Sunday, May 26, 2013

Monster Territories (Proof of Concept)

How much space does a monster need to live from it's surroundings? What use is in knowing? I guess that depends on a DM's approach to the game. You might have a number of hexes with some features and a Random Encounter Table and that's all you need to know. And that's totally fine. What I need for an encounter to make it work, though, is enough subtext to avoid arbitrary decisions. Ideally, encountering something produces a believable background to explain it in the context. Or, to put it less abstract, if you encounter a dire bear, it's behaviour depends strongly on it's individual situation at that moment. The season, is it hungry or in it's territory, does it struggle with other predators in the area, etc.. If the encounter happens because of a Random Encounter roll, I'd be bound to forget taking those things into account. So in order to make it a deeper experience for my players, I need a different way of establishing encounters, without slowing down the process.

Something's in the area...

It still starts with the chance to encounter something. But as soon, as an encounter occurs, it does not mean the players stumble upon it. It just means the players get the chance to realize something is around. This kicks of a scenario and every additional roll should specify it further. An example:
  • The group travels in a forest. The dice indicate a dire bear near them.
  • Next I'd roll on the Random Encounter Status Table (download is here) to see what the bear is up to and if he is aware of the group.
  • For the players I'd describe the area now, giving some hints what might be around. If the bear is in his territory, they might find some markings on a tree or something like that. If not, it could be some distant noises or a flock of surprised birds.
  • If the bear is aware of them, he might engage them or avoid them depending on the result of the Status Table. 
  • If he's not aware of them, Id go and use this idea to get some indications how possible it is to get noticed from that point on.
  • If the goup travels cautious, they might be able to avoid the encounter entirely.
  • If they gather informations, they might find out that the bear is around. A ranger (or someone with some knowledge about animals) might even find out what the bear is up to.
  • And finally, if the groups meets the bear, I'd use this concept to describe the scene and go from there.

With all that I'm able to simulate the players surroundings almost without arbitrary decisions, giving the travel experience some depth in the process. But there is still something missing. Not necessarily for the players, but as a DM I'd like to have some consistency in an area. Like, for example, what happens to the areas power structure if the players decide the hide of that bear would make a nice trophy or is worth enough money to attack the bear. For that, the informations at hand could use some further exploration.

The bear is not alone, is he?

Every Random Encounter Table shows what lives in an area. But I'd go beyond that and assume that a Random Encounter Table states what coexists or even struggles for dominance in an area. This is mainly interesting, because it leaves more traces for the players to discover or informations to gather before they travel somewhere. Even if they are out to search a specific location, those territorial struggles/specifics might give indications if they are on the right track (so they could find out that some ruins are near a dire bears hunting grounds, for example).

A DM could invent those connections on the fly, but I'd like to see if it is possible to generate this kind of consistent content as random as possible without producing to many subsystems and just by interpreting the available data (that is: monster stats and area description).

It would help to have some numbers for the size of a monsters territory, I guess. Let's see:

HD indicate size of territory (this is a test...)

An easy solution (propably) to achieve this would be to correlate the size of the territory to a creatures HD, modifying it by size, speed, season and area. I'd propose something like this:

Maybe too much?
Again, those are just pregame assumptions to estimate the influence a creature or a group of creatures might have on an area. Let's take the Dire Bear in the example. It's a 12 HD large quadruped, so he'd consider a 9.000 m radius around his home base as his territory. This means his territory is round about 254.5 square kilometers, which equals the size of Honolulu* and that sounds about right for such a big creature.

I'd go and say the numbers indicate a maximum (if you'd want to go the extra mile, the actual size of a territory in a given season is 1d80+20 %). Just check out this study about tracked movement and territories of grizzly bears to see what I'm aiming for.

I need to give this a test drive. It sure got a bit more complex than I was aiming for. But it should be interesting to see what a (more or less) realistic approach like this would mean for a setting. But that's for another post.

Feedback would be very welcome, of course!

*The Measure of Things is an awesome site I discovered doing research for this post. It's "a search engine for finding comparative or relative measurements of physical quantities". Very usefull for a DM preparing a setting (or people with strange minds like mine...).


  1. Very interesting - thanks for pointing this out Jens!

    I very much like the idea of using HD as a handy guide to territory. But some things might get out of hand. At the moment, a Goblin tribe of 60x1HD (plus a few higher-ups as bodyguards and King) should control a territory ... more than 100km across? That might do for an area that the Goblins could raid, maybe rather than control directly. But the idea I think is sound if you can find some kind of conversion factor.

    1. 100 kms? Your math is way of ... With groups you just add the meters per individual before you multiply (I have to admit, it's in the fine print, under 5). Which means your 60 1 HD goblins (a 4 HD chief would add 16 meters to that, 10 tough with 2 HD each would add another 40 meters, etc.) would need a 120 meter radius or 31.416 square meters (which is roughly the size of The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in Washington, D.C.),assuming that it's spring or summer and they live in an area enough resources to survive (like a forest). They won't be far from their caves, but they don't need to be.

      Make that a mountain in winter and you got a totally different animal, with the goblins covering 1.628.601 square meters (roughly 1,5 sq km, original estimation 120 meters, times 3 for being in winter and times 2 for being in mountains, which ends up being 720 m radius or an area of (720 x 720) x Pi sq m). This would be when they come out of the mountains to raid villages ...

      I know it's rough, but it should work to get some data to work with.


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