Sunday 4 January 2015

The Post-Rationalised Universe, or: What would Dave Do?

The First DM
The wilderness adventure was a problem for players from the outset of D&D and reflected its semi-random collection of influences and cavalier approach to explanation and layout. The outdoor encounter tables in the original game includes various Martian creatures such as Tharks and White Martians, none of which are detailed in the game. Encounters are sub-divided into eight types: Animals (sub divided by terrain), Men (likewise), Flyers, Giants (including kobolds etc., the origin of the ranger's humanoid enemy list, although it includes ents and some other "lawful" monsters), swimmers, dragons, undead, and lycanthropes.

It's a fairly reasonable list until these last two categories which seem a bit specialized. Combining them with the terrain gives the final chance for an encounter to be drawn from a specific type, so undead constitute ¼ of all swamp encounters, and lycanthropes ¼ of those in woods.

Number appearing is given in volume 2 (Monsters and Treasure) and are more or less as seen in the AD&D Monster Manual, although the original note to this stat is that it should be adjusted to the party (in some way).

Anyway, the booklets give very little specific guidance on placement and the move into AD&D compounded this at least in the context of wilderness encounters. Reading the DMG and the MM together always leaves me with two impressions: that there's something missing, and that the wilderness is so hostile as to be out of bounds for at least 4 character levels and even then to be Russian Roulette until average party level reaches the teens.

OD&D: The Missing Bits
What's missing from the DMG is Dave Arneson. Arneson eventually published his notes in Judges Guild's "The First Fantasy Campaign" book and map. Within this he explains how he placed monsters both underground and in the wilderness. There is evidence that Gygax used these notes when preparing the various appendices of the DMG—if you ever wondered why the dungeon random monster level table conflates dungeon levels 2 and 3, it's because that's what Dave did.

In the AD&D game, it is repeatedly stated that random determination at encounter time is a backstop for not having prepared a monster population, but no guidelines are given for how to go about this in any detail and the impression is that the DM simply decides based on their personal vision of What's Going On in their world. Which is fine. but there is a very old school alternative method: Roll Randomly and Then Explain It.

The basic idea of RRTEI is that you roll for something completely without preconceptions of what is "right"; look at the result and reject it only, only in extreme cases; then adjust all the already-compiled information to make the new result fit better with it (this is the "explain it" part). This constructs a web of interconnected locations and ideas which magically become a pre-existing plot.

This new plot can remain undiscovered and static for years until a party wander into the area, or it can be dynamic and imply things which cause the party to be drawn in. Use of the treasure types, random fortresses, and of course monsters can come together to suggest quests or rumours which can reach the PC's ears and spur action; and the existence of pre-determined encounter areas will allow meaningful answers to divinations and sage-enquiries. Once the players start to interact with the randomly generated the threads from nearby areas can start to be woven into the pattern.

RRTEI is the "non occult" force to which Gygax refers on page 87 of the DMG:
It is no exaggeration to state that the fantasy world builds itself, almost as if the milieu actually takes on a life and reality of its own. This is not to say that an occult power takes over. It is simply that the interaction of judge and players shapes the bare bones of the initial creation into something far larger. It becomes fleshed out, and adventuring breathes life into a make believe world. Similarly, the geography and history you assign to the world will suddenly begin to shape the character of states and peoples. Details of former events will become obvious from mere outlines of the past course of things. Surprisingly, as the personalities of player characters and non-player characters in the milieu are bound to develop and become almost real, the nations and states and events of a well-conceived AD&D world will take on even more of their own direction and life. What this all boils down to is that once the campaign is set in motion, you will become more of a recorder.
Back to the wilderness (I'll talk about the dungeons in a later post). Arneson's system is fairly simple (I'll assume hexes, although he also used squares):
  1. Generate terrain, including rivers,
  2. Roll for population of each terrain hex. This is the semi-permanent population and is effectively the number of lairs in the hex.
  3. Randomly roll, based on terrain, for the inhabiting monster of each lair and the population as given in the MM.
  4. Roll 1d6x10 for each lair; when encountered this will be the base percentage not in the lair.
  5. Starting with one group of monsters which are not in the lair, roll 1d6: on 1-5 the monsters are that distance (in miles) from the lair; on a 6 the group is divided into two groups and the DM re-rolls. Direction from the lair is given by a d6 and groups placed in the same direction and distance can be assumed to be near enough to each other to hear any attack on the other. If one group rolls three 6's then it is assumed to more than be one day's travel from the lair; and if a group is placed on a hostile (to it) lair then it is instead placed back at its own lair where it will arrive shortly after any PC encounter to report its findings.
Probably more use than
the TSR version
Arneson used 10m hexes and this is larger than the more common modern 6m or 5m hexes and much smaller than the normal campaign-sized hexes of 30 or 36 miles. This matters a bit as one thing that doesn't scale well is time - a 10 mile hex with 2 encounters in it requires longer to clear out than a 5 mile hex, potentially four times as long. When the PCs are away from base and possibly relying on limited supplies of food and/or magic then this makes a difference.

For a 100m² area, Arneson rolled 1d6 for the number of lairs, counting a 6 as "empty", for an average of 2½ encounter areas per 100m². By the power of maths we can determine that this means that about 98% of wilderness square miles are free of lairs and from that we can work back to a 6m hex (31m²) and we have about a 60% chance of an empty hex and we want an average of .775 (2½*(31/100)). That looks like a d10 to me - 1 to 4 is that number of lairs; otherwise empty giving an average of 1 lair per hex and a 60% chance of nothing at all.

Using the tables in the DMG for temperate and subtropical wilderness, let's populate these seven hexes generated using the random terrain table on p173.

Hex 1 (plain): inhabited, single dwelling of 1 person; No lairs
Hex 2 (pond/plain): uninhabited, no lairs.
Hex 3 (plain): uninhabited, no lairs.
Hex 4 (marsh): uninhabited, 3 lairs: 3 owlbears, no treasure OB1 in lair (30%), OB2 3 miles to SE, OB3 1 mile to NW; 140 Gnolls, 6000cp, 12 gems, potions of rainbow hues, ESP, delusion, and love. 85 in lair (20%) out of lair one mile to NE; 2 giant constrctor snakes close together (0% in lair).
Hex 5 (plain): uninhabited, no lairs.
Hex 6 (plain): uninhabited, 1 lair: 6 trolls, 8000sp, 1000gp, 3 jewels, 7 gems, 5 in lair (40%) and 1 5 miles to the NW.
Hex 7 (plain): uninhabited, no lairs.

So, hex 1's encounter table is simply the inhabitant of the dwelling, Hexes 2, 3, 5, and 6 have no settled encounters (we'll look at this below), hex 4 encounters can be with: a single owlbear (30% the one in lair; otherwise equal chances of either other one), a gnoll group (80%) or the gnoll lair (20%), or the snakes. Each monster type has an equal chance of appearing (e.g., 1-2: Owlbear, 3-4: gnolls; 5-6: snakes). Hex 6 encounters will be with a group of trolls (40%) or a lone troll.

Encounters with monsters not in lair will occur in the direction listed from the centre of the hex containing the lair (you could specifically place the lair and go from there, but that's more work).

Ignore the horse
The Inhabitant
Going back to hex 1 and its lone inhabitant, I think that's worth a roll on the castle table which gives a small walled castle with keep and another roll indicates the inhabitant is a 9th level fighter.

Skipping over to page 100 we get more detail on this fighter: chaotic good, super-rich, old and rather ragged, sober, friendly, easy-going but rather anti-intellectual, vengeful, aesthetic, brave, driven, miserly, irreligious, with an interest in history.

Rolling on the table for Men, we find that he has Scale Mail +1, shield +1, +2 short sword, and a +4 spear. However, based on decisions below, I'm going to give him plate mail armour (or the best available non-magical armour in your campaign) when defending and leave the scale mail for when he's outside and needs the extra movement that magical armour allows.

His stats, modified for age: Str 11, Int 7, Wis 17, Con 13, Dex 11, Cha 13, Com 14, hp: 45, AC: 1 (3+2), combat level of 13 or 12 (spear or sword). Mv 6"

Okay, that's the rolls, here's the explanation: An old (64 year) lord still inhabits the remains of his ancestral home where his family were wiped out years before by some awful plague of which he was the only survivor, albeit weakened and never able to regain his former physical prowess. Dispite all this and the passing years, he remains a hansom and tall figure quite capable of turning the odd female head.

Convinced that there was some unnatural source for the disease he has spent the decades since trying to locate the entity responsible. Although the castle contains the family's total wealth in its well-protected dungeon, he does not care about it except insofar that it can buy him progress in his hunt. However, its usefulness for this purpose means that he is loath to leave it unguarded but although still a powerful fighter he is unable to eliminate the major local threat of the Gnolls. Indeed, the recent arrival of a group of trolls has greatly worried him—although the two groups might not aid each other the simple presence of them has made it harder than ever for him to hunt for food and his sleep is rarely undisturbed as both groups are active at night. If you've seen Omega Man or any of the other adaptations of I am Legend, that might give you some ideas for his life-style. The space between the keep and the rather tumble-down outer wall is filled with traps and he has several well disguised secret entrances which are too small for either trolls or gnolls.

What Sir Cowden (rolled a name from my local collection of names) wants right now is some allies that he can trust at least enough to help him move against either the gnolls or the trolls. He will not throw money at passing parties just to get their help, however, and will instead attempt to befriend them and evaluate their alignments and otherwise come to some agreement that will not cost him cash. The family treasure is, in his head, only to be spent on avenging that family or rewarding those that help him complete this task. He has pared his needs down to the minimum needed to survive while keeping his hope alive. He will only offer to join a party if they first help him eliminate the gnolls (he judges the trolls too stupid to be able to break into the castle's vaults if he leaves it for any length of time).

In conversation, he will always focus on a party's most charismatic fighter and will regard magic users as little more than supporting artillery to be directed by the fighters, and clerics as medical staff; he will assume that all divination rolls are unreliable and pounce on any evidence that backs this up. Thieves will, of course, be treated with the utmost suspicion, but otherwise he is relaxed and generally assumes the best of humans and demi-humans.

The old lord's hospitality will be stretched by any party but he will do his best to feed and water them, and will certainly replace any broken normal weapons from the castle's armoury if the party seem to need such. He will light the fire in the great hall with something of an air of excitement and PCs will note the armourial shield over the fireplace which depicts: on a field of gold, a spear proper on a bend of green. Under the shield, mounted horizontally, is a spear which those characters who spend any time looking at these things will notice is actually the spear depicted on the family arms. This is the +4 spear ("Avant") which was the symbol of the Silverwind family, of whom Cowden is the last scion. The family motto translates as "To Speak Light; to Silence Darkness".

Sir Cowden has a "% in lair" of 75%—all night, and about 50% during the day. The castle is easily seen during the day and there is essentially no chance of stumbling across it, but at night any encounter with Sir Cowden will be at the castle and the normal method for castle encounters should be followed.

The Gnolls
The gnolls consist of a fyrd of 170 warriors and a further 85 females and 340 females in the ruins (this is a roll from the MM entry for gnolls) of an old village. They have no guard animals but do have a selection of 25 slaves. The group speak orc and hobgoblin well enough to converse simple (usually violent) ideas.

The party in the field has 4 squabbling leader types (16hp each) with it, and the lair contains a further four who do little while there except bully the females and children, eat, and sleep. In addition there is a chief (22hp, AC 3, 4HD/CL 6, +2 damage bonus) with 11 guards (20hp, AC 4, 3HD, +1 damage bonus).

The gnolls recently raided a caravan and made off with a case of four potions which they have not identified yet. Several of the prisoners are from the caravan, including an apprentice alchemist who can read the markings on the potion bottles; the gnolls have no idea about this. Several of the slaves will claim that there would be a reward for returning them safely to civilization. This may or may not be true; it may even be why the PCs are out here in the first place.

Art: Wendy Pini
The Trolls
The troll lair is a simple arch under an old bridge over a stream. Their hp are 36, 30, 28, 23, 21, 21 (roll for which one is out of the lair). Like many monsters, they collect treasure for no better reason than they know that it harms those they take it off. All of the gold and half of the silver they have is in the form of a collection of small (roughly 3 inch high) figures of deities and their servants from the pantheon of your choice. The workmanship is good but nothing special and the figures will only reach their bullion value. The figures were in a set of wooden display/transportation cases which are scattered about under the bridge but still in usable condition and inspection of these will suggest that 7 figures (of 56 - 16 gold, 40 silver) are missing from the collection. The remaining 4000sp is in recent coinage.

The figures may have some religious significance which would prompt a reward being posted, or a cleric to be sent to look for them along with a party of his or her adventuring associates.

I think he's seen us
The Owlbears
The owlbear nest contains four young which are 60% grown (3HD) as well as a single adult. The three adults' hp are: 23, 20, 20, and the young are 17, 11, 11, 9. Their nest is a pile of branches and leaves on a slight rise in the swamp land.

The Snakes
The snakes are simply giant constrictor snakes hanging around in branches of scrubby trees in the marsh, waiting for something to walk under their coils. In any encounter only one will initially be met, the second one arriving within d4 rounds of the first combat attack (or spell) which makes a noise.

Hp: 31, 16

Having rolled all this up, I feel that the gnolls and the trolls are likely to have encountered each other. I generally assume that monsters have reasonably well explored a radius around their lairs up to their move rate as miles, so the trolls' 12" and the gnolls' 9" indicates a substantial overlap (see fig). A reaction roll of 62 suggests that the groups are not in conflict but nor are they cooperating; the trolls are strong but the large number of gnolls is enough to keep a balance of power. Since they have no common enemy, they keep themselves to themselves.

The fate of Sir Cowden's family and the gnolls' deserted village suggest that the plague was more wide-spread than just the castle, so I'd pencil in some major disease event and at this point I'll also commit to Cowden's suspicions being correct and that some daemon-worshipper was behind it. I'd also add a few more deserted villages in the area to give an attentive party hints that something bad happened here thirty years or so ago. To give the plot a bit more room to develop, I'll assume that the perpetrator is still alive somewhere and that his/her intention was to wipe out not only the family but the whole of their estate and that discovering that one of the core members of the family still lives would be of as much interest to them as their existence would be to Sir Cowden. Whoever they are, money was not the motive.

The final thing is the question of encounters in "empty" hexes. As mentioned, I assume a certain range for monsters so I could construct tables based on the chance that one of the listed populations are encountered outside their "home hex" but for now I'd just roll on a standard random monster table based on terrain. Note, however, that such monsters are by definition not in lair and therefore consist of 10-60% of the listed populations unless the type never lairs.

I've tried to set things up neutrally so that a neutral or even evil party have something to do here, including setting the gnolls and the trolls against each other as well as against Sir Cowden.

I've also avoided overruling dice rolls even when they didn't produce something I had in mind based on earlier rolls. For example, the gnolls do not have any hyenaoid guards. The problem with such interference is that one tends to select the same sort of things each time and unless it's the only way to avoid an encounter being completely dull, it's best to leave such things to be genuine surprises. The same goes double for treasure types; overruling those tends to lead to magic inflation such as we see in the G series.

Speaking of treasure types, the monsters with treasure were all in reasonably substantial numbers so I didn't have any problems giving them the values rolled; if they had been low in numbers then I would have reduced the treasure.

Finally, notice that prisoners are a god-send when inventing reasons for things to be where they are or why a PC party might hear about an encounter area.

The treasure was rolled using my treasure type generator and the full lists were:

12 gems: 
 Gem stone (Oriental Topaz) 1000gp 
 Semi-precious stone (Onyx) 50gp 
 Gem stone (Black Opal) 1000gp 
 Fancy stone (Jet) 100gp 
 Semi-precious stone (Star Rose Quartz) 50gp 
 Semi-precious stone (Chalcedony) 50gp 
 Fancy stone (Spinel, green) 200gp 
 Ornimental stone (Malachite) 7gp 
 Semi-precious stone (Star Rose Quartz) 50gp 
 Semi-precious stone (Moonstone) 50gp 
 Semi-precious stone (Citrine) 50gp 
 Ornimental stone (Rhodochrosite) 10gp 

 Potion of Rainbow Hues
 Potion of ESP 
 Potion of Delusion (cursed)

 Philter of Love

7 gems: 
 Semi-precious stone (Chrysoprase) 50gp 
 Semi-precious stone (Moonstone) 50gp 
 Fancy stone (Garnet, brown-green) 100gp 
 Fancy precious stone (Black Pearl) 500gp 
 Fancy stone (Chrysoberyl) 200gp 
 Fancy stone (Spinel, red) 100gp 
 Ornimental stone (Bonded Agate) 10gp 

3 jewels: 
 3000gp silver with gems coffer
 1000gp wrought silver goblet

 1800gp wrought gold goblet

The Silverwind Family Treasure Vault
83 gems: 
 Fancy stone (Amber) 160gp 
 Fancy stone (Alexandrite) 200gp 
 Fancy stone (Garnet, brown-green) 100gp 
 Fancy precious stone (Black Pearl) 500gp 
 Ornimental stone (Moss Agate) 45gp 
 Ornimental stone (Bonded Agate) 20gp 
 Fancy precious stone (Aquamarine) 800gp 
 Semi-precious stone (Smoky Quartz) 50gp 
 Semi-precious stone (Moonstone) 75gp 
 Fancy stone (Amber) 100gp 
 Semi-precious stone (Sardonyx) 50gp 
 Ornimental stone (Turquoise) 10gp 
 Fancy stone (Garnet, brown-green) 100gp 
 Ornimental stone (Blue Quartz) 10gp 
 Gem stone (Diamond) 2000gp 
 Fancy stone (Tourmaline) 100gp 
 Ornimental stone (Malachite) 10gp 
 Ornimental stone (Malachite) 10gp 
 Ornimental stone (Turquoise) 10gp 
 Ornimental stone (Obsidian) 10gp 
 Fancy precious stone (Peridot) 500gp 
 Fancy stone (Garnet, red) 100gp 
 Semi-precious stone (Carnelian) 55gp 
 Fancy precious stone (Garnet, violet) 500gp 
 Fancy precious stone (Peridot) 500gp 
 Ornimental stone (Hematite) 20gp 
 Ornimental stone (Eye Agate) 10gp 
 Semi-precious stone (Sardonyx) 50gp 
 Gem stone (Emerald) 1000gp 
 Semi-precious stone (Carnelian) 50gp 
 Fancy stone (Tourmaline) 100gp 
 Ornimental stone (Turquoise) 35gp 
 Semi-precious stone (Carnelian) 50gp 
 Gem stone (Black Opal) 1000gp 
 Gem stone (Oriental Amethyst) 1000gp 
 Ornimental stone (Blue Quartz) 35gp 
 Fancy stone (Jet) 100gp 
 Ornimental stone (Hematite) 10gp 
 Fancy precious stone (Aquamarine) 500gp 
 Semi-precious stone (Jasper) 50gp 
 Semi-precious stone (Smoky Quartz) 60gp 
 Gem stone (Oriental Amethyst) 1000gp 
 Fancy precious stone (Black Pearl) 500gp 
 Gem stone (Diamond) 1000gp 
 Fancy stone (Chrysoberyl) 100gp 
 Semi-precious stone (Rock Crystal) 60gp 
 Fancy stone (Alexandrite) 100gp 
 Fancy precious stone (Topaz) 500gp 
 Ornimental stone (Bonded Agate) 10gp 
 Semi-precious stone (Bloodstone) 50gp 
 Semi-precious stone (Moonstone) 50gp 
 Fancy stone (Garnet, brown-green) 200gp 
 Ornimental stone (Blue Quartz) 10gp 
 Fancy stone (Spinel, green) 100gp 
 Fancy precious stone (Black Pearl) 500gp 
 Fancy stone (Amethyst) 400gp 
 Fancy stone (Amber) 100gp 
 Semi-precious stone (Chrysoprase) 50gp 
 Fancy stone (Chrysoberyl) 100gp 
 Semi-precious stone (Bloodstone) 50gp 
 Fancy precious stone (Aquamarine) 500gp 
 Ornimental stone (Lapis Lazuli) 5gp 
 Semi-precious stone (Bloodstone) 50gp 
 Ornimental stone (Obsidian) 7gp 
 Ornimental stone (Azurite) 10gp 
 Fancy precious stone (Aquamarine) 500gp 
 Fancy precious stone (Black Pearl) 800gp 
 Ornimental stone (Bonded Agate) 10gp 
 Ornimental stone (Rhodochrosite) 10gp 
 Fancy precious stone (Spinel, deep blue) 500gp 
 Fancy stone (Spinel, green) 450gp 
 Ornimental stone (Rhodochrosite) 10gp 
 Semi-precious stone (Chalcedony) 50gp 
 Fancy stone (Coral) 100gp 
 Gem stone (Star Ruby) 1000gp 
 Fancy precious stone (Spinel, deep blue) 650gp 
 Gem stone (Emerald) 1000gp 
 Ornimental stone (Blue Quartz) 10gp 
 Semi-precious stone (Chrysoprase) 50gp 
 Fancy stone (Spinel, red) 400gp 
 Ornimental stone (Obsidian) 15gp 
 Semi-precious stone (Star Rose Quartz) 50gp 
 Fancy stone (Alexandrite) 100gp 

40 jewels: 
 6000gp gold with gems bracelet
 8000gp silver with gems coffer *exceptional gem*
 1200gp wrought gold chain
 3000gp silver with gems statuette
 1000gp wrought gold chain
 1400gp wrought gold decanter
 6000gp silver with gems statuette *exceptional gem*
 1900gp platinum anklet
 600gp wrought gold chain
 6000gp gold with gems statuette
 6000gp platinum with gems medallion
 6000gp gold with gems pin
 2100gp platinum pin
 1400gp coral coffer
 500gp wrought silver clasp
 1200gp wrought gold necklace
 6000gp gold with gems ring
 5000gp platinum with gems seal
 2200gp jade goblet
 2000gp gold with gems bracelet
 10000gp gold with gems chain *exceptional gem*
 7000gp gold with gems goblet
 8000gp gold with gems fob
 400gp ivory medal
 1200gp wrought silver and gold pin
 1600gp coral chain
 1500gp jade bracelet
 3000gp silver with gems clasp
 700gp wrought silver and gold idol
 600gp wrought silver chain
 5000gp silver with gems chain
 900gp wrought gold goblet
 1200gp coral pin
 5000gp platinum with gems choker
 8000gp platinum with gems pin
 2100gp platinum medallion
 1600gp wrought gold medal
 23000gp gold with gems bracelet *exceptional gem*
 600gp wrought silver and gold bracelet

 600gp wrought gold brooch

This is a Type H treasure representing the total treasure of an exceptionally wealthy and powerful family and should be hidden, protected by traps, and potent neutral or good-aligned monsters. I would suggest at least one iron or stone golem and perhaps a pair of caryatid columns, perhaps a Guardian Daemon, and various symbols which do not affect any true descendant of the Silverwind family as well as more mundane locks.

Any of the large-value gems or jewellery here could be the subject of a rumour in the civilized world which could send a party out in this direction; the hoard as a whole could be the subject of treasure maps based on leaked information from the days when the castle was full of people and life. Naturally, anyone trying to get this stuff away by land will attract attention, especially if they take the 50,000gp (nearly 2¼ tons of gold, or 4½ cubic feet)


  1. Great Stuff Nagora. Really enjoyed this post. This:
    "The problem with such interference is that one tends to select the same sort of things each time and unless it's the only way to avoid an encounter being completely dull, it's best to leave such things to be genuine surprises. The same goes double for treasure types; overruling those tends to lead to magic inflation such as we see in the G series."

    - is brilliant!

    The only comment I'd make is that I discussed how the % in Lair monster stat is supposed to work with the out of lair figure you discussed above in a post I wrote here:

    1. DH, Sorry about that. I should have credited your excellent blog for spurring me onto expanding on this aspect of D&D.