Monday, 24 March 2014

Take Only Treasure, Leave Only Footprints

Wandering monsters usually are mentioned as a reason for players to take time in the dungeon seriously; to work efficiently, without searching every crevice for treasure; and to refrain from brute-force solutions to doors and chests that would make loud and long noise.

There's another reason I haven't seen implemented, which is -- to give consequences for overly zealous damage to the environment.

Photo by awelshgirl
Think about it. If you get back home and you find someone has knocked your mailbox over, you might want to take a further tour of the premises, see if the vandals are still around, or at very least see if there's been any more damage to your turf.

Likewise, if the dungeon presents tempting urns to knock over, furniture to smash in search of treasure, wooden doors to blast with lightning bolts ... these operations will not just make noise ... they'll leave tracks. Tracks much more detectable than Hansel and Gretel's bread crumbs. Come to think of it, the usual pile of corpses and blood from a dungeon combat will also have this effect. Your typical party of adventurers is an ecological disaster waiting to happen.

And maybe Smokey the Werebear is out there ...

Try this for size. As explorers go deeper into the dungeon, as you roll wandering encounters for them, also roll encounters for any "disaster scenes" they have left behind them. If an intelligent monster turns up at that scene, make a morale roll for them. If they pass, they will go off in search of the wreckers, following any tracks that may have been left behind, otherwise going randomly. If they fail morale, they will make excuses to find something better to do.

So as the explorers go deeper into the dungeon, leaving their mark, they may find more enemies attracted to their trail and bedeviling their return. Which in turn encourages play closer to Special Forces on a long range patrol, and further away from dungeon vandals on a smash and grab party.


  1. I think this rule could be extended further than this. It makes sense to me that you could do the same sorts of checks for castle guards and other patrols if the PCs are infiltrating somewhere civilized.

    Could be six of one, half-dozen of the other, but I can see myself using this in city-based adventures all the time.

    1. Agreed - and part of my point in writing this was that gamemasters tend to pick up more on the consequences of leaving mayhem evidence lying around in civilization, than in an inhabited and teeming underworld.

  2. This is fantastic, and totally something I hope I remember to do next time I'm behind the screen.

    I would say that this ought to apply not just to intelligent denizens of the dungeon. Even the semi-intelligent monster types ought to have hunting instincts that would clue in on both the destruction left behind and the unfamiliar scent trails leading away from the scene.

  3. I like the part about making a morale roll. Maybe the result could also indicate how long/far away will they track the pcs?

  4. The other side of this is when Monsters decide to try to scare off the party. I like to make it clear that the residents of 'dungeons' resent the intrusion upon the players return visit. Threatening graffiti - barricades attempting to direct the party to dangerous areas or against another faction. If they leave a dead surface dweller behind, that's totally becoming part of the 'get lost' signage.

    As to monsters spotting the adventurer's handiwork and following, I'm a bit more circumspect, to me it really depends on factions/the nature of the dungeon. In a single faction lair one has the raid or infiltration scenario going strong, but where there are multiple dungeon factions I'd give the party more leeway. The orcs are happy to find a goblin massacre, and if the orc guard happens to overhear a fight (minus piggy grunts for help), I see it reacting by bracing the door and oinking with glee that some rival may have run afoul of the owlbear rather then rushing in to join the fracas.

  5. I like the idea of wandering monsters tailing a party hoping to pick off lone sentries or attack after the party is wounded and exhausted.

    Also sniping at the rear of a party that is otherwise engaged with an owlbear may be an effective and appealing tactic for the orcs.