Endday Interlude: Wandering Encounters in 4e

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.

Encounter Frequency
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.

Encounter Distance
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:

  1. 2 Chillborn Zombies, 6 Zombie Rotters, 728XP
  2. 5 Dretch, 2 Zombies, 1 Chillborn Zombie, 875XP
  3. 1 Ice Troll, 3 Gnaw Demons, 1000XP
  4. 4 Rotwing Zombies, 1 Ice Troll, 1200XP
  5. 3 Harpies, 2 Spined Devils, 1250P
  6. 2 Neldrazu, 2 Chillborn Zombies, 4 Zombie Rotters, 1652XP

Final thoughts
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.

5 Comments on “Endday Interlude: Wandering Encounters in 4e”

  1. I as GM hate the random encounters at least as much as a player. (By the way, I hate dungeon crawls as well.)
    For the randomness, I go to some sessions after thinking just about the story (and maybe the likely kind of monsters they will face) and set the encounters on the fly, according to their actions. Absolutely railroading-free, minimized prep time, and random enough for me.

  2. Random encounters help avoid one of the biggest beefs I have with standard (and unfortunately, most of the TSR/WOTC) dungeon crawls: Monsters stand around in a room all day (typically right next to lethal death traps) waiting for adventurers to come in and kill them. It’s just kind of pointless.

    However, I think my GM style is more in line with Elda King’s. I’d rather throw in an encounter when it’s appropriate. I like to have every battle have a meaning in the story and it’s hard to turn a random encounter that you just rolled into an integral part of the story. This may or may not include “optional” encounters whether the players wind up choosing certain course of action.

  3. i’ve been missing wandering encounters for too long, and have already resolved to include them in my next D&D campaign.

  4. I agree Elda King and Thunderforge as well. That tends to be the way I run my games too. And yes while I feel most every encounter should have some significance to the plot, I also like to throw in a random (unexplained and unrelated) encounter every now and again. Just to keep them on their toes and keep them thinking.

    Of course, I’ve had the players take some aspect from an unrelated encounter and make assumptions. If/when that happens, I just try to weave it into the plot, if possible. That keeps me on my toes as well.

  5. Clicking on this post so I could comment on it, I expected to be the lone voice against random encounters. Instead I find myself in agreement with just about everyone – random encounters have no part in my game.

    It has always been the story that has driven me, both as a GM and a player. I want to know what happens next. A fight with no purpose other than to give the party some XP and treasure is just a waste of time for me.

    However, unplanned encounters need to be part of a game. Generally because the PCs have done something the GM did not expected.

    Rather than leaving it to the dice, I like to have a set of planned encounters I can drop in when appropriate. Each encounter will, at least tangentially, be related to the other all story.
    .-= Chris Tregenza´s last blog ..D&D Player’s Strategy Guide: A More Thoughtful Look =-.

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