Very large random encounters

I’m curious to hear how GMs are running random encounters, specifically with respect to the number of monsters that should be encountered if one follows the rulebook.

It feels like any encounter, even not within a lair, sees the PCs meeting a LOT of enemies. For example, a meeting in the woods with a Kobold random encounter sees the PCs meeting a warband, which is 1d6 gangs, with gangs being 4d4 creatures. That leads to an average of about 35 kobolds unless my maths has failed me. That’s a lot of kobolds.

Have I misread the rules? Where are those encounters with a small group of kobolds that happen to be scouting the woods? How are you running your games?

This has been answered before, but my search-fu is weak so I wasn’t able to find a link to the original post.

The gist is that, flavor wise, it’s dangerous out in the wilderness, so even the lowly beastmen have to group together in order to have a chance of safety.

In terms of game mechanics: wilderness exploration is typically the purview of mid-level characters. Keep in mind that it’s relatively easy for smaller groups to run from bigger groups, so low level parties that only travel among civilized and borderlands regions will remain relatively safe and won’t constantly be running for their lives due to encounters only being rolled once per month or per week. Even among the wilderness, if the region is “settled” (that is to say, it’s part of an active domain) you would only roll once per day. It’s not until you are completely beyond the reach of any kind of human or demihuman presence that you start rolling every 6 miles.

I believe another common response is that encountering 35 (or 96) kobolds doesn’t mean you stumble across all of them at once. You might meet scouts or outliers, spoor or victims, …

Just like innocent dungeon inhabitants who are unlucky enough to roll ‘adventuring party’ on their random tables might run across an exploring thief or the barbarian who lingered one room behind to loot.

It makes sense in context with Domains at War. In DaW, a platoon of infantry is 30 soldiers and a platoon of cavalry is 15 mounted soldiers. Beastmen and brigands travel the wilderness in infantry-platoon-sized groups. Five PCs, each with two henchmen, all mounted on warhorses, is a cavalry-platoon-sized group. Two 1st level henchmen and 3 light warhorses cost a total of 575gp, and 80% of XP are supposed to come from treasure, so any adventuring party of 2nd level of higher should be a platoon and therefore on par with the typical beastman/brigand wilderness encounter.

For a small PC party I would be comfortable making a meta-game decision and breaking a warband down into it’s constituent gangs. So they’re not necessarily all walking around in formation, even if they’re all in the same general area. Maybe the smallest gang are the scouts or vanguard, and the rest are following after, or back in camp.

Although as soon as I got the above down, I could see that making encounters more deadly in some cases. If the party thinks they can take the first group they see, and the rest are in hailing distance, that gets tricky too.

It’s also less of a problem than it might appear on the surface. Yes, a first level party meeting 35 Kobolds is in very serious trouble, but what on earth are 1st level PCs doing wandering in the Wilderness anyway? Especially as it could have just as easily been Gnolls or Manticores!

As others have mentioned, it’s quite likely that a large group not in its lair will also be encountered over a number of rounds, and not all able to attack the party immediately.

However, even by the time the PCs reach 2nd level, they are far more deadly than an equivalent party in other versions of the game, in particular due to Cleave and Fighter-type damage bonuses. By the time they are 3rd and 4th level, they are capable of taking on (barring stupidity or abysmal luck) far larger groups of monsters with ~1 HD.

Some other equalizers a lower-level party needs to consider are, in no particular order:

Henchmen (even 0th Level Henchman make a big difference in a large combat, particularly if they can get in a couple ranged shots or attack from the second rank with…)

Spears (for attacking from the second rank; obviously more useful if you can limit your frontage)

Ranged attacks (as many as possible before closing; while monsters can use these as well, a lot of low level monsters have shorter ranged missile weapons)

War Dogs (for 75gp you get a close equivalent of a 2nd level Fighter; remember that War Dogs can Cleave, twice!)

Sleep (the tactical nuke of low-level spells, though of course not every low-level party has access to it)

Magic Items (items like Wands of Fear or Paralyzation, scrolls of spells such as Web, Fear, and of course Sleep)

Military Oil (when in doubt, burn it out; particularly deadly in a prepared ambush)

Surprise (a party who gains Surprise has a huge advantage in an ambush, but they can also hide and avoid an encounter entirely)

Morale (monsters are subject to it, and will often break long before they are wiped out)

Running (a party needs to be able to assess what their potential chances are, and whether or not it’s even worth hanging around to fight. The chances of a party Evading a much larger group in the Wilderness are actually pretty good, making running from 35 Kobolds a viable option)

Beyond all of the above, it’s important to keep in mind that just because the party encounters 35 Kobolds (or what have you) in the Wilderness doesn’t mean the Kobolds are interested in a fight! Philosophically speaking, they likely no more want to die than the PCs do. This is what Reaction Rolls are for, and a hugely overpowering group might merely demand tribute for safe passage.


I see you are suggesting that random encounters are once month for civilised, once per week for borderlands and once per day for wilderness. I can’t find anything in the rules that refers to civilised and borderlands random encounter frequency. Could you tell me where you find that?

(Sorry for the threadomancy)

The reference is oblique, but look in on page 141 under Populating the Dungeon. This seems to be directly contradicted by the procedure for rolling for Wandering Monsters in the Wilderness on page 244, but there’s a thread around here somewhere (awkward to check from my phone) suggesting that the former is the actual intent.

Either way, Wilderness travel is lethal for low-level groups.

It’s spread in a couple different places. The thread where Alex drags it together is here:

Parts of that are from pg 141, under Populating A Dungeon.

Essentially what it boils down to is that the random encounter chances arise from the natural tendencies of monsters to seek dungeons to lair in, and the frequency of that chance depends on the type of hex.