Monday, April 23, 2012

Looking for Orcs in All the Wrong Places

I've been thinking about wilderness procedures and the issue around the 15 minute wilderness day.  Here's the quick recap if you didn't read the other post:  wilderness encounters tend to be infrequent, often days apart, so powerful groups can "go nova" and destroy the encounters by blowing all their Vancian magic and then rest, very similar to the 15-minute adventuring day.  It's especially problematic if the wilderness encounters are "balanced for level".

With that in mind, a simple approach is to use wilderness charts where "anything goes" similar to what you see in AD&D.  It doesn’t avoid the 15 minute wilderness day per se, but does lead to encounters where even a veteran group is going to have to think quickly and do something other than wade in swinging each time.  For example, the AD&D wilderness encounter for orcs is 30-300.  (-C posted examples at his place how those original wilderness tables could lead to some challenging encounters:  The wild wilderness).

What about this idea I have that wilderness encounters are spaced too far apart, always allowing rest and recovery?

I decided to step through the travel procedures for a few of the D&D versions I use to see how the systems differ.  There are striking differences.  For purposes of the examples, let's say the group is traversing a large forest - a trip of 30 miles, which should take a few days.  I tend to use 6 mile hexes, a BX standard.  The group is hoping to run into some orcs while they cross, so I included the default chance of meeting orcs using just the standard tables, too.

In AD&D, a group can move through a forest at 10 miles a day, so it will take 3 days to cross.  In AD&D, there are 6 encounter checks per day, but each check is only a 1 in 10 (assuming this is the wilds).

Math isn't a strong suit for me, but I'm thinking that 6 checks at 10% gives a 47% chance each day of at least one encounter happening - so the group should meet something every other day.  More specifically, there's a 35% chance of one encounter, 10% of two, and 1% or lower of 3 or more encounters.  But this something that's important - an unlucky group in AD&D could run into a string of encounters each day of travel!

The other thing about AD&D is the chance of getting lost per day is 70%.  That's massive.  Without a guide or following a river or trail, the AD&D party will take longer than 3 days to make it across the forest.

The chance of actually running into some orcs using the standard tables is low - only 5% for meeting humanoids, and then a 20% of rolling orcs on the humanoid table, seems to be 1% or so.  Gah, I wish I paid attention in statistics.  You'd think a gamer should know probability.

Our BX party moves 12 miles a day through the forest (fairly close to the AD&D rate).  They should clear the forest in 2.5 days, assuming they don't get lost like the AD&D group.  The chance of getting lost in BX without a trail or guide is 33% per day, so they have a much better chance at clearing the forest quickly.  There's only one encounter roll per day, and it's a simple 33% chance.  I think that means a 55% chance of an encounter every two days or so - so the group has a good chance of making it through without a single encounter, and there's no multiple encounters a day unless the DM house rules it.

The chance of actually meeting orcs is also pretty low - 1/8 followed by 1/12 (compared to AD&D's 1/20 followed by 1/5).

ACKS is influenced heavily by the BX style of D&D with refinements; it uses uses a 33% encounter chance for forest, just like BX.  However, the encounter chance is rolled per hex, not per day; our party travels 12 miles a day, clearing 2 hexes, so there's two encounter chances a day - a 55% chance of at least one encounter each day, and a slim chance of two encounters per day (also making the "15 minutes wilderness day" a risky proposition).  ACKS using the same chance of running into orcs as BX - 1/8 and then 1/12.  The ACKS procedures for getting lost are a bit different, since ACKS has a lightweight proficiency system; the default chance in woods is around 30%, fairly similar to its BX roots, but having a woodsman with navigator proficiency knocks it down to 10% chance of getting lost.

The Orc Encounter
How about if the group actually does meet some orcs in the forest?  How many is the group meeting?

In AD&D, the Monster Manual calls for 30-300 orcs (3d10 x10, I'm guessing) putting an average number somewhere near 165.  There's a 35% chance they're in the lair, which means there would be females, young, and various lair monsters there, too.

A BX wilderness encounter with orcs is only 10-60 (1d6 x10) - an average of 35 - and no differentiation between a lair or not.  In ACKS, the monster encounters express a hierarchy between dungeon encounters and dungeon lairs, and wilderness encounters and lairs.  The smallest orc unit is a gang (2d4 members, average of 5) and a wilderness encounter is a war band of 2d6 gangs (lets say 7 gangs, meaning around 35 orcs).  This is right in line with BX.  However, ACKS went back to including "percent in lair" language like the original monster manual, so the orcs are 35% in lair like in AD&D; this bumps the number up to include 1d10 war bands in the lair, making an ACKS orc lair encounter at around 190 orcs.  The ACKS lair encounter also includes the females, young, and lair monsters like AD&D.

Hope this brief survey is interesting to people - it was useful for me.  Going back to my original "problem", the 15 minute adventuring day, here are my conclusions:

The default wilderness tables in AD&D (and the ACKS clone) are plenty dangerous, but the humanoid encounters in the BX tables likely won't challenge a mid-level party.  In addition, the encounter frequency in BX supports a single encounter a day, unless the DM house rules something like "blood in the water" where a loud combat encounter triggers another check.  On the other hand, both ACKS and AD&D provide the chance for multiple encounters per day, dialing up the risk and challenging the 15 minute wilderness day.

It's clear the situations I noticed the 15 minute wilderness day happened because I was using straight BX encounter chances as written, or running The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, where wilderness encounters are intentionally paced far enough apart to allow players to go nova without a risk.  Running the wilderness AD&D or ACKS style should eliminate the issue.

Here's a follow up question - if you play AD&D, how closely do you adhere to the AD&D rules on getting lost?  70% chance of getting lost per hex seems to imply a significant amount of backtracking and remapping!

One tool that's been very successful for me was coming up with aids to help me identify the local terrain and what the party is doing at the moment an encounter occurs - some tables I put together back in December get frequent use during our hex crawls:  Too Busy Looking at the Map to Notice the Monsters.


  1. "...if you play AD&D, how closely do you adhere to the AD&D rules on getting lost?"

    I don't adhere at all closely to the AD&D rules on anything. But I do use almost every AD&D rule when it suits me. So, in the case of the rules on getting lost, I use them unless I don't want the party to get lost.

  2. Here's an take on "hex crawls" from a while back:

    It's an interesting way of using a flow-chart to wilderness exploration. It does only provide a single encounter per day, but it would be easy enough to add and entry (i.e., # of encounters) to each "cell" of the flow-chart.

    Personally, as someone who has done a decent amount of wilderness hiking and orienteering, a 70% chance of getting lost seems about right. That assumes a crude map and no trails. With a ranger, make it 25%. Without either, I'd say the odds of your average Joe getting lost is more like 100%. That doesn't mean walking in the opposite direction. More like veering off 30 degrees in the wrong direction, overshooting, etc.

    1. A while back? No kidding - Ode to Black Dougal was before my day in the blogosphere! That is an awesome procedure though, I really like how it mirrors the dungeon stocking tables - it'd work great for jaunts to and from a dungeon and fits a one-page-dungeon theme.

  3. Interesting breakdown. Oddly enough, I was working on encounter tables for my sandbox when I read this. It's given me a lot to think about.

  4. What's interesting to me is how knowing the "get lost % chance" or the frequency of encounters will cause adjustments in how players approach the wilds.

    If the players know it's 70% likely to get lost (AD&D style), they'll place greater stock in using maps, following trails or streams, or hiring guides.

    The lower chance of getting lost in BX or ACKS encourages blindly plunging off into the hex crawl and counting on going where you want.

    Understanding that there's a chance for multiple encounters per day has to change how players handle resource management.

  5. HOLY MOLEY, awesome charts. I will be stealing these and printing them out at work to go into the gaming folder.