Normally I try not to give my players any direct advice about how to play. I want them to learn their own lessons and come up with their own clever ways out of a pickle. However, we’ve been playing almost a year now and I see them make this same mistake time and time again. I’m starting to feel bad for them when it blows up in their faces, so players, this post is for you.
My players suffer from what I’m calling “Goldilocks Syndrome”. That is, they seem to think it’s a good idea to break into someone’s house, rifle through their things, and then stop for a nap. They’ll be in the middle of exploring a dungeon, be it an ancient ruin filled with strange monsters or a simple thieves’ hideout, when they notice their resources have been pretty depleted. By which I mean, the fighters are down to just a few hit points left and the spell casters are all out of spells. Thus, they decide, let’s find a room or a corner to hole up in and sleep to refresh. At this point I suspect they’re thinking of it too much like a video game, and not enough like a simulation of real life (or at least, fictional fantasy-land life).
As DM, I see myself as having two major jobs: 1. Enforce the rules as written, and 2. Roleplay the non-players to the best of my ability. For the latter I’m referring to every sentient being that’s not a player, be it the friendly king who asks the players to go on a quest for him or the band of goblins whose cave the players are invading. Both of these jobs are directly at odds with the practice of “holing up” while inside a dungeon.
Item #1: Enforce the rules. The rules in a dungeon often dictate that I roll a d6 every turn or every other turn, and on a 6 a wandering monster shows up. Let’s be generous and say it’s every other turn and the players want to rest for just 8 hours (it’s often more, as they want to keep a rotating watch and still give every person 8 full hours of rest). Even in this most generous case I’m rolling 24 dice, which means on average you’d get at least 4 encounters during that time period. You want to face down those 4 encounters with a subset of your team who are already in a weakened state? I think we know how that’s going to go.
Item #2: Roleplay the non-players. This is even worse for the players. Let me give you an analogy. Let’s say you come home from work one day and discover some stranger is sitting on your couch watching TV. You yell “Hey, what the hell are you doing in my house? Get the hell out of here!” In response, the fellow runs up stairs to the bedroom, locks the door, and lies down on your bed to go to sleep. Do you:
a. Go away so he can steal all your belongings and leave safely when he wakes up.
b. Wait patiently at the door so the two of you can have a fair fight after he’s slept and feels refreshed.
c. Call the police and let them bash down your bedroom door and beat the living snot out of the bastard.
When my players enter a dungeon, make huge amounts of noise, get into fights with the inhabitants and allow some of them to survive and escape, what do they think is going to happen when they try and stop for a nap? This is especially bad when the inhabitants are at least somewhat intelligent. I end up looking at the layout, which obviously the inhabitants know well while the players do not, and try to think “how would these guys eject or kill invaders?” Then I try to implement that plan. More often than not, it works.
So players, please, take my advice. When you’re exploring a dungeon and feeling like it’s too dangerous to continue, leave! Go away, rest, refresh, and maybe think of a new plan of attack. And be aware that while you did so, so did the inhabitants of the dungeon. If you think there’s any way they might suspect you’ll be back, you can bet things will be a little different than how you left them when you return.