1.10 Wanderers doing something Rewrite: 1


i fucking hate writing ...
Staff member
Ok fucker, put up or shut up. Is this about DM advice (a separate book) how they are supposed to be used (yet another different book on how D&D works) or about how to use them in an adventure to help the DM? The later, obviously. So focus your fucking writing!

But the EMPTY encounter is a D&D design thing, the timer resource. Maybe a short word on how to use them, or how they differ? Like, pay attention to their purpose in your game?

hey mr smarty pants, does the action actually work AGAINST the timer aspect?

Random Encounters/Wandering Monsters
Random encounters/wandering monsters tend to be a staple of adventures. It's important to understand their purpose in your system of choice in order to both use them correctly and write them correctly. They should be written in such a way as to support the DM during actual play. This means helping them create an appropriate and evocative encounter.

I don't fucking like including this. I don't see how to NOT include this.
The wandering monster is a staple of older version of D&D. In older versions they serve as a timer mechanic; the more the players have their characters search, rest, etc then the more wandering monster encounters they will have, and since wandering monsters don't have treasure and treasure is where the majority of experience points come from ... it's very clearly a push your luck mechanism. Compare this to more modern version of D&D where there is no reason for the mechanism ... then what purpose does the wandering monster serve? Does it add a touch of realism? Or does it just slow the game down and detract from what is going on in the adventure? Understanding what purpose the random encounter plays in your system helps make the decision on if it should be included and how it should be included. A wandering monster chart in an older version of D&D that contained mostly dungeon dressing and sensory experiences would be working quite explicitly against the timer mechanism that the monsters on the chart represent. But in a different game system these may serve to help enhance otherwise empty rooms and/or long stretches of travel.

Assume an adventure for a system that does not have this timer mechanism. What, then, is the purpose of the random encounter? Or, rather, why is the random encounter not just a pre-planned encounter? Instead of a random table, a short paragraph describing the encounter the party has on their way to the cave. This could be entirely appropriate in many, if not most, game systems. (Older D&D being a notable exception.) This then leads to the second point: an evocative encounter.

The encounter should help the DM run it, wanderer or no. The standard wandering monster table in an adventure tends to just be a list of monsters and perhaps how many of that type appear. This is, essentially, just a copy of the same chart listed in the DM's book for the system, or perhaps a subset of it localized to the creatures in that particular cave, etc. What is the purpose of this? If the chart is in the DMG then what purpose does it serve to also include it in the adventure? An argument could be made for ease of reference, but let me point out that what the chart is really missing: action.

If everything in the adventure is meant to inspire the DM to run a great game, to help them do so, then how can the wandering monster chart be leveraged for that? What the standard monster listing chart is missing is action. Any time you meet something, in a room or wandering, they should be doing something. It’s this extra bit that inspires. The brown bear that shows up in the chart should be eating a deer, or getting goaded by a couple of goblins, or has treed a couple of goblins. Almost any activity would do. I say almost because there is one activity that I almost never like to see: “waiting to attack.” That’s stupid. It conjures up images of those old sucky adventures in which an orc stands on either side of a door, eternally waiting for someone to open it so they can attack. Get your creatures doing something. It's this extra little bit that helps the DM.

[look up this concept]
And why? Isn't the DM free to have the creatures doing anything at all? The blank chart allows the DM to do this, yes? Theoretically, yes, that's correct. In practice through it works against a well known cognitive concept. Too much freedom, in creativity, can be a bad thing. If the human mind has no place to start then it tends to have a hard time getting started. If, however, you place just a small constraint on the idea, you get it started, then the mind races to fill in the details. But it needs SOMETHING in order to start filling in the details. "Goblins" does nothing. What encounter is that? But if the table has "Goblins hunting" then, suddenly, the DM's mind takes over. Hunting? Hunting what? Have they caught it already? Or are THEY being hunted? The mind races. And that's a good thing. The designer has now helped the DM run a better game for their players by just including one extra word.

I think the principal is so important that I have one entire page of my DM screen devoted to it. You can find examples from Sham, or 1d8, or several other sources. Other good examples can be found in Jungle Ruins of Madoro-Shanti. In it you can encounter a deer on a hill chanting “Beware Cho-odo! Beware cho-odo!” before it falls over dead. Examination reveals it’s been dead for several days. Not only is this an action encounter but it also is directly related to what’s going on in the adventure and helps build dread.

Another good example is in Dzeegbagd. In this the animals act like animals, not psychotic rapid dogs. The other creatures will talk to you. That one gets a little long-winded, but the general principal of adding a bit more is followed. “Looking for a straggler to pick off” or some such gives the DM something to riff off of. Sometimes you have to narrow things down in order get the old brain juices going. Give your creatures a reason to wander about or have them engaged in something.

There’s a line here between a good bit of extra detail and a bad bit. Dungeon Magazine #24 has an adventure called “A Hitch in Time” which includes a wandering monster table for the wilderness between town and the tomb. It has eight monster entries, with stats, and each has a little description. The description for the Shambling Mound says something like “It resides in a stream or marsh and attacks only at night. It’s lair may be found blah blah blah.” What’s lacking here is action. Another entry has a flesh golem wandering the forest. It attacks anything it encounters. “This monster was created by a wizard who subsequently lost control of the golem. It has been wandering the wilderness in a confused state for many weeks, and it attacks anything it encounters that it perceives as being animate. The monster may be met day or night. It cannot communicate with the PC’s, nor will it obey any wizards attempt to control it. It may be mistaken for the golem rumored to be guarding [quest guys] tomb, if the PC’s heard that rumor in the village.” That adds nothing to the adventure. It adds nothing to the encounter. What were looking for is something that is actionable. Maybe something like the flesh golem is clearing the forest of trees, and it may mistake the PC’s for one. Or it is mindlessly stacking objects in a pyramid state, including dead forest animals, etc. It may intake the party for one. These are things the party can interact with and the creature is engaged in some activity. Maybe the shambling mound is lecturing some giant beavers, or tearing down a beaver dam, or damming a stream, or engaged in a commune with a dryad, or worshiping a fairy circle, or marking his territory with deer heads. All of that is better than what’s given.

This is a negative example:, find something like it
Wandering Monster Table
1. Centipedes, giant (1d4+1)
2. Centipedes, giant (1d4+1)
3. Kobolds (2d4)
4. Bugbear (1)
5. Skeletons (1d6)
6. Rats, giant (1d8)
7. Green Slime (1)
8. Albino Ape (1)
9. Crab Spider (1)
10. Gelatinous Cube (1)

[2 more examples, hopefully form free stuff?]

You don’t have to write a book for each one, you just need more than a single monster entry and have a verb associated with it. (With ‘hunting’ and ‘attacking’ used VERY infrequently.) Something like “Brown Bear” is lame. A paragraph on the brown bear is better, but probably too much. “Brown bear being baited by 2d12 goblins” or “Brown bear family eating an owl bear corpse” gives the DM enough to riff on while still being terse.

Some examples to riff:
http://1d8.blogspot.com/2011/04/what-are-those-wandering-mon... (dead)
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The 1D8 blog is dead. The last available archive is here:

There's also "What's up with these undead?"

I'd also note that for a good example of a published book using this sort of material, Hot Springs Island shines, with its Motivation column for every table.