Monster? Trap? Treasure? Special? Not a man among us can say…

by mshrm

Random stocking rolls tell you if you’re dealing with an empty room, a monster, a trap, or a “special”. For the first three, you may (or may not) also have treasure. What I’ve been noticing is, those designations are most useful when going forward. Once those vague categories get filled in with specifics, it can be hard to tell what the original roll said.

For example, let’s say the party finds a horde of rats, penned up in a closet and struggling to break free, held back only by a door held shut by a propped-up board. Was this a “monster”, in that it’s a room full of “Swarm, Rat”, in their lair?  Or was it a “trap”, in that the party might accidentally knock the board down and unleash a stampede of rats? Or was it a “special”, meant to be a source of dungeon rations, where the local goblins take their harvest by opening the door a bit and letting a few rats run into a sack?

Many things that would be monsters in D&D are best built as traps in DF. Goodness knows, I love the piercer, but it is not a creditable monster. The piercer is a creature like a snail, with a shell that looks like a stalactite. It clings to the ceilings of underground caverns, waiting for something to walk underneath, so it can drop and impale the poor creature. If it misses, it tries to crawl away, slowly, to its original perch, so it can try again some time later… unless, of course, its target was an adventurer. In that case, if it misses its target, it gets speared and likely broiled in its shell as an impromptu lunch. (“Hey, Alric, pass the garlic butter?”) It’s a trap with a chance of resetting itself.

I guess somewhere through the evolution of the editions, they replaced the pitiful ol’ piercer with the more creditable “darkmantle”. Its not so much a snail, as an octopus. If it misses, it jumps up and tries again. On the other hand, it just tries to wrap its tentacles around its target’s head, not run them through. I’ll probably use both, truth be told. You can never have too many things lurking on the ceiling. (Like the lurker! Yet another thing to keep you looking up so you don’t see the pit trap!)

But I digress.

Even in the original rules, a creature might be a trap. A cobra coiled around the golden idol, or a spider nesting inside the chest, are both reasonable alternatives to the ubiquitous poisoned needle. It’s not like you’re going to get into an extended combat with a poisonous snake; it’ll strike, hit or miss, and then it’ll be chopped in two by a single blow.

One of the classic “specials” is the enchanted fountain, that causes different magical effects, for good or ill, when folks drink the water or dip stuff in them. But a poisoned well could be considered a trap, as well.

Even an “empty” result doesn’t mean that the room is actually, really empty. It just means no monster, no trap, no “special”. There’s still room for debris, furniture, and dungeon dressing of all kinds. If nothing else, this gives cover to the “empty with treasure” results, forcing the party to search, taking time, or risk passing by easy money.

Wandering monster rolls aren’t always obvious, either. The other day, one of the players was talking about the importance of choosing a target for the delve and then moving relentlessly towards that goal, without distraction by side quests and shiny objects. I agreed, pointing out that loitering in the halls arguing over which direction to take was an excellent way to draw wandering monsters. He gave me a half-surprised look, and asked if I had been rolling for them. I answered, yes, not only had I been rolling them, but they had encountered them. In fact, that’s where the ogre came from. They raised a ruckus in the main entrance hall, which drew a wandering monster roll, which came up indicating “inhabitant of nearby lair comes to investigate”.

Of course, the whole point of the exercise is that the rolls and the randomness should be transparent. In the end, you want to give the players the illusion of a (possibly literally) living, breathing dungeon.