I don’t know about recent versions of Dungeons & Dragons, but early editions of the game included huge, sprawling Wandering Monster Tables. Distinguished by terrain and climate, each table offered a variety of random monsters that an unfortunate travel might encounter. Based on the stock D&D world, which I guess is Mr. Gygax’s World of Greyhawk, each table included all sorts of critters, beasties, and nasties, including but not limited to: orcs, goblins, nomads, pilgrims, owl-bears, and tiger-rhinoceroses.
Each later addition to the D&D monster corpus, and I’m primarily thinking of the Fiend Folio and Monster Manual II, which is one of my favorite books and probably deserves a blog of its own, adds wandering monster tables. The previous tables get staggeringly large, bolstered by the additions within the supplement. By the end of the day a wanderer could meet all kinds of things. Back in the day, such sprawling tables left an impression on me, making me think that a proper wandering monster table needed to be large and all-inclusive.
Fast forward to this morning. I’ve been thinking about setting a game in historic Ireland, and am undecided if I want to use prehistoric Ireland (cavemen), pre-Christian Ireland (clansmen and cattle ranchers), Viking Ireland (monasteries and raiders), Norman Conquest Ireland (Gaels and Foreigners), or Elizabethan Ireland (the Pale, Irish, Anglo-Irish, and the English). I float around in my reading, perusing sources from the several eras just mentioned. This morning, while waiting for the bus and reading Peter Harbison’s Pre-Christian Ireland, I read that the first settlers living in southern Munster, which would have been warmer than the other provinces, shared the tundra with the woolly mammoth, brown bear, arctic fox, the Irish giant deer, and the reindeer. Instantly, I constructed a wandering monster table.
Table I: Munster Wandering Monster Table
1 Woolly Mammoth
2 Brown Bear
3 Arctic Fox
4 Giant Deer
6 Special (use table II)
Table II: Special Munster Wandering Monster Table
1 Eponymous Land-Goddess
2 Chthonic Neolithic Demon
3 Roaming Tuatha De Danann Warrior
4 Raiding Fomorian Sea Pirates
5 Sleeping Bog-Giant
6 Rutting Tiger-Rhinoceros