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We are currently playing the original module Keep on the Borderlands. The module has pretty clear instructions about removing any humanoid that is killed in the Caves of Chaos from future encounters:

When monsters are cleared out of an area, the place will be deserted for 1-4 weeks. If no further intrusion is made into the area, however, the surviving former inhabitants will return or else some other monster will move in. For instance, a thoul might move into the minotaur’s cave complex (I.), bringing with him whatever treasure he has.

And, for the individual lairs, here for example Kobolds, Orcs, and Goblins:

DM Note: Kobold losses will not be replaced, though injured kobolds will heal.
DM Note: Orc losses cannot be replaced, but after an initial attack by adventurers, the males at location 10. will move four of their number into area 9., arm these orcs with crossbows, and lay an ambush for intruders
DM Note: Goblin losses cannot be replaced. If they are being soundly defeated by intruders, the goblins will attempt to hide or flee east

Now, the goblin lair also has a wandering goblin encounter:

The passageways here are very busy, and for every 10’ distance covered by the party there is a 1 in 6 chance that they will encounter a group of goblins (see below) Check each time the party travels 30’ (a 3 in 6 chance) until wandering goblins are encountered, then check no further. When an encounter occurs, the entire bunch of goblins will attack and cry out an alarm (Bree-Yark!) at the same time. Wandering goblins are in addition to those found in numbered areas.

Wandering Goblins: 6 males (AC 6, HD l-l, hp 3 each, #AT I, D 1-6, MV (20’), Save NM, ML 7). Each will have d6 silver pieces. (They are patrolling and carrying messages back and forth. The group will also be carrying several bags (d6) of fairly good foodstuffs - not worth much, but quite suitable for human fare.)

Because of the "then check no further" I think there is but one single such group, that, when defeated will not re-occur. However, the entire wilderness area around the Caves of Chaos also can lead to encounters:

Nothing will bother the party when camped outdoors, unless they are within six squares of a numbered encounter area. [...] Treat otherwise as a normal encounter.

No details for these encounters are given, so I made up my own encounter tables based on the types of creatures found in the caves. However, should monsters encountered in these encounters also be removed from the limited contingent of monsters in the caves?

So far I treated it as the goblin patrols in the goblin warrens being one single group that is not regenerated (and forming a new one from the remaining goblins to go foraging), but the wilderness encounters as unlimited, based on the idea that these monsters are scouring around in the woods in multiple groups, and those are in addition to the ones in the caves.

(My players, who made the mistake to several times camp out to close to the caves at night and had ambush encounters, have started to question the amount of humanoids issuing from those caves...)

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Monsters are drawn from the Caves and not replaced

Your quote about the wilderness encounters truncates the relevant part. It says (emphasis mine):

Nothing will bother the party when camped outdoors, unless they are within six squares of a numbered encounter area. For each square they are within the six square range there is a 1 in 6 chance that the monsters there will seek them[...] Treat otherwise as a normal encounter.

This makes it clear that the monsters are being drawn from among those that inhabit the numbered square.

Your notes about the kobold, orc, and goblin losses are correct, but keep reading (emphases mine):

As usual, hobgoblin losses cannot be replaced during the course of normal play, which is a period of only several days or weeks of action.

There are 2 bugbears out hunting, and they will return with a human corpse and 83 gold pieces the day after adventurers first enter the bugbear lair.

These later notes add context to the first ones. Within the expected time scale of the module, only the bugbears are expected to have reinforcements arrive.

Thus, wandering encounters near the Caves are drawn from the Cave inhabitants, and if they are slain, they should be removed from the Cave rosters and not replaced - at least over the course of several days. If it takes your players longer than this (if they retreat to the Keep for some time or explore other areas of the wilderness, for example), then the Caves can reasonably be restocked.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, I will try to run it like this for now. I am a bit concerned that gives the PCs a rather low risk way to decimate the monsters, as I have been using typical 1d6 or 2d6 monsters per random encounter, and those are much more easily defeated than the "common rooms" full of two dozen. But then, the "sneak in, surgical surprise strike, flee" pattern that these huge numbers tend to force is not that fun either; and the adventure advises to adapt monster tactics in repsonse to player tactics, so if they start that, I can respond with a much larger war-band coming to get them. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 4, 2023 at 9:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ I imagine that most of the humanoids encountered away from the Caves are hunting parties - there's little incentive for them to attack a party under those conditions, unless they can surprise them, fight in the dark, etc. If I were running it, I would just have them return and report on the location of the party if outnumbered, perhaps with the party not even knowing that they were spotted. Only if they had a numerical advantage would they attack, and then withdraw after any losses - just long enough of a fight to spoil the party's rest. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Commented Dec 4, 2023 at 16:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Makes sense. The party are pretty hardboiled about posting guards, hiding their camp, casting alarm etc, and pursuing and hunting down any that try to escape . I'll se how it goes. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 4, 2023 at 16:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ Alarm? Is this converted to a later edition? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Commented Dec 4, 2023 at 23:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ah, in that case I think you are fine to NOT subtract wandering encounters from the lairs. 5e healing is just so much faster and more abundant for the PCs that they will easily win by attrition if there isn't some monster-side resupply. With the possible exception of goblins, which are NASTY in 5e at L1 and L2 in any terrain where they can break LOS for their bonus action Hide. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Commented Dec 5, 2023 at 6:58

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