Speeding up play in dungeons




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  1. #1
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    Speeding up play in dungeons

    My group and I played today, and I noticed that play seemed to slow down to an almost glacial pace when we got to the dungeon. The problem's mostly with the party and myself, not with the module (Of Sound Mind, I've read it about 4 times now and I'm convinced that the site-based portion of it shouldn't bog down like this) in role-playing situations with NPCs and among each other, there's a pretty good level of energy, but once they got underground, they were over-cautious almost to the point of silliness. Room by room, they sent the dwarf (b/c of his darkvision and hp total) in first to scout, if he said it was clear, they all went in and rummaged around a bit. At the first sign of trouble, they left. I don't mind the caution so much, but it's the repetitive m.o. that really gets me, as well as the fact that things grind to a halt.

    Some things I noticed:
    * I was sketching out rooms for them (at their request), which took some time, as I was converting from a 10' scale to 5' scale. I think in the future, they can map for themselves if they must know what things look like. I'll only worry about drawing in-depth maps during combat, not for simple room exploration.
    * Memorize more room descriptions and contents. Rather than reading it verbatim from the module, paraphrase. Be more prepared with answers to odd and unexpected questions.
    * I think the party's scared to death of dungeons because they have no proper rogue (Dwarf Ftr1/Clr1, Human Pal1, Human Brd2, Halfling Mnk2, and Human Nec2).

    I guess what I really want to know is how do other people keep play moving in a dungeon? How do you instill a sense of urgency and immersiveness but keep the pace of the game up? We had some pacing issues in combat, too, but that largely came out of all of us growing into the rules (I'm familiar with the rules, but there's a lot of little things that I'm still learning, and naturally, all of these come up very frequently, whereas things that I know cold never appear at all . And in the second combat of the session, things moved much more quickly than the first). Is this a common problem? I don't want to discourage caution, but I'd like to at least make things a little bit more urgent/cinematic/tense.

    Thanks,
    tKL

    [Edit clarified where the problem is.]
    Last edited by Kajamba Lion; Sunday, 12th January, 2003 at 05:48 AM.
    "Baseball breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone." A. Bartlett Giamatti

 

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    Well, here's stuff that I've found works.

    Tip one: Avoid mapping where at all possible. Don't do it for them, but don't require them to do it either, unless the dungeon is very complex. I mean, let's face it. When the party's wandering in the wilderness, you don't make them draw a map so they can find their way back to someplace they've already been. Why make them do so here? Just require an Intuit Direction check or two. If they make it, they get back where they wanted; if they fail, they get lost--you decide exactly where--somewhere nearby.

    Tip two: (Only useful if you're also following tip one) Avoid getting too precise with your descriptions. Unless the party is trying to draw a map accurate to the last inch, it doesn't matter exactly how many feet wide the room is, or how long the passage. When they're wandering through a forest, you don't tell them how many steps it is between trees; instead, you describe the environment in terms of details and sensations. What do they hear? What do they see? Smell? Feel? Instead of "You walk down a hall for 60 feet, make a right turn, walk 20 feet, go left..." describe things like "The stone walls of the passage are covered with a strange fungus that fills the damp air with a foul, rotting odor. It seems as though you've been wandering forever in these halls. Finally, though, after several long corridors and twisting turns, you see..."

    Again, that only works if you aren't requiring mapping. But really, dungeons are (usually) the only environment that DMs tend to describe mechanically, rather than as an actual environment. If you can get away from that, treating dungeons as just another setting where nfity things can happen, I think you'll find energy levels rising and play both faster and more interesting.

    And I'm sure a whole mess of people will disagree with me. No detailed information for mapping?! Blasphemy!! But I've found that it works.
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    mouseferatu has some really good points. You don't necessarily need to describe the exact layout of each room, at most you probably only need to tell them when they have to choose at a fork in the road.

    Aside from that, I find that being cautious is a trust issue. The rules are vague enough for things like traps and ambush that it's very easy to trip up for no reason other than trying to "hurry to the good part." Basically, don't create the traps that fill the entire room with acid, but leave the next room safe. Give them as many rolls as possible to foil surprises, or else they're always gonna be overly cautious. Even if they don't enumerate all the precautions, assume that an alert party of adventurers would look up to see the monster hiding just over their heads (to rip off so many action movies). It's not fair to punish players for not actually being there, I say that's what they're afraid of.

    As an example, I was playing in a game today where the party was exploring a spider-filled cavern. We had burned multiple webs to get past at this point, so we backed off from that as a threat. Lo and behold, there are three people randomly gathered in the hallway with some other webs that randomly explode when lit. Reflex Half DC 15, 2d6 damage (level 2 party). I say that's a bad DM's design. If you don't burn the web, you risk being ambushed by a spider. If you do, you risk a trap set off by DM whim. The players don't have enough information to make an informed decision; it's lose-lose.
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    Originally posted by mouseferatu
    And I'm sure a whole mess of people will disagree with me. No detailed information for mapping?! Blasphemy!! But I've found that it works.
    Not me. I totally agree with you. I learned the hard way after playing some Star Wars. I tried to map out some imperial complex. I gave up once I realized I wanted this thing to be at least fifty stories. After that, no maps, I just dealt with "dungeon" environments just like I would have dealt with the wilderness or a city.

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    You could short circuit some of the searching with a take 20. Anytime they say they're searching a place just answer by saying that 'on a take 20 search of the place; here's what you each find'.

    It's metagame speech, but you won't need it after they learn to trust you at those points where you are making it clear they should trust you.

    Take 20 is not a player tool, it's a DM tool. When a game is slowing down in exessive repetitive actions, it's a means by which you just -cut to the chase-. Make liberal use of it. Whenever they are in catious mode, just assume take 20s and skip to what happens.

    Skipping to what happens is a key tool. Watch some movies and note how they cut from scene to scene. Put in some pacing like that. It's ok to tell them they wander through an empty area for a while until they come to ...



    I often use line drawings for maps, sometimes even in my DM maps. A line goes from here to there and connects A and B. It all links up like so and is about this big. They really don't need anymore than that. You can also just assume they can find their way out unless there is some reason you desire a potential of getting lost.

    One DM gives us spot maps of zones we enter, and general descriptions otherwise. Scaled maps only come out on the battle mat.

  • #6
    I think I would do this.
    Since they follow pretty much the same MO just assume it is what they do everytime. With my group they have a set SOP's ,Standard operating procedures. so I assume they follow their own procedures for each room. NOw understand they don't act like a swat team either it is not perfect precise everytime and I throw in what I know of the character's personality so the Dwarf Fighter would most often break procedure if he sees a weapon on display since he is a craftsman and very interested in weapons so I could safetly assume he would aproach it.

    This does require an amount of trust and somtimes the target of a trap or other event is chosen at random but it does speed things up. I have a cautious but not paranoid group so things go a little faster. I haven't given them reason to be paranoid in that enviroment. Their paranoia is more about who to trust then where the trap is.

    Just a few ideas.

    Later
    If characters don't go out of their way to keep themselves alive... why should I?

  • #7
    I was in a trap heavy dungeon in a recent game and we did have a rouge. Once we triggered the first trap and half of the part lost half of thier hit points the rouge took point searching the entire length of the every hallway. To keep things moving the DM would ask the Rouge to roll a bunch of d20's (10 I think) and read them left to right as they fell. He would then make some d10 rolls and then ask for the values of the dice he rolled (e.g. give me the values of dice 4 and 8). Sometimes we found traps, other times we didn't. This helped to keep this moving through the dungeon at a decent pace while still keeping are paranoia about traps high.

    Of course as I was playing a character known for being impatient sometimes I would just walk by the rouge. I mean why do they have to check every nook and crany? Surely there and no traps in this .... AAAAH!

  • #8
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    So far these are all great suggestions and really helpful.

    I particularly like mouseferatu's suggestions about treating the dungeon like the wilderness or a town and focusing on the environment rather than the mechanics (which actually seems to be a common theme in everyone's suggestions here). I also like arcady's suggestions about taking 20 and making things play more like a movie with cut scenes and all. I'll certainly be using all of your comments in my next few sessions and seeing how they work with my group.

    As for the trust issues, I'm really not sure where the caution's coming from I haven't given them a reason not to trust me less than usual yet, as far as I can tell. The only experience they really have with traps or ambushes so far is:

    [Spoilers for Of Sound Mind]
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    * The psionic horses weren't really a problem every time they tried to use control body, the players shook it off (good fort saves between the dwarf, the paladin, and the monk particularly), and when the paladin failed his save, the other horse with bite of the wolf missed him with his bite. After that, a couple of spells and some good archery and the horses weren't all that much of a problem.
    * The platform at the bottom of the entrance to the Old Mine gave way while the paladin was climbing down the rope. Everyone on the platform made their reflex saves and jumped to safety. The paladin easily swung over the broken platform and was caught by the bard and dwarf.
    * The dwarf lost a boot to the green slime, but got rid of the boot before it got to the skin.
    * In the trog zombie ambush, the bard (currently an NPC) nearly got his head knocked off in the surprise round, although they handled that fight really well after that point (I was pleased with how it went, both in speed and their tactics). It ended up being a complete rout of the zombo-trogs (cleric rolled his max on his turn check).
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    [/end OSM spoilers]

    All in all, they've been wicked lucky and fortunate in trap and ambush situations. Maybe that could be the thing, they're waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    Best,
    tKL
    Last edited by Kajamba Lion; Sunday, 12th January, 2003 at 07:22 PM.

  • #9
    I try to map out the encounter areas on battlemaps ahead of time, then reveal them as the party explores. By keeping traps to a minimum and always giving characters a chance to spot or avoid them (even if the player doesn't specifically say they're searching), the players usually keep going forward (in fact, the biggest problem I have is that they rarely search "empty" areas, missing a lot of clues and loot).

    If, however, things start to bog down, I have no problem skipping ahead of whole sections in which not much is happening. I had to do this just last night, when the party was traveling through several flooded caverns. There were no real hazards - technically, they just needed to make a bunch of swim checks - so I fast-forwarded them to the dwarf complex and things picked up again.

    Not strictly part of your question, but another place where things can slow down is detailing treasure - "a gold hair clip worth 62.5 gp, a silver-inlaid birthing table weighing 23 pounds and worth..." You get the idea. Oftentimes I'll just tell them they found a number of valuable items and I'll detail them when they rest for the night or at the end of the session.

  • #10
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    Originally posted by Sir Whiskers
    Not strictly part of your question, but another place where things can slow down is detailing treasure - "a gold hair clip worth 62.5 gp, a silver-inlaid birthing table weighing 23 pounds and worth..." You get the idea. Oftentimes I'll just tell them they found a number of valuable items and I'll detail them when they rest for the night or at the end of the session.
    In this regard, you could also just total it up. I don't like to do this too often, because it removes some of the "flavor," but I'll do it occaisonally for particularly large hoards. I'll just say (after people have had time to do some estimating and make some Appraise checks) "You'd estimate that, between the various denominations of coins, gems, and a few minor trinkets, the whole stash is worth approximately 4,500 gp."

    Again, it's more fun (to me) to tell them exactly what they have, but if large treasure hoards are slowing things down, this other is always an option.
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