Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Ranger and the Wandering Monster

I was sitting in a Burger King parking lot today and thinking about game design.  I have some thoughts.

1. My players don’t care much about encumbrance.  Being encumbered doesn’t seem to have many effects on the game.  They usually escape fights by locking doors, rather than outrunning their foe They don’t fall into bodies of water very often.  Those are things where encumbrance comes into play.

Basically, I’m still looking for a way to make encumbrance interesting.  (I mean, it's easy to make encumbrance important.  But interesting is another thing altogether.)

2. I want exploration to be the main focus of the GLOG.  And while “more rules about X” doesn’t always mean “more gameplay about X”, it’s worth putting some more thought into it.

Basically, I want to make dungeon crawling feel as interesting as combat.

3. Rangers are a tricky thing, conceptually.  There’s the survival expert thing, the animal companion thing, the nature magic thing, the archery + dual-wielding thing.  They’re all over the place.

Basically, I’m still trying to nail down the ranger-concept, and look for unique ways that they can contribute to the party.  I want each class to feel very unique.

by Cosimo Galluzzi
Noise and Perception

First, let’s redo the wandering monster roll.

Old Wandering Monster Check:
  • Roll a d6 every 30 minutes.
  • 1-2 = random encounter with monster or NPC.
  • 3-4 = clues to what’s on the wandering monster table.
  • 5-6 = nothing special.

New Wandering Monster Check:
  • Roll a d20 every 10 minutes.  (Basically every room.)
  • 1-2 = random encounter with a monster or NPC.
  • 3-4 = clues to what’s on the wandering monster table.
  • 5+ = nothing special.

This is fine, but it doesn’t do much.  It’s a little more chaotic (since you can now get two encounters immediately after one another) but the odds are basically the same.  Perhaps it’s easier to remember (since you’re rolling every room, instead of every 3 rooms) but it’s also more dice to roll.

So let’s get weird.

When you are dungeon crawling, your party has stats the same way that your characters have stats.

Two of the stats that your party has are called Noise and Perception.  The default party has Noise 2 and Perception 2.
  • Noise corresponds to how noticeable your party is being as they walk through the dungeon.  It correlates with rolling a 1-2 on the wandering monster check.  I.e. “You are noticed."
  • Perception corresponds to how well your party does at noticing the other folks who are walking through the dungeon.  It correlates with rolling a 3-4 on the wandering monster check.  I.e. “You notice other people.”

The following things modify your party stats.
  • Each encumbered character.  +1 Noise.
  • Each large animal traveling with the party.  +1 Noise.
  • Each ranger in the party.  +1 Perception

If a party has a donkey, an encumbered rogue, and a ranger, the party has Noise 4 and Perception 3.  The ranges of the two results on the wandering monster check should change to reflect that.  Ergo:
  • 1-4 = random encounter
  • 5-7 = notice other people
  • 8+ = nothing special.
by Cosimo Galluzzi
Ranger Abilities

Rangers can also track down the people that they notice.  If they want to find them, it takes 1d4(exploding) exploration turns, with each turn requiring you to move in a random direction to follow the trail.  If you find them, you have a 50% chance of surprising them.  If they have a lair here, there is a 50% chance you will find the lair instead of them.  If you find the lair, there is a 50% chance it will be empty.

So that’s an interesting niche, I think.  The ability to manipulate the wandering monster table is a powerful one (although not as exciting as a wizard’s fireball).  Probably more useful than a + to hit, though.

I’m also thinking about other ways rangers can manipulate random encounters.  Possible ideas:
  • Increased chance of terrain advantages.
  • Ability to avoid certain entries on the wandering monster table.  “I want to avoid whatever is leaving all these acid-smooth gouges in the stone.”
  • Ability to seek out certain entries on the wandering monster table.

A lot of almost-TPKs in my games have come from wandering monsters showing up when the party is severely weakened.  Depending on how far I turn the dial, I can imagine a ranger being more helpful for a party’s survival than a cleric.

I like the sound of that.  

by Cosimo Galluzzi


  1. More rules won't make dungeon crawling better. Fewer rules will.

    Fewer rules means faster rooms

    Faster rooms means more frequent chance to pay out in something interesting

    It also means your guys can make more progress in a night at the table

    Holmes probably did dungeoneering the best out of all the common iterations (tho I have not tried 5th).

    Rangers are very hard because there is exactly 1 example of one and he was a Mary Sue. I really like your ideas for Ranger+ but since the ranger is already strong, what do you do to balance it?

    Since I keep things preposterously simple, a ranger would be a fighting man or elf in leather armor with a couple of cool animals in Retainer slots. OTOH Rangers of the North and Bounders (hobbit Ranger-types) are both monster types because monsters get to break the rules.

    Encumbrance... never thought about how to make it interesting. If your players have solved it, then congratulations to them I guess? One of my players would rather shed her plate mail than part with a single copper.

    1. How about less rooms, slower crawl, but more meaningful encounters? Blazing through ten rooms full of goblins, orcs and skeletons sounds like something Darkest Dungeon would have you do - which isn't bad per se, just kinda not the thing I'd expect to be doing at the table with friends.

  2. Maybe rangers and elves give Perception +1 in wilderness

    Dwarves give Perception +1 underground

    Thieves give Perception +1 in cities?

    1. Funny you should frame it that way. In my games, Classes can't be played directly, you have to choose one of three "Ways" in each. My Scout Class has this very distiction... the Scout Way aligned with underground are Dwarfs, the wilderness the Hunter and the city, the Thief. I like symmetry.

  3. I had an idea to think of the ranger more as a grizzled tourist or backpacker.

    Consider giving rangers a skill check like a dwarf's architecture or a wizard's language skills. The most interesting one I've thought of so far is a "Where/what/when did this come from?" check. It would answer things like: where this monster's home territory is, what sort of wandering monsters are potentially in the area, how far is the next village in the wilderness, where is that guys accent from?

    I imagine rangers as a cross between warriors and specialists flavored as tourists, obsessive naturists, or even ultramarathoners with weird encyclopedic geographic knowledge.

    For mechanics have a d6 roll, on a 1-2 lose skill check for rest of day, 3 know incorrect fact, 4 know mostly useless fact, 5 know correct fact, 6 know almost exact fact.

    Maybe its too gimmicky to give out of narrative answers to questions like this but if the skill checks are limited to potential knowledge the character could have learned and must be backed up by a backstory the player is required to invent on the spot it could provide the mechanical impetus of a ranger telling cool stories of their travels.

  4. Interesting idea, but it feels like it could be a bit fiddly recalculating the ranges, depending on how often they are likely to change. An alternative would be to use both ends of the die: Noise starts and 2 and goes up, Perception starts at 19 and goes down. If the group has Noise 4, Perception 18, the result would be more immediately obvious.

  5. A) I don't know about the time and wandering monster checks. While a minute timescale seems logical to our modern heads - I've noticed that in game it leads to confusion - e.g. "but I can totally do x,y and z in less then ten minutes - my character hurries..." Abstracted turns (one turn per move to/through a new area or one turn per use of a skill action, additional search or delay) seems to work better for me and a check every turn for random stuff. If it seems odd ask yourself if the PCs have watches or are even part of a society with a granular enough concept of time to note it by the minute (especially while in a creepy dangerous situation)- this (or the inherent instability of time in the mythic underworld) make a good justification for a more gamified and cleaner mechanic.

    B)Encumbrance is most interesting to me because it forces the players to decide what to carry and so what to have to meet exploration challenges. However, to make that matter there needs to be an actual risk of depletion of player resources (light, food, spikes to shut doors) meaning encumbrance is going to have to limit the number of items. This also makes utility spells (light, create food) useful.

  6. I've actually been playing (5e) with player driven terrain advantages for a little bit, and I'm a fan of it as an 'add on' ability to classes. It also gives a simple mechanical advantage to reward a player for establishing some sort of 'home turf'. Bu honestly my favorite part is that I have time to fish mini's out of the bin while the druid finishes the map for me by placing his trees and shrubs.

  7. Here's what I've been doing for encumbrance:
    If you are encumbered x1/2 move, 1d16 for saves and melee attacks, 1d8 for initiative (normally 1d12 in my games).

    You Noise bump for encumbrance gets a good bit of work done without being as fiddly however.

  8. Maybe break off all the things a Ranger does into discreet chunks.
    Like my Halflings are basically just the animal companion part, with a bit of lotfp Bushcraft thrown in because Halflings.
    Halflings with mind control are the perfect Rangers really. You can even ride your animal!

    I like the Noise + Perception thing. A party of Rangers knows what's up as soon as they walk into a place.

  9. Noise works kind of like group stealth then? What about when you've already detected a hostile, does it still function like that?

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  11. I kind of feel like the only thing that can make encumbrance interesting is your players. If they like that kind of bookkeeping, it will be interesting to them. If not, it will be tedious no matter what you do.

  12. I think Gus L is onto something (point B). Encumbrance doesn't have to show up in play to have an impact. The decisions made to avoid being over encumbered are impact on their own.
    Like dying, it's a sort of fail state. The whole game revolves around not dying, but the actual mechanics of PC death don't show up in most sessions.

    Stephen McAndrews raises good points too. Rangers are pretty contrived. Like the barbarian, the class exists to emulate one specific character. Break with whatever Ranger cliches you want. Make a character to fill a mechanical role or a thematic one, not to meet expectations.

  13. This is a great post, which I'm only reading it now. Love the idea of class specific powers that monkey with the encounter die.