log in or register to remove this ad

 

General Taking the "Dungeons" out of D&D

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
Yes and no. Obviously not every day that passes during the course of an adventure will be an Adventuring Day. But generally days that aren’t adventuring days are days that just get narrated over. If nothing eventful happens during travel, you just brush over it in the narration. But if there’s enough going on in a day, that it’s worth playing out, it’s probably an adventuring day. Not every encounter needs to be combat; if you’re challenging the PCs and they’re expending resources to overcome that challenge, that’s an encounter, be it an exploration, social, or combat encounter.
And people wonder why the exploration pillar is shortchanged...
 

log in or register to remove this ad


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
The travel to a place is not the main point of the adventure, so just spend through that and get to the dungeon. To make things more realistic, add a encounter, but have the players tell you what happened and how they overcome it. There is not initiative and dice rolling for the random encounter to the real adventure. You just tell the players; "You have been traveling for three days and finally reach the dungeon." "Along the way, you had an encounter with goblins- tell me about what your PC did."

Go around the table and each player tells about something cool their PC did and spells let off or cool smites or such. The Players can tell cooler stuff sometimes than dice and the rules can allow, and it does not really affect how the encounter was going to go.
I would never do it this way, as it takes away in-the-moment choice from the players/PCs: by the time the players learn of the goblin encounter their PCs are already at the dungeon a few game-days later.

For all I know - and it wouldn't be the first time or even the tenth that I'd have DMed - on defeating those goblins the PCs would then decide to backtrack them to their lair, kill the rest, and see if they'd any decent loot. On doing this they might (or might not) find the goblins to be the tip of an iceberg, drawing the party into an entirely different adventure than they (or I-as-DM!) expected.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
And this is something designers should be clear-eyed about when including "rules structures": A lot of players simply won't use those structures if there's a more naturalistic (or maybe just lazier) way to handle them. In general, I think the OSR has taken elements such as "time in a dungeon," encumbrance, and the like way more seriously than most tables did when we were playing those games at the time. I played AD&D in tournament events at GenCon in the 80s where all those rules really should have been used, and they still weren't. I suspect they didn't fall out of the books by accident.

Fast forward to 5e, where it's revealed in every other complaint about "nova damage" or unbalanced spellcasting that DMs don't use the game's existing rules structures for the adventuring day. That shouldn't come as any surprise, because (many/most?) players always ignore rules structures it feels more "natural" to ignore.

I don't necessarily think there's any way around this, but recognizing that actual play is likely to be more "unstructured" than you assume is probably a decent baseline from which to start. Some designs may make it very difficult to play in a unstructured way (not naming any names), but those designs run the risk that players simply reject them in favor of those that accommodate their preferred playstyle more easily.
Two points/questions

1: Did you actually look at those rules? As I said, it's one page. Go look and let me know what you think. It's a lot more streamlined than it used to be.

2: When you say players, do you mean everyone at the table, or specifically the players as in "the people who controls the PCs"?

I'm asking that because how GM operates and players operate tends... not to be the same. I recently learned that one of my players never read the PHB entry for their class. (it explained a few things...)
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
You misunderstand me. The takeaway is not “skip all of travel,” it’s “treat travel as part of the adventure.” Travel days should be adventuring days. But if they aren’t, skip ‘em. Get to whatever the actual adventure is.
I once had my PCs go on a long journey - several weeks of travel - to reach the destination where the "big" adventure was. But I told myself "surely stuff happened!". So I created all sorts of encounters and mini side quests... but then I realized after a few session that this was just third-grade stuff (edit: third-rate, not grade...) , and I fast-forwarded the last few weeks to arrive to the adventure.
 
Last edited:

Doug McCrae

Legend
Yeah, I'm a big fan. My preferred version of D&D would be something like B/X with no thief class and more freeform player-driven/GM adjudicated rules for everything from "skills" to spellcasting.
Amber Diceless Roleplaying Game (1991). Or go even further and run rpgs "free kriegspiel" without any written rules. My most successful sessions have used the latter 'system' but it also has limitations and I wouldn't necessarily advocate for it or claim it's the best approach to rpg-ing.
 
Last edited:

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I once had my PCs go on a long journey - several weeks of travel - to reach the destination where the "big" adventure was. But I told myself "surely stuff happened!". So I created all sorts of encounters and mini side quests... but then I realized after a few session that this was just third-grade stuff, and I fast-forwarded the last few weeks to arrive to the adventure.
When I do exploration I either treat the entire trip like one big "dungeon" in that it's a series of possible encounters that tells a story. There has to be a reason for travel to be so dangerous as to justify playing it out though. Are they infiltrating enemy territory? Entering the mournlands which are inimical to all living things? So sailing the inner sea? Most days go fine but then there's a sudden squall/keep the boat from sinking, they have to decide if they're going to take shelter at the mysterious island or try to push on and so forth. But that doesn't happen every time, in general it's only going to happen if they decide that taking this particular route will save them enough travel time even if it is a known risk.

The vast majority of time I just hand wave it outside of some RP and PC planning where appropriate. I kind of do the Indiana Jones "red line from point A to point B" thing, possibly narrating some minor conflicts along the way.
 

Reynard

Legend
One place where I think D&D could feel more like other flavors of fantasy is if there was a lot more non combat magic built into the game. Certainly if wizards can make wands of fireball they can make magically warm blankets. Surely if they can summon demons from the pits of Hell they can summon air elementals to ventilate mine shafts. Magic with which to cook and clean and other domestic tasks.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Supporter
One place where I think D&D could feel more like other flavors of fantasy is if there was a lot more non combat magic built into the game. Certainly if wizards can make wands of fireball they can make magically warm blankets. Surely if they can summon demons from the pits of Hell they can summon air elementals to ventilate mine shafts. Magic with which to cook and clean and other domestic tasks.
Eberron has this, both in the described narrative and with some rules support in Rising from the Last War and Exploring Eberron.
 

aco175

Hero
I would never do it this way, as it takes away in-the-moment choice from the players/PCs: by the time the players learn of the goblin encounter their PCs are already at the dungeon a few game-days later.

For all I know - and it wouldn't be the first time or even the tenth that I'd have DMed - on defeating those goblins the PCs would then decide to backtrack them to their lair, kill the rest, and see if they'd any decent loot. On doing this they might (or might not) find the goblins to be the tip of an iceberg, drawing the party into an entirely different adventure than they (or I-as-DM!) expected.
From my understanding of how this was to work, the player would talk about tracking the goblins back to their den and how their PC managed to sneak in and scout it out before backstabbing the chief. The other player may add how his mage threw a fireball and such. They could even talk about treasure, but I would need to limit that.

I have never tried it, but thought it could work with the travel portion of an adventure or with players who like to roleplay more and maybe not the combat part of the game.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
. Magic with which to cook and clean and other domestic tasks.
You mean like mending, prestidigitation and unseen servant? ;)

But yes, there are probably hundreds of utility spells that are fairly common that aren't listed in the PHB because it's not "adventuring stuff".
 

Reynard

Legend
Eberron has this, both in the described narrative and with some rules support in Rising from the Last War and Exploring Eberron.
I like Eberron a lot, but the industrialization of magic is only one flavor of how to do it. I don't necessarily mean magic has to be as ubiquitous as it is in Eberron, just that it has as broad of applications outside of combat.
 

Azzy

Newtype
I like Eberron a lot, but the industrialization of magic is only one flavor of how to do it. I don't necessarily mean magic has to be as ubiquitous as it is in Eberron, just that it has as broad of applications outside of combat.
There were a lot more utility spells in previous editions. I'd love to see more of those make a comeback.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
When I do exploration I either treat the entire trip like one big "dungeon" in that it's a series of possible encounters that tells a story. There has to be a reason for travel to be so dangerous as to justify playing it out though. Are they infiltrating enemy territory? Entering the mournlands which are inimical to all living things? So sailing the inner sea? Most days go fine but then there's a sudden squall/keep the boat from sinking, they have to decide if they're going to take shelter at the mysterious island or try to push on and so forth. But that doesn't happen every time, in general it's only going to happen if they decide that taking this particular route will save them enough travel time even if it is a known risk.
This is what I mean when I say “travel should be part of the adventure.”

The vast majority of time I just hand wave it outside of some RP and PC planning where appropriate. I kind of do the Indiana Jones "red line from point A to point B" thing, possibly narrating some minor conflicts along the way.
Which is for the best if the real adventure doesn’t start until the players get to point B.
 

I realize that a lot of people play D&D without much if any dungeon exploration, so bear with me.

Many of the rules of D&D, including 5E, are artifacts of the dungeon exploration mode of play. The thing is, very little fantasy beyond D&D (and those things directly inspired by it) does dungeon exploration. Even the original inspirations for the dungeon were much less onerous than actual dungeon exploration. Vast Moria was basically a 5 room dungeon connected by a few skill challenges.

So, what does D&D look like if you presume that you will be emulating not dungeon crawls but Game of Thrones and The Wheel of Time or Lord of the Rings? What mechanical elements, specifically, need to change, be removed or added to make D&D a general fantasy RPG rather than a genre unto itself? And can you do that and still have the game*be* D&D.

A quick note: "Play another game" is not a helpful response. Nor am I asking you for advice on how I can make my game like this. I am just starting a conversation. We're just brainstorming for fun.
I think earlier pre-3E, 3E, 4E, and 5E all faced different challenges and had different solutions here, which means you putting this as a "general" thread makes it a little trickier to respond to. I'll be very brief on the ones before 5E.

Pre-3E was just a huge mess re: non-dungeon-crawls. The biggest problem though was levels and the lack of a real skill system, which individual groups or particular sub-editions or books sometimes had workarounds for, but proficiencies didn't cut it. You could absolutely run something more GoT or LotR or Assassin Trilogy-ish, but it wouldn't work very well.

3E made the problem worse by trying to fix it. Levels became even more important, and the heavy, fiddly skill system, combined with "can't do it unless you have this"-type Feats and prescriptive approach to rules for doing pretty much anything and thus it was even worse at non-dungeon-type fantasy than previous editions (though heavily modifying stuff could create d20-based games which were okay at it, but those aren't D&D). Class imbalances also made the problem really bad.

4E could handle GoT/LotR-type stuff better than any previous system, but with two caveats. First off, you had to scale encounters appropriately (which some people just hated), and second off, you had to throw what were, by the rules, extremely challenging encounters at the PCs if they were only 1/day or whatever. But the more free-form skill system, skill challenges, less prescriptive approach to rules/Feat design, and so on definitely improved things.

5E could have done even better, but deciding to tightly balance resource usage and availability, especially around a putative 6-8 encounters/day, as well as failing to mitigate (or even to really allow players to mitigate) the volatility of d20-based binary skill checks. They also gave most non-caster classes far too little power outside of the combat pillar.

Running through all of them there's an additional problem. Utility magic. Killing magic isn't really a big issue, because it doesn't really matter so much how enemies end up dead, so long as the need to be engaged essentially face-to-face, and about 98% of D&D spells do require that (even Fireball essentially does - it's not that different to throwing a grenade or something). But the sheer amount of utility magic D&D characters can put out is huge, and it can allow you trivialize a very large number of encounters that might be challenging in other fantasy. 5E has attempted to clamp down on this a bit, but it also hands out an awful lot of it. This is a big part of why D&D is almost it's own genre, the utility magic.

Even a lower-level Sorcerer (for example) can have an array of cantrips and low-level spells that make him almost like some sort of profound magical being. Higher-level casters have much more in common with the genie from Aladdin than, say, Gandalf.

So to allow 5E D&D to really do other genres, you'd need to pare back on the resources available per day somehow, or re-balance expectations so that more resource expenditure was required, give more characters more reliable ways to deal with skill-based situations (which might entail some entirely new narrative mechanic and resource), and take a hard look at utility magic. I think you'd probably want to fundamentally replace the magic system. Levels are less of a problem in 5E than previous editions, at least.
 

Greg Benage

Adventurer
Two points/questions

1: Did you actually look at those rules? As I said, it's one page. Go look and let me know what you think. It's a lot more streamlined than it used to be.
I haven't looked at GLOG, if that's what you mean. OTOH, I played a metric ton of B/X. The entire chapter "The Adventure" is four pages, and that covers everything from party composition to awarding experience. The rules on time-keeping are super-simple: in a turn, you can move and map an area equal to your movement rate, search a 10x10 area, thief can search for traps, rest, or loot. And still those rules were ignored in favor of handling it more naturalistically.

2: When you say players, do you mean everyone at the table, or specifically the players as in "the people who controls the PCs"?
I mean everyone. When I played tournament events at GenCon, the DMs didn't use most of that stuff. When I went to college in 1985, I started playing with the gaming club every week. The DM was a professional grad student who'd been playing since he was an undergrad in 1974. Like, he had a megadungeon under a castle, mapped on those huge blotter-size sheets of graph paper. You show up, create a 1st level character, you can play...though you may be running with 7th and 8th level characters. Parties were always in double digits, plus henchmen and retainers. It was old-school. And even he didn't use most of those game structures, even though it probably would have helped tremendously in organizing that kind of game. We didn't use a caller, either, though in retrospect it probably would have been a good idea. :D

I never asked why, precisely because not using them seemed "normal" to me. I probably didn't even think about it at the time. In hindsight, I'd guess he gave in to players wanting to "break" the rules: "I don't want to search a whole 10x10 area; how long just to search under the bed and in the desk?" To the extent the game is all about "you can do anything," players are going to resist robust game structures. If there's a more naturalistic way to handle something, actual play will usually drift in that direction. IMO and IME.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
From my understanding of how this was to work, the player would talk about tracking the goblins back to their den and how their PC managed to sneak in and scout it out before backstabbing the chief. The other player may add how his mage threw a fireball and such. They could even talk about treasure, but I would need to limit that.
Still doesn't give them the opportunity to completely sidetrack themselves and on the fly abandon one adventure for another.

I have never tried it, but thought it could work with the travel portion of an adventure or with players who like to roleplay more and maybe not the combat part of the game.
Thing is, a big part of the roleplay aspect is deciding what to do next; it makes no sense to take these decisions away.

Sure they might be on their way to - or on their way back to - a particular adventure 'A' they've decided to do, but when goblins attack in the forest that opens up a decision point: do we carry on, or do we left-turn and deal with these goblins and-or whatever might be backing them, potentially running us into adventure 'B' instead. Put another way, they're not married to their original decision to take on adventure 'A'.

And having them narrate killing off the goblin chief etc. takes away your option of making those goblins be part of something bigger.

I had a situation once where a party went on an adventure, didn't finish, and went back to town; then on repeated tries never got back to that unfinished adventure as they kept sidetracking themselves into other dangerous things during travel.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
But yes, there are probably hundreds of utility spells that are fairly common that aren't listed in the PHB because it's not "adventuring stuff".
With a very few exceptions noted below, if the spells exist in the setting they should be listed, no matter how mundane they might be, for a few reasons:

--- if a class or character has a limit on spells-knowable those mundane spells could be taking up good brain space
--- creative players/characters will find field-adventuring uses for the most innocuous-looking spells, given time
--- the existence of those spells provides background to how the setting functions, and what to expect there

Exceptions would be spells that only function at home base e.g. Cleric spells specifically designed to defend temples, which themselves take lots of time and money to build (that said, if a PC Cleric wants to build her own temple then those spells will need to be introduced then); or spells involved in things PCs never do e.g. magic item creation, but even there the existence of the spell(s) should be noted.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
One other point that occurs to me: neither the players nor the PCs know going in whether "the adventure" lies in the travel, the destination, or both; meaning where practical travel should probably be handled much the same way every time so as not to tip any info.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
With a very few exceptions noted below, if the spells exist in the setting they should be listed, no matter how mundane they might be, for a few reasons:

--- if a class or character has a limit on spells-knowable those mundane spells could be taking up good brain space
--- creative players/characters will find field-adventuring uses for the most innocuous-looking spells, given time
--- the existence of those spells provides background to how the setting functions, and what to expect there

Exceptions would be spells that only function at home base e.g. Cleric spells specifically designed to defend temples, which themselves take lots of time and money to build (that said, if a PC Cleric wants to build her own temple then those spells will need to be introduced then); or spells involved in things PCs never do e.g. magic item creation, but even there the existence of the spell(s) should be noted.
They should be... but then again, that makes a book more expensive and longer. There is a TON of information that isn't in the PHB. For example, how expensive is mercury (ie quicksilver) in D&D? Go ahead and google that, you might be surprised at the answer ;)

What I'm saying is that just because it's not there doesn't mean it doesn't exist, because of the need of the book to focus on adventuring relevant material.
 

COMING SOON: 5 Plug-In Settlements for your 5E Game

Advertisement2

Advertisement4

Top