing, meandering, or otherwise failing to entertain the Dungeon Master. This also happens when the party resorts to noisy, obvious solutions to a problem.



Also applies to torches, lanterns, rations, &c.

10 comments:

  1. Weeelllll, Depends on the DM, dunnit.

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    1. Indeed. I salute the diamond mind of the DM who does it by the book.

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  2. I used to check off boxes for every exploration turn. Now I just roll a d6 whenever the PCs do something. Move into a new area? Make a random encounter check. Spend time searching the area? Make a random encounter check. Doesn't require any special tracking, just the idea that every player decision should have some time cost.

    (I do torches and light sources this way too; they go out on rolls of 6 rather than one, ignoring that result for the first few checks because torches that go out after only one turn are lame.)

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    1. That is neat. I could combine that with my practice of passing a caller token after every "scene." Have the token be a die, have the new player roll it, being effectively the instruments of their own embroilment or obfuscation. Ideally it would be some kind of golem figurine with a clear head made up of a Trouble-style die bubble.

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  3. I roll every two turns in the dungeon... and also whenever they dither, argue, make noise, or otherwise fail to entertain. Best of both worlds!

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  4. A random idea that I never tested, is to reverse the wandering monster check to be an encounter avoidance roll made by the PCs. The PCs would gain a bonus to the roll based on how stealthy they were being, and then the DM could use the need to make a check as a consequence for certain actions.

    Going to turn a room upside down searching, alright, but you will need to make an encounter check, with a penalty/bonus based on how complete the search is (a party trying to be quiet with some party members standing guard would be at less risk than a party which was tearing a room apart all together, but would have less chance to find something).

    While this is effectively the same, it gives a more direct consequence than the DM rolling a dice occasionally behind the screen and everyone wondering if the DM is even paying attention to it (I know that I have ignored a successful wandering monster check myself due to lack of desire to run it).

    This was initially inspired to how Rolemaster does overland encounter checks.

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  5. This was a huge revelation for me. I mean, I wasn't able to DM before I realized the second way. For decades I was boggled by how to be exact measuring abstract movement through abstract landscapes. What seems at first to be the more straightforward, the simpler, approach, was for me an infinite string of rulings. Is the ground uneven here? Is it slippery? Does the narrower passage slow the party down?

    And like many other counter-intuitive rules the second approach actually gets closer to desired results than what would seem the more logical approach. It is just those moments when you remember wandering monsters when they would best appear for your group of friends-- when things are at a lull, or people are getting bogged down in arguments.

    By keeping it a die roll, I avoid making narrative impositions. But it's cool how even a negative wandering monster check will raise tension and get parties back on track-- they know what die rolling can mean.

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