Hidden Goblins in B/X

This is post #8 in a series on hidden goblins in tabletop RPGs. The goblin in the illustration is from the 1981 D&D Basic Rulebook, by David S. LaForce (a.k.a Diesel). It appears next to the alignment section, but it’s also relevant to the example of play that appears later in the book and that has already been referenced several times in this series. It’s going to appear again in this one.

After all this discussion about how there’s a big gap in the rules of most role-playing games, it’s probably time to talk about what it would look like to plug that hole. I think there’s no better place to start than the 1981 rulebook, which was written by Tom Moldvay. This edition of the game was interesting in its focus on monsters as independent actors, with rules for a variety of reactions beyond simple hostility, and a morale system to determine when a monster would run from danger. Adding comprehensive hidden goblin rules to Moldvay is surprisingly easy. It can be accomplished with two short additions to the text.

Moldvay’s D&D carefully divides all gameplay into turns made up of eight steps. (See “Order of Events in One Game Turn” on page B23.) Each turn covers 10 minutes of in-game time exploring a dungeon. At the beginning of the turn, the DM rolls for wandering monsters, then the party moves and searches new areas, and then any monsters are encountered. Step 8 is the End of Turn step, where the DM evaluates how the party is doing and how their resources are lasting. It is simple to add a step 9 where the DM evaluates how the rest of the dungeon is doing in the same way:

Of course this has to be accompanied by an explanatory section. I’d slot it into the text right after PURSUIT on page B24:

HIDDEN MONSTERS: When monsters are hidden or have fled from sight, the DM secretly decides their actions. Unintelligent monsters (vermin, wild animals, undead) disappear into the dungeon and can be forgotten. Intelligent monsters who already failed a morale check should make another. If they fail again, they flee from the dungeon. If they pass the check, they go to warn the nearest allied monsters. Intelligent monsters who never failed a morale check will ignore the party and carry on with their business unless they are guards, in which case they will either plan an ambush or raise the alarm. For any monsters who are raising the alarm or setting ambushes, track their movement on the map in secret. They move around the dungeon at their normal movement rate.


Note how these rules handle the question of importance raised in previous posts. You know a monster is important enough to track if it is a guard, or if by following a simple procedure you determine it is about to warn other monsters. You are told how to hand off unimportant monsters (they disappear into or flee from the dungeon), and given an indication of what important monsters will do (set ambushes and raise the alarm).

This set of instructions does however remain silent on what happens when a monster reaches some allies and raises the alarm, or how an ambush might manifest in play. It also doesn’t cover what happens when a monster is left behind all tied up, as happens at the end of the example of combat on B28. By strict reading of these rules, such a monster will never be discovered, even though the characters in the example worry that it will. These omissions are in keeping with the level of complexity of this edition, and individual DMs would be expected to extrapolate from here.

Getting close to the end now. But this is still to be continued…

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