What’s the best random encounter number there is?

Why, the best number of randomly encountered monsters there is… is 101-500. As in, one-hundred-and-one through five-hundred gibberlings. I’m not even sure what the GM is supposed to roll for that many monsters… 1d100 + (1d4 x 100)? It’s the sheer ludicrous nature of the numbers that get to me, humor found in the seriousness of such an illogical idea.

Let’s roll back a step. This….

…is a gibberling. Technically plural, gibberlings, since there’s like thirty of them; so sue me. As you can sort-of tell from the picture, it’s one of many species of bipedal humanoid thugs that exist in D&D worlds for adventurers to hit until gold falls out. Kind of like giant, evil, people-shaped pinatas. Gibberlings are one of several niche bipedal humanoid thugs, like Xvarts and Crabmen, in that they’re both low-level and seldom used.

See, they’re evil bipedal subterranean monkeys, so you’re not going to run into them that often, by virtue that they’re only a threat to starting level adventurers who decide to head into the most dangerous place on earth. (A realm populated by Grimlocks, which are Morlocks, and the more-popular Subterranean Evil Humanoids who are mirror-images of their surface cousins: evil dwarves who can turn really, really big; evil mafia elves.) Also, because there are much more interesting evil subterranean humanoid thugs to run into than subversive monkeys, like the aforementioned evil mafia elves, or the various giant bugs with jagged hook-hands or shiny tough carapaces.

What we have here is a case of Gygaxian Naturalism; the attempt to create a viable ecological niche for fantasy world monsters—in essence, to paint a picture of a realistic, living world, where things exist for more than just game reasons—regardless of the fallacy of it all. Which brings us to the magic number, 101-500: yes, when diving into a cave to look for scrolls and magic gems, you and your tomb-looting compatriots face the possibility of running into hundreds upon hundreds of evil, subterranean monkeys.

What the game is saying is that these things can live in warren-like communities, deep underground, which are quite sizable; the 101-500 falls under the term “wave” (which is bigger than the more reasonable 20-100 horde—what the hell do you roll for that, 20d5?), making me think that “waves” represent militarized gibberlings used as fodder by the evil expanding dwarves and evil mafia elves. But let’s look at this from a realistic point of view:

  • First off, they’re a Challenge Rating 1/3; three of them will be an average threat to a party of four fresh-off-the-boat dungeon delvers, while six would be oppressive odds the plucky heroes might not overcome. In other words, around 75% of the time they’ll be a pushover challenge, save for the occasional good roll, or use of tactics a creature with Intelligence 5/Wisdom 7 shouldn’t know.
  • Next, after slaying the first sixty of these, the players will inevitably gain some more character levels and see their abilities increase; thanks to D&D’s odd balancing structure, 2nd-level characters will slice through these things like butter, unless they’re threatened by dozens at a time and whittled down by lucky gibberling critical hits.
  • As a related note to the above, there’s no way to increase the potency of a gibberling. These things are dumber than cavemen, so they can’t do what Orcs, Lizardfolk, even Goblins can do: the GM can give those races class levels, both to represent deadlier threats, and to keep them on-par with the characters. Gibberlings are stupid bestial monsters, with no way of advancement, so they’ll always be the same weak, 6-hp, starting-level monster depicted in the book… barring GM fiat (giving them class levels anyways, even though it doesn’t make sense, or giving them Templates to buff up their stats).
  • But wait! The GM has rolled 500 of these damn things, and you can’t walk away from this hive of villainy—at least, until the treasure’s been found—so you’re stuck grinding out creatures which are almost a passable threat at first, then a pushover the further you progress into their ranks. They’re not a threat except in droves, or if they attack you while recuperating or whatnot. There are plenty of options, I’ll grant, but… they’re low-intelligence sub-humans.
  • Lastly: who the hell wants to sit around and fight up to five-hundred of the same, basic, starter-level monkey thugs? Aren’t there more interesting things for your characters to do? Loot long-lost temples Indiana Jones-style; start a political intrigue and instigate civil war; join the army and fight waves of Karnathi undead; corner the markets on sheep farming and take down the corrupt fleece merchants tyrannizing honest and hard-working shepherds o’er the countryside…

My point being the sheer logistical headaches and infeasibility makes me wonder why they bother to include these kinds of values in the books. With many humanoids, I can understand the horde/wave theory; Red Hand of Doom was a fantastic one-book campaign, with mid-level players struggling to rally the land and use guerrilla tactics to whittle down an army of thousands of leveled Orcs ready to steamroll the planet. But with static monsters like gibberlings, there’s no point—or incentive, for either players or GMs, unless they love pointlessly one-sided combats—since they have a dwindling degree of challenge, offer marginal rewards (both tactically and in treasure), and killing hundreds of these things would take forever. Like, months, unless the GM rolled low, or you play really long and really often.

Roughly the same amount of time you could use to run… I don’t know, Red Hand of Doom?

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