Wandering Monster Groups

I’ve been running 4e intensively since release, it’s a great game, I love it. One of the things I love so much is the way it helps me construct encounters. I’ve had fun building and running them, and when they really work, they’ve been the centrepiece of the session.

Recently I’ve been working up a sandboxy campaign, and I’ve been plundering the Paizo APs for inspiration. Where I’ve been coming unstuck is with the encounter charts. Pre 4e, these were simplicity themselves as it was hard coded into the game that you would encounter single creatures (or groups of the same). What I need now is some way of constructing encounter groups.

These were included in the first two MMs, but quietly dropped after that. I think that’s a shame, but I doubt they’ll see a return any time soon. So instead, how about we get a decent set of guidelines on making groups out of your books, or building ‘mundane’ solos? Essentially, I want to be able to generate a wandering monster group.

Turns out the answer to the question already exists in the DMG. Where else? (funny how you forget about the obvious things sometimes eh?). It’s on page 193 in the DMs toolbox chapter, and it’s called Random Encounters. It’s obviously a tad more complex than just rolling on a d% table, but not much. I’ve taken the liberty of combining the three rolls into a table:

D10

Difficulty Template Extra Feature

1

Easy Commander & troops None

2

Easy Commander & troops None

3

Moderate Wolf pack None

4

Moderate Wolf pack None

5

Moderate Dragon’s den Substitute trap

6

Moderate Dragon’s den Substitute hazard

7

Moderate Battlefield control Substitute lurker

8

Moderate Battlefield control Add trap

9

Hard Double line Add hazard

10

Hard Double line Add lurker

Once you’ve made your three rolls, you then have to pick your threats and that’s the hardest part. Given that I want a kind of jungle theme, I really have to make up a list of potentials. Leafing through multiple Manuals and Vaults is hard work so time to turn to the Compendium.

The chart I’m trying to replicate is from Souls for Smuggler’s Shiv (review pending, don’t worry) and that’s all snakes and monkeys, the sort of thing you’d find on a tropical island. A quick check on the compendium, selecting level 1 creatures with the keyword ‘natural’ throws up 77 candidates. Yikes! Change the source to ‘rulebooks’ only and it trims it to a more manageable 51. Working through the roles gives you a set of mini charts. Like so:

Skirmishers Soldiers Controller Artillery Lurkers Brutes
Baazrag Whelp Salt Zombie Goblin Acolyte of Maglubiyet Goblin Sniper Goblin Blackblade White Dragon Wyrmling
Kestrekel Carrion Eater Bren ir’Gadden   Dwarf Warrior Stirge Human Slave
Kobold Tunneler Stormclaw Scorpion   Silt Runner Darter   Ankheg Broodling
Hive Worker Dwarf Clan Guard   Skull Kicker Slinger   Fledgling White Dragon
Goblin Cutter     Kobold Slinger   Camel
Decrepit Skeleton     Halfling Slinger   Silt Runner Rager
Erdlu         Grasping Zombie
Baazrag Gnawer         Gibberling Bunch
Jhakar Tracker         Riding Horse
Goblin Cutthroat         Bullywug Mucker
Kobold Quickblade         Thornskin Frog
Goblin Archer         Fire Beetle
Scurrying Rat Swarm         Dire Rat
Blood Hawk         Horse
Kobold Skirmisher          
Goblin Warrior          
Spiretop Drake          
Goblin Beast Rider          

It’s worth working up an ‘at a glance’ system to differentiate minions, elites and solos. (Colours can work well too).

I don’t really recommend putting in a dice roll at this stage, better to pick and choose. In fact, at this stage I really want to strip out a few creatures that don’t look right, and add in a few from levels 2 and 3. After that, it’s a matter of re-skinning to taste. For example, I don’t really want goblins in this adventure, but they’ll make great pygmies.

To be completely honest, all this looks like a lot of work, but it’s not as bad as it looks. The idea is to filter and sort until you’ve got something approaching a theme. I don’t want completely random groupings, and I don’t want to plough through every permutation. This process helps me get an idea of the possibilities, and that’s enough to build memorable encounters that feel like they belong.

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