Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Party Stances for Dungeon Turns (a Dungeon Procedure idea)

 I've been noodling at some thoughts about dungeoncrawl procedures, turn tracking, resource management, etc. The recent hubbub around the new Shadowdark game, which uses 1 hour of real-world time to track each torch, got me thinking. I don't think that's a solution I favor, but it's not a bad idea to keep thinking about creative ways to handle some of the ol' sacred cows in dungeoneering. 

So I've been scratching at some new (to me, at least) combinations. I haven't tested these out yet and I suspect they still need some work, but I like this approach in concept. There are a few key ideas mashed together here. One is that resource management is important in dungeoncrawling, but I don't really see a TON of regular utility in tracking torches and rations; it's more like a tax to keep the threat of running out part of the game. But actually having the players just sit there in the dark doesn't sound as fun. :-) Are there any simpler ways to handle all this, without giving up resource management completely?

The other idea I'm working with is inspired by Pathfinder 2e's dungeon exploration activities (of all things!). This is an idea that caught my fancy when I started running PF2e, though in practice I'm finding them a bit less awesome than I'd hoped. My intent here is to salvage something of the core approach, while hopefully improving a bit on the experience. 

Again, this is all a bit work-in-progress, but here goes. 


You know how some games let players choose a combat stance, usually applying Advantage to attacks and Disadvantages to defense (or the opposite)? This is kind of like that; each dungeon turn, while exploring, the party chooses a posture. This commits them to excelling at a particular kind of dungeon activity, while imposing some liabilities in other areas. It's important to note that this shouldn't prevent players from attempting certain kinds of activities; this just makes them a bit better at X than Y. Also, I thought about allowing a 'Neutral' base stance, but I kind of like the idea that dungeoncrawling is always risky, and every moment requires you to gamble focusing on something over other things. There is no 'casual tourist mode' in a lethal dungeon. 

In what follows, I'm thinking in Into the Odd-ish terms, albeit with room for standard fantasy class/heritage hacked in, so adjust accordingly to suit your favored mechanics. 

First: the party carries Supplies, an abstract measurement of their consumables (water, torches, and rations). The assumption is that every available inventory slot not filled with something else at the session's start is filled with Supplies, but no more. 

Each (approx.) 10-minute turn, the party (by default, as a whole, but see below) chooses to operate in one of the following stances. To switch to a different stance (usually at the beginning of the turn), somebody in the party must spend one slot of Supplies (this incentivizes staying in a stance longer, so players have to push their luck and think about their options). 

The stances are:

+ ALERT: The party automatically wins initiative rolls and passes WIS Saves against being surprised. But, DOWNSIDE: the party's militant demeanor imposes a penalty on NPC reaction rolls! 

+ HASTY: The party moves twice as fast, but DOWNSIDE: the hurried party loses Initiative rolls and automatically fails Saves against being surprised. 

+ DECLAMATORY: Now is a time for bold and encouraging words! The party gets advantage on NPC reaction rolls, and the encouraging pats-on-the-back and dramatic pep talks give each PC Advantage on their first Save rolled this turn. But, DOWNSIDE: the party automatically loses Initiative. 

+ STEALTHY: players get +Advantage to rolls to be sneaky. Anyone who would already get +Adv for such rolls due to some cool class hack gets an EXTRA bonus roll. Yowza! But, DOWNSIDE: if you're in a dark area, lugging a lit torch around will instantly give away your position, so sustaining a STEALTHY posture requires accepting some low-light consequences: penalty to NPC reaction rolls if discovered, and PCs inflict Impaired damage if they get in a fight. 

+ INVESTIGATIVE: the party slows down to check out an area in more detail. Each PC automatically detects their class/heritage detection items (see below), but DOWNSIDE: it costs TWO Supplies to enter this Stance instead of one. 

+ RESTING: The party may hunker down and take a Short Rest, gaining its benefits, but DOWNSIDE: it ain't a rest if you aren't resting, and if you're resting when something goes wrong... the party automatically loses Surprise Saves AND Initiative when in this posture. 

+ STAND GUARD: the stances above apply to the entire party. For an additional cost of one Supply per PC, one or more PCs may pay to adopt a separate individual stance of ALERT or STEALTHY, although the rest of the party is in some other stance. The PC standing guard gains the benefits and drawbacks of ALERT or STEALTHY and does NOT gain whatever benefits the rest of the party is enjoying (a party might use this rule to have a healthy PC stand guard on ALERT while the rest of the party takes a short rest, for example). 

+ RUNNING OUT OF SUPPLY: if the party has run out of points of Supply, then we can assume that either they are actually groping in the dark, or (let's say instead) they are down to a few desperate candle nubs, burning sheets of paper and spare socks to keep the fire going, etc. This means we don't have to disrupt play massively at this point - but there is still a real cost to mis-managing the resource game. When a party has run out of supply while operating in a dark underground environment, the following apply to all PCs: PCs inflict Impaired damage, penalty to NPC reaction rolls, and ... maybe ... Disadvantage on all Saves? For a mechanically interesting but perhaps too generous alternative, just say that the party can (and MUST) still select a Dungeon Stance, but they ONLY get that stance's DOWNSIDE - none of the benefits. This option means the players keep having to make choices about the least of all evil options as they try to get out of the dungeon (you'd have to say you can't choose Investigative stance in this context, of course). 


I may really be out to lunch here, but how about...

When the party enters a new room, every player rolls 1d6. On a 1-2, the following happens:

+ Fighters and Halflings detect any ambushers present

+ Thieves and Dwarves detect any traps or secret doors

+ Magic-Users (all kinds) and Elves detect magic 

When in Investigative Stance, the above detections happen whatever the player rolled. 

The idea here is to hand the players more information, inviting them to focus on the bits that really push toward choices in play. So secret doors should still require some engagement - as I've suggested before, make the door easy to find but challenging to open. Traps should follow Chris M's suggestions: easy to spot, but trickier to circumvent if you need to do so in a hurry. 

With all these stances, of course, it's important not to nerf an action that any PC should be able to do at any time. So Investigative stance isn't the only stance in which, say, a PC can mess with a treasure chest for information: it's a way to mechanically make the players more confident about certain pieces of information, but at a known mechanical cost. 

Anyway. Whaddaya think? Any thoughts on the potential utility (or otherwise) of such a system?




  1. This is a cool idea! It's a lot of options though and I'm not sure the advantage and downside for each option make sense to me. I might ask the group their stance and give them the options:
    Moving fast you will gain the initiative but you might miss things. I would be tempted to withhold the map from a group in fast mode (makes sense, they are not pausing to map themselves) but the players would hate that.

  2. This sounds like Standard Operating Procedures that naturally evolved through old school play. I like it. Also, I’ve seen stances for application in combat, to give flavor and further meaningful options:
    * Normal
    * Defensive: attack penalty, AC bonus, strike only when opportunity is presented
    * Aggressive: attack bonus, AC penalty, all out offensive
    * Protective: no attack, AC bonus, can take a hit for the protected character
    * Command: no attack, AC penalty, successful check (eg CHA) provides party attack bonus.

    (Couldn’t find proper attribution for these)

  3. Interesting, I can see making some sort of use of this, maybe with a bit tweaking(for my specific rules)


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