Wandering Monsters Checks

So, now that I’m done with classes I’ve got a bit more free time…at least for a few weeks.  I’ve been thinking about running a one-off OD&D game using Chainmail’s man-to-man combat rules.  Towards that end, I’ve been reading up on Chainmail, OD&D and reviewing Philotomy’s OD&D Musings.

As I read up on exploration movement, the need for careful time-keeping in the dungeon once again crossed my mind and, by extension, the frequency of making wandering monster checks.  Modern versions of  D&D tend to do away with wandering monsters, at least in dungeon environments.  And I must admit, growing up we tended to ignore the rules for wandering monsters as well (along with most of the record-keeping aspects of dungeon exploration).

However, in OD&D wandering monsters are an important strategic aspect to the game.  Given OD&D’s lethality, and the fact that wandering monsters have little treasure, they serve as a sort of timing mechanism, keeping the players from futzing about in the dungeon all day long, giving them powerful incentive to stay focused on the job at hand (usually finding big hoards of treasure).

Despite my best intentions, I find that I usually fall back on old habits, and stray from faithful implementation of such record keeping rules of the game, particularly regular and systematic wandering monster checks.  Some versions call for a check every 3 turns (30 minutes); others every 6 turns.  Sometimes it varies from module-to-module.  But in the end, I lose track of the exact number of turns spent in a dungeon, and thus fail to make the requisite number of wandering monster checks.

Setting this guy off would probably attract some unwanted attention.

Setting this guy off would probably attract some unwanted attention.

I think a happy compromise (well, happy for me, at least) is to make a wandering monster check during “dramatic” moments, usually when the party makes a lot of noise.  Battles are noisy, as are fireballs and lightning bolts, or bashing in doors, not to mention setting off alarm traps.  Or when the party argues over their next course of action…yelling tends to attract attention.  Such a system plays better to my laissez faire style of GMing and makes a certain amount of sense.

However, this method does imply a few things.  First, I suppose technically they wouldn’t be ‘wandering’ monsters really…the mechanic would be more like a kind of perception check to see if a wandering patrol hears the commotion.  Also, it implies that the ‘wandering’ monsters automatically could not be surprised…only the PCs might be surprised.  Surprise is quite powerful in OD&D, so the danger level increases appreciably for the party, especially low-level parties.

Despite that, I kind of like this way of handling wandering monster checks.  Aside from the decreased bookkeeping, it requires the players to really step up and make smart, strategic decisions.  It gives them an even greater incentive to avoid unnecessary battles, to employ lighter armor so they can move through the dungeon faster and more stealthily, not bash down every door they come across and not nuke everything in sight with fireballs and lightning bolts.

We’ll see how it goes, if/when I get the chance to run another ‘old school’ D&D game.  Cheers.


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