D&D 5E Wandering Monsters 10/30/2013: Trick or Treat?

Kinak

First Post
I remember when I was first playing, the tension of one person mapping and trying to represent the DM's words accurately on 1cm graph paper, with the rest kibitzing to stave off boredom (a style of play alluded to in the questions to the article, but which I haven't seen for 30 years). Does anyone still do this? That's *not* the fun bit of exploration -- but discovering the texture of the game world is crucial, and when there's buy-in from everyone at the table, it can lead to lasting memories.
Yeah, mapping for our group (currently in the very dungeon-crawly Rise of the Runelords) consists of one of the players saying "I map this as we go along" and then asking me questions if anything's confusing.

It seems, to me at least, like the same sort of activity as setting up camp... potentially important, but something I'd rather let the characters handle than play through.

Cheers!
Kinak
 

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Libramarian

Adventurer
I love this stuff (as can be seen from the dungeon I contributed to this thread).

I like that James acknowledges that recent editions have lost the vocabulary for this stuff. I agree that this has led to it becoming an implicit part of the game known only to experienced DMs. This is not something that new DMs know to do. If you take away the name of something then it dies out of the game.

However I think when the discussion moves to specifics the quality is pretty mediocre and I wish someone else besides JW would write this section of the 5e DMG. I'm not sure that the subcategories of tricks is a useful schema. I don't see any important difference between obstacles, dungeon dressing and hidden things--put examples of each, but don't imply that there needs to be an even split between them among the tricks in a dungeon. Mysteries seem like a different type of thing, because they involve clues garnered from multiple encounters and generally the stakes are much less immediate. But they're fun so they should be discussed somewhere.

A couple of specific criticisms: JW says "traps whose sole purpose is to punish characters for not finding them (often with sudden meaningless death)"--no, the purpose is to make messing around with stuff in the dungeon more tense, which some people find enjoyable. Sudden death is not meaningless if the player has made an agreement with the other players that their character will be the doppelsoldner (first person to mess around with dubious-looking stuff in exchange for first choice/larger share of treasure).

"Teleporters, stairways at the end of sloping passages, rotating rooms, elevator rooms, distance distortion, and similar effects just confuse the players about their position in the dungeon. In practical terms, their primary effect is causing arguments between the players and the DM over the accuracy of the players’ map."--no, what's supposed to happen is that the PCs start moving through terrain they've already been in, or terrain that should be much farther away than it seems to be, and the players realize this from the description, which surprises them but makes them feel relieved and smart. The problem is that it's annoying to erase part of their map if they're doing it square by square with pencil and paper, but this is an issue with that particular mapping practice not with the whole idea of navigation as an enjoyable player-level challenge.

I don't think the game should tell players to map a dungeon square by square. Players should decide for themselves how they're going to avoid getting lost (take note of landmarks? make markings with that chalk that's on the equipment list for some reason? make a simple line map?).
 

Libramarian

Adventurer
I think exploration is a dumb name for this though. This (as a type of encounter) should be called tricks and traps. What most people want exploration to mean I think is encounters that have less intense stakes and arise more naturally from the game setting, which make the adventure feel more immersive and less railroady.
 

Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
Supporter
"Teleporters, ... In practical terms, their primary effect is causing arguments between the players and the DM over the accuracy of the players’ map."--no, what's supposed to happen is that the PCs start moving through terrain they've already been in, or terrain that should be much farther away than it seems to be, and the players realize this from the description, which surprises them but makes them feel relieved and smart.

That is the effect, but some of us remember Gary Jordan's old Dragon article (reprinted in the Best of... collections) form 1978 on Tesseracts (subtitled Making Meticulous Mapmakers Mad -- with a followup in 1980). Working through those rooms, and finding corpses stuck to the walls and ceilings was one of the most awesome and frustrating Saturday afternoons of my life.

The original articles (4pgs) are all linked to from here.
 
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GX.Sigma

Adventurer
[scathing review]
All absolutely true, but we all already know they don't understand old-school D&D. I'm just glad they're starting to blunder towards the right answers.

What I find interesting is this quote:
You might sometimes make ability checks during exploration...More often, though, you’ll rely on your own wits as you interact with the DM...Experiment, ask questions, keep notes, and pay attention
My experiences with the playtest exploration rules have been the exact opposite ("I roll to find traps." "You find a trap." "I roll to disarm the trap." "You disarm the trap."); hopefully this means they're scrapping those rules.

This one is also worth noting:
It’s also interesting that so many tricks (especially looking back at the original D&D game) are aimed at confounding the party’s map of the dungeon or getting them lost. Teleporters, stairways at the end of sloping passages, rotating rooms, elevator rooms, distance distortion, and similar effects just confuse the players about their position in the dungeon. In practical terms, their primary effect is causing arguments between the players and the DM over the accuracy of the players’ map.
I instinctively hate this comment because of the utter dismissal of an important aspect of old-school D&D, but deep down, I agree that mapping puzzles just make the game more annoying in practice.
 
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MarkB

Legend
I answered "something else entirely" to the first question. To me, exploration is a way to become better acquainted with the game world, to introduce colour and features that set it aside from other settings.
 

pemerton

Legend
Those tricks that must be solved to complete the adventure. These should generally be few in number, and relatively simple. And, in particular, the adventure should always consider: what happens if the PCs fail to 'solve' this?
Doesn't your description of these answer the question - if the players (I assume, rather than the PCs) fail to solve the trick, then they don't succeed at the adventure: either they come to a dead end, or they fail to get the widget they will need to open/close the treasure chest/portal of doom/whatever is the ultimate goal.

I love this stuff (as can be seen from the dungeon I contributed to this thread).

I like that James acknowledges that recent editions have lost the vocabulary for this stuff. I agree that this has led to it becoming an implicit part of the game known only to experienced DMs. This is not something that new DMs know to do. If you take away the name of something then it dies out of the game.

<snip>

I don't think the game should tell players to map a dungeon square by square. Players should decide for themselves how they're going to avoid getting lost (take note of landmarks? make markings with that chalk that's on the equipment list for some reason? make a simple line map?).
Thanks for posting in the thread. I thought of your dungeon when I read the column, as it is the most recent example of that sort of thing that I have looked at!

I also found your comments on mapping interesting. How do you resolve the possibility of chalk marks being erased by wandering monsters?
 

pemerton

Legend
I instinctively hate this comment because of the utter dismissal of an important aspect of old-school D&D, but deep down, I agree that mapping puzzles just make the game more annoying in practice.
I was left unsure, then, whether you think it's good or bad that Wyatt said it. If you agree that these puzzles are annoying, isn't it a good thing that Wyatt acknowledge as much? It's not like old-school D&D is a sacred practice that we have to honour for its own sake!
 

delericho

Legend
Doesn't your description of these answer the question - if the players (I assume, rather than the PCs) fail to solve the trick, then they don't succeed at the adventure: either they come to a dead end, or they fail to get the widget they will need to open/close the treasure chest/portal of doom/whatever is the ultimate goal.

At its simplest, yes: fail to solve the puzzle, and the adventure's over. But, at least in some cases, there's hope that it can be a bit more interesting than that. This is especially important in the case of an Adventure Path, where failure in one adventure hopefully doesn't mean the end of the campaign as a whole - and if nothing else, the next adventure shouldn't assume that the previous one was a success!

But, there's another reason the question should be asked explicitly: sometimes, the designer didn't actually intend that the puzzle must be solved or the adventure ends. By explicitly asking the question, he reminds himself of this, and so reminds himself that he needs to put in an escape clause for the alternative case.

(Or maybe he does mean this puzzle to be truly necessary to success - that's valid too. But in that case, asking the question does no harm.)
 

I'm A Banana

Potassium-Rich
I feel like he's almost getting it. He approaches getting it, but then gets a little wrapped up in his own particular style considerations.

I'm basically totally with him until he starts talking about "exploration encounters." I see what he's getting at -- exploration can sort of be thought of the interesting events that happen between point A and point B -- but I feel like thinking about it that way minimizes some of the really interesting things about exploration as a part of gameplay.

It might be worth thinking about the exploration itself as an encounter. That is, the players spend resources as they engage the environment, which depletes their resources, until either the party dies or gets what they need from the environment. Much like the arc of combat, only tracked over hours and days rather than rounds and turns. At the end, rather than beating the enemy, the PC's wind up finding what they're looking for or getting where they're going. It's less about the specific scene with the fountain, and more like "Mysterious Fountain" is a power used by the Ancient Ruins environment which is an attack vs. Will that depletes 1d4 survival days as the party sits around and puzzles out its mystery.

Thinking of it that way, things like searching for the dungeon entrance and save-or-die traps become more about the equivalent of HP depletion: not finding the dungeon entrance is like missing on an attack. Getting hit with a trap that kills you is like getting walloped with a powerful monster ability. The challenge here is can you survive the dangerous environment, overall, not simply about puzzling out individual rooms and scenes. If you never find the dungeon and have to go back to town because traps nearby kill you, it's like running from a dragon. It's not about dealing with a particular trap any more than it's about one particular blow from a sword.

In exploration, individual scenes are my attack rolls and hits, not the whole show.

In fact, I personally kind of conceive of entire adventures in this way. It's not kobolds with special powers, it's The Mithral Mines of Malglum that have a special Hoarde of Kobolds power that wears down the resources of the party.

And this is part of why 4e's more detailed focus on individual scenes really chafes. I don't want to spend an hour dealing with one mysterious fountain any more than I want to spend an hour wading through a group of kobolds. Give me 5 minutes and a result, and lets move on to the next interesting feature, because the game isn't about the kobolds or the fountain, it's about the entire arc of the adventure.

That said, I think he's mostly on the right path, here. His list is a good one, and his scratching the surface to see where the exploration fun lies is smart. He should just really be willing to abandon the idea that a game is a chain of encounter scenes, and embrace the idea that encounter scenes are just moments of slightly tighter focus within a bigger context (the adventure). Get with that, and you've got a chance to get a D&D game designed to capture the feel I'm looking for.
 
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