Four Things Modern Dungeons Don’t Seem to Have Enough of Anymore

In my Shattered Star campaign, we are about three-quarters of the way through the second adventure—Curse of the Lady’s Light. With the exception of a couple of deaths and some close shaves, things seem to be generally going to plan.

Mottled Spire_web


Certainly, I’m pretty sure generally the chaps are having fun (which is the point of gaming after all). However, I’ve been growing a little bit dissatisfied with the design of the dungeon and how it relates to the party’s progress and the general flow of the game.

Don’t get me wrong, generally it’s a pretty good adventure and it has had some excellent encounters, but it highlights for me the changes in design philosophy between Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (and earlier editions) and later versions (Dungeons & Dragons 3.0 and onwards).

Nothing Changes

The party have been in the dungeon now for the best part of a month—if you factor in time spent exploring the surrounding wilderness and trips back and forth to the nearest city for rest, resupply and reinforcements.

In that time, bugger all has changed in the dungeon. In the main, today’s designers are great at telling you what has happen prior to the party reaching an encounter area and they often provide a tremendous sense of the various NPCs’ motivations. However, we rarely get any information about what happens if the party attack and retreat or simply take a long time to reach certain areas. Thus—at least to me—the dungeon doesn’t seem a very dynamic place. Of course, I can decide what happens myself—I’m not a complete idiot—but it would be nice to have some guidance from the designer.

No Wandering Monsters

Gah! I love wandering monsters. I do, I do, I do (as long as they make sense in the overall context of the dungeon).

I find it baffling that none of the dungeon’s denizens ever seem to move around. Surely, the more organised groups occasionally move about, go foraging to food or whatever. Don’t they get bored just sitting around? Apparently not. This dungeon—and most of its inhabitants—are passive, which allows the party to dictate the pace of their exploration.

While I can understand this from a publisher’s point of view—wandering monsters take up valuable page space and don’t add much to the story—they do add a tremendous amount to the feeling of verisimilitude to the dungeon. They also make it feel so much more dynamic and “lived in.”

No Empty Space

Again, from a publisher’s point of view I understand the lack of empty space in the dungeons. By empty space, I mean unoccupied rooms that may—or may not—contain anything interesting. Describing empty space takes up space (how ironic is that?) which leaves less space and word count for challenges and the overall storyline.

That said, empty space is very important in a dungeon.

  • It gives the various factions and groups breathing space and a way to move about without being constantly in conflict with one another.
  • It increases the amount of ground the party covers between fights (and rests). This adds to their sense of accomplishment when they look at the map. That might sound really trivial, but it’s an important factor often overlooked
  • It provides a good change of pace as it allows the party to use other skills, slow down and so on.

Basically, at this point in the dungeon, every time the party enter a new area they trigger a fight or walk into a trap. There’s not a lot of surprise or suspense to that formula. Door, fight, loot, door, fight, loot etc. It also means that on the map their process looks pitifully slow, which is a bit disheartening.

No Level Inappropriate Encounters

With very few exceptions, all the encounters in the dungeon are level appropriate. Of course, I’m not bemoaning the fact that I haven’t been able to slaughter the party out of hand, but sometimes its fun for the party to deal with very hard or very easy encounters.

Running away is always a useful skill to cultivate while crushing weak foes is fun! And again—of course—it builds a sense of verisimilitude into the dungeon. Finally, having level inappropriate encounters adds to the sense of tension. While as a GM, I would never just spring a CR+5 encounter on a group, clever groups can pick up on the “subtle” signs (perhaps scorched and splintered bodies, great gouges out of the walls and so on) that something rather tough lurks ahead. If, after that, they chose to rush ahead that’s their problem.

What Did I Miss?

These are certainly design facets I’ll be considering in my ongoing design of the megadungeon Gloamhold. But, did I miss anything? In your opinion, are modern dungeons missing other facets of older dungeons? Do you care? Are you delighted? Let me know in the comments below.

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Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

55 thoughts on “Four Things Modern Dungeons Don’t Seem to Have Enough of Anymore”

  1. I pretty much agree with everything you wrote here.

    As a point, if nothing changes, running away is far less risky of an option. It is the way the design elements you listed work together that is important. Wandering monsters spur decision making, and make too much searching in empty spaces hazardous. Empty spaces give you somewhere to run away TO. That the dungeon changes makes running away a meaningful choice – if you stop to heal up and regroup, what preparations will the other side make?

    Anyway, good article!

  2. While I am thinking about it, “No Wandering Monsters” came about in three ways:

    (1) When the size of statblocks grows, the amount of space required for a wandering monster chart likewise grows, unless said chart simply refers to a Monster Manual page. This was never a problem with AD&D.

    (2) The more carefully “balanced” the system, the less desirable random elements seem to be. Facing wandering monsters could grant “too much” XP, allowing PCs to “level too early”. Or they could use up valuable resources “too soon”, changing the balance of a later encounter away from what the GM expected.

    (3) The longer it takes to resolve a combat in a system, the less desirable it is to have potential “unimportant” combats that don’t “advance the story”.

    System, and expectations at the table, can greatly impact how well wandering monsters (or random encounters) work within both published and home-brewed materials. Short statblocks and the ability to resolve a minor skirmish quickly are systems issues. Embracing the chaos of actual play is an expectations issue.

  3. This is quite correct. I think it’s by design.

    Adventures deviated away from “explore this hole in the ground” to “go through this story” a couple decades ago. We get backstory, information that players may well never know about, because “story” became the driving force in adventures. Anyone can whip out a dungeon, but not everyone can put together a coherent story.

    Factions are representative of “change in the dungeon.” If nothing changes, there’s no reason to have factions. Furthermore, given the reliance of 3.x and Pathfinder on mechanics, interacting with different factions becomes difficult. What if the PCs give the kobolds food? Spare weapons? Heal their shaman? There are too many variables for a designer to think about, and so those options are ignored. Subsequently, players ignore them and use what rules they do have to interact with the situation. Notice how many pages are used to describing combat options?

    The other thing that I think is needed is a strong dose of nonlinear dungeoneering. Think about your house – you have more than one way to enter. I have the front door, a back door, a side door, and the garage door. Why wouldn’t an underground builder have a similar outlook? A cave-in in the one tunnel that leads to fresh air is a big problem. This fits in with factions and “things changing” as well, because monsters can get around behind the characters or run away, acting intelligently and as if their home is being invaded, which it is.

    One of the biggest changes I’ve made is understanding that most creatures want to live, even the lowly goblins. They will play to their strengths, and so creatures like goblins will run away and prepare an ambush, then run away again. They don’t have a straight-up fight, because they know they’ll lose. Even normal animals know when they’re outclassed. Hyenas run away from lions, letting the lions get the antelope. Eagles don’t attack elk. There’s no reason to think goblins would be any different.

    1. I have often thought that Pathfinder could *really* do with some decent morale rules. I’m not a huge fan of everyone fighting to the death all the time. Morale rules add another layer of cool unpredictability/realism that I’d very much like to include in my games.

      I haven’t yet come up with a decent system though.


      1. I use morale rules all the time in Pathfinder/DD5. They are pretty much just “I think they might run at this point.” Is it a hard rule? Nope, but in some way it is more realistic because I’ve thought about why the NPCs are fighting, and what they feel is worth going down for. Or how aware they are of their precarious combat situation. Of if they are in a blood rage.

        There are really too many factors to account for in a deterministic system. Sometimes I’ll think, “Hmmm, this guy might break if he gets hit again.” Then, when he does, I mentally assign a break factor and roll a die. Usually it’s very simple…5 or more on a d12 (to even the die-wear) and he breaks or tries to surrender. But I can mentally weigh in many factors like dedication, personal bravery, what else he might fear, stats like CHA, etc.

        I find that breaking or surrendering foes are more problematic for PCs than simply fighting to the death. Now they have to figure out how to deal with the prisoner. Does someone need to chase him down rather than move on to the next foe? Or guard him?

        So I say, make’m break when you think they might or it makes the story better.

      2. Yep I lament this too. Writing it in “takes up page space” so means you have to think about how to do it that makes it feasible/realistic. I do realistic, I don’t do concise so well.

    2. “Anyone can whip out a dungeon, but not everyone can put together a coherent story.”

      The story is what the players do, not what the DM defines.

      1. I agree up to a certain point, but the GM–ultimately–designs the campaign. While the players have a tremendous amount of control (hopefully) over how the story develops the GM is the person who sets up the initial situation, provides plot hooks etc.

        Sure, players can go completely “off piste” when it comes to the plot, but often times that can end in disaster as the GM doesn’t have infinite prep time. I think most players get this and don’t stray too far from the path.

  4. This is why I enjoy the OSR so much. They’re keeping many of those things that made the original stuff so much fun (in addition to what you list, I would also include: factions, the opportunity for PCs to decide which side to join*, and a greater chance for PC death) while innovating on the settings, monsters, items, and other content.

    My favorite is Lamentations of the Flame Princess. NSFW has a 24 hour clock ticking with changes that happen depending on if the PCs act or don’t act. Better Than Any Man is a great sandbox, which also has a clock, an interesting encounter list that provides not just monsters but also opportunities depending on what players do, and various factions for players to join.

    1. *It feels like in many of the modern story paths, trying to join with the bad guys or convincing them to join you is almost impossible because there’s no story path if that happens.

      (And sorry, you did mentioned level-inappropriate encounters. There also seems to be a strong current against player death, especially if it feels “random.”)

  5. Absolutely! All of those at once to steal a phrase from a venerable hobbit. That is one of the reasons I stepped away from the 3.x, 4E versions of D&D. By the time I worked out how to import all of the things I thought missing I felt no sense of accomplishment and wasn’t satisfied with what I’d done. So I want back to AD&D, B/X and a whole slew of modernish retro clones. To each their own though!

    1. “To each their own though!”

      Wise words. Kirwyn. At the end of the day, if you enjoy the dungeon it’s designed “properly”! If you don’t, it isn’t. One of the strengths of the hobby at the moment is that pretty much whatever niche/gaming style you like you should be able to find someone making stuff for you! The problem is actually find them as there are so many publishers our there.

  6. I have never read the original ‘Enemy Within’ campaign ( a friend of mine has it though).
    But what I understand of it is that an overarching story (or multiple stories) is running in the background (the clock keeps ticking) and the actions of the players may or may not indirectly influence what happens in these background stories.

  7. I agree with you on all points. It seems like the dungeons of old were to the literal whim of the authors . If the author was a lonely male, Judges Guild would have a four-poster bed and possibly a succubus in the nearby rooms. If the author was Tucker, he would leave you bits that the kolbolds dropped from their last TPK. If you were stocking your dungeon from the Rules Cyclopedia, you often would have one in six rooms with little bits of treasure. The dungeons of yesteryear were large empty chambers with little punctuated bits of anxiety-stocked death and destruction.

    This is why we ceased that campaign of Shattered Star at my table, and decided to ROLL 4d6 on new characters for the Frog God Games, Stoneheart Valley adventures. While we all aren’t are old enough to remember strictly black-and-white printed adventurers that smell like gamer room smoke, large numbers of us are wishing we had that life still around us, where there were halls made for running battles between the party and…an orc. Large numbers of us represent the OSR mindset, even if many of us do not play OSR games! We still use the current toolkit to do such wonderful work at our own private tables, with players that are thrilled that the adventures we craft do not start at an inn with an old man, a map, and a bag of gold.

    I love Paizo for many things it has done. Namely, it kept a version of the game I love, alive. And it did a wonderful job of adding to that box of items, and I’m thrilled to be a part of the dungeon masters that run it, like an old school game.

    Keep in mind, there are plenty of things from the ‘new school’ that I do embrace. I like the fact, everything in PF is part of the engine. You want to know something about the game, you learn the engine. It’s like a modification education for the Quake or Unreal series, if you know the basics of the toolkit, you can plug anything into it and have a rewarding (or frustrating) experience.

    On the point of Creighton, I’m looking at how dungeons used to be designed. Yourself, Dyson Logos, and many others have brought the science of how the fog of war, the anticipation of an initiative roll, and an occasional evil chuckle from my side of the screen should have any usual player questioning their last decision. They look at how the current game is ran, and suddenly have a new level of appreciation for the seasoned veterans that might otherwise look like a middle-aged woman or man behind a dungeon masters screen.

    The game was designed to help friends and strangers pass the time. Long ago, part of that fun was the exploration of the unknown. The current mindset from many in the field are “tell a story.” Well, if I wanted a damn good story, I would read a book. I’m looking for an excuse for me, and my friends, to sit our fat butts down at the tables and have something to stab or cast magic missiles at while we munch and drink a night away. I’m not looking for poetry. I’m looking for friends who will want to have an interactive series of moments in the limelight, be it, they’re running for their lives because a lich kolbold called Tucker Sr. is chasing them down a trapped hallway, or they are standing triumphantly over foes that have been properly slaughtered and their remains blessed so they don’t return as a vile undead, again.

    Keep the players guessing. Don’t let them abuse their powers and special abilities to negate the power of the referee to where he or she can’t have an enjoyable time at the table. If the game feels too railroadish, then allow something fresh to happen. Allow the players to figure out on the hexes where they will go, and keep your hex map of the world a secret.

    May your hits be Crits.


    1. I’ve just purchased a copy of Stoneheart Valley, although it has yet to get across the Atlantic. Is it any good as a sandbox? It got some cracking reviews and I’m intrigued to see how it pans out in “real life.”

      I also like the image of Tucker Snr. as a kobold lich. I can see him waving his fist at the party and telling them get out of his dungeon! 😉

    2. In other news, I am beginning to consider writing up an Old School dungeon. Dyson Logo did a fantastic map a month ago or so–the Giant’s Hall–which could serve as an epic Old School dungeon. Now, all I have to do is decide on my design criteria (and find lots of time to write it!)

      1. I just subscribed to Mister Logos’s blog, I think I’ll like it.

        As a sandbox, I think SV from FGG is going to make a DM *VERY* happy.

  8. I run a later edition of the game. I find that a lot of the issues that you mention can be solved with improvisation and or common sense.

    Let’s have a look at Wandering Monsters for example. Of course denizens are going to leave their pre assigned rooms. Unless they are undead ,or constructs, or prisoners, or some other reason exists that prevents them from moving around. I don’t feel the need to roll on some chart to have a goblin guard use the latrine, or to have a room full of monsters come running when the players make too much noise. If I feel that it would enhance the game, I’ll either assign some percentage that I think would be right, or I will just have it happen.

    As far as morale goes. I just wing that too. If the party wipes out half of an opposing force in a short time, why wouldn’t they run away, or surrender if there’s nowhere to run? Or retreat to a fortified position, or run to get help? If the boss gets taken out, why would a lowly hobgoblin continue to fight when the guy who pays him just got waxed? It is situational. Not every fight is to the last man (or monster). Sometimes monsters will try to bargain with the group for their safety or freedom. I don’t recall charts or rolls for that being in the 1e Player’s Handbook. Though if you read some of the old Dragon Magazine articles l, you’ll see ideas like these popping up.

    As far as empty space goes, I prefer to take a cue from Lovecraft, or Robert E. Howard, and have the last room contain the peril. But if you are building a fortress and garrisoning it with humanoids, why wouldn’t they use every bit of space available? Especially on places like ships or castles where space was a premium.

    I won’t begrudge a DM who uses those rules and tools to enhance their game. The impartiality of such a thing is commendable. I consider myself lucky to have grown up with D&D in my life and seens its many rules and incarnations. I am fortunate to have these concepts to draw upon. But I will use them as I see fit and if I feel that they don’t enhance my game, I will ignore them.

  9. “Sokath, his eyes uncovered!”

    You’re so close now and if you can excise phrasing like “and don’t add much to the story” from your RPGing articles, you’ll be right on track. Such thinking restricts a GM’s ability to improv and allow a story to unfold from gameplay. “Stories” are byproducts of gameplay in RPGs, not foregone conclusions. This is why you’re beginning to understand that there has been a change in the presentation of “modules” (as opposed to adventures which assume a story line). At some point over the years, RPG design began to incorporate Storytelling Game elements and this is most obvious in adventure design. Modern RPGs often have Storytelling Game elements embedding within them. However, RPGs in their traditional form do not dictate stories, they simply allow for them to happen. Some folks confuse the fact that setting and character are elements of stories and exist in RPG design with Storytelling Game elements which require a story to be present in spite of gameplay. It’s a misunderstanding of how RPGs traditional work at a fundamental level. This is not to say that RPGs and ST games can’t both be fun, simply that they have become conflated in the general conversation of RPGs to the point where a lot of folks simply don’t make the distinction anymore.

    1. Thank you for this comment, Mark. I’ve posted links to this article in several places and the rise of storytelling over exploration has come up more than once. It’s certainly something I’d not given a tremendous amount of thought to over the years. Sure, some older adventures have stories but they are so tremendously loose–go explore the Caves of Chaos–that they fall under exploration’s banner.

      I feel the urge to hurl myself into the darker, older corners of my collection and look at the adventures with a critical eye to storytelling vs. exploration!

  10. What comes to mind when reading this is essentially the need to bring a dungeon to life.

    Is it and empty, dead and abandoned place that has some left over traps and occasional monsters that have wandered in at some point?

    Or… Is it an active place where there are groups of monsters living there? Why not have a couple of the goblins meet the PCs in the hallway whilst going to get water for the Chiefs bath?

    Or a cave system that has an ecology of predators and prey that the PCs are either blundering into or trying to avoid, occasionally witnessing the rather horrifying death of potential enemies or another NPC group of hapless adventures get ripped to shreds emphasising the need for cation and maybe ….’why are we here???’….

    I like your points and will try and bring such life to my games. Although a challenge when there are lots of other elements a DM is already juggling.

    Thank you.

  11. I am running 5th edition D&D campaign right now and disagree on a couple of points (as far as Dungeons & Dragons is concerned, I can not address Pathfinder as never having played that system). First, looking at a few of my older 1st edition AD&D modules and EVERY room is occupied by a monster of some sort. The only places that are unoccupied are corridors from one dungeon room to the next. This also address the lack of empty space. There wasn’t much in the way empty space back then with those first modules.

    As far as nothing changing, the campaign I am running, starting off with the Starter Set adventure and moving onward there is certainly a sense of permanence. The town has changed, the mine the party cleared is certainly changed, and the region has also changed. There is a sense of permanence to the world, and if there isn’t one in the campaign, that’s the DM’s fault.

  12. Say ‘verisimilitude’ again. Say ‘verisimilitude’ again, I dare you, I double dare you motherfucker, say verisimilitude one more Goddamn time!

  13. Riddles and social encounters, and mechanisms that split the group, its scary! By that i mean, making someone hold a door open from another room, so the others can go through… these dynamics i think are vital for exploration, and adding a fear factor

  14. Well all of my “situations” have activity. Food/energy/resource gathering must happen. Waste must be disposed of. Orcs defecate and all animals are averse to their own waste.

    Currently running a Victoriana steampunk – and other stories are going on as well, the coroner has duties and is NOT always awake and handy.

    In a dungeon I adjust – the has to be a reason for being there. A wizard put them on guard duty? Then they have an alarm bell. Foragers, disposers, scouts are the haze that puts players at peril. My monsters are risk averse, they plan, they ambush, they lay traps.

  15. Given my background and history with the game, I find a couple of things in your piece mildly disturbing.

    The arc that any campaign takes should be driven by the players’ actions. That said, it is nearly impossible to foresee all of the “What if?” tracks the adventure might take, let alone write them all up. If I did, many would, rightfully so, claim it was a “railroad” adventure. And no matter how many of them I could scry in my crystal ball, players would still come up with something unforeseen. (I was once asked, some years ago, why all of us game publishers had to put out what used to be called Errata Sheets. I answered that part of it was correcting spelling errors or finding lost sentence fragments, or sometimes a small paragraph would be lost in the physical assembly of the work. The rest were rules clarifications, most of which were in the vein of “…No, you can’t do that…”. Why couldn’t rules be made fool-proof? Because fools were too ingenious. Just because it doesn’t say that you can NOT airdrop a chariot unit doesn’t mean you can.)

    On the issue of leaving and coming back: Do you really NEED to be told that the denizens might be in a state of heightened alertness next time? Isn’t that rather obvious to anyone else? What happened to common sense or logic? Both pertain to fantasy, or should.

    This also kicks in with Wandering Monsters. In most of what I have written in recent years, I address just that issue and suggest to the DM that they tailor their WM’s accordingly. The best use of a WM is to get the party off their duffs and moving again. Otherwise, running into a tough WM and succeeding is like hitting the lottery, EP-wise.

    Way back when we kept track of our PC’s using slates and chalk, we all made the initial mistake of stocking our dungeons like some sort of subterranean zoo. Open a door, kill what’s behind it and go on to the next door. When more rational design ideas took hold, that moderated and we ended up with more space not-occupied than occupied.

    If you want to blame someone for the current wretched state of adventures, try WotC for starting it all. They tried to write multi-part adventures that required certain NPC’s to be alive at the end. “Sorry, you can’t kill this wretch now because he has a key piece of info later.” THAT is the very worst kind of railroading, IMNSHO.

    Simply put, the DM still must be mentally agile, willing to let all his weeks of work be trashed by an unforeseen insight by a PC, and able to smile through it all the while. If it was easy, anybody could be a DM. But it is not easy; ask any player that tried his hand at being on the lonely side of the screen and chucked it for the simple fun of playing a PC.

    Conversely, we writers of adventures must provide broad guidelines for things such as WM activity and their behaviors. But even with that, the DM is still capable of modifying. I am not so egocentric that I feel that what I publish needs no modifying; that seems to have been the attitude at WotC with the latter editions.

    I nearly choke every time I see the phrase “level appropriate encounters”(LAE). Who decides if it is an LAE? The players? “Oooh, boo hoo! The nasty monster was just too big for us.” Then why didn’t you run away? If your DM is throwing Very Ancient dragons at a low-level party with little or no hope for survival, then your DM is a douchebag and you should find another. When we were livin’ the OS experience, there was no shame in running away to live to fight another day. NONE. If you tried to tackle something too big for your capabilities, you were dumb for dying.

    If your DM is building un-escapable traps with only a very low chance of detection, that also makes them a feminine hygiene product, and you should find another table to play at. Sadistic DM’s are still out there, altho’ not in the numbers they once enjoyed.

  16. Thanks for mentioning this! I’ve been trying to remember the feel of the old dungeons and this nails it on the head.

    These millennials won’t ever understand having to go through traps and random encounters to their dungeons (both ways)!

  17. No level inappropriate encounters seems to be a hallmark of modern games. There’s is never an encounter that players shouldn’t have.

    Wandering monsters are also nearly a thing of the past. I think it is because of modern experience tables.

    I agree with everything else really but those two points are the ones that I notice most.

  18. 126 Tremont. Most modern modules 10 to set the average encounter at the level we used to run away from.

    1. Let me try that again. One dispute, modern modules 10 to set the encounter difficulty at the level we used to run away from. That is what was considered level inappropriately high encounters.

  19. The ‘No level inappropriate encounters’ is a big one for me. I don’t know when it became so important to balance the game so much… Video games. I just answered my own question, lol. Running isn’t always a bad thing and creates some really interesting scenarios. It ties into the ‘Nothing changes’ topic. What happens if the PCs run? The monsters give chase, or retreat and shore up their defences, making the dungeon or second meeting more difficult to enter the second time around? Or do they return to the tavern with tales of a monster or a force they themselves could not reckon with? It could be that the towns people knew about it and they could learn a valuable piece of information for their next encounter, if they didn’t do their homework. Or the monster/NPC could just run away, never to be seen again. Everything leaves a mark on the minds of the players. And if they are left wondering, it will make the experience more vivid, less sure, and more fun.

    1. I think it comes down to this ethos of “fairness” and the view that for it to be fun, the players have to just win. I have no problem with the players winning, but sometimes they’ve got to work for it and be patient. As my son now plays with my main group, these are things are very keen to teach him (while he has fun).

  20. In these “compact and bijou” word count days, I still try and include a tiny table which deals with all of these when entering an “empty room”, something like the following:

    1-25 Empty room
    26-50 Something from another room is now here
    51-70 A wandering monster of a CR below the party’s level
    71-85 A below average hp wandering monster of CR at the party’s level
    86-95 An above average hp wandering monster of CR at the party’s level
    96-00 A wandering monster of CR above the party’s level

    Each wanderer usually occurs just once, but that’s flexible. It seems to work on several levels, and can straightforwardly be built in so as not to “over XP” the adventure. Well, it works for me.

    1. In a dungeon or megadungeon I’ll often include a random encounter table that mostly consists of creatures from other rooms. The two interact — if the PCs meet a creature via wandering encounter, it’ll have an effect on the fixed encounter, and vice-versa.

      Outside the dungeon, wandering monster tables can be a little more complex. I’ve got several articles on my blog regarding random encounters.

  21. I do all of these. I have an entire level,floor?, that is completely ’empty’ so to speak. I got the idea from the Star Trek episode ARENA, in that I have a lot of ‘stuff’ floating around and if the players are studious enough to realize it then they can pick things up to help them fix things or modify something. I’m constantly changing places after about 2 to 3 weeks of game time because the world doesn’t exist in a vacuum. I usually put it off to inexperience or lack of imagination if nothing ‘changes’ in a DMs campaign or scenario. And of course I always have wandering and while they might be level inappropriate sometimes they won’t be inappropriate for the terrain they are in at that time, although thinking about it now, I could have WM’s could have been captured or bred and then released into the area to ‘guard against interlopers’:)………you mentioned in your paragraph about modern dungeons missing something. In my opinion I think ‘modern hand drawn’ dungeons are missing period, although I’m sure there are a few out there. Every time I run into a group playing they use module maps and the like, I very rarely see graph paper maps and dungeons anymore but I guess that’s just me….

  22. What you just stated is what drove me to create my first dungeon. In it I have roving monsters, level inappropriate fights (the option to run and leave them alone wasn’t take. Slaughter), and blank spaces for ‘rest’.

  23. And Lady’s Light is good compared to the later SS ones – at least the GM can choose to have Grey Maidens go moving around easily enough. Later adventures often have endless “can’t leave the room” monsters!

  24. Lord of Grimhold I send you greetings from across the pond (or the Colonies if you will) the thing I miss is a lot of the things you have talked on or hit upon I too have thought about but….Most of the adventures have way too many things I frankly never heard of nor care about (I’m about to date myself) but back when I first played D&D TOS we used mostly the Orcs Goblins Kobolds and a few other monters but the things like Demons and their ilk was a bare minium they were not part of the overall part of the game. To this day never fought a Beholder, Black Pudding just to name two. When I generally put something together I just guess the CR value but dont like that method.

    1. Hah! Yes you are right, Mark.

      Adventures do now have an increasingly bizarre mix of monsters in them–published modules from companies that sell Monster Manual/Bestiary products being particularly guilty of this IMO. If that’s what their customers want then that’s great, but I often think that the ecologies of worlds is getting increasingly jam packed with races and creatures.

      Thanks for the comment!

  25. From my point of view, most games the past 15+ years have catered to characters always winning. Players think everything they encounter should be something they can defeat. If the players go in with that mentality, they’re bound to see a TPK or two in the older games.
    In my opinion, it’s a form of entitlement and the belief that players cannot have fun unless they always win.
    I once ran a game where the players and I were all learning the system and it’s power dynamics. Without realizing it, I had an encounter that was too difficult for them and got a TPK. I decided to run that combat again since we were all getting used to the rules. Another TPK.
    After a few minutes of silence, one of them shouted out, “That was F$*%ing awesome! Let’s make some new characters!” And everyone enthusiastically grabbed their dice and began rolling.

    1. I think you are right. The CR system has a lot to answer for. I’ve been trying to change the way my players look at the game over the last year or so and I’m making slow progress in that regard. The idea going into a fight that you’ll definitely win is not a great one in my opinion. Where’s the challenge (or the feeling of actual, meaningful success in that?)

  26. Wandering monsters do add to the story because they keep the possibilities open. Not even the DM knows exactly what could happen next.

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