There was a certain amount of restlessness in the player feedback, this past time. They’ve just gotten into yet another fight on the Great Bridge, which is turning out to be quite the bottleneck. They’re finally strong enough, well-equipped enough, to want to spend more than an hour or two in the dungeon. The players expressed frustration at the idea of turning around and letting the dungeon off the hook for the week, just when they’ve finally got a good grip on it. There were worries that monsters would return to fill the space they had cleared, forcing them to re-clear it next week, greatly slowing their progress. There was at least one question about the availability of “town portal” scrolls.
I plan to address all these concerns with a mix of structural changes and revealed secrets. Well, not so much secrets, as stuff that the characters won’t know, but might make the players feel better.
First, the obvious change: I’ve stopped pushing for the party to return to town between sessions. More hours in the dungeon for the PCs means more hours at the gaming table for the players, and we’re exceeding the number of hours at the table that we can afford. So, the delving day will be broken across multiple sessions. The benefit is, we can pick up next time with the party already in the dungeon. We won’t use any time, next session, on spending experience or buying gear, both of which only happen in town. We won’t use any time retracing their steps from the main entrance to the area they want to explore.
The price of this is, we lose on flexibility. The original idea was that PCs could come and go easily between sessions, since the party for any particular trip is just the group of PCs who show up on that Saturn’s-Day. If we end on a cliffhanger, though, it’s hard to explain folks coming and going. If we quit on one day with the party facing off against a bunch of angry barbarians, then pick up the next session with the entire front line of PCs missing, that’s going to cause suffering among the squishies in the second rank who wouldn’t have bitten off that particular bite to chew.
(Yeah, I could run the missing PCs as NPCs, but… no, wait, strike that, I’m full of crap, there’s no way I could handle that. I’ve got my hands full, and then some, just with the monsters. Maybe we could hand off the PCs to be run by other players, but… no, I can’t see that working. “Of course the knight would taste the mysterious potion!” They’re pretty good about treating their henchmen ok — hirelings, somewhat less so — but there’s no mercy when it comes to PC-on-PC….)
Second, the change I had already made through laziness. It’s been a long while since I’ve done any serious re-stocking. That’s why the first part of the dungeon was a long list of “empty, empty, nothing exciting”. They’ve already cleared those areas. I’ve been putting my energy into stocking new areas, and neglecting the old. By pure accident, this much seems to have worked out well. The first level of the dungeon was a simple question of navigation; if the party hadn’t taken the time to fill out some blank areas on their map, they would have been able to make it from the front door to the stairs up to the Bridge in a matter of minutes. They’re not wasting any time wading through goblins and reeks.
I had done a little re-stocking in the rooms overlooking the Great Bridge, but that was a while back. That’s why the party found the trapped room, and the goblin-ghouls. They found the ghost when they explored new territory. He has been there since I first stocked the area.
“But,” the Gentle Reader protests, “what about the Treadmill Of Doom that you keep calling a bridge? Every time they set foot on that thing, they get into another fight! Surely you’re restocking it?”
Yes and no. I haven’t been re-stocking it, but I have been causing the locals to respond to PC action.
Let’s review. When the party first saw the Great Bridge, they met the gang of goblinoids who held the overlooking rooms, and fought them until making peace through diplomacy. The next visit, they started with diplomacy and ended up with a small massacre, leaving the formerly-enslaved goblins in charge and dropping Mongo down the Pit of Darkness. This riled up the demons in the pit (judging from the noises, anyway). The next time they visited the Great Bridge, they met Zombie-Mongo, so clearly, he managed to climb out of the Pit somehow. That same trip, they also saw goblins jumping out of arrow slits to their doom, apparently in fear of whatever was going on inside. It was on this trip that they first noticed the tower.
On the last couple of trips, they’ve been going out of their way to draw trouble. Time before last, they came out loud. Posy tested the echo. This drew the attention of [REDACTED] in the tower, which led to Alric getting gut-shot. The occupant(s) of the tower responded to these events by… um… doing some stuff that caused a chain of events that ended up with eight ghouls hiding in the hallway, waiting for people to try to cross the bridge. This last time, FuBar went out his way to draw fire from the tower, and discovered the guarding ghouls.
So, it’s not that I’m re-stocking, particularly, it’s that the party keeps thumbing their nose at the tower. There’s something up there. It has a crossbow, some mad crossbow sniper skills, and a burning hatred for loud adventurers. It kept to itself, to begin with… but if folks keep showing up to moon it, it’s going to keep taking shots at them.
The skeletons were just wandering monsters. Bad luck that they showed up there.
Thirdly, WOW, did I miscalculate the pace of everything. In general. I knew there would come a point where the walk back home would get oppressive, and I’ve got some features in the dungeon to help address that… but my guess as to where that point would come was way, way off. In vague terms, there are other entrances and exits to the dungeon, later on. I was taking a cue from the Diablo series, where every so often, you open up a new shortcut back to town. The problem is, the next one is way too deep in the dungeon to do any good right now…. so, I need to do some renovations.
I think the biggest impact is going to be from staying in the dungeon for longer. Every trip, they’ve spent more in-game hours in-dungeon. The first few visits were the classic fifteen-minute adventurer’s workday. Now, everybody’s “leveled up” enough, they can stay down there so long, it takes more than one session to play it out. That means longer between experience awards, and longer between paydays, but both should be larger for it. That might even give more of a “gained a level” vibe when experience gets spent, who knows…