This is a spinoff of +Gary Chadwick ‘s prior thread.

This is a spinoff of +Gary Chadwick ‘s prior thread.

This is a spinoff of +Gary Chadwick ‘s prior thread.

I would like to use a countdown clock as a measure of ambient threat within a dungeon. The clock is a way to visualize how much noise that the PCs are making, and how alter the dungeon is to the intruders. When the PCs do something that makes a lot of noise or takes a lot of time, a segment of the lock gets filled in. (A good use for moves that “attract unwanted attention” or make a lot of noise.) This is a mostly fictional thing, with the exception of the following move, which I am looking for feedback on:

When you try to Make Camp or otherwise rest for an extended period of time in a dangerous dungeon, roll+filled in Threat clock segments. *On a 10+, choose two. *On a 7-9, choose one.

– The dungeon becomes more alert, advance the Threat clock. You cannot choose this option if the clock is already at 12:00.

– A threat approaches, someone must Take Watch.

– It’s just not safe to stay here, you don’t have enough time to get sufficient rest to do what you wanted. The GM may offer an ugly choice or hard bargain.

*On a 6-, things remain calm, and you can rest safely. No XP is awarded for a 6- on this move.

0:00 The dungeon is calm and quiet, any monsters inside are going about their normal routines, unaware of any threats.

3:00 Some of the more wary foes may become suspicious, but they don’t know exactly what’s going on yet.

6:00 The enemy knows that something hostile to them is present, though details are yet vague. Monsters will not be caught flat-footed, but neither are they actively taking up defensive postures just yet.

9:00 The dungeon is aware of the party, as well as their rough location. The dungeon’s defenses come into play noticeably. Any quick defensive measures that can come into play are activated. The monsters are obviously ready for a fight.

10:00 The opposition steps up their game significantly. Expect cautious patrols designed to flush out the intruders, and the monsters taking on a much more active role in protecting their lairs. Moments of safety for the PCs to regroup and prepare are becoming noticeably harder to come by.

11:00 The party’s location and activity are pinpointed. Any remaining preparation or defenses that can be set up are. The enemy will actively hunt down the PCs, since they know where they are. Contingency plans are coming into play, such as hiding loot or taking escape tunnels out.

12:00 Anything left in the dungeon is now fully armed and mobilized, and the dungeon throws everything it has at the PCs, non-stop. Coordinated attacks, carefully staged defenses, loot spirited away, you name it. The PCs will not have a moment of safety until the dungeon is completely empty of foes or until they are running for their lives.

The goal is to make the dungeon feel more like a living ecology. Monsters will not docilely wait their turn to be slaughtered, nor should the PCs have free reign to recharge their abilities after every fight. It’s a way to combat the “15 minute adventuring day” phenomenon I have seen before in other games with powerful once-a-day abilities. The clock adds a visual reminder that this place is emphatically not safe, and keeps the adventure humming along without letting the stakes drop.

10 thoughts on “This is a spinoff of +Gary Chadwick ‘s prior thread.”

  1. Couple suggestions. Personal preference but I’ve always disliked the “reverse harm” moves from AW. What if you flipped the 10+ and 6- moves and made it “roll-filled in Threat clock segments”. Second I think something like “take -1 for each quarter of the clock that is filled” might be better as you wouldn’t get into a >4 modifier situation which starts to break.

  2. Ideally, I would like the “rest safely” option pushed off of the table at midnight. If people don’t like the inverted roll, how about roll+empty segments instead? *On a 12+, things remain calm, and you can rest safely. *On a 10+, choose one or the other. *On a 7-9, both.

    – The dungeon becomes more alert, advance the Threat clock.

    – A danger approaches, someone must Take Watch.

    *On a 6-, it’s just not safe to rest here, you don’t have enough time to get sufficient rest to do what you wanted. The GM may offer an ugly choice or hard bargain.

    When the clock is at midnight, the players cannot rest for any longer than a moment in the dungeon until all of the remaining threats are dealt with.

  3. Roll+empty is significantly more generous that roll minus filled, even at 11pm they’re rolling +1. Either way is fine, the relative danger is yours to decide. This anydice program can help you narrow down the odds I like the cutting off the move at midnight regardless. Also you might check out the way Blades in the Dark implements clocks it’s more flexible than the AW default implementation.

  4. Huh. The progression your present with the clock, and the idea of linking a “rest safely” (or random encounter) check to it, make a lot of assumptions about the fiction in the dungeon that don’t match the majority of dungeons that I imagine (or the monsters that live in them).

    Specifically, you’re modelling a dungeon that is large enough to hide in/sneak through, with a population that is:

    * Relatively large

    * Mobile

    * Tactically minded

    * At least somewhat organized and disciplined

    But that’s… a military encampment. Sure, there are some dungeons that might work that way, but if you take away any of those assumptions, your model starts to fall apart.

    For example, say I’m raiding a goblin hole, and goblins in our world are craven, cowardly, treacherous little shits. A “boss” keeps the warren in line through intimidation and eating his rivals. He (and only he) is smart enough to post some guards, but the guards are terribly unreliable. He’s got a half dozen underlings who’d love to knife him in the back and be in charge, given the chance.

    PCs kick in the front door and slaughter some gobbos. A few get away, bearing horror stories of fireballs and the barbarian’s sweeping axe.

    Panic starts to spread. The goblin boss tries to impose his will and sends out some more goblins to intercept these foes. The PCs aren’t really being sneaking, so they get jumped by a bunch of goblins. They slaughter even more of them! This larger force breaks even more quickly, and flees back to the various boltholes.

    Yeah, pretty quickly every goblin in the hole knows that the PCs are here, and where they last were. But they aren’t going on patrol… they’re huddling behind barricades, trying not to breathe to heavily, waiting for the damn sunlovers to kick the doors down and murder them. The boss, meanwhile, is dealing with treacherous underlings and can’t get anyone to sally forth against the PCs. Things have gone super quiet, and no one’s moving around the dungeon except for the PCs and maybe an ambitious, toadying little goblin that thinks the PCs are the perfect way to get rid of the current boss that ate his sister and his staked his favorite badger, who approaches the PCs with hands upraised and offering to make a deal…

    Now, imagine a different dungeon, this one haunted by ghosts looping through the worst days of their life, and a gelatinous cube mindlessly chewing its way through corridors, and a hive of firewasps. Each of these factions is going to react to the PC’s presence in a fundamentally different way, largely based on the PC’s actions. And they might not really affect each other… the ghosts are gonna keep ghosting, regardless of whether the firewasps get riled up.

    My point being: the setup your proposing doesn’t seem to reflect the specific fictional circumstances of any actual dungeon.

    I think you’d be better off with a “logical progression” for each faction. Either something like a series of grim portents, or just a set of if-then tactics like Johnstone Metzger often includes in his beasties. “If the PCs encounter a random firewasp: it attacks aggressively.” “If the PCs disturb the hive: they swarm throughout the dungeon.” “If the PCs communicate with the ghost: it acts as though they are Bilthorne, and reminisces about the past.” “If the the gelatinous cube tastes one of the PCs: follow them slowly but implacably through the dungeon.”

  5. That’s what I was going towards, yes. You have a point that each different type of monster reacts differently, so I would need to make the descriptors at each time point more generic, and perhaps add in a separate list of instincts/moves for different types of foes that relate to different time points. I don’t think I can make a perfect one-size-fits-all framework for every dungeon, but I can get something that’ll work for most.

    Would anyone join me in a brainstorm of listing how monsters react to an intruder in their lair?

  6. I still think this has potential, so I took a step back to examine what I hoped to accomplish from it. The core of the move is a “wandering monster” check; it’s a very old-school tool that has fallen out of favor in most groups. But I think it is one that is necessary.

    A common mistake I see is that the GM treats monsters in the dungeon as only threats to be overcome, and lets them wait for the PCs to come to them. This creates an environment where every fight is on the PC’s terms, both tactically and story-wise, giving them a massive advantage. It leads to such metagame thinking as “the 15 minute adventuring day”, and encourages turtling and player aimlessness, since the PCs will know that nothing ever happens until they engage. If there is no danger present in the world, then where is the adventure?

    It is naive to think that threats will simply wait docilely for the PCs to get around to defeating them. Such foes will never feel dangerous, because they don’t do anything. They’re just mechanical obstacles for the PCs to whittle down at their convenience, in whatever way presents the least risk. Hardly a suitable state of affairs for a world filled with adventure. The solution, therefore, is to present a world that is in motion. If the PCs are making noise or taking too long to progress, bring the fight to them. This is the principle found in campaign fronts.

    I wanted to use the clock mechanic from AW because it presents a visual indication of ambient threat present. It also gives the GM another tool in their box; advancing the clock is a much more concrete–if not abstract–method to show signs of an approaching threat, and more dungeon moves to add to their arsenal. It also conveys a sense of urgency. Every good story has some kind of ticking clock in it.

    When the PCs enter the dungeon, the GM should also select a few moves for the dungeon population as to how they may react in response to the intruders, as well as begin a clock to represent how much noise the PCs are making. The further along the clock, the more alert the dungeon is. The GM may add “Advance the clock” to their list of moves in response to actions that cause unwanted attention or take a lot of time.

    For the PCs, when you try to Make Camp or otherwise rest for an extended period of time in a dangerous dungeon, whomever is on overwatch duty rolls+empty segments on the Threat clock. *On a 12+, things remain calm, and you can rest safely as you require. *On a 10+, choose one or the other. *On a 7-9, both.

    – The dungeon becomes more alert, advance the clock.

    – A danger approaches, you must immediately Take Watch. (Note that this is not necessarily an attack; it may be a scout, saboteur, or thief come to mess with you.)

    *On a 6-, it’s just not safe to rest here, you don’t have enough time to do what you wanted. The GM may offer an ugly choice or hard bargain.

    At 3:00, the more alert of the monsters may suspect something is up. At 6:00, the alert spreads. When the clock is advanced to 9:00 or beyond, the GM should make a move to represent the growing alertness to the intruders within the dungeon. The further the clock, the harder the move.

    When the clock is at midnight, the players cannot rest for any longer than a moment in the dungeon until all of the remaining threats are dealt with. There’s either too much danger barreling down on them, or the dungeon’s response to them has obviated the need for rest. (All of the monsters have run away with the treasure, all of the hostages are dead, the ritual is finished, there is nothing left to save.)

    Possible dungeon moves:

    Set traps

    Summon up more minions

    Kill a hostage

    Send out scouts

    Set up fortifications or chokepoints

    Burn/smoke them out

    Seal off a place

    Unleash something dangerous and uncontrolled

    Call for assistance

    Accelerate the plan, regardless of risks

    Raise a ruckus

    Hide the loot

    Run away!…

    …and take the valuables with you

    …and scorch the earth behind you

    …and regroup elsewhere to plan revenge

    …and counterattack somewhere else

    …and report to a bigger threat

    …and tarnish their reputation (You’re under arrest for gobbo-cide!)

  7. These are all good prompts and ideas. In my own dungeon crawler (“Kroll”), what I did is that I wrote up a “move” for each monster in the dungeon (I typically have 3-4, sometimes individual monsters and sometimes whole tribes). Each “move” is something that monster wishes to do, to change the environment of the dungeon in its favour. For instance, a monster might wish to seal off the entrance, set a trap, break down a wall, or fight, capture, or eat another monster. If a monster has an interest in treasure, it might grab it all and stash it somewhere (or even carry it out of the dungeon, if it’s a human “monster”, or some other type of traveling/wandering creature). Another might venture out and attack the nearby Town.

    When the players “rest” or leave the dungeon – i.e. time passes – I roll. If I roll the appropriate number, I choose a random monster and its move comes to pass. This may or may not threaten the players, depending on where they are (I follow the fiction here).

    This works pretty well, although it may not necessarily give the feeling of “general escalating danger” you’re going for. It’s simple and evocative. Once a monster accomplished its “move”, I write a new one for it. It creates a nicely dynamic dungeon.

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