Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wandering Monster Tables

Today we'll look at the Wandering Monster tables ("Monster Level Tables") in OD&D Vol-3, p. 10-11. I won't recreate all of the tables here; I'll just present some summary analysis and comments.

These tables come in Monster Levels 1 to 6 (like most things in OD&D), and you'll be consulting some random one based on a roll on the Monster Level Matrix before it (see previous post). The 1st-level table has 8 monsters, levels 2-4 have 10 monsters each, and levels 5-6 have 12 monsters each. (Compare to the OD&D spell lists which also have increasing numbers of entries at the higher levels.) The specific monster you get is determined by a simple roll of the equivalent die (i.e., a uniform probability distribution and a one-to-one correspondence).

Now, analysis is somewhat complicated because many of the lower-level monsters (mostly giant varieties of normal insects and animals) are not given specific statistics in OD&D. You get some very general guidelines in Vol-2, p. 20, but basically the individual DM has to intuit appropriate stats. I'll write more about this in a later post -- but for now let's agree to fill in the missing stats from the AD&D Monster Manual and use that as an approximation.

Here's a summary of the Hit Dice at each level (after discarding a small number of outliers). Analysis follows:
  1. Range: Up to 1+1. Average: 1.
  2. Range: 1+1 to 2+1. Average: 2.
  3. Range: 3 to 5+1. Average: 4.
  4. Range: 4 to 6. Average: 5.
  5. Range: 4 to 8+2. Average: 6.
  6. Range: 5 to 12. Average: 9.
Monster levels are based directly on Hit Dice. It's pretty easy to see that monster levels are based simply on Hit Dice. 1 HD creatures are all in the 1st level chart. 2 HD creatures are all at 2nd level, all 3 HD creatures at the 3rd level, etc. At higher levels, you get a wider range, but the bounds are always increasing (or at least, nondecreasing). On the one hand, there's no provision for a low-HD but powerful-special-ability monster to get bumped up to a higher level (that would be a development for later editions of the game), but at the same time, OD&D special abilities are more-or-less scaled to the Hit Dice of the monster anyway.

NPC classes are also based on Hit Dice. A number of entries specify NPC class types, and their positioning is again dictated purely by OD&D-style Hit Dice (always d6-based). For example, consider the magic-users: the 2nd-level chart includes Conjurers and Theurgists (HD 2 and 2+1 in Vol-1); the 3rd-level chart includes Thaumaturgists and Magicians (HD 3 and 3+1); and so on and so forth. This is one case where the danger level of magic-users is probably underestimated by looking solely at Hit Dice. (Note also that different levels of a given class generate multiple entries in the charts, so, lots of NPC entries; I think I'd prefer if these were merged to a single entry in each table, i.e., more room for non-human types.)

Clerics are largely missing. Guess what? Whereas there are entries for almost every level of fighter or magic-user from 1-9 or so, clerics are uniquely missing from the majority of the tables. In fact, they only appear in two places: Evil Priests at level 4 (cleric level 3, HD 3), and Evil High Priests at level 6 (cleric level 8, HD 7). I'd argue that this is yet another example of the game resisting a full commitment to integrating Catholic-style clerics into the milieu, partly due to the clash in thematics that they represent.

Inclusion if and only if the monster is hostile. Look at the OD&D Monster Reference Table, which spans two pages at the beginning of Vol-2 (pages 3-4). The first page (p. 3) covers all the basically hostile-to-men, dungeon-dwelling monster types (humanoids, undead, and classical chimera-types), and everything on this page is included in the OD&D Wandering Monster charts. The second page (p. 4) covers all the benign-to-men and/or fey/enchanted-woods-types, and almost nothing on this page is included in the dungeon Wandering Monster charts (with two exceptions: Minotaurs and the Ochre Jelly). Later D&D products include entries such as for dwarves and elves in the dungeon wandering monsters, but they do not appear here for OD&D -- and I personally find this to be highly laudable. Consider how this neatly implies the "always attack by default" rule for the OD&D Reaction Table (discussed previously here).

Frequency of special abilities increase with level. While it appears that monster level determination is based largely on Hit Dice (see above), the tables also have the very satisfying quality that the prevalence of monsters with powerful special abilities increases monotonically by level. If we count up monsters with major special abilities (such as poison, paralysis, regeneration, hit only by silver or magic, spell-casting etc.) we obtain this:
  1. 2/8 = 25%
  2. 4/10 = 40%
  3. 6/10 = 60%
  4. 6/10 = 60%
  5. 8/12 = 67%
  6. 9/12 = 75%
(I suppose if I gave full reign to my tiny bit of number-OCD, I'd want to see that statistic at the 3rd level be 50%; perhaps by making the snakes there non-poisonous, or something. A longer rant on those snakes in particular awaits for the later post.)
Idiosycratic animal inclusions.
The insect/animal types included on these tables (mostly missing stats as noted above) are not exactly what I would think to initially associate with D&D. First of all, while most are noted as "Giant" types (rats at level 1; hogs, ants, snakes, weasels, beetles, and scorpions at levels 3-4), several are not. At levels 1-2 you've got Centipedes, Spiders, and Lizards listed without that identifier. While later AD&D shows Giant versions of each of these, it's unclear exactly what's meant in OD&D; poison is not suggested for them in the LBBs, and Vol-2 suggests "any hit will kill the smaller" in its guidelines for types like these (p. 20). Secondly, the common inclusion of above-ground mammals like Weasels and Hogs (not even boars at this point) on deep-level dungeon charts really rubs me the wrong way -- noting, of course, that among the many levels of Greyhawk Castle, "The sixth was a repeating maze with dozens of wild hogs (3 dice) in inconvenient spots, naturally backed up by appropriate numbers of Wereboars." (Gygax writing in Europa Magazine #6-8, April 1975 -- thanks to Allan Grohe for documenting that here, 1st paragraph).

Mostly missing the clean-up crew. As noted above, the Ochre Jelly appears at level 3 (uniquely, but for the Hydra, listed in the singular), yet none of the other "clean-up crew" amoeba/slime types do. This is particularly odd because elsewhere it's implied that these types should be found only as wandering monsters. ("Note that Ochre Jellies, Black Puddings, Green Slime, etc., are generally distributed randomly, usually in passages, without treasure."; Vol-3 p. 7).

Outliers. I mentioned above that for Hit Dice analysis purposes, I discarded a small number of outliers, so I should detail what they are. At the 2nd level you've got Thouls, which are entirely missing from OD&D and AD&D (more in a future post). You also have Lizards at the 2nd level; if this is the same as AD&D's Giant Lizards, then they have higher Hit Dice than anything else at that level (HD 3+1), and they're also the only huge-sized creature until levels 5-6 (15' long; noting that I think the size listings introduced for AD&D are generally over-inflated, and could be cut in half). At level 4, those troublesome Evil Priests have significantly lower hit dice than anything else (3), and at a level 6 the Purple Worms have much higher dice (15), so each of these I've precluded from the Hit Dice statistics above.

Conclusions. In general, I think the OD&D wandering monster tables are highly praiseworthy in being meaty, well-themed for D&D, highly playable, and sufficiently limited in scope as to be easy to use and highly manageable and comprehensible. They present mostly mythic, recognizable-to-the-layman creatures. There are just enough monsters present to believe that they could possibly all exist in some particular megadungeon somewhere (i.e., Greyhawk). They compare favorably to later iterations such as the AD&D DMG tables which are overly large and fiddly, reduce interesting creatures like Skeletons and Zombies to near-absence in favor of a truckload of rats/beetles/shriekers, and are subject to the complaint that they don't make any sense as a presentation of a particular dungeon ecology. In the few OD&D cases where some particular entry presents a monster that is missing, duplicated, undesirable, or overly idiosyncratic, then it's a trivial operation to use the slot for something more common in your own personal dungeon or campaign (notably Thieves, for example).

I really like the simplicity of these tables for the most common basic D&D monsters, and I wouldn't think that anything more complicated is really desirable (e.g., see AD&D DMG, FF, or MM2). If monsters more rare than those on these lists require hand-placement by the DM, then I think that's a good thing, as well.

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