Old school Swords & Wizardry Tabletop RPGs

The Frog God Swords & Wizardry Superbundle

While prowling around for a deal on Tome of Horrors Complete I stumbled across this PDF bundle on the Frog God website — the aptly named Superbundle for Swords & Wizardry. It’s broken into 3 tiers: $5, $13, and $25.

I love monster books, and in addition to ToHC this bundle includes two others that were also on my wishlist. Sticking to just the monster books, Tome of Horrors Complete ($25 tier) is normally a $30 PDF, Monstrosities ($13 tier) is normally $15, and Tome of Horrors 4 ($5 tier) is normally $25 — so that’s $70 of monstery goodness for $25.

And that’s not even taking into account the other stuff I’m also curious to check out, like the Borderland Provinces (all 4 included) and Hex Crawl Chronicles books (all 7 included), or the stuff that’s completely new to me. This bundle made my day — maybe it will make yours, too.

Here’s the breakdown:

$5 tier:

  • Quests of Doom 1
  • The Borderlands Provinces
  • Tome of Horrors 4
  • The Mother of All Encounter Tables
  • Rogues of Remballo
  • Adventures in the Borderlands

$13 tier (includes lower tier):

  • Monstrosities
  • Quests of Doom 3
  • The Borderland Provinces Gazetteer
  • The Borderland Provinces Players Guide
  • The Borderland Provinces Journey Generator
  • Strange Bedfellows

$25 tier (includes both lower tiers):

  • Digital Maps
  • Hex Crawl Chronicles 1-7
  • Chuck’s Dragons
  • Swords and Wizardry Card Decks
  • Tome of Horrors Complete
D&D Miscellaneous geekery

The D&D phonetic alphabet

After making a string of phone calls where I needed to spell things for the person on the other end of the line, I decided it was finally time to learn the NATO phonetic alphabet so I could stop doing this:

Okay, it’s five, P as in pork chop [shit, now I’m hungry], six, three, H as in hors d’oeuvres [why the fuck did I choose something that sounds like it starts with an O?] . . .

I typed up the list, stuck it to my monitor, and started memorizing it.

Then, over on G+, Adam McConnaughey mentioned “U as in unicorn,” and I started thinking about a D&D phonetic alphabet using monster names.

But not one designed for maximum clarity, like the NATO phonetic alphabet — one made with names that are funny, difficult to pronounce, fun to say, and, ideally, confusing for the person on the other end of the line.

One that’s full of terrible phonetic choices — like this little dude, who sounds like he was named by Mister Mxyzptlk:

I as in ixitxachitl

Here’s what I come up with using two of my favorite monster books, AD&D 1e’s Monster Manual (paid link) and Fiend Folio (paid link):

Need to liven up your next grinding, soul-crushing, red tape-filled phone call? This should do the trick.

“Wraith” has a silent W, making it sound like it should be an R-word . . . but it’s the W. “Ixitxachitl” is clearly an I-word, but I always stumble over it when I say it aloud. “Gnome” is another sounds-like-the-wrong-letter entry. And so on.

If the majority of my monster books weren’t in storage, I bet there are at least a few other letters that could be made more confusing. Suggestions welcome!

GURPS Tabletop RPGs

GURPS Creatures of the Night offers up some creepy gems

I snagged a copy of GURPS Creatures of the Night (paid link), by Scott Paul Maykrantz, because I love monster books and it sounded like this one might be full of weird and wonderful oddballs. Not all of its monsters grab me, but there are some delightfully disturbing creatures in here.

My copy was a whopping $4, and I kind of like that the cover features neither creatures nor night.[1]

Two short of a good sixty-nine joke

CotN presents 67 monsters, each of which gets at least a page; most run two pages, and a few run longer than that. The layout is utilitarian, but gets the job done:

(Artists are credited, but not by image; I don’t know whose work this is)

They’re all but stat-free, which is perfect since I don’t play GURPS — for me, this is a sourcebook for other games.

Coming off a stint designing Labyrinth Lord creatures, which need a paragraph or two of text at most (plus the stat block), the length of each CotN critter’s entry is a blessing and a curse.

When they’re good, it rocks. My favorite CotN creatures are the ones you could build an adventure, sandbox, or campaign around, and knowing how they tick is fantastic. But when they don’t blow my skirt up, the entries feel overlong.


A side order of campaign concepts

CotN opens with some introductory material, the best of which is a rundown of four monster-heavy campaign concepts:

  • Darwin by Night features scientist PCs investigating the supernatural, with a focus on gathering information. What I like is the spin, which is sort of “Scully meets Indiana Jones.”
  • In Demon Hunters, the PCs are the marines in Aliens fighting monsters from Call of Cthulhu, more or less. It’s got a darker edge than Ghostbusters or Buffy.
  • Seeking the Source postulates that every monster is related to every other monster, all serving the same master — or masters. That’s a neat hook!
  • The Impostor Wars is basically an Illuminati campaign, but the secret masters are puppeteer-type monsters.

This section is only two pages long, but it packs a nice punch — and I love that it provides excuses to use two of my favorite GURPS books, Warehouse 23 (paid link) and Illuminati (paid link), the latter of which would go great with The Impostor Wars.

After that, it’s on to the monsters. Here are five of my favorite entities from Creatures of the Night:


The name doesn’t convey how cool betweeners are:

Betweeners are giant creatures that float in orbit, between the Earth’s atmosphere and outer space. They are made of a delicate, crystal-like substance. […] Betweeners absorb genetic information from any creature they can capture. […] Betweeners snare the captured specimen in glass tentacles and slice it to pieces. The genetic information is absorbed by the crystal and stored in the betweener’s consciousness.

Once creatures are absorbed, Betweeners send them to Earth as scions, many of whom don’t know they’re working for a betweener. Betweeners accomplish this through a variety of supernatural means, and can themselves be the source of just about any monster-centric or conspiracy-related myth you choose.

And if you want to figure out what a betweener is, you may have to go inside it, which feels like a very “2001: A Space Odyssey plus Call of Cthulhu” moment waiting to happen.


Apart from a great name, corpse-kissers are both gross and creepy:

These are black centipede-like insects that invade corpses, reproducing rapidly as they eat the organs and bones inside. Leaving only the husk of outer flesh, they continue to multiply until they form a tightly packed mass.

Ewwww.[2] In the best way! But it gets better:

Static stimulates corpse-bugs to secrete their precious fluid. They thrive on the sound of radios tuned between stations and televisions showing “snow.”

I love these dudes. I also love the adventure seed “Fingered,” which accompanies them: All Secret Service agents, and many other spooks, are actually corpse-kissers. But why? And to what end? I’d play that campaign.


Beings connected to the “darksome” — living darkness — the darklings harvest human organs. Not that weird, right?

The darksome becomes stronger when it can focus its power through human viscera. As it breathes through stolen lungs, pumps blood through stolen hearts, and twitches stolen muscles, it gains power in the world, which it transfers to the darklings.

Darklings replace their victims’ organs with “shadow” versions, fully functional — and nicely baffling for, say, a PC doctor who encounters a patient with one of these shadow-organs.


Another innocuous name, another killer concept:

A lodger is a sentient, insubstantial being that takes control of an inhabited structure to survive — a “haunted house.” The inhabited structure (a house, hotel, castle, RV, etc.) becomes the lodger’s body.

I love this explanation for haunted places — and how great it is that you can have a haunted RV? And like the best monsters in CotN, the lodger has another layer: As it consumes the emotions of those inside it (the more intense, the better), you track that in percentile terms.

Every time it hits 100%, it gets a new psychic ability and the counter resets. The older the haunted house, the worse the hauntings become.

Mooring trees

Mooring trees like to strike deals with murderers. What sort of deals?

The name comes from their ability to act as a supernatural anchor for anyone who strikes the deal — if the person commits murder, he can be instantly transported back to the tree.

That’d make a great hook for a string of “disappearing murderers,” an unsolved chain of serial killings, or a one-off monster of the week session. It’s a versatile concept, and I like it a lot.

(Artists are credited in the book, but not by image)

I can’t recommend GURPS Creatures of the Night (paid link) without reservation — many of the monsters don’t really grab me, and it’s overlong in places. But some of the creatures in this book are just sublime.

The best ones (and there are more than five I’d put in this category) have a strong, unique concept underpinned by just the right amount of depth and complexity, and the length of the write-ups gives them room to breathe.

Just writing up the five I like best has filled my head with ideas I’d love to use in a horror game.

[1] Twilight, at most.

[2] The Husk of Outer Flesh would make a great band name.

D&D Old school Tabletop RPGs

The case of the colorful ogre

Over on Against the Wicked City, Joseph Manola posted about colorful versions of classic D&D monsters — from the AD&D 1e Monster Manual (paid link).

Quick, picture an ogre. What color is it? Now check out its description from the MM:

The hide of ogres varies from dull blackish-brown to dead yellow. Rare specimens are a sickly violet in color. Their warty bumps are often of different color — or at least darker than their hides. Hair is blackish-blue to dull dark green. Eyes are purple with white pupils. Teeth are black or orange, as are talons.

Whoa! That’s not what I picture in my head when I think “D&D ogre,” but I love it.

And Joseph is right: There are lots of other monsters in the AD&D 1e MM that fall into this category — much more vividly hued that what’s come to be the default D&D version. I’d never noticed that before.

Goblins is yeller

Joseph also quoted a few other descriptions, including the one for goblins — “yellow through dull orange to brick red,” and yep, no green ones — that made me take a closer look at the back cover of the MM. And there they are — bright yellow goblins!

My copy isn’t going to win any beauty contests, but the yellow still shows up clearly. I thought maybe I was misidentifying those little dudes as goblins, but check out the lovely Trampier goblin illustration from the goblin entry:

It’s a perfect match, right down to the shape of the shield. Bright yellow goblins — awesome!

Where did the colorful ogre come from?

That made me wonder whether I’d just been missing, or perhaps glossing over, marvelously colorful ogres (and other humanoids) in other editions. Did colorful ogres start in OD&D (paid link)?


These large and fearsome monsters range from 7 to 10 feet in height, and due to their size will score 1 die +2 (3–8) points of hits when they hit. When encountered outside their lair they will carry from 100 to 600 Gold Pieces each.

That’s the whole entry — no word on their appearance. But OD&D sometimes assumes you’re also looking at Chainmail, so let’s look there, too:

What are generally referred to as Trolls are more properly Ogres — intermediate creatures between men and Giants. They will fight in formations, and have a martial capability of six Heavy Foot.

Nope again. How about Holmes Basic?

These large and fearsome humanoid monsters range from 7 to 10 feet in height and are of various disgusting colors.

That’s interesting — “various disgusting colors.” I like that it’s left vague, but it doesn’t help pin down the origins of the violet ogre.

Okay, what about Moldvay Basic (paid link)?

Ogres are huge fearsome human-like creatures, usually 8 to 10 feet tall.

They grew a foot, but they’re back to having no reference to skin color. So where did the colorful ogre come from?


OD&D is a short game, and light on details in many places. It wouldn’t surprise me if Gygax and Arneson didn’t both describing some creatures, like the ogre, with which they assumed folks would be familiar. Holmes and Moldvay both used OD&D as their baseline, so it makes sense that they’d leave ogres pretty much the same.

And then along comes the MM. It was written by Gary, so presumably the colorful ogre — and its brightly-hued friends — is a Gygaxian ogre, not an Arnesonian or Gygax/Arneson one. I’ve read a decent chunk of Appendix N, but I haven’t bumped into any ogres that look like this so far.

I’d love to know the answer, but I’ve got nothing. Nothing but Joseph’s original point, that is: There are some cool, wildly colorful humanoids in the AD&D MM.

I’d love to play in a game where those were the defaults — that’d be a pulpy setting with a healthy dose of zany, and I dig that.


Michael Curtis has a theory about the origins of the colorful ogre, and gave me permission to share it here (including his photo). Thanks, Michael!

“When Gary and the guys were playing Chainmail with the Fantasy supplement, there wasn’t much in the way of fantastical miniatures to use as monsters and humanoid troops. Chainmail itself suggests using 25mm and 15mm figures of normal medieval troops (then readily available) to portray dwarves, halflings, goblins, etc for example.

In those games, the players used larger scale miniatures to represent the bigger monsters. One such figure was an American Indian warrior with spear and breastplate. These figure were used as ogres. Their coloration: bright yellow.

The attached photo is from Gary Con IV where they replayed the “Battle of the Brown Hills” Chainmail fantasy scenario. The game used figures dating from the early 1970s, in some cases the actual miniatures owned by the Lake Geneva crew. Here you can see the yellow warriors (and one painted dark brown) facing off against human soldiers. Compare the pose of these “ogres” to the picture in the 1st edition Monster Manual.

I can’t confirm this with 100% accuracy that this is how we got bright yellow ogres, but the pieces fit the theory.”

Here’s the ogre from the MM:

Seems like a solid theory to me!

Frostgrave Miniatures

Pathfinder Pawns for Frostgrave: monsters

Frostgrave (paid link) doesn’t use a lot of monsters, but it’s got a decent-sized bestiary. Since I’m using Pathfinder Pawns (paid link) for my spellcasters and soldiers, I’m also using them for monsters — in the form of the Bestiary Box (paid link).

So how does it fare?

Let’s run the numbers

There are 25 monsters in the Frostgrave bestiary. Most of the time, they’re encountered singly. But of the 60 entries on the random encounter table, 15 (25%) are with 2, 3, or 4 of the same creature (most often 2).

A couple of the scenarios in the core book also include multiples, though, so let’s see if we can account for those as well. One involves several skeletons, and the other could involve a few wraiths; in both cases, the number is variable, but low.

Finally, there’s the one non-human soldier: the war dog. Since wild dogs are in the bestiary, if we have a dog we’ve got both covered — except that we could need several war dogs.

There are over 300 pawns in the Bestiary Box, but Pathfinder has many, many more monsters than Frostgrave — all I care about is whether the subset I need, in the numbers I need, is represented in the box.

25 monsters enter, 24 monsters leave

In the order they appear in the Frostgrave bestiary, here are all of the matching monsters from the Bestiary Box.

It’s a 1:1 match, with one exception: Frostgrave’s white gorillas aren’t large, but the only gorilla in the Bestiary Box is large. That’s not a big deal (hah!) to me, so in terms of having the right subset of monsters the Bestiary Box nails it.

I made a couple of substitutions-in-name, but visually they match up well with what’s in Frostgrave.


A perfect match!


No ice toads, ice spiders, or snow leopards in Pathfinder, but those are pretty easy swaps. The riding dog is unfortunate, but the plain ol’ dog in the Bestiary Box is small, not medium.

And of course there’s the Gorilla ProblemTM. I’d just swap in another non-large furry creature, or say gorillas in my Frostgrave are large, and call it a day.


No small golems, but given that Frostgrave constructs can be made out of plants I kind of like the vegepygmy as my alternate.


I love that Frostgrave demons can look like — and be — just about anything, and that means the Bestiary Box offers tons of options.

Miscellaneous creatures

Swapping in a leech for the worm seems legit, and I dig how well the Pathfinder yeti matches up with Frostgrave’s snow troll.

What about multiples?

Listed below are all the monsters you can encounter in groups, how many are needed, and then how many are in the Bestiary Box (in parentheses). I’ve bolded the “problem” monsters.

  • Skeletons, 2 (3)
  • Zombies, 2 (3)
  • Wild dogs, 2 (1, plus 1 small one and several wolves)
  • Wolves, 2 (2)
  • Ghouls, 2 (3)
  • Ice spiders, 2 (3)
  • Ice toads, 2 (1, but there are some frog-dudes with swords)
  • Snow trolls, 2 (1, but I’d toss in an ape or girallon for the second)
  • Armoured skeletons, 3 (1, and I think regular skeletons are the best bet for subs)
  • Giant rats, 4 (2, and no great alternatives; I’d probably use bat swarms)

With the two scenarios (extra skeletons and wraiths), you’d have to rope in skeletal things to make up the difference in one, and add some ethereal undead (ghost, spectre, shadow) for the other. For war dogs, you’d need to mix in wolves if you have more than one on the table.

Some corner cases could arise, too: You could roll up a random encounter with multiple monsters, then roll up the same encounter again while the first batch were still on the board.

But on balance, the Bestiary Box comes really close to covering the multiples.


All in all, I’m not too worried about making the odd substitution. Hell, I’m using pawns and prepainted terrain: absolute fidelity isn’t my top priority.

Random encounters are statistically not that common, encounters with multiple monsters are even less common, and only half of those are actually a problem. I’ll take those odds.

The Bestiary Box (paid link) covers the Frostgrave monster list rather well — not perfectly, but more than close enough to keep me happy. So far, I’m liking the pawn approach.

DCC RPG Tabletop RPGs

Wilderness encounter chance by terrain type for DCC RPG

I use the wilderness encounter system from the B/X D&D Expert Set (paid link) in my DCC RPG (paid link) hexcrawl (the binder for which is full of hexcrawling tools), but it occurred to me that it would be pretty easy to tweak that system to take advantage of DCC’s dice chain.

In this tweaked version, an encounter occurs on a 1 or 2, but the die type varies by terrain.[1] In general, roll once per day.

If the PCs are doing something that would dramatically increase or decrease their chances of bumping into something while traveling, like leading a small army of hirelings (increase) or wearing camouflage cloaks and moving at a snail’s pace (decrease), just step the die type up/down accordingly.

For example, if they’re in the woods (d6), but wearing camouflage garb, roll a d7 instead. Now the odds of getting a 1 or 2 have gone down from 33.33% to 28.6%. If they’re also moving super-slowly, consider rolling a d8 (25% odds) or even a d10 (20% odds).

Be wary of adjusting the die type by too many steps in already-dangerous terrain. Two steps down on a d4 is a d2, which is a guaranteed encounter.

The terrain types in the table above match “fantasy western Europe,” and play nice with my wilderness travel speeds and encounter tables by terrain type for DCC, but the sub-system itself should work fine with other approaches.

The only difference in odds between this table and the one in B/X is plains, which gives 20% odds here and 16.67% odds in B/X.

[1] In B/X, it’s always a d6, but the range of results that produce an encounter changes based on the terrain.

Old school Tabletop RPGs

Doodle Temple and Gormand’s Larder: illustrated DIY dungeon generators

Doodle Temple and Gormand’s Larder, both illustrated by Cédric Plante, are two of the coolest gaming books I’ve bought in recent memory.

They’re both dungeon generators, but instead of random tables, they consist entirely of Cédric’s beautiful illustrations. And they’re weird. I love weird! Mundane dungeons are boring, and neither of these books will turn out a mundane dungeon.

Doodle Temple is for making a peculiar temple, while Larder covers a small dungeon/lair. There are no stats or rules, just pictures of what to roll and indicators for what die roll produces what result. Totally system-neutral.

But oh, those pictures! They’re creepy, esoteric, graceful, twisty, sometimes quite dark, and above all they’re imaginative. I can’t flip through these books without thinking about what they might mean in-game, and how my players might react to them.

They’d work well in just about any old-school fantasy campaign, and probably in other genres, too — there’s nothing about the temple, for example, that wouldn’t fit right into a sci-fi game. Fantasy-wise, they’d be a perfect fit for a darker setting, which I wouldn’t have guessed beforehand.

Doodle Temple

(I didn’t have great light for these photos, so please ascribe any oddities to me, not Cédric.)

Doodle Temple opens with rooms and dungeon dressing (larger version):

What do the doors and windows look like?

And what lives there?

This is my favorite creature in the book, but it was by no means easy to choose just one. The temple denizens are all equally strange and wonderful.

Gormand’s Larder

The Larder is in black and white, and ups the creepy factor quite a bit. Here’s the foyer and its potential denizens and dungeon dressing (larger version):

You don’t need a written room description — it’s all there, clear and detailed, including the contents of the chamber.

What happens when you eat that weird thing in the recipe room? Why, this, of course!

This dude hangs out in the meat zoo. The meat zoo. I’m going to have weird dreams about this room.

On the whole, Larder feels more distilled. It’s denser with ideas, and the skin-crawl factor appeals to me, as does its strong sense of place. Doodle Temple is more loosely themed, and instead of lots of small pictures, you get fewer illustrations, but they’re larger and in color.

For Doodle Temple, Cédric collaborated with Benjamin Baugh, Ian Reilly, and Edward Lockhart; for Larder, Baugh was his sole co-contributor. Hats off to all of these folks, especially Cédric, for coming up with such a nifty idea and executing it so well.

If I had to pick just one, it’d be Larder, but I’m glad I don’t have to pick just one. Gormand’s Larder and Doodle Temple both get starred entries on my big list of Lulu RPG recommendations. I highly recommend them both!

DCC RPG Old school Tabletop RPGs

DCC RPG wilderness encounter tables

I needed wilderness encounter tables for the DCC RPG (paid link) hexcrawl I’m running, but there aren’t any in the book. Jeff Rients created some excellent tables for wandering monsters by dungeon level (which also appear in Crawl! #5), but after searching high and low I couldn’t find any wilderness encounter tables online. So I created some.

They’re broken down by terrain type (for “fantasy western Europe”) and include number appearing for each monster. You can download them as a free PDF: DCC RPG Wilderness Encounter Tables. They’re also available as a plain text file so that you can fiddle with them to your heart’s content.

(2018 update: My tables, along with a shortened version of the design notes, appear in The Gongfarmer’s Almanac – Volume 3, 2018 (paid link), with excellent editing by Rob Brennan.)

There’s no scaling by PC level or party size in these tables, and they’re not “balanced” in any way. The world is the world, and what’s out there is what’s out there.

To use them, you’ll need a way of figuring out whether or not a random encounter takes place (I use the system from the B/X Expert Set [paid link]). That’s all!

I love design notes in gaming books, and a surprising amount of design goes into making wandering monster tables (these took me about 12 hours to make!), so the rest of this post is about my goals, process, assumptions, and the theory behind my tables.

Design goals

I went in with a few goals in mind:

  • Quick and dirty — when in doubt, make the choice that sounds the most fun, and do a lot with one roll
  • Showcase the flavor of DCC
  • Give each terrain type its own feel, which should be discernible to players after just a few encounters
  • Use only the monsters in the DCC core book, and use whatever they say (including rarity)
  • Don’t have too few monsters, because lack of variety is dull
  • But don’t have too many, either, because that dilutes each terrain type
  • Reflect “fantasy western Europe,” and a borderlands/wilderlands kind of region
  • Match the terrain types I used in Hexmancer, my system for procedurally generating hexcrawl terrain and features
  • Play nice with B/X D&D’s encounter chances by terrain type, since that’s what I use

The overuse of “men” in the monster names, while matching the feel of Appendix N, bugs me, but I figured changing it would make these tables less useful to others, so I left all of the monster names as-is.


My baseline was always “What does the DCC rulebook say?”

If a monster entry listed terrain types, number appearing, relative rarity, or other details, I used those. If it didn’t, I looked at B/X and/or Jeff’s wandering monster list, and then came up with something that felt right to me.

I excluded monsters that are listed as underground-only, as well as the weird ones that seem like they’d work best as placed encounters, not random ones (extradimensional analogues, for example). I also left out things that only live in hot places or jungles (which aren’t in fantasy western Europe, or in Hexmancer).

Massage, dismantle, repeat

My first step was to list every DCC monster under all of the terrain types where it could appear. That gave me a picture of what a world created with this monster manual might look like, as well as some unique monster for specific terrain types and a host of critters that appear only in a couple places — both great starting points for flavor.

It’s not a short list, but it is short on specific things — normal animals, for example. And it’s a quirky list, which I like! Sure, the world likely does have animals in it the PCs could meet . . . but I didn’t worry about that.

I started out with d8+d10 tables, because that roll produces one of my favorite distributions for encounter tables. But I quickly found that I wanted more granularity, which led me to percentile tables. Those also have the added advantage of making the odds immediately discernible, which I like.

A few hours in, I hit on the idea of creating a template table based on the concept of using “brackets” of monsters to convey things about the world.

Broken out, those brackets look like this (in the order they occur on the table):

  • 10% (1-10) say a lot about the world (and the style of game I like to run), while being quite rare. Results 1-10 are on every table except Water, a big-picture statement about what kind of world feels like DCC to me.
  • 25% (11-35) emphasize the importance of humans and humanoids. Humans, humanoids, and subhumans (which are kind of like a mix of both), are on every table.[1] Humans are big in sword and sorcery fiction, and humanoids are big in D&D.
    • Taken in aggregate, the first 35% (1-35) also serve another purpose: Most of them are things that won’t always just try to eat you. Intelligent monsters, and encounters that aren’t always fights, are both good things in my book.
  • 20% (36-55) round out the flavor of the terrain type. These are often unique to the terrain type, but not always, and they’re indicative of what kind of place it is.
  • 45% (56-100) define the terrain type. You have a 45% chance of meeting each terrain type’s signature monsters. More than anything else on the table, these convey what that terrain is all about.

Seeing those odds in graph form also helped me decide that this was a fun distribution model (column height equals percentage chance of that encounter):

Having a template really sped up the process, too, because it made it feel less daunting. Instead of staring at long lists and not being sure quite where to start, I could just look at each terrain type and go, “Okay, which three say ‘forest’ best? Cool, now which four also look like good forest options?”

I ripped apart my draft tables a couple of times, but once I built them using these brackets they stayed pretty stable. My last couple iterations mostly involved comparing the lists, looking for ways to sneak in monsters I regretted not including (so many!), and — most importantly — making sure that the flavor of each terrain type came through clearly.

In B/X, some types of terrain are more dangerous than others by virtue of how likely it is you’ll have an encounter there: 1 in 6 on clear terrain (plains) vs. 3 in 6 in the mountains, for example. The way my lists shook out, some terrain types are also more dangerous because of what’s on them. For example, you’re 40% likely to meet some sort of giant in the mountains, which seems like fun to me.

Surprises and rolling your own

Two things surprised me about this process: how much work it was, and how personal it turned out to be. If two GMs sat down with the DCC book and designed wilderness encounter tables, I guarantee they’d look different — and probably not much like mine!

They’d use different die rolls, different breakdowns of monsters, and different philosophies about what a DCC world looks like. One would follow the B/X model of rolling once for terrain and then again on a sub-table for that terrain; another would compress things into one roll, like I did, but use 2d6 instead of d100. And since they’d both have to choose a subset of the overall monster list, they’d play favorites (just like I did!).

Chances are, if you’ve read this far, you can think of all sorts of things you’d do differently in building a set of DCC RPG wilderness encounter tables. I included my template in the plain text version, in case you like that baseline.

If you make your own tables, I’d love to see them. Post them somewhere and share them with the DCC community — the more the merrier!

[1] Except Water. Just add “except Water” to pretty much everything. Water is weird because there just aren’t that many water monsters in the DCC core book.

B/X D&D D&D OD&D Tabletop RPGs

Wandering monsters: OD&D vs. B/X D&D

While I was comparing dungeon treasure stocking in B/X D&D and Labyrinth Lord, I noticed something in OD&D that surprised me: The way OD&D handles wandering monsters is delightfully unforgiving.

At a glance, B/X looked pretty different in this regard, so I thought I’d compare the two. Let’s just look at level 1 in both systems, and let’s assume the party is composed of level 1 PCs.

I’ll also assume that monsters with X+Y HD, like hobgoblins (1+1/2 in OD&D, 1+1 in B/X) count as 2 HD monsters. (This assumption is borne out by both systems, which list hobgoblins on their respective level 2 tables.)

Das tables

Here’s the wandering monster matrix from OD&D‘s (paid link) Book III:

In B/X each dungeon level just has its own table, which includes a mix of monster HD values. Here’s the analogous table from the B/X Basic Set (paid link):

OD&D wandering monsters

In OD&D, a party exploring level 1 of the dungeon can encounter wandering monsters with a range of HD values.

The Monster Level tables roughly map 1:1 to HD, but not universally. For example, there’s a 5 HD monster, the ochre jelly, on the level 3 monster table. There are also monsters with suggested values, but no actual entries; giant animals fall into this category.[1]

But for our purposes, “roughly” is good enough. With that in mind, the chances of bumping into different levels — hit dice, more or less — of monsters look like this:

  • Monster Level 1 list, mainly 1 HD or lower: 33.33%
  • Monster Level 2 list, mainly 2 HD: 33.33%
  • Monster Level 3 list, mainly 3 HD: 16.67%
  • Monster Level 4 list, mainly 4 HD: 16.67%

One-third of the time, you’ll meet monsters whose HD match your level. Another third of the time, they’ll be 1 HD higher than you. The remaining third of your encounters will be with monsters 2 HD or 3 HD higher than you.

And that level 4 monster table is going to wreck your shit: wraiths, ogres, lycanthropes — if you’re not cautious and willing to run, be prepared to die instead.

B/X wandering monsters

In B/X, things are a bit different:

  • 1 HD or lower: 70%
  • 2 HD: 25%
  • 3 HD: 5%

The chance of encountering a 2 HD monster is roughly the same (25% vs. OD&D’s 33.33%), but what’s missing? Except for one 3 HD critter (the giant gecko), what’s missing is 3 HD and 4 HD monsters — which are encountered fully one-third of the time in OD&D!

The dungeon of B/X, at least on level 1, is a much tamer place than its OD&D counterpart. Wandering monsters still spell trouble, but not nearly as much trouble.

But wait, there’s more

You know what else changed between 1974 and 1981?[2] How often you check for wandering monsters. (The chance of an encounter, 1 in 6, is the same.)

In OD&D, it’s every turn. In B/X, it’s every two turns.

So not only is the B/X party unlikely to meet a 3 HD monster (5% chance) and guaranteed not to bump into any 4 HD monsters, they’re also going to have half as many random encounters overall. These are completely different dungeons.

Time is a resource in old-school D&D dungeon crawls in large part because of wandering monster checks, but OD&D really squeezes the ol’ temporal vice in this regard. If you don’t get in, grab some loot, and get out pretty quick, you’re playing with fire.

I’ve never played OD&D, but my interest in it has been growing over the past couple of years. This difference clinches it, though: I need to play some OD&D! I want to see this style of dungeon in action, rather than just in percentages.

A wild aside appears!

As an aside, while I’m normally a print guy and the photos I use in posts reflect that preference, I went with screenshots from my PDF copies this time around. This is partly because my OD&D set is in storage, but it’s also because I’ve been working from the PDFs a lot lately.

While I prefer the old covers, the layout and clarity of the OD&D PDFs (paid link) is fantastic. The quality of the B/X PDFs (paid link) is also high. Both have been a good investment, especially when I need to search for things while comparing editions.

[1] And then there’s Supplement I: Greyhawk (paid link), which removes the “optionally usable “Martian” animals such as Apts, Banths, Thoats, etc.” and adds new monsters to every list, making the picture fuzzier still. I’m sticking with “good enough.”

[2] Yes, I’m leaving out the Holmes Basic set, but only because my copy is in storage and I don’t have it in PDF. I’d love to see whether Holmes looks more like OD&D or B/X in this regard.