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I'm picking on troglodytes as an example. In MMI, the number of troglodytes appearing in their lair(cave system/dungeon) is 10-100. Troglodytes are a nice, not-too-tough, HD2 monster with some interesting abilities that should be good for a party of 2nd and 3rd level characters. But 10-100 is just too many troglodytes. It turns into a hack-n-slash with a good chance of high party mortality. Especially with a smaller party ( 4 or 5 PCs). Reading the monster description, 10-100 seems like a good realistic number based on their social structure, but it's still too many for my party.

How do you reduce this number and still tell a good story with 'real' troglodytes in it?

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Wow! What an amazing bunch of answers! If I had to do it on my own, I could not pick one to accept. Thank goodness for the voting system; it lets me fall back on 'accept the one with the most votes' when I can't decide. – Stewbob Oct 22 '10 at 13:13
up vote 13 down vote accepted

There are a few ways to deal with this:

  1. Give the players sufficient warning before stumbling upon the main Trogs encampment. Perhaps a patrol, or guard post, will give the players indications a larger lair is ahead. If they happily skip in then, let the dice fall where they may. Remember, earlier editions of D&D are not as forgiving as later editions....and it's not that hard to roll up another low level party that will (hopefully) be wiser than the first one!

  2. An intelligent group of players, when seeing that a trog lair is ahead, should be smart enough to scout out the lair. They don't have to face it head on; setting traps, ambushes, raiding the lair and then retreating, etc are all viable tactics. Use of fire can be very helpful, as will missile weapons. Hit and run tactics could prevail against a superior yet not very intelligent foe like trogs.

  3. Reduce the amount (obviously). Perhaps this is a splinter tribe off a larger tribe a few miles away, this has the added effect of helping the players prepare and gain experience (and knowledge) before tackling the main tribe. Maybe the tribe has already been attacked by another (now deceased) group of adventurers that did some damage before they perished, knocking the 50 tribe members down to 25 (or whatever number seems sufficient). Add to the atmosphere by having the players find the first adventuring party's bodies and equipment here and there in the lair (perhaps one or two are still alive to assist the party if they can release them from captivity).

  4. Maybe some extras sign on for the assault. The local town council, duke, or priesthood can supply the party with some help because the trog tribe has become a menace. A half dozen men at arms firing flaming arrows, a duo of priests for healing or spell casting (Hold Person does work on Trogs), a mage with Web and/or Stinking Cloud spells, or a combination of all the above. For added intrigue perhaps one of the hired or supplied men has a secret reason for wanting in the Trog lair, be it a treasure he/she has to acquire, or some bit of information they need in the form of a old map or book.

Note: Any group of low level humanoid creatures (like kobolds, orcs, lizardmen, etc) can be substituted for "trogs" here, obviously!

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+1 For "it's not that hard to roll up another low level party"! – SevenSidedDie Oct 21 '10 at 17:02

I hear you, but don't forget, this is in their lair. All creatures should be nastier on their home ground, where there are more of them, better organised, prepared, watchful and knowledgable about the territory, than when a couple are encountered in the wild.

I want my players to be wary of going into lairs. I want them to go "the scroll says that the rod of macguffin is in the leader's chest in trogsville. now we killed eight trogs last week, but there's no way I'm going into trogsville without a lot of preparation". They may want to tool up, hire some muscle, acquire some extra single-shot magic, or other things may occur to them; hopefully they'll enjoy thinking about the challenge, and each of these can make for great role-play, and some good plot hooks.

So if you want lairs, try less powerful monsters. Kobolds, the famous "speed bumps", are a different thing when 40-400 of them are in the cave system under Old Oak Hill. Several of the other suggestions above seem like good ones to me, too.

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Good point...invading a monster's home ground (lair) should be an endeavor not to be taken lightly....preparation is key here. As I said in my reply, if they choose to go into this encounter without thinking it out properly, they are probably going to get just what they deserve....unmarked graves! – Badmike Oct 21 '10 at 16:17
Thanks for the link to SpeakWithMonsters. Haven't laughed that hard in a long time! – Stewbob Oct 22 '10 at 13:14

It is highly unlikely a party would stumble on the lair only to be overwhelmed by dozens of troglodytes. Well before they reach the lair there would be signs of inhabitants along with chance encounters with patrols, hunting and gathering groups. There should be plenty of warning for the party to take it slow and careful. Or to avoid the main lair altogether.

You have to remember that as a referee you are simulating an entire world for the players. The problem is always what level of detail are you going to do this? Some just gloss it over and dive into encounters and locales, while other referee go blow by blow through the adventurer's day.

Most referees find a typical level at which they are comfortable with but remember not all activities require the same of level. For example if the players are engaged in magical research, I have week zip by with only one or two things happening that is roleplayed. However when the players are in the forest of orcs (or troglodytes) I sometime describe things on a hourly basis. At this time scale they would notice the aforementioned signs of habitation, groups and patrols.

The key to figuring this out is imagining yourself there doing whatever the adventurers are doing. Say to yourself what would they see, what are they doing, is there danger involved. The answers to these questions will allow you to make the best call for the situation.

As for the encounter itself I am a referee that lets the dice fall however it goes. However if they come up with a legit plan generally I assume that it will work given good rolls. That if they are smart enough to account for bad luck (i.e. bad rolls) I go with that as well. I don't try to nitpick the details and look for ways to screw them over. However they go in half cocked and die so be it.

But given that they are only seeing the world through what I say,

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I'm including my answer as a comment to this one, because it's basicaly the same answer with a technique: Roll the 10-100 trogs, and then divide the number up into groups. let's say you get 60. Put 20 of them into 4 groups of 5 (patrollers), 30 more into 3 groups of 10 (barracks, temple room, great hall) and 10 in the chieftains chamber. Collectively- those encounters are the lair. – Peter Seckler Dec 7 '10 at 13:49

One possible answer is to consider resources: a lair of 10 monsters will have different resource requirements (and therefore area requirements) than 100. If the party is facing 100 monsters, significant numbers should be engaged in resource-gathering activities, tilling mushroom fields, hunting cave beasts, etc...

Of course, if the party happens on the lair in the middle of the winter water festival... perhaps they should have scouted, first?

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They're not meant to fight them all. Should the players decide on that sort of foolish enterprise at a low level, shrug, continue, and make their characters' inevitable deaths at least entertaining. Then ask them what in the name of Gygax where they thinking?!

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Totally agreed. This concept of "any nest of monsters should be of appropriate level for my PCs to wipe out" is profoundly demented and is CERTAINLY not what 1e is about. – mxyzplk Oct 22 '10 at 1:17

Take a look at the One Bad Egg (later sold to Highmoon Games) product, Hardboiled Armies. This supplement explains a way to use normal creatures at a different scale (of number and time) to simulate gangs and armies. You basically just use normal combat rules then. It works well in play.

While this product was written for D&D 4E, its ideas apply fairly well to all versions of D&D.

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Option 1: subgroups. The encounter is that they spot the tribe as a whole. Don't bother with surprise, just presume they got it.

Check for surprise the following turn for the patrol of 4-5 trogs at much closer range.

Option 2: Outcasts. a small, unsupported group, either survivors of attacks by others, or outcasts from a larger surviving group, are away from the horde. They're it.

Option 3: Patrol with backup similar to subgroups... the encounter is with a patrol, but the party is unaware of the larger tribal encounter. If the patrol has escaping survivors, another patrol or two will arrive.

Option 4: Change it. Need to change it for your game, do so.

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To add to many other good answers, remember that inhabitants of a lair are not guaranteed to be fighters. Differently from a patrol unit, in a lair of social animals you will likely have children, mothers, elders and other ordinary non-fighting subjects.

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Although it's true that there will be many non-combatants, the MM numbers are explicitly just the lair's basic fighting force. The monster entry will detail how many non-combat residents to add to the lair based on the number of combatants. For example, the Troglodyte entry instructs the DM to add female trogs equal to 100% of the combatants, as well as extra, tougher trogs depending on how many "basic" trogs were rolled up in that 10-100 statistic. – SevenSidedDie Oct 21 '10 at 19:11
Even if the full total of troglodytes rolled are combatants, does it necessarily follow that all 100 are eager to spit themselves on the party's swords? I'd figure that after this quarter of humans and demi-humans wades through 50 of their number, turning the cavern into a swamp of blood, the other 50 have got to start thinking that maybe they should just move out. – Matt Sheridan Oct 22 '10 at 13:14
@Matt Yes! I forgot that point, but it's something that new AD&D GMs always miss: use the morale rules! Eveything about the combat system and monster stats assumes that monsters (and PCs) will likely run away instead of fighting to the death, given an escape opportunity. – SevenSidedDie Oct 24 '10 at 22:50
@Matt: Agreed. Definitely, you should do a morale check in such situation. – Stefano Borini Oct 24 '10 at 23:06

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