Dungeons and You: How to Make Your Delving Worthwhile

By on 1 April 2014

So, you’ve been on the road for a while, you’ve finished off a few quests or maybe the game master just didn’t have anything planned for the evening so out of his folder he pulls an A4 sheet of paper with a dungeon map on it. Some players feel disdain when this happens, others get the hunger for loot.

So you need a little one shot plot for the evening, nothing too complex but something with substance to make the game flow right. Riddles are usually quite simple to throw onto a dusty wall but there are only so many riddles you can use before the party get a feeling that they’ve stumbled into the bat cave and the riddler came to visit earlier.

One good method that never gets old is a classic breadcrumb trail crawl, derived from rogue likes; you give your players a few gobos to slay and they can drop random items like scrolls, potions, boots, helms and other odds and ends, but then you as the game master decide if any of these items are cursed or blessed upon the player equipping or using them.

Now you don’t ever put anything harmful in their way, you want to keep them playing even after their new helmet is magically bound to their skull and whispering maddening incantations into their ears that no one else can hear. You need to unleash the inner compulsive gambler in them; this can be achieved with the power of scrolls and potions.

Dungeons and YouScrolls are a common item I’ve used plenty of times in low magic settings, they give the player a one use spell that can alter the tides of battle or even boost them in some way and they learn to revere them and hold onto them. The difference with dungeon scrolls is you don’t label their use, you say it has some form of language that no amount of lucky rolls will decipher. The players will just after use it to find out.

What keeps them playing and using the scrolls is the fact they will know what the scroll does after use and they definitely won’t forget what they do. The most common effects that are positive are identify scrolls and blessing scrolls; these can be used to find out what something does without using it and un-cursing items. With negative effects however, have as much fun as possible, smoke scrolls that billow a cloud of blinding smoke and teleport scrolls that whisk the poor user away from the party are also fun, your imagination is your limit.

Potions are items I have only used a few times because the players are actually scared to ingest them, I don’t know about you but a mysterious unlabelled bottle of pearlescent fluid sounds delicious! Fear not though, like scrolls they can harbour any assortment of effects that your mind can muster, you’ll find that some players may end up keeping them to throw at enemies or in one of my players instances, testing its effects on a rabbit; I wasn’t until the rabbit had exploded into a red mess he had decided to drink some himself.

Now naturally you can just imagine that trying to keep up with all these potions and items could be a bit of a nightmare in preparation, but you can stream line the process by just keeping the item list in your players guide open, then you can just pick the items that they find and effects/curses can be done on the fly, the players write down their goodies so that’s less for you to keep tabs on too.

In conclusion sometimes when you haven’t really had to the time to think up a little quest you can just sway the players towards a “hidden tomb”, or an ancient mage’s pantry or whatever you want, sometimes it’s good to let a plot take the back seat while the party plays a fusion of Russian Roulette and Supermarket Sweep.

About James Grimes

James is writer from Derbyshire and when he's not running games he's writing them. He has spent 3 years running games trying to perfect his craft. Like a reluctant hipster he supports indie games and new systems that people haven't probably heard of but that doesn't jade his opinion of the classics and greats.

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