Monsters and Treasures in the B/X Dungeon

Getting to work on some dungeons for my next campaign, I want to stick as close as possible practical to what the Basic and Expert rules actually advise as guidelines to see how that really plays out in actual play. I have found that most of the moving pieces in this game are set up very deliberately to form a larger system, and not everything does what you first expect them to do coming from later games. I have learned that it’s almost always best to first pinpoint what you don’t like about the results of a mechanic before you start modifying the mechanic. It’s hard to improve something when you don’t know how it actually performs as designed, and you can easily miss out on something cool if you replace it before having it properly tested. So straight up B/X with only the TSR attack roll procedure replaced it will be for the start of the campaign.

The GM guidelines for making a dungeon in the Basic Rules recommend about 1/3 of rooms to have creatures, 1/2 of which possess treasure; 1/6 of rooms to have a trap, 1/3 of which are guarding a treasure; 1/6 of rooms with a special feature like magical effects or weird machines; and 1/3 of rooms being empty, 1/6 of which have a hidden treasure. For simplicity, lets assume here reaction rolls are made with no Charisma modifier, so half of all creatures encountered will be hostile. In practice, it’s can be considerably less.

In an 18 room dungeon, these fractions come out as nice even numbers, and it’s also a good scale for a mid-sized dungeon or level of a larger dungeon. This gives us the following lineup of rooms.

  • 3x monster with treasure
  • 3x monster
  • 1x trap with treasure
  • 2x trap
  • 3x special
  • 1x hidden treasure
  • 5x empty

Assuming the party spends 1 turn in each of the 18 rooms and 6 turns exploring and mapping the corridors, we get a total of 24 turns. After every 5 turns, the party needs to rest for one turn, which is 4 additional turns for a total of 28. There is a 1 in 6 chance for a wandering monster every 2 turns (or just 1 in 12 every turn), so we can expect 2 random encounters over those 28 turns. With the six monster rooms, that’s a total of 8 monster encounters, and rolling their reaction gives us an average of 4 fights.

(Those 4 fights cause additional wandering monster checks, which at a 1 in 6 chance produce an average of 2/3 encounters, or a 1/6 chance for another hostile creature. Small enough to ignore here.)

I think thia is quite an interesting tally for an 18 room dungeon: We can expect about 30 turns spend in the dungeon, with 4 fights, 4 nonhostile encounters, 3 traps, 3 special features, and 5 treasures. This is much less than I expected. And I love it! With a distribution of content like this, I can see how a place can feel like an old abandoned ruin. Very different from the fortified outposts that make up most dungeons I am familiar with.

Something that had never occured to me before is that 2 out of 5 treasures located in a dungeon will be in the possession of creatures that mean the party no harm. That puts the players into an interesting position. They probably won’t try to rob a group of nonhostile elves who are exploring the dungeon themselves, but what about a pair of ogers who can’t be bothered to try beating up the PCs? Players might still want to steal from them, and perhaps even kill them to prevent future attacks on travelers on the nearby road. Very interesting stuff.

The Basic Rules also recommend that about 1/4 of XP players gain in a dungeon should come from monsters, the rest from treasures. You could use the treasure tables to generate treasure hoards, but that’s something I always found too bothersome, as a dungeon full of simple insect monsters would have completely different amounts of treasures than a dungeon that is a big bandit lair. My prefered method is to tally up the XP values of all the room creatures and multiply that by 3 to get the amount of gp for all the treasure in the dungeon. (Nothing for wandering monsters, because those are supposed to be undesireable to enconter.) Then I just put the coins in the treasure hoards on the dungeon map as seems appropriate, with the arbitrarily chosen magic item added here and there. (I actually put another amount of treasure equal to the XP of the room creatures into hidden secret rooms that I don’t expect the players to find most of the time, as an additional challenge.)

Interesting stuff. I can’t wait to see how this will play out in practice.

Goblins

Goblins are one of the many peoples populating the lands of Kaendor but they are barely seen in the cities and towns of Senkand, making their homes well beyond the edges of civilization. A large number of goblin villages exists west of the mountains in the forests of Dainiva, particularly in the caves of the lower mountain slopes and foothills, but they can also be found further west in places where the dense forest blocks out most of the sun, all the way up to the great river cutting the vast woodlands into two halves. Other settlements are located beneath the rocky highlands of the Yao, and they are also said to live in the far northen lands of Venlat.

Goblins are humanoid creatures of short stature, usually standing around four foot tall but occasionally reaching up to five feet in height. They have tough hides ranging from a dusty brown to grey that helps them blending in with rocky environments as they oftn wear nothing more than loose trousers and perhaps a simple shirt in similar natural colors. While goblins have faces similar to other humanoid peoples with small noses and big black eyes, most people regard them as rather expressionless and blank. Goblins that could be considered chatty are rarely encountered, giving them a reputation for being somewhat dull, but they are no less smart than other peoples. Many Yao who have had dealings with goblins describe them as refreshingly composed and unobstrusive.

While goblins frequently come outside to the surface, they mostly do so during the evenings and at night and prefer to stick to densely forested areas as their true home is found underground. Not only are they well adapted to living in caves, they also follow ancient customs of adapting underground spaces to their own needs. As they don’t make any metal tools of their own, and bronze blades and chissels from the surface are limited, their masonry and sculpting looks very primitive to the stonework of asura and naga and even the cities of Senkand, but their constructions are often much more sophisticated than their rough looks seem to imply.

Being fully at home in caves, goblins are incredible rock climbers, and their small and thin statures allow them to move through very tight spaces with relative ease. Many caves in Kaendor, particularly below the great mountain ranges, go incredibly deep, with many of them reaching all the way down into the Underworld. While being an incredibly dangerous environment to most peoples other than goblins, the goblins themselves make frequent journeys into the greatest depths of the Earth and are familiar with many of the main passages. Explorers trying to reach caverns and ruins deep underground without goblin guides face little chance of success, or returning.

In the woodlands of Dainiva, goblins are the only people truly native to the land. The more northern reaches of the forest close to the mountains have become home to a number of Fenhail villages, but these have only appeared in the recent centuries, after the First Sorcerers were already gone. The goblins of the forest have called Dainiva their home for much longer than that, even during the time of the Asura Lords. They still possess much ancient knowledge about parts of the woodlands that no Fenhail has ever set eyes on. While few goblin villages are exactly welcoming of visitors, few are openly hostile or ambush strangers found passing through their territory. They are most likely to stay out of sight amd wait for intruders to be on their way, but some are more open to talk, even if rarely enthusiastic. Many goblin villages are very interested in bronze blades and tool, though they rarely have much to trade other than food and leather. As one is moving deeper into the forests and away from the mountains, things are further complicated by very few goblins speaking any languages other than their own.

Goblin
Armour Class 13
Hit Dice 1-1 (1-7 hp)
Attacks Weapon +0 (1d6)
Movement 30’
Saving Throws D14 W15 P16 B17 S18 (0)
Morale 7
XP 5
Number Appearing 2d4 (6d10)

Infravision: 90′.

Hate the sun: –1 to-hit in full daylight.

Goblin king and bodyguards: A 3HD king and 2d6 2HD bodyguards live in the goblin lair. The king gains a +1 bonus to damage.

Surprise: Goblins surprise characters on a 3 in 6 chance in caves and rocky surroundings.

Source

Handling Random Encounters

I created a new tag for articles named “The Yora Rules” and pinned it to the top of the page. Over the years I developed a number of small mechanics and tweaks to the B/X rules and interpretations of rules that don’t clearly spell out a specific procedure. A big reason behind many of my procedure is to reduce the mental workload on my own brain in regard to how I am personally affected by ADHD. Some of my changes might seem superflous and no more easy or faster than the default rules, but they do work often a lot better with the way my brain works, resulting in a much faster and smoother game. I still think they are more elegant in some ways and could be very useful to anyone.

Some I’ve shared here before and have gotten a quite positive reception, so I thought it might be useful to have them all in one place. Frequently I lay out my entire thought process in excessive detail, which I think might be of interesting to some, but isn’t very useful to just looking up how I do certain things or to share it with other people. A year ago I wrote about how I handle random encounters, but that one’s just a wall of text, so here is the actual mechanics in one simple bit.

Step 1 (Preparation): Roll up groups of Creatures

Consider which areas of wilderness the party will likely travel through, how many random encounters are likely to happen on the way, and which dungeon levels they will be exploring in the next game. Use the respective Wandering Monster tables to roll up the creature type and creature number for as many encounters as you expect you will need and put them in short lists for each area.

Step 2 (Preparation): Roll Surprise for the Creatures

Roll 1d6 for each creature group on the list. On a 1 or 2, mark them as being surprised when the party encounters them.

Step 3: The Players roll for Wandering Monsters

In the Wilderness: Roll a die four times per day spend in the wilderness. One for morning, noon, evening, and night. Roll a d12 for most wilderness, or a d10 or d8 for particularly densely populated areas. If the party is in a dungeon at the time of an indicated random encounter, either ignore it or have the creatures run into the camp outside with the hirelings, mounts, and pack animals.

In a Dungeon: Roll a d12 at the start of every exploration turn. (The total number of encounters will be the same as rolling a d6 every two turns, but you don’t have to remember if you rolled last turn or not.)

Causing Attention: If the party does something to draw attention to them, like causing a big fire in the wilderness or making loud noise in a dungeon (such as fighting), make an extra wandering monster check right then and there. Any creatures allerted that way will arive in the next turn or later, in addition to the regular wandering monster check every turn in a dungeon.

Something always happens on a 1: When the die roll is a 1, a random encounter happens. Tell the players that a 1 means encounter before rolling the die in the open. Or better, let a player roll the die. Show the players plain to see that you didn’t make this encounter happen at a moment in the game that you thought would be fun. You’re not making things hard for them when they are weak, or delay challenges until they are ready for them.

Step 4: Referencing the Prepared Encounter List

I am putting this here as step 4, but actually you don’t need to look at the list at this point. Because you already prepared the list in advanced, you knew the kind of creatures and number of creatures in this encounter and whether they will be surprised or aware since the previous random encounter was completed. This is the reason why I prepare this list in advance. Any time the players are talking among themselves to decide on their next step, I can put some thought on how I would use this group of creature if it is encountered in one of the two or three rooms the players might choose to explore next. I do not have to make something up on the spot right as I roll the die on the wandering monster table, which usually ends up just being “there are X number of Y standing in the middle of the room”, which is boring. Having just a minute or half to think about it without all the players staring at you waiting in anticipation to hear what they just ran into can make a big difference.

Step 5: The Players roll for Surprise

One of the players rolls a d6. On a 1 or 2, the party is surprised. (For some creatures encountered, it’s on a 1 to 3.)

If the players are not surprised but the creatures are, the players have one round to act before the creatures spot them. They can use that round to quickly retreat back around the corner they just passed or move into a nearby suitable hiding spot. If they do, the creatures remain unaware of the party until the players do something to reveal their presence.

Step 6: Roll for Distance

In the Widerness: Creatures that are not surprised spot the other group from 4d6 x 30 feet away. If both groups are surprised, they spot each other at 2d6 x 30 feet.

In a Dungeon: Creatures that are not surprised spot the other group from 2d6 x 10 feet away. If both groups are surprised, they spot each other at 1d6 x 10 feet.

Step 7: The Players make a Raction Roll

If the creatures’ attitude towards the party is not obvious because of circumstances (like mindless undead or guards searching a castle on alert), have the players make a reaction roll.

If the party has been surprised but the creatures are not, roll 2d6 for the reaction roll. (No Charisma modifiers apply.)

If the party is not surprised, one character may greet the creatures. That character rolls 2d6 plus the Charisma bonus to reaction rolls.

2: The creatures start to attack immediately.

3-5: The creatures are hostile. They threaten the party with violence to hand over their treasure, be taken prisoner, or to immediately leave the area, depending on what seems appropriate in that situation.

6-8: The creatures are uncertain and observe what the party does next. After the party has reacted in some way, the character doing the talking makes another reaction roll with a bonus or penalty depending on what was said or done.

9-11: The creatures don’t want trouble. They might ignore the party of leave the area, depending on if they seem to be a threat or not. Intelligent creatures might be cordial but not interested in further interactions beyond common pleasantries.

12+: The creatures are friendly. They might invite the party to their camp or lair, offer useful information, or propose to join forces.

Step 8: Resolve the Encounter

The encounter either ends in a fight or a conversation. (Which might result in a fight later.)

Additional Note: Surprised Parties

There is one kind of encounter situation that the B/X procedure does not enable, and that is creatures spotting the party without being noticed and following them around for a while. When the players make the wandering monster check and it rolls a 1, they know something is there. You can’t tell them “you don’t notice anything”. Also, the players are supposed to roll the reaction roll themselves where they can see it. When that 1 is rolled for wandering monsters, the encounter has to happen now.

This is one of the main reasons I don’t roll up the creatures and their number in the middle of play after a wandering monster check and prepare them in advance instead. Same for rolling their surprise.

If I know I have a creature that would stay hidden if it catches the party by surprise, and that creature will not be surprised itself, then I can spend some thought on what it will do if the party fails their own surprise roll, depending on the reaction roll:

Immediate Attack: The creature has been stalking the party for a while and decides to jump them now, getting a free round to attack before the party can react.

Hostile: The creature decides this is a good moment to confront the party. It’s positioned in a way that is most advantageous to itself and no roll for encounter distance is necessary.

Uncertain: Keep rerolling until you get a different result. The creature has been observing what the players do while it was hiding.

Avoiding Trouble: This is inconvenient since the creature can just escape without the players ever knowing it was there. I guess the best option is to let one player catch a glimpse of it before it disappears, and if the party pursues they won’t find any trail to follow.

Friendly: The creature just comes out in the open to greet the party.

Only the first two really depend on the geometry of the area they are encountered in. If the players end up not being surprised for that encounter, they will run into the creature in the middle of doing whatever it is doing. So there are really just three possible things worth considering in light of the next environment the players decide to enter.

Kenshi

I’ve recently mentioned Kenshi a couple of times as a big inspiration for what an RPG sandbox can be and various new quirky elements I’ve added to Planet Kaendor. Kenshi is a sandbox survival city builder RPG videogame (that is: defies typical genre classifications) that was released a few years ago after 12 years of work by mostly one guy, who just wanted to make a little videogame that he thought was fun. Which is why it looks like 20 year old game.

I’ve been wanting to write a proper article about this game for a while, but really explaining what the game is and what makes it such a great and unique experience would be quite an undertaking and I don’t even know how to begin. So I’ve decided to simply link the 30 minute video that first introduced me to Kenshi and let it speak for itself. Anything I could bash on my keyboard would still fall way behind it.

Though now that I think of it, I might actually have watched this only after the hilarious SsethTzeentach video, which has a somewhat different presentation but still portrays the game accurately.

While it’s not D&D and not even fantasy, and it doesn’t have classes or XP, I think Kenshi is by far the closest thing I’ve yet seen to oldschool sandbox D&D translated into videogames.

The latest map and an updated overview of Kaendor

My old computer has been reaching the end of its life and the backup I am using now just doesn’t have the power to handle the large file sizes I usually like to work with, so for the time being I am limiting myself to basic layout sketches without trying to make them look pretty as handouts for players. I also decided to limit the scope of this map to just the part of the continent that I actually need for planning my next campaign.

30 miles per hex, 900 miles by 1800 miles.

This area actually covers a good 90% of all the content that I have already created for the setting. There’s still the far northern lands of Venlat where the white skinned and white haired Kuri live under the rule of Maiv the Witch Queen, but I am quite happy with that being a far off distant land that has no direct contact with the main civilized region shown on this map.

Senkand

On the east side of the map is a huge valley between two mountain ranges with a total size roughly on the same scale of France or Spain. I think that’s as big as I can go with the main city states (maked in red) still having meaningful regular interactions with each other. The eastern mountains and highlands are the lands of the Yao mountain people, while the great plain in the center of the valley is the lands of the Murya sorcerer kings. The woodlands north of Senkand are the home of the Fenhail tribes.

This incarnation of Senkand takes a lot of inspirations from Dark Sun, but instead of a barren desert its environment is more like Northern Spain and southern France, with the mountains being comparable to the Pyreneese and the Alps. In earlier versions of the setting it used to be more like the coasts of Greece and Southern Italy, but in the process of downscaling the city states considerably to make a more wilderness focused setting, I decided to drop the Mediterranean port city model (which is more a think of Antiquity) with the river valley structure that dominated in the Bronze Age.

I don’t have any specific plans for campaigns set in the east and I mostly want it to be background material for NPCs and factions. Though I think it would be a perfectly playable region that still works in the overall style I am pursuing with Kaendor.

Dainiva

The center of the map consists of a large region of temperate-warm woodlands that are bordered in the east by the mountains that separate it from the city states of Senkand, and in the west by a great river that marks the edge of the known world for most people. This area is what Kaendor was always meant to be about and that is most reflective of the kind of environment implied by the Dungeons & Dragons Basic and Expert rules. A vast wilderness full of ruins, monsters, and treasures, and only a few scattered villages and forts.

Dainiva, as well as the forests beyond the great river, were once the realm of the asura who ruled there for thousands of years. Their presence alone was what had kept the various early societies of Senkand from attempting to cross the mountains. But now the asura are almost entirely gone, and the lands of Dainiva have been abandoned for many centuries. The first people to cross the mountains where Murya shamans and witches seeking the occult secrets of the great asura kings. They brought back great amounts of esoteric knowledge about other realms and demons that became the basis of sorcery, but many of them stayed in the lands beyond the mountains to delve deeper into what the asura had discovered before them. Whatever they found, something covered the peaks of the mountains in clouds of poisonous ash and made the few passes crawl with ghouls and other undead horrors. For many generations crossing the mountains was all out impossible, but over time clouds of ash become more rare and the undead only rarely seen. Slowly Murya from Senkand resumed making the crossing into the lands beyond the mountains, while further north some Fenhail and the occasional Yao made the journey through the forest. Most of the people who came to Dainiva and settled down had fled from Senkand for one reason or another, which greately affected the kind of society that developed in the west.

The woods of Dainiva are home to scattered villages of rarely more than a few hundred people, often surrounded by wooden palisades or build on top of defensible hills and cliffs. Hunting is just as much a part of daily life as farming and great amounts of tools and weapons found by local traders have been imported from the East. The woods are also filled with ancient asura ruins, as well as the lairs and tombs of the first sorcerers.

Beyond the Great River

While the woodlands of Dainiva are a barely explored frontier, the lands on the western bank of the great river are a completely unknown wilderness. Rumors are that those distant forests are still ruled by asura kings, the mountains swarming with dragons, and that ancient gods are walking among the trees. But in truth almost nobdy ever returned to the taverns and trade posts of Dainiva with any proof that they actually had made it to the other side.