15 March 2011

Static Rooms in Dungeons

Most of the time, my posts are kind of vague. Not this time.

You see, one of the things I do relentlessly is call in "reinforcements" from other rooms in any sort of pre-plotted dungeons when the PCs are crashing around and making noise. Sometimes I roll for it, but most of the time I use my brain cells to dictate what's going to happen.

The orcs in the next room over are gambling and arguing about stuff, so they might not notice the PCs walking about with torches, even in full armor. If you've ever gambled with people ever before, you'll know there's a certain level of loudness that goes with it, especially if you're playing for any sort of money. The orcs might not even notice if they're in the next room over, knocking over barrels and crates and ransacking the place. They'll definately notice if one of the PCs is knocking stuff over, or if they start arguing about stuff themselves, so out come the orcs from the next room.

The sounds of combat are even louder, though, so out comes the orcs from the next room down and, in a turn or two, the Ogre five or so feet down. At this point, the entire dungeon is full of screaming, grunting fighters, so just about everybody in the dungeon's about to come down and have some fun.

I don't know if that's the way you're supposed to make it work, but it's the way I like. It makes internal sense (keep it down or the whole dungeon's coming down.), and it splits the dungeon level into three basic parts: Infiltration, Fighting, and Exploration.

"Creature" by Nicole Cardiff
In the beginning of the level, you're infiltrating. The denizens are doing their everyday thing, like any other day. Ogres are eating muck or bullying little guys, Goblins are sharpening their shivs and watching their backs, and Demons are probably plotting or trying to contact wizards and bargain for their souls. Whatever. The point is, they're all on low alert and are easy to surprise. The PCs, since they know what they're getting into, can usually get the jump on the monsters. But they have to pick carefully where and when they pick a fight, because they can only use the element of surprise once. If they get caught, there's going to be enough noise and enough mess that they're not going to be able to sneak around easily any more.

After they either get caught or ambush somebody, generally the whole dungeon will start finding its way to the players. This can either result in the players having a fun hide-and-seek, cat and mouse style sneakabout, or it means that waves of monsters are pouring in from every angle until the players either kill them all, run away, or die in the attempt.

After that, they're free to look about and see what the nasties were hiding. This is also when the stationary or sneaky monsters get to play- the PCs are already hurt and low on health/supplies/ammo/whatever, but that's when Goblins and Slimes and stuff are more interesting. The players are going to want to complete the dungeon as fast as possible, since they can never be sure if there are monsters lurking and sneaking around, and they're not sure when the next level will come up and say hello. This is when they explore the rooms, deal with cartography, treasure, and the like.

This might not be the best way to do it, but it feels natural, somehow, to have it split up like that, and really makes the dungeon feel more alive than if each room is full of orcs who, apparently, can't hear the battlecries and death-screams of their buddies across the corridor.


  1. That is an excellent way to run a dungeon. It makes perfect sense and adds a tactical edge to things.

    There was a OPD called "Banner of the black moon" or something like that which I ran my players thru and it worked out very much as you describe, as there are a series of sentries (orcs, goblins, gongs, hobgoblins, ogres, then the boss monster). They came in waves because of the linear layout. But I will absolutely try your approach some time.

  2. Our game seems to run much like your description. As soon as we, the p.c.s, begin to escape death the random encounters begin. We have had a pretty high death count just getting to character level 2. Gotta love that Gygaxian Realism!

  3. This is much how I try to run it. I don't want the players to feel like I'm punishing them for getting into combat, but pitched battles in the halls are going to attract attention!

  4. This is the way I run my dungeons, though past a certain point I figure the sounds become difficult to figure out where they're coming from, so creatures beyond that point don't move in quickly.

    It also makes things like gongs very dangerous, especially if everyone knows where the gong is!