Sandbox adventures have been hugely commented lately upon various blogs, as the distinction between site-based and event-based adventures, two connected topics. On a side or spin-off direction, I want to share the Lair and Tribe logics here.

It begins really easy with the few numbers you find in your standard old school Monster Manual. Do you see this Number Appearing line on the picture above? It's about this. I wonder if many Dungeon Masters have actually used this number ever, and the long sections detailing humanoid monsters lairs, allies and structure of power. Surprisingly, most humanoid entries of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons include such details, appropriate to the most absurd figures dungeon-wise. Who can throw 300 orcs in a dungeon? Wouldn't the dungeon become a Bara-Dur fortress of sorts if we did?

I can think of 1 or 2 officially published adventures at least that did : the U3 module, The Final Enemy, the A2 maybe, Secrets of the Slaver's Stockade in a more devious way.

Most adventures make an extensive use of this Number Appearing logic, but they do it in a nutshell: a few gnolls here and there, some goblins — are they many enough to pour a shaman and a chieftain in? Cool. I can think of none who purposely used it in order to create and shape the adventure.

Well, I did. I rolled an orcish tribe and rolled about 250 orcs, discovering two « effects » as I did. Here they are:

1. The Domino Effect

The Monster Manual says orcs must have a strong leader, telling me there's maybe a wizard or an evil priest. Let's put that question aside for the moment, but keep it in mind. For about 250 orcs, I have 8 leaders and 24 assistants. I add flavor here and, inspiring myself upon the Lord of the Rings and my old Sword & Sorcery SPI wargame, I decide that these stockier, more powerful orcs all belong to a special sub-race : white orcs. In Swords & Sorcery, white orcs are followers of the Czar. Hey, why not?! I also get 21 bodyguards, fiercer orcs, cadets of the crown maybe — do they have an uniform? —, and I'm hinted at adding a few ogres. I do, of course. Now, going to the ogre section, I find that ogres often ally with gnoll raiders, trolls and stone giants. Okay, there's gnoll raiders too, then, and maybe a troll or two. Looking at the gnoll entry, I'm told that gnolls follow evil priests. That solves my first question, the tribe leader is an evil priest. The gnolls are also allied with trolls (I have them already) and a few hyenas. Great, I now have a kennel.

This is the domino effect: my dungeon is now stocked with standard orcs, white Czarist orcs, ogres, gnoll raiders, trolls and hyenas, all under the power and command of an evil priest. Since half-orcs are described under the orc entry as well, I add some, giving them character class levels, as lieutenants of the evil priest.

2. The « Stocking First » Effect

The monster section actually says a lot more: it says that orcish lairs might be above ground or underground. I roll, and get underground, which is nice because the same section tells me how good they are at mining and underground constructions. Orcish tribes also sport a name. Mine being led by an evil priest and Czarist orcs, I choose the Vile Rune, a name that tells of northern wastes, ancient primitive religion and evil. Under the gnoll section, I find that gnolls often live in abandoned villages. So here I am, in an underground mining lair with many slaves close to an abandoned village. Since there's a priest, there's a temple too, hidden inside, all bowing to the power of the orcish Czar.

Take a closer look: I have an adventure, fully-fleshed here. It's about freeing slaves, beginning in slavery maybe? It rings an Indiana Jone's Temple of Doom sort of bell in a Russian-like setting. I now need a god about which the evil priest's cult revolves, and so on... Are the player characters hired by the orcish revolution? Knights fighting the evil cult? Mercenaries of a border kingdom threatened by the Vile Rune?


  1. Very nice. I use to obsess over those sort of connections as a kid.

    True story: once upon a time my DM rolled Gnolls as wandering monsters. He used the 20-200 figure and we ended up being ambushed by over a hundred of the bastiches.

  2. And now I'm wondering whether I should write it down in detail or just leave the idea as it is... What if the slaves were orcs as well? Maybe including the youth & female ratio I find in the Monster Manual. What is the abandoned village like? Can't I find a table or something akin in the DMG? Now, talking about cults, do you remember those charts you got at the end of the Deities & Demigods with sacrificial days and the like? There must be a way to turn all this in a great adventure... Your true story is hilarious by the way. Did you survive that?

  3. Yeah, it's always fun when you roll for wandering monsters and the PCs end up running into a literal army (in my most recent case, a reserve force of 200+ goblins with worg cavalry). In this case it actually fit my burgeoning sorta-plot--clearly this is evidence that the Caves of Chaos are a staging area to sweep down upon the realms of Men!

  4. True! The Caves of Chaos are using a lot these mechanics too, how could I forget?! And oh, yes, the keep wouldn't stand long against them should they find a way to get united.

  5. Great post. Monster description in the books often go into motivations: food requirements, natural enemies, preferred terrain, other challenges. Use this info to create conflicts.

    In the way you did, it's also fuin reverse engineering the treasure results. Where'd they get that treasure from? What do they do with it? Why do they carry it around? Or do they carry it around? For special results, such as chance for magic, who gets to keep and look after that magic?

  6. I've juts done it yesterday and have been typing the result here along the first message. Here it is :http://kaiserkabuki.blogspot.com/2010/03/in-lair-2-filling-blanks.html

    I now get too many adventure options, but for a lair that big, it doesn't seem too much to me, but I need to keep a good track of all these.

    The more I go ahead with that, the more it looks like Bara-Dur and Castle Zagyg mingled together. I wonder if what I explore in these two topics isn't core in explaining how adventures like Castle Zagyg might be built from this random ecology base-to-top system.

  7. Welcome to D&D's version of a pyramid scheme. Depending on how the evil leader portion goes, it could even lead into a recurring plot device. All from a lowly orc.

  8. Great post. I love examples of the world shaping the sorts of events that occur in it. It lends a consistency and a suspension of disbelief that the DM-as-demiurge doesn't.

  9. All from a lowly orc indeed...

    I actually like three things in this logic:

    1. It generates a dungeon crafting tool without any extra support nor mechanism, just by using what we already have in our hands.

    2. It is built from a seeming of ecology. Of course that helps the suspension of disbelief.

    3. It gives the DM sort of a grooming function instead of the usual Jadawin complex. This pushes him/her back almost as much as the sandbox-themed shuttle universes.

    Looking at it this way gets us to an invaluable conclusion: a Dungeon IS a shuttle universe on its own. More to come with In Lair 2, 3, 4 ,5 and the maps.

  10. Hello, nice blog.

    A lot of what happens is consequences, and using causality to shape your setting is the way to go when you aim for coherence.

    The fact that the player characters can encounter a whole army of orcs means they need to pay attention and keep some degree of humility regarding the events. Gathering intel before engaging is a priority in this kind of game.
    Your post reminds me of an article by Gary Gygax in an old issue of Dungeon or Dragon a few years back. Gygax pointed out that in olden times, encounters were not tailored to the player characters' level and number the way they became in 3rd edition. If there were too many orcs, the sensible choice might have been to retreat. It adds a layer of tactical choices which misses with "tailored encounters" where the orcs show up in groups designed to be defeated.

    Also, where does your reference to Jadawin come from in your comment Kaiser? Are you also a fan of Philip José Farmer's World of Tiers or does it come from somewhere else?

  11. This would involve a bit of the same logic indeed. That's where the sandbox hides in this whole investigating post, because you don't bother about what would challenge the PCs, you bother about defining your site through its dwellers. This kind of play thrives upon player's creativity and wits. And yes, Jadawin is from P.J. Farmer, of course!

  12. Ok, then as the president of the Faiseurs d'univers (Makers of universes, French nonprofit association of fans of the World of Tiers), I hereby declare that this is a worthy blog! ^^