Of Mice and Wandering Monsters

After the series of linked, unmapped rooms in Zanzer’s Dungeon, which the PCs explored in the last session, the complex really begins to open up for the party to explore as they seek their ultimate objective – a way to escape the dungeon. They find themselves in a corridor, which not only contains a door leading to a series of small rooms, but also their their first, most significant, junction.

The complex itself wraps around the centre section in two opposite directions – clockwise and anti-clockwise, both meeting up again together at the exit from Zanzer’s Dungeon, where Zanzer awaits them for his final stand.

Heading clockwise, the PCs get to go past a jail complex of individual cells, heading into an area of the dungeon that is “unstocked” – given to the GM (i.e. me) as an area to practice designing their own dungeons and adventures. Heading anti-clockwise, the PCs get to go through a guard post leading into the mining facility itself. After going through either area, the party comes to the final area where they will fight Zanzer for their freedom, and find a route to Stonefast, which they can explore later in the campaign as they explore the mysteries of The Vale.

This means that for this session, we have three main areas to develop. Firstly, there’s the side rooms, which are a series of three rooms that the PCs can explore for possible extra experience and loot, but ultimately lead them nowhere. Then we have the clockwise route, which will see the party go past room 23 – the Jailblock. Finally, we have the anti-clockwise route, which will see them go past room 29 – the Guard Post.

Wandering Monsters

One key feature in basic D&D, that would see various use throughout the various editions of the game, was the concept of wandering monsters. At certain points, often where there might be some expected movement by the inhabitants of the dungeon, the party has a chance to encounter wandering monsters each turn.

Players have a love-hate relationship with wandering monsters in the game, as they can be used to spice up otherwise bland areas of the dungeon, especially if the party are backtracking through an area they have previously explored. They can also be used to steer the party towards or away from certain areas, or by the GM to bring the players back into the game if the action starts to lag.

Unfortunately, for all the good uses of wandering monsters, they can often slow the game down if over used, and this often gets in the way of the story, especially if the PCs are heading towards an anticipated climactic encounter.

We only have a limited allotment for encounters per session, looking at between three to five encounters based on party actions and player energy. As such, it can seem like a waste to spend these encounters on wandering monsters, rather than exploring rooms and getting through the dungeon.

As such, as much as wandering monsters are a staple of Dungeons and Dragons, we should look towards making a compromise – I will aim to have a single wandering monster encounter per session. This gives me some flexibility to include an encounter to help better direct the flow of play, but not so much as to bog down the game and get in the way of exploring.

Making a List…

In the Easy to Master (Black Box) Dungeons and Dragon’s Game, the GM gets a tutorial through the use of Dragon Cards, explaining to them the rules and principles of play, as well as including the four parts of adventure Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon. The idea is that the GM reads the cards, which gives them just enough information to handle what is covered in that part of the adventure, and by the end of it, the GM will be running a full D&D game.

So far, we have covered the first three parts of the adventure, which has taught the GM about roleplaying, character creation, combat, and other rules like movement, encumbrance, and dungeon exploration. This involved a process of the GM learning to play using these rules first, and then effectively teaching the party how to play by those same rules.

After the third part, the remaining Dragon Cards focused more on teaching the GM about what happens between dungeons, as well as how to create their own dungeons, with greater reference to the rulebook that was included. This section would end with the fourth part of the adventure, where the GM could put some of what they had learnt into practice.

Of key significance here were the cards that taught about designing an adventure and stocking a dungeon. The Dragon Cards would go through this with two examples – first for Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon, and then once again with Stonefast.

The example for Escape from Zanzer’s Dungeon was mostly filled – after all, a lot of the most important decisions were already designed, and the majority of the dungeon was already stocked for play, following the tutorial provided. This included discussing how the major enemy of the dungeon, Zanzer Tem, was decided, how treasure was chosen and placed, and what features were included.

In Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon, there were only two sections left for the GM to work on to finish up the adventure – a series of five rooms (Rooms 24 to 28) that needed stocking, and creating a wandering monster list. It’s the latter task that we need to focus on now as the party emerges into the main complex.

Checking It Twice

To create a wandering monster list, the GM simply has to choose some monsters or other things that the party might encounter as they explore the dungeon. These should be creatures that fit the dungeon, and are inclined to roam about, moving from room. There only needs to be between six to ten entries, as this will provide enough variation for random encounters.

It’s recommended that the GM focus on humanoid encounters within Zanzer’s Dungeon, as these would be the guards that Zanzer uses within his mines. This is useful for us, as most of these creatures are simple encounters, and the party has already encountered several humanoids within the dungeon already. In fact, so far the party has encountered hobgoblins, goblins, kobolds, orcs, gnolls, and human guards, as well as a minotaur. These all make good encounters for our list.

In the rulebook, several other humanoids exist – bugbears, ogres, troglodytes, thouls, and trolls, among others. This gives us a big list to chose from, but not all of these are suitable as a wandering monster encounter for a 1st level party. For example, thouls paralyse like ghouls, and trolls regenerate, which may be too much for a low level party to handle by chance. Likewise, the party has already encountered Dimitri the minotaur, and this encounter might be undermined if minotaurs are common wandering encounters. Finally, as much as I fancy including troglodytes, they produce a stench that penalises other creatures in combat, and it seems that other humanoids might not want to cooperate with them.

Putting together a list of the remaining options, we have:

  • Hobgoblins
  • Goblins
  • Kobolds
  • Orcs
  • Gnolls
  • Human Guards
  • Bugbears
  • Ogres

This gives us a nice list of eight entries to choose from for our encounters. Now all we need to do is decide how many are encountered at once, and our wandering monster list is done.

In rulebook gives some wandering monster encounter tables to use as a reference. Looking at this, we see that the following are first level encounters:

  • 1d6 Goblins
  • 1d6 Hobgoblins
  • 2d6 Kobolds
  • 1d6 Orcs

We also see that 1d4 Gnolls are listed as a second level encounter, suitable for a higher level party. As such, we would probably want to reduce the die range by one step, to 1d3 Gnolls, to make it a first level encounter.

Looking at the third level table, we find 1d6 Bugbears and 1d3 Ogres listed as suitable encounters. These need to be reduced, and just as we did with the Gnolls above, we will reduce these by two die steps, giving us 1d3 Bugbears and 1 Ogre as suitable encounters.

Although human Guards aren’t listed, we can assume that 1d4 Guards counts as a suitable first level encounter. This gives us the following table with eight encounters:

  1. 1d6 Goblins
  2. 1d6 Hobgoblins
  3. 2d6 Kobolds
  4. 1d6 Orcs
  5. 1d3 Gnolls
  6. 1d3 Bugbears
  7. 1 Ogre
  8. 1d4 Guards

We could organise the table better, but if we use a 1d8 to choose the encounter, we have an equal chance of each, so it doesn’t really matter what order they are presented in.

This might seem a lot of work for a single encounter, but having designed this list, we can reuse it for future sessions in this dungeon, as well as if the PCs ever decide to return to this dungeon in the future.

Side Rooms

With the wandering monster list out of the way, it’s time to focus on the encounters for the next session. As discussed above, the core of these are the three side rooms, rooms 20 to 22, which give the PCs further opportunity for experience and loot.

The first of these, Room 20, is a dark room containing a glowing crystal ball and five sprites. It’s a relatively simple encounter, where the PCs are teased by the sprites, and they only attack if attacked first.

In the second side room, Room 21, there are 2 gnolls. This is a combat encounter, similar to other encounters with gnolls so far.

In the third room are four imprisoned gnomes. The gnomes promise a reward if freed. However, the PCs may fight the gnomes if they get greedy for more treasure.

Altogether, there’s really only a single encounter here – the Gnolls. The other two rooms have encounters that the PCs can easily bypass, so both can be considered a single encounter together, depending upon the PCs actions.

Decision Time

At the end of the corridor passing the siderooms, the PCs get to make a key decision as discussed above. This decision will most likely determine what direction the party travels in during the next sessions, as both routes lead to the exit.

Although the PCs can return to here and take the other route at any time, in order to limit the amount of work needed to do at once, it’s best if only the first encounter of each direction is detailed, and wandering monsters are used to steer the gameplay as needed. A good tactic here is to have the PCs encounter wandering monsters just before they progress into any area that hasn’t been developed yet – that’s through the double doors to Room 24 or leaving Room 29.

If the PCs head clockwise, they will pass through corridors that lead to Room 23 Рthe Jail Block. It contains eight cells, although only three are important. Cell A contains silvered weapons, which act as normal weapons but are useful for fighting the werewolf and other vulnerable creatures. Cell B contains two healing potions hidden under rags.

The most important feature is Cell G, who’s bars are made of solid silver. This is because the occupant is a werewolf, who can only be hit by silver weapons in wolf form. If the werewolf is released, then he can be used later returning in wolf form as a wandering monster encounter.

Altogether, the entire cell block counts as a single encounter, as the only combat is with the werewolf, which might not even take place until the party tries to leave the cell block, depending upon where they attempt to go. For example, if the PCs decide to head towards Room 24 after leaving, they might encounter the werewolf in wolf form bounding down the corridor towards them, whilst if they try to leave Room 29, the werewolf in wolf form might chase them after they finish with the encounter there.

Whatever the case, if the PCs head clockwise, they will find the doors to Room 24 stuck, as the rooms beyond will be detailed in a later session, and wandering monsters (or the werewolf) will be used to distract them until the end of the session.

If the party heads anti-clockwise, they will head into Room 29. This is a simple room where slaves from the cells are changed by guards before they head to and from work in the mine. There’s no encounter here, but the PCs should find manacles and cloaks to disguise themselves as miners.

If the PCs opt to press further in this direction, then they will find that the door leaving room 29 is stuck, and wandering monsters or the werewolf in wolf form will distract them from going any further. Wandering monsters may actually come through the door leaving Room 29, rather than from behind them. If the PCs are disguised as miners at this time, the wandering monsters may fall for the disguise, in which case they will attempt to lead the PCs towards room 23 and the cells within.

Room 29 doesn’t count as an encounter, so we really only have three encounters, with the fourth being a wandering monster encounter, and the fifth being in case the PCs decide to fight either the gnomes or the sprites.

When wrapping the session up, we should discuss where the party is heading next. Make a note of if they decide to move the stable, what they do with NPCs like Axel and Gorgo, and where they decide to rest. This will give us time work on what the PCs might encounter in the next session – if they are going to head clockwise, they will encounter the series of rooms that the GM gets to stock, whilst if they head anti-clockwise, they get to explore more of the mines, and even deal with Zanzer Tem as they finally discover the way to Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon!

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Da' Vane

I am the designer and writer behind the D-Jumpers.com website.