Don't Forget Your Boots

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Tag: re-stocking

Player Feedback Means Changes

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…


Grappling With Re-Stocking The Dungeon

It’s less than a week ’til the next session of the Dungeon Fantasy game, and so the lazy GM’s thoughts turn toward re-stocking the dungeon after the damage wrought last time around.

As I tried to explain a while back, I’ve got a system that I’m comfortable with for randomizing the contents of rooms and hallways in the dungeon. I’ve considered complicating things, but so far, I’m satisfied enough with the results that I don’t want to fiddle with it. The question remains, though: What about re-stocking, after the murder hobos have come through like the plague of locusts that they are? (And I mean all that in the fondest of ways, of course. I love the characters. I just wouldn’t invite them back to my house.)

The first part of the question, of course, is “Why bother?” Why not let the PCs clear the dungeon?  The best answer I can think of, is because it’ll increase the challenge. It puts pressure on the PCs to keep going, when they might otherwise withdraw to recharge and regroup. There’s a pull towards taking it slow — the proverbial “ten minute adventuring day”, in which the adventurer’s life is going into the dungeon, blowing out all the stops and going nova on the first monster you meet, then going home for a good night’s sleep. One of the things that helps counterbalance that pull is the realization that if you withdraw after a successful battle, something else will move in, and you’ll be fighting over that same group again next week.

(Another force at work here is the much-maligned wandering monster, but that’s a story for another time.)

This psychological pull isn’t just theory, either. One of the bits of player-to-player conversation that I overheard, last time (maybe time before last?), was a discussion over withdrawing or pressing on before a power vacuum was filled.

So, there you go. I’ve got vacuum. Can’t have that!

Thus far, I’ve used a couple of different approaches to re-stocking.

At first, when the PCs were just beginning to engage with Ghorbash’s goblins, I just eyeballed it. I put myself in the place of Ghorbash and his advisers, and asked myself, “If I had these forces arrayed like this, and suddenly I got word that those guard posts had been wiped out, and eye-witness reports like thus-and-so, what would I do?” When you’re dealing with an organized faction, with intelligent leadership, I think this is really the best way. The dice are great for giving a direction, but they aren’t going to come up with a reasoned plan of response.

At the time, I looked at how many members of the tribe were still standing. I gave them a few additional recruits, proportional to the size of the surviving group.  My thinking is that the bands of humanoids that we’ve met so far aren’t actually native to the area. They’re raiding groups, under the leadership of one or more warlords. There’s a trickle of goblins, orcs, and such who travel from the barren wastes of Goblinistan to seek their fortunes in the ruins. Some of those goblinoids end up joining with existing, successful bands.

In short, they’re parties of adventurers, with their hirelings, henchmen, and hangers-on… just like the PCs’ party.  Perhaps with slightly inferior hygiene, in some cases. The way I see it, if the Delving Band With No Name can lose Rho and then return with Jed, then it’s just as fair for the goblins to put Foo and Bar in the still-warm seats of the late Argle and Bargle.

And that worked well enough, until the PCs broke the back of the goblins’ power in that part of the dwarven ruins. Since they killed Ghorbash and routed the shaman’s vengeful counter-attack, the party hasn’t heard much from the goblins. I figure two defeats like that are enough to force the goblins to fall back. Their recruiting ability is damaged, just when they need to fill empty slots in their lineup.

This left me with a section of the dungeon, once held by the goblins, that they could no longer control. Since logic could no longer answer, I turned back to the dice.

Of course, this led to extended dithering and the wringing of hands. If I just re-stocked the area, as if it were fresh, never-explored dungeon, I would be putting the party on a bit of a never-ending treadmill, where every week, the dungeon denizens spring back to full strength. I’m not sure I care for that result. What I’m thinking is more… Whack-a-Mole. Critters aren’t going to set up shop right in the middle of a highly-traveled area. They’ll get a foothold somewhere out of the way. It’s in the dark corners, after all, where evil breeds.

If the PCs make an effort to keep an area clear, they should be able to do so. This might mean nothing more than tromping down the same hallway every trip, disabling traps, or it might mean barricading a room and going native. If they don’t check out an area after they clear it, over time, the usual dungeon dwellers will come trickling in, bringing their traps and locks and poison needles.

What I finally, in fact, did, was re-roll as if I were stocking the area for the first time. 😉  I’ll admit it, I used the system that I knew wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. It was something far more magical than “perfect”:  it was right there and it would work. The number of rooms in play was small enough, I don’t think one could tell one random-roll system apart from another. If all you know is, it came up “heads”, you don’t know if you’re flipping a coin or rolling a d1000 against a really thorough hit location chart for an ettin. (“781 – Left throat. 782 – Right throat. 783 – Throats. 784 – Left chin….”)

When I interpreted the results, I looked at it from the point of view of what had gone before. It’s less of a stretch to find vermin infesting previously-cleared lairs, than it would be to find an army of crazed cultists.  (If I was headed towards cultists, I would start off with just a couple. The roadies, you might say, with the advance luggage. You think the high priest is going to want to rough it in the dungeon? Oh, no, that’s not how evil temples work. You know the evil management will come oozing in after all the hard work is done, pressing the demon-flesh and taking all the credit, when it’s really the minions that do the back-breaking work. Do you have any idea how much a ten-foot tall demon idol with bronze brazier and fist-sized jeweled eyes weighs? And when they ship evil altars, it’s always “some assembly required” and then they leave out the instructions….)

As I worked through the re-stocking process, I pondered on the situation, and I think I’ve got a better system to try next time.

Every area in the dungeon has a chance of wandering monsters, which is loosely based on the amount of “action” that area receives.* I’m thinking, I’ll take that same roll and apply it once a week, as a chance of something passing by that might make a change to the room’s status quo. If that check comes up, then I’ll roll a stocking roll. If not, I’ll continue rolling for that room on the following week, and so on until that room gets its roll. This will take a certain amount of bookkeeping between sessions, but I don’t think maintaining one more list is going to overwhelm me.

Of course, when deciding what the rolls mean, I’ll have to keep an eye towards the logic of the dungeon. If the rolls say a monster moves in next to a group that has already been placed, it’s likely that the group has expanded into new territory.

My hope is that the end result will be a lag between when an area is cleared, and when it is repopulated. The more dangerous an area is, the more quickly it will fill with dangerous things. If the PCs regularly patrol an area, they can keep the infestations down, defeating newcomers while they’re still establishing themselves. The flip side of that coin is, if the PCs ignore an area, those infestations will take root and grow stronger, more consolidated, and harder to remove.

* While watching Walking Dead a while back, I realized that one of the keys to surviving a zombie apocalypse was to reduce one’s wandering monster roll as much as possible. Ever since then, I’ve been trying to figure a way to quantify the wandering monster chance and the ways PC could affect it, one way or the other. Clearly, barring the door behind you has an effect.

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