There’s a word for people who don’t like wandering monsters. They’re called “players”. GMs (those I’ve talked to, anyhow) love ’em as it adds just a little randomness into what is otherwise a preset chain of encounters. The last sessions of the Endday Campaign I experimented with adding Wandering Encounters to the mix, with pretty good results. Here’s how.
But first, a short history lesson. Once upon a time, Wandering Monsters were an important part of D&D. In a dungeon setting, these were the guys who were going from point A to point B and generally living out their monstery lives until they happened to cross the path of a bunch of adventurers. The GM rolled to see if a random encounter took place (in Moldvay D&D, a roll of 1 on 1d6, check every 2 turns), set the encounter distance (2d6x10 feet away) then rolled against a table to see what the monster the hapless party would face. Each dungeon level has its own table, and many a GM would spend happy hours creating and customizing Wandering Monster Tables that here appropriate for their dungeon and gameworld. I know I did.
When it comes to Fourth Edition, it’s better to think in terms of Wandering Encounters rather than mere monsters. Instead of the party stumbling upon 4d4 Kobolds, they could instead meet up with a preset Kobold encounter with a variety of monsters and roles in the mix. This is more in keeping with the 4e philosophy of “think of the whole encounter, not the individual monster”.
Encounters in 4e are normally made up of three things: Monsters, Terrain and Traps/Hazards. When if comes to Wandering Encounters though, it’s best to think purely of the monsters first, and consider the terrain only when you bring them into play. Save the traps for the preset Encounters – a Wandering Encounter should provide action, but not slow the game down while the heroes try to disable or escape a difficult trap.
Which die you roll to check for encounter frequency will dictate how often they occur. For the Endday sessions I rolled d6 each time the heroes took a Short Rest, and modified it by +1 for each Short Rest taken since the last Wandering Encounter. On a result of 6 or above, a random encounter takes place. If you want to reduce the chance of Wandering Encounters, use a d10 or d12 instead.
Have the encounter take place anytime appropriate. Hit them while they’re still resting if you want, or save it until they are travelling. This is a great way to use otherwise “dead zones” in a dungeon map – an Encounter in a narrow corridor is a very different beast to one in a large room.
Roll 2d20 for the number of squares between the party and the closest Wandering Monster. This sets the encounter distance between 10′ and 200′ away. Don’t forget to take into account visiblity (a torch-bearing Human can only see a distance of 5 squares, PHB262), and check for surprise. I used the PC’s Passive Perception versus the monster’s Passive Stealth to keep the dice rolls to a minimum.
The Wandering Encounter Table
I created a small table with just d6 encounters for the Endday sessions – two Easy, two Normal and two Hard. For full dungeon crawl level I suggest creating a full d20 table with 6 Easy, 10 Normal and 4 Hard Encounters. Use monsters appropriate to the style of the setting, though don’t be afraid of including elements that seem out of place – they could be teasers of what to expect in the future, or red herrings.
Keeping with the “Demonic Cold” theme, my encounter table looked like this:
- 2 Chillborn Zombies, 6 Zombie Rotters, 728XP
- 5 Dretch, 2 Zombies, 1 Chillborn Zombie, 875XP
- 1 Ice Troll, 3 Gnaw Demons, 1000XP
- 4 Rotwing Zombies, 1 Ice Troll, 1200XP
- 3 Harpies, 2 Spined Devils, 1250P
- 2 Neldrazu, 2 Chillborn Zombies, 4 Zombie Rotters, 1652XP
Wandering Encounters are a great way to disuade players from taking Short Rests too frequently, and helps to reinforce the impression that they are the ones in enemy territory. Staying in the same place too long only attracts danger! They are also a way to encourage the players to press on – don’t forget that they gain an Action Point for every two encounters between Extended Rests, so it might be worth setting them a random encounter so they have Action Points to spare for the set-piece battles.
Till next time!
EDIT: I forgot to mention – Asmor’s 4e Random Encounter Generator is a great tool if you want to create a Wandering Encounter Table! There. I done said it now.
EDIT 2: There’s the free Monster Manual Encounter pdf I put together too. Ok. I’ll shut up now.