Tag Archives: Dungeons & Dragons

The Evolution of D&D from 1983 to 2016: From Ravenloft to Curse of Strahd

From 1983 to 2016 Dungeons & Dragons have moved from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition (and D&D becmi) to Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition, and it is more than just a streamlining of the rules and development of the rules, that has taken place.

Recently I have been playing Curse of Strahd (2016) and I6 Ravenloft (1983), and therefore I will show how the game has developed from the early 80’s to the present through a comparison of an encounter or location, that appears in all versions of the adventure. Originally published in 1983, the Ravenloft adventure was relaunched as House of Strahd in 1993, where it was adapted to both Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition and the Ravenloft setting. Again in 2006 it was published, this time as Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, this time adapted to D&D 3.5, and then finally in 2016 it was launched as a campaign module, Curse of Strahd, in 2016 for D&D 5th edition, where the original castle was made a part of a much larger campaign, where the whole valley is explored.

In the castle is a sequence, where a set of plate armor equipped with a halberd springs forth to frighten people. The armor is not animated but is rather a jump scare showcasing the original adventures curious mix of gothic horror and campy horror tropes, as the armor might be right out of an episode of Scooby Doo.

So, let’s see how different versions of the adventure deals with this sequence.

Ravenloft (1983) – AD&D 1st ed

As is clear from the text, the armor is set up as a cruel joke, which is recurrent in the later versions of the text. Where the sequence differs is how game mechanics handles the event.

There is a mere 60% risk, that the trap is sprung, and 25% chance that 1d4 hit points are lost. This may not sound like much, but for an AD&D character, this loss might still be felt, as hit points and healing resources are less than in later versions of the game.

House of Strahd (1993) – AD&D 2nd

This time the armor is automatically triggered – and is considerably more fun, as triggering the ‘jump scare’ is more fun, than the event never happening. Another difference is that the armor is now making an attack roll rather than checking for the risk of getting hit. THAC0 8 is a rather high chance of hitting its victim, but at least the damage remains at 1d4 hit points.

Expedition to Castle Ravenloft (2006) – D&D 3.5

In this version the armors are changed from something happening during the exploration of the castle and has instead become an encounter, where the adventurers fight the two armors, that has become animated monsters assisting the vampire Strahd in an encounter.

This change is significant, because it shows, where D&D was headed in 00’s with D&D 3.5 and D&D 4th. Basically D&D was unable to do things, that was not an encounter, and an encounter is in general always some sort of combat. D&D was broken into units of combat with D&D 3.5 and 4th (the fourth edition just finalized, what D&D 3.5 had already begun).

Curse of Strahd (2016) – D&D 5th

The amount of text has grown considerably, but the game has returned to its roots, or at least it has abandoned its encounter structure, and made it possible to play strange little happenings again, but the game suffers from a desire to put rules and explanations onto everything. Another interesting change is that now the players are rolling the dice – a saving throw is made by the player instead of an attack roll or a percentage roll by the DM – and damage has increased rom 1d4 to 2d6 to reflect the increase in hit points in the game.

Final words

I do appreciate the return in 5th edition to a structure closer to the Advanced period (1977-2000), but there is still a needless amount of mechanics and rules cluttering the text, instead of just letting the GM run the scene.

What is missing from all versions of the module is some good advice for the DM as to how to run the scene, for it is not really important whether or not the armor hits one of the characters for a small amount of damage, but rather it is of importance whether or not the it is run as a jump scare, and my advice is to play the scene with a low voice quietly describing the stairs, and as the characters either pass by or moves in to look closer at the armor IT SUDDENLY SPRINGS TO LIFE, AS THE ARMOR JUMPS TOWARD YOU! THE POLEARM FLIES TOWARD YOU STOPPING MERE MOMENTS FROM YOUR FACE!!! While you either emphasize this with hitting the table with the flat of your hand, or lunges quickly toward the player. The sudden shift in your behavior can easily make your player jump in their seat, thus recreating the campy jump scare of the adventure (and yes, that is how I played the encounter, and yes, the player did jump in his seat, and yes, I try to use only sparingly, so it works better, when used).

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Adapting Tomb of Annihilation for Mystara: Port Kastellos

I am running the campaign Tomb of Annihilation for D&D 5th but with several house rules (i.e. heXPloration) and a shift in the setting, as I have placed the adventure in the Mystara setting. This here is my presentation of the adaption so far.

My favorite D&D setting is the Mystara setting, thus I prefer to place my campaigns here, and in order to do so, some adaption has to be done, though I try to keep adaptions minimal in order to keep my extra work at a minimal.

Tomb of Annihilation takes place in Chult in Forgotten Realms, bit I have chosen to adapt it to Mystara, and have placed the area on the northern coasts of Davania, since a part of that region is not too far off the map from the adventure, as I am using the Chult map for the adventure. There is not much canon material on Davania and less on the region, that I have chosen, so new material must be added. Other fans of the setting have through Vault of Pandius created new material, but it did not fit my vision of the game, so it is not in use.

The Great Evil

In the official campaign an evil entity sucks life and souls to it, in order to become a divine being, and this is causing resurrected people to wither away.

Since my players my spot this blog post in the forays into the web, I will not reveal too much here, but in general the same curse has hit Mystara, however, the origin is of another nature, and one that the Immortals are silent about.

Another consequence of the curse is that, creatures that extend their life through magic, has also begun to wither away. This has great consequences for nations such as Alphatia and Glantri, where wizards live for a long time through the application of magic. They too are now dying, and they have an interest in finding and stopping the cause, but their foes and rivals are tempted to let the curse run its course in order to hurt Alphatia and Glantri. The Hattian Order of the Storm Soldiers for instance have in interest in stopping anyone trying to end the curse (and in the campaign the order replaces Order of the Flaming Fists).

Davania/Chult –  Some Notes

As long as the campaign lasts the map from Tomb of Annihilation takes precedence of the normal maps of Mystara’s continent of Davania, and certain cities and areas are thus changed, and some of these deals with the nature of the campaigns evil.

Hattian Storm Troopers have a presence on the continent, as they try to interfere with anyone trying to stop the curse.

Heldannic Knights are present as well (they replace Order of the Gauntlet), and they are explorers of the region – for reasons for now kept secret – in part because a strange phenomenon in the jungles stops their flying ships from working, and the knights needs to know how and why.

The wreck of the flying ship The Star Goddess is now a wrecked Sky Gnome flying ship from Serraine stranding a small colony of Sky Gnomes in Kastellos, where they patiently await the return of Serraine and try to fund an expedition into the jungle to retrieve their wreck.

Kastellos/Port Nyanzaru – The History of the City

Build on top of ruins from a former unknown civilization (remains of the Milenian diaspora into the Davanian continent; was abandoned when the empire collapsed around 50BC), the Thyatian Empire established a farflung colony here during the reign of emperor Androikus II late 400 or early 500 AC. The colony was named Kastellos, and though chroniclers mention the ruins, they have no knowledge of the builders, nor their name.

During the 700s the nation of Hule begins expanding its influence in to the northern coasts of Davania, and this isolates Kastellos and its sister colony Garganin from the Thyatian Empire, and around 750 Garganin briefly becomes a colony under Hule control, though around 800 the Yavdlom Divinarchy returns to power and wrestles Hule’s control of the region from it. Garganin becomes independent again, while Kastellos remained independent during the whole period. An influx of Yavdloms to both Garganin and Kastellos begins, and when explorers in 852 from the Minrothad Isles discovers the sea routes to Kastellos and Garganin, they describe the two city states as populated by Yavdloms.

Kastellos and Garganin enters the sphere of influence of the Yavdlom Divinarchy, and they become two satellite states culturally and politically aligned with the Divinarchy, but also still independent cities, and they become places for Yavdloms to emigrate, if they do not want to accept the governing style of the divinarchy. In Kastellos – which is called Nyanzaru or Port Nyanzaru in the native tongues of the Yavdloms – a governing style inspired by the Minrothaddian traders consisting of a council of Merchant Princes arise, and one that is at odds with the divinarchy as it openly uses divination and welcomes rogue diviners from the divinarchy.

In 965 Thyatia returns to the Davanian continent as colonies are established in the Hinterlands, but no new relations are established with the still distant Kastellos or Port Nyanzaru, however, the city still contains a considerable minority of descendants from the Thyatian colonial period 500 to 300 years earlier, and they begin dreaming of returning to Thyatis as an official colony causing a schism with majority of the city’s population. The Thyatian descendants have not been in contact with the empire for 300 years, but that is about to change.

During the latest outbreak of lycanthropy some 40 years ago as large community of Minrothaddian wererats chose to leave the islands, rather than suffer through another Night of the Long Knifes, and at the time they chose to establish themselves in one of the most distant trading ports known to Minrothaddians, and thus they fled or moved to Port Nyanzaru, where they brought their knowledge of ship building technology with them, and became famed ship builders in the city state – and no one knew, what they brought with them. The wererats seek to keep a strict control on their hereditary and infectious lycanthropy and often forbid their members to marry outside of their ranks causing much grievance and rebellion amongst the youth.

At present in the year 1004, Port Nyanzaru is mainly populated by emigrant Yavdloms and their descendants, who has left the divinarchy and set up a council of merchant princes inspired by the Minrothad model. In the city is also a minority of emigrant Minrothadians, many of whom are wererats or related to people suffering from the curse of lycanthropy. The city has a minority of Thyatian descendants many generations removed from their ancestor’s empire, though they dream of returning to the empire, which they have no knowledge of beyond tales told innumerable times.

Of the original founders, the Milenians, there are no trace, as they are completely lost to history, but the foundation of the city is build upon their city – and perhaps there are people in Kastellos or Port Nyanzaru, who knows the earliest history of the city?

More on the city and continent, as I begin my write-ups on the campaign’s game sessions.


Houserules for Tomb of Annihilation hex crawl XP: hexPloration

I am running a Tomb of Annihilation campaign but as with my previous major D&D campaign set in Mystara, I have begun modding the game adding house rules of various kinds. Some are simply dealing with adapting the campaign to the Mystara setting, which required some changes. Other rules are for adapting the game to our play style. One such set of rules are the alternate XP-system we are using to emphasize the settings hex crawl aspect.

heXPloration

XP are gained from travelling through and exploring the wilderness.

XP gained:

  • 1 XP for exploring a mapped hex (some parts of the map are mapped before the game begins)
  • 2 XP for exploring an empty hex
  • 1 XP for exploring a location in a hex
  • 1 XP for each week spent in the wilderness

XP needed to level: 5+lv*5 – so 10 XP is needed to reach level 2, 15 to reach lv 3 etc.

Spending XP: XP are kept in a pool, that can be spent on characters in safe locations (each player has three characters).

Multiple characters and levelling: each player controls three characters. A character can be no more than two levels higher than the lowest in the trio (e.g. a character cannot reach level 5, if one of the other characters is at level 2).

And that is it. The XP-system entices the players to send their characters into the wilderness and even to take detours, as it gains them XP while they risk running into strange and unplanned encounters and risk running out of supplies.


In Tomb of the Lovelorn not Everything is Roses

Entering the Tomb of the Lovelorn is stepping into the vestiges of a wizard’s revenge, as he cursed two lovers to be forever kept separated. Trapped in here are the servants forever to maintain the tomb. For the daring adventurers, they, though, may risk never leaving the tomb again.

Welcome to the seventh adventure to be translated from Danish to English in the line of Hinterlandet (The Hinterlands) modules. The adventure has been adapted to Labyrinth Lord and can be played with most D&D becmi-inspired retro-clones or just with the D&D becmi rules set.

Originally Tomb of the Lovelorn was part of the first line of adventures for The Hinterlands, when the foes in the storyline was The Dragon and The Lich King, and as time progressed and the living campaign advanced the Lich King was defeated. The Tomb then became a source of background information on The Dragon, and it was a place to attempt to retrieve powerful but not too stable magic items.

The adventure is designed to be shorter and faster to play than many of the others, and though the monsters are relatively few, the adventure is known for a few TPKs, as the dangers in tomb are quite lethal. The magic items in the loot should compensate for it.

The adventure can easily be adapted into The Dragon storyline from the adventures Tomb of the Dragon’s Heart and The Flooded Temple.

You can find Tomb of the Lovelorn at RPGDrivethru: Tomb of the Lovelorn.


Entering the Grave of the Heartless May Break Your Heart

A curse is upon the land. An ancient barrow has been looted, and the dead has exacted their revenge. Brave heroes, who dare step onto Death’s doorstep are needed to lift he curse and restore order.

Welcome to the sixth adventure translated from Danish to English in the line of Hinterlandet (The Hinterlands). The module has been adapted to Labyrinth Lord, and can be played with most D&D becmi inspired retro clones or otherwise easily adapted to your favorite D&D-game.

Grave of the Heartless is originally from the convention HammerCon, and it was made to challenge the players with a dungeon, that was supernatural rather than natural. Even if dungeons require a stretch of imagination to accept, many are somewhat naturalistic with stone walls, patrolling goblins, kobolds digging mines and orcs setting up ambushes. Inspired by the local barrows near my childhood home, I decided to use a barrow as the starting point for the dungeon, and then create it as a border region between this world and the land of the dead, where the other realm suffuse the nature of the dungeon creating a slightly unreal place. That made it quite fun writing the adventure, but one of the challenges with ‘undead dungeons’ is adding creatures for the players to interact with. Zombies, ghouls and skeletons rarely do anything beyond killing heroes, and a whole dungeon of that is not interesting, so a way to add talkative creatures was needed, and is a central part of the challenge.

The adventure introduces a powerful NPC, who can become an unusual ally, and to a certain degree sets up a gate to another realm for the characters to guard and use, or perhaps just keep secret until they need it. An interesting part of the adventure is, that there is no grand villain or boss monster at the end of the dungeon, but there is a powerful opponent. The adventure also easily functions as a sequel to Tomb of the Dragon’s Heart and fits easily into the storyline from the adventure The Flooded Temple.

You can find Grave of the Heartless at RPGDriveThru: Grave of the Heartless.


Tomb of Annihilation – Captains of Chult

Large stretches of Chult are coasts, and with Port Nyanzaru being a port, it is an obvious choice to reach distant parts of Chult by sailing along the coast rather than braving the jungles or the sluggish rivers – but ships are expensive, so how does explorers in Tomb of Annihilation get there? By hiring transport on a ship, and in the dingy taverns of Port Nyanzaru, there are captains who offer their services for a reasonable fee.

I really like the concept of guides in Tomb of Annihilation. It may seem obvious, and yet it is so rarely done this well in wilderness adventures. Expanding upon the idea, thus allowing us to increase the scope of expeditions into the wilderness, I added Experts for Hire as mentioned in my previous post, and now I have Captains for hire. An assortment of captains, each with their own little kernel of a potential adventure, and a series of random events ranging from bad weather to weird and inexplicable phenomena. Captains of the Coasts of Chult can now be found at DM’s Guild. My previous Expedition Crew supplement was Experts of Chult, and I am considering adding a third one.

I am running my own Tomb of Annihilation set in the Mystara setting, and there may be hidden a few references to that setting among the captains, but easter eggs seems to a part of D&D 5th edition, so it is merely keeping with the style.

 


Tomb of Annihilaton – Experts of Chult

Tomb of Annihilation is an interesting campaign module, not just because of the modern attempt to create a hex crawl adventure but also because of some the tools the adventure contains. One of these tools are the Guides. They are NPCs with well-developed personalities, quirks and secrets, and not just that they are set-up with nice handouts, making them easy to present for the players and keep in mind.

The guides may not be a revolutionary thing, but they are still something I have not seen in other hex crawl adventures. Some adventures may suggest hiring a guide and even add a few details, but having a roster and letting the players choose between these set-ups is quite inspiring.

For my ToA campaign (which is set in the Mysrara setting) I am planning on running larger expeditions with more henchmen, and thus I wanted to add more NPCs for hire, and they did not all need to be Guides. Some could be experts with valuable skills, and thus I set up a bunch a small selection of Experts for Hire. The Experts of Chult – which now can be found at DM’s Guild.

Using henchmen, that are more than anonymous torchbearers and sword caddies, is also an opportunity to add role-playing situations to an otherwise eventless trek through the wilderness. Travelling through the wilderness may present the players with obstacles and challenges, but many are dealing with savage beasts or difficult terrain, but many does not include beings to interact with, and having NPCs jog along means there continuously will be beings to interact with. The experts add skills or bonuses to skills, but getting access to these require interacting with them, and that creates opportunities for role-playing.

Experts of Chult is the first of my Expedition Crew supplements to Tomb of Annihilation. The next one is Captains of the Coasts of Chult, as seafaring along the coasts will likewise be a part of my campaign.


Xanathar’s Guide to Everything including Easter Eggs

So I went and added Xanathar’s Guide to Everything to my library, which I intend to mine for ideas, when running my tweaked Tomb of Annihilation campaign – and lo and behold, if not a reference to an old favorite D&D-module sprang forth during the reading of the book.

D&D 5th edition contains several call backs to earlier D&D-material, for instance they happily namedrop older settings in their campaign books even though the default setting is Forgotten Realms, but they also add small touches here and there referencing various characters, details, events and such from older modules. For instance the Monster Manual in the goblin section, they reference ‘Bree-Yark’ from module B2 Caves of Chaos, and in the Players Handbook a table of random items contains wines from module B7 Rahasia. And being both a D&D becmi and a Mystaran fan this warms my heart. Likewise I was pleasently surprised, when I discovered that Xanathar’s Guide to Everything caries a reference to B4 The Lost City.

In the DM section the chapter on traps includes a deadly trap found in the Lost City of Cynicideans near the graves of queen Zenobia and king Alexander. These details are all taken from module B4, including the trap. I may not get Mystara back in published form, but at least I still get some references to some of my favorite stuff.

Any other references to the B-modules in the D&D 5th edition material?


Tomb of Annihilation – Using the Mystara Setting

This fall’s great adventure for D&D is the Tomb of Annihilation, and I picked up the book with some interest. I like the idea of a hex crawl having the players to travel deep into jungles searching for lost cities and ancient ruins, but without finding everything on their first go. Instead, they will have to make multiple journeys mapping the jungles bit by bit, and between expeditions they have a home base in a large harbor town.

I like this. I do not care much for the backstory with the curse killing people, who has been resurrected and making the raising of people impossible. It is a fine, grandiose plot, but not one, that I care for, and neither does the jungles of Chult nor Forgotten Realms have my interest. That is mostly because, when it comes to D&D settings, my favorite is The Known World or Mystara. So, I want to run this campaign, and I want to run it in the Mystaran setting.

But where to place this wonderful, empty hex map filled with deadly wonders and ancient secrets?

An obvious choice would be the major hex crawl adventure for D&D becmi, namely The Isle of Dread from module X1 The Isle of Dread (1980), which is an obvious choice, and I could simply just use the map from X1 with the adventure from Tomb of Annihilation, but I have already explored The Isle of Dread, and it could be interesting to try some other area.

Tomb of Annihilation itself suggests The Savage Coast, but they are probably not thinking of module X9 The Savage Coast (1985) but rather the (sub)-setting later published for AD&D 2nd edition The Savage Coast (based on the expanded material from the articles Voyage of the Princess Ark), but even though the region is called ‘savage’ it is far from unexplored or inhabited, and adapting Tomb of Annihilation to this region would require a lot of work, if I want it to stay true to the Mystaran setting.

There is, however, an interesting alternative. South of the Sea of Dread lies the continent Davania, and though parts have scarcely been colonized by Thyatis, it is at least from the view of The Known World unexplored lands, that are vaguely known, and near the Serpent’s Peninsula on the opposite side of The Serpent’s Sound the continent of Davania is somewhat shaped reminiscent of Chult area from the ToA book, which means that I can use the map from ToA without it being too far off, and that saves me time.

The coastal city being used as a base in ToA will be replaced with its Mystaran equivalent – there is actually one on the continent of Davania in the right place – called Kastellos. The name could indicate a Thyatian origin, but its position is just next to the Yawdlom Divinarchy, which means that I can keep large parts of the material from ToA and add materiale from the box set Champions of Mystara, which describes The Serpent’s Peninsula and The Yawdlom Divinarchy.

Adapting ToA to Mystara

The Mystaran Tomb of Annihilation plays out in the harbor town Kastellos on the continent of Davania. The town was originally a Thyatian colony, but Thyatis was unable to maintain its control of the city, and soon a large part of the population were newcomers from the Yawdlom Divinarchy seeking adventure. The city still has a large minority of Thyatians, and both traders from the Minrothad Isles and Thyatis pass by regularly keeping Kastellos in the orbit of The Known World-region.

Besides Thyatians and Yawdloms, Kastellos is home to a thriving colony of wererats, who arrived from Karameikos, as well as a large group of skygnomes stranded here, when their skyship crashed, and they are waiting for the flying city of Serraine to pass their way again. Elves are rare, but the few that are here, are mostly forest elves from Karameikos and sea-elves from Minrothad. Dwarves are here as travelling artisans, and the few hin finding their way here, are mostly hin pirates from the coasts of The Five Shires. Small groups of tortles from the Savage Coast also call the northern coasts of Davania for home, and they can be seen in the streets of Kastellos. Davania is home to nomadic tribes of Rakasta – some are related to the Rakasta from Isle of Dread – and Lupins. This should give a hint as to which playable races will be used in the campaign.

I am right now in the process of adapting ToA to run it in the Mystaran setting. This is first post in a small series of posts about adapting ToA, and fitting its backstory and plot into the existing framework of Mystara.


Wandering Monsters as an invitation to role-play

For or against wandering monsters? Are they an important part of the game or are they disrupting the game?

In my previous post I spoke about viewing equipment as a limited resource in the game, and that any part of the character sheet could be seen as a resource to be spent. Another resource-influencing element of the game is the wandering monster. So, let’s have a look at the phenomenon.

In some games, I have no use for wandering monsters. When running Transhuman Space or Delta Green, I don’t use wandering monsters, and when playing a character-driven drama using the D&D 3rd edition rules, I do not use wandering monsters.

In other games wandering monsters are disruptive for the flow of the game. Playing D&D 4th, where each combat easily eats up two hours of game time, you never get anywhere, when checking for wanderers for every 30 minutes of in-fiction time. One time we attempted to run module B4 The Lost City using D&D 4th, and due to wanderers, we never got to anywhere in the adventure. That made us abandon D&D 4th and move on to play older editions of D&D.

In yet other games, such as AD&D, D&D 5th (we are two thirds into Curse of Strahd) and The Hinterlands (Hinterlandet) – my own retro-clone – I do happily make use of wandering monsters.

There is a time and place for wandering monsters, and what I want to do here is to have a look at using them at the right times.

When Wandering Monsters

Wandering Monsters can serve as a timer in the game forcing the players to move on and making it difficult to rest after each encounter. The resources are dwindling, and you have to explore as much as possible, before you run out of time.

Wandering monsters works well with versions of D&D or clones thereof, when combat lasts no more than about 15 minutes of game time – and this is something I strive for. Once combat is initiated, I want it to end as fast as possible (and this, the why and how of it, I will explain in a following post, so bear with me right now and focus on the wandering aspect).

Wandering monsters work even better, when used as random elements to generate play. With this I mean that rolling on random tables, be it weird spell effects or critical hits can create unforseen elements, that creates opportunities for role-playing. For instance, I am running The People of the Pit using Dungeon Crawl Classics right now, and the strange random elements creates events for us to role play around from critical hits almost pushing a character off a steep ledge to a bloody nose making a player speak with a nasal voice for a while to the mercurial effects of the wizard’s spells to the gods’ response their clerics’ spellcasting. These things add color or create situations, that gives us opportunities to roleplay and do more than just fight monsters. This is what I want my wandering monsters to do as well.

This works best, when wandering monsters are perceived as anything but a combat. Many adventures have monsters to show up, 2d4 orcs, 1d6 goblins etc. and then it is supposed to turn into a fight: ‘Three orcs appear. Roll initiative’.

This is one of the things I like about Curse of Strahd, where the wandering monsters table contains several entries, that are either strange objects found or evocative, brief meetings (like a skeletal rider on a bone horse passing by). This is also one of my own guidelines, when writing The Hinterlands modules, and that is, that every encounter must foremost be an invitation to role-play, where any combat occurring is ideally instigated by the players.

Now it is easy to say ‘that is how I always do things’, when monsters appear at random – but it is whole lot easier, when the entries on the wandering monster-tables gives you the inspiration and the ideas.

Setting up Wandering Monsters

Creating entries that allows for more than combat the entries can be strange events (like a wind whispering their names and the last person, they dreamt of) or foreshadowing of coming encounters (for instance using the foreshadowing, the first result generates the boot prints of a nearby band of orcs, or the bloody victim of an owlbear or the leftover rust from a rustmonster’s meal).

  • Foreshadowing
  • Strange events

Another way is to give the wandering monsters an errand. They are not here to fight the adventurers, nor are they looking for them. Instead they chance upon them, as they are on their own way. By giving each entry a reason to be out walking, you can give the players a chance to role play and find alternate options, when they encounter them, to solve in the problems.

  • The monsters are minding their own business being on an errand

When setting up errands look at the dungeon and try to imagine the daily activities of the dungeon. Are goblins going hunting? Are kobolds cleaning areas for ritual activities?

Now include faction-life and intrigues. Consider anything you would like to reveal to the players about the life in the dungeon, especially things they can use to ally with factions or play them out against each other. Perhaps they overhear the bandits gossiping about dividing the spoils, and how there are grumblings among the bandit king’s lieutenants? Perhaps they overhear that the orcs are planning to hire the services of the local hag?

  • Reveal factions, secrets and daily life through their activities

To keep this easy to use and create, it is my advice to try and keep each entry as a single sentence.

  • Keep the description to one sentence

They can look like this:

  • ‘two almost adult wolf cubs comes bouncing loudly playing with each other, if disturbed they will run off and warn the pack returning with additional 1d4 wolves’
  • Five kobold slaves replacing burned out torches while loudly complaining that the bugbear chef favors the goblins with the best food
  • 1d4+3 orcs with fishing rods each bragging about the size of their latest catch
  • 1d6+1 goblins running off with wine from the cellar willing to bribe the PCs to keep silent on the theft
  • Orc chieftain and bodyguards on the move, while the kobold butler is loudly complaining or advising the chief to look proper before meeting with the slavers.

There is nothing to stop the players from declaring initiative, if they want to fight, but you have opened the door for them to do other things, and it is easier to use alternate strategies, when the situation includes more than ‘2d4 orcs appear’ – and you can breathe life into your dungeon.

Wandering elsewhere

Once you have this praxis in place, you can use it in villages and towns to create encounters there as well:

  • 7 drunk members of the city guard extortion a dwarven goldsmith
  • Two competing town criers trying to outdo the other yelling still higher trying to present the most sordid gossip for a few coppers.

From here it is a small step to introduce wandering monsters or random encounters or events in other games such as small towns being investigated in Call of Cthulhu by investigators.

  • Two villagers appears idly talkning but they become silent the moment, they see the PCs, and only the word ‘the hollow’ is heard.

My Final Wanderings

This is how I like to play out and use my wandering monsters. They are not combat encounters appearing at random, but tools to create life in the dungeon, and they are invitations to roleplay. By setting them up head of the game or writing them into adventures, it becomes easier for the DM to improvise and create exciting situations – and the players can still declare initiative any time they want.