Wandering monsters are a DM’s best friend. They are indispensable to old-school D&D game play. By draining the party’s resources without hope of a treasure reward, the possibility of such a random encounter keeps the characters moving, keeps the players on their toes. It raises the tension in a way a DM can only hope some planned story will do.
Keeping track of turns is a basic task a DM must learn. Not only wandering monsters, but light sources, party rest, and spell durations all depend on time keeping. It’s a habit that isn’t so difficult to pick up.
I make a simple four-by-six grid in the corner of the map or, as in this case, in the adventure log. That’s four torches or a lantern’s worth of turns. In one square of six, the party must rest or suffer fatigue, and every third turn (Holmes Bluebook) brings a dice roll for a wandering monster. Durations measured in turns are noted in the appropriate square. The turn a spell is cast, for example, is marked, as is the turn in which the party rests.
Adventure Log Excerpt
The photo above is from Dreaming Amon-Gorloth’s adventure log.
First Turn: At the rubble-strewn entry, Melqart lights a torch (“t”). The party enters. Penlod notices a secret door, and the group inspects the contents of the room beyond: a dozen skulls set into wall niches.
Second Turn: Entering the grand entry hall, the group encounters scarab beetles at the north door. The giant insects scurry. A burst of three explosions shakes the vault as jets of acid shoot from their nether parts. Melqart, stunned by the noise (“St”), slumps in a puddle of sizzling acid. Penlod throws a spell, and the insects collapse unconscious.
Third Turn: Penlod carries Melqart toward the entrance, while Hathor-Ra, carrying the torch, guards the withdraw. Among the rubble, the two are halted by an enchanting song emanating from within. The explosions attracted a harpy.
Fourth Turn: Turning, Penlod lets the magic-user slide from his shoulder. He and Hathor-Ra move toward the harpy’s lovely voice. The harpy puts a hand on each of their shoulders.
Fifth Turn: Now charmed, Penlod and Hathor-Ra follow the harpy down the grand hall, descending stairs, as Melqart comes to his senses. Lighting another torch (“t”) from his pack, Melqart follows the harpy song.
Sixth Turn: The harpy makes room in her nest. Just as the she descends to fetch the waiting Hathor-Ra, Melqart arrives at the top of the stairs. He casts charm person on the harpy.1
Seventh Turn: The party rests (“R”) while debating what to do with their new friend…
1 Holmes on Charm Person: “This spell applies to all two legged, generally mammalian humanoids of approximately man size…” (14). We could argue that a harpy, being only half mammalian, is not subject to charm person. A counterargument is that her mammalian half is very much so.