Dungeon D'enouement

Last night was a kind of slow session.  In the previous week the players had pretty much cleared out the dungeon they were exploring, though they were still a bit mystified about the back story of the dungeon itself.  This week they spent a good chunk of time wandering the halls searching for more clues or last bits of treasure before finally heading back to town to rest and split up the loot.  That was pretty much the entire session, not one fight, barely any new treasure found, and lots of questions still lingering in their minds.

I’m never sure what to do in these cases.  I could toss in some more encounters to liven things up, but it would just be random encounters that even further slow down their final exit from the place that’s now pretty much played out.  I feel bad for them that can’t seem to quite figure out exactly what happened in the dungeon before they found it, but I’m certainly not going to just out and tell them.  If they’ve either missed clues or failed to interpret the ones they have, I don’t feel like I should be adding more to try and nudge them in the right direction.

I suppose if I had one piece of advice for my players (and they do read this blog, so excuse me if I tread lightly here), it’s that the dungeon is not the only source of information about itself.  When trying to learn to juggle, you don’t stare at three balls until you figure out how to keep them in the air all the time.  Sure, you spend plenty of time throwing those balls up and down (and drop them fairly often), but also you go find someone else who knows how to juggle, maybe take a book out from the library on juggling, etc.

But that’s a bit of a tangent.  I’m curious what other folks do when their players start doggedly going over the same part of the dungeon over and over, or otherwise beat their heads against a dead end.  Do you just start tossing in monsters?  Do you insert more information to try and prod them along?  Do you just let them bang their heads against the wall until they finally move on?  What’s the best way to keep the game lively?

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8 Comments

  1. IN these situations, I go over the same information again…in monotone. Let them realize that I’m not that interested in going over it again. Get them to move onto something else.

  2. This one quasi-stumps me. I think occasionally I actually come out and say, “After extensive searches you are absolutely convinced that there’s nothing else to find here,” something like that. Not sure that’s the best.

  3. Haha frustrating night indeed! I was a bit frustrated about missing the technicality (robe) but that’s on my shoulders. Apologies if any frustration was misdirected.

    We really WANT to know the story, we have a few players who

    How do you feel about the party creating a list of goals to accomplish when we reach town next session? It feels like everyone is interested in reaching River’s Fork and getting items identified.

    What’s the best way to do the housekeeping? I mean I enjoy the characterization of various vendors and all but it takes up a ton of our limited time!

    By the way… Death Toll still missing some proud spelunkers who need recognition!

  4. Uggh. Unfinished sentence.

    We really WANT to know the story, we have a few players who are a bit new and missed the chance at some earlier clues. I think part of the problem with this particular dungeon was that there was a lot of communication from an otherworldly source early on(vision of the iron god), and then it dried up.

    Ultimately I think we feel accomplishment for clearing the dungeon and maybe investigating what the iron idol is will answer some questions. Or maybe it’s just waiting to be forged into a badass sword…

  5. I wish I had been there from the start because I’m honestly just now starting to put things together – but I won’t post any of it here for fear of spoilers.

    I’m a very old hand at the dungeon crawl – it’s my favorite type of crawl and it’s my favorite way to play. I’ve always liked the experience of figuring out the riddles and the puzzles – but I really enjoy watching the confused faces around the table. I have been running games since the mid 70s and I never grow tired of watching players as they stumble and bumble their way through a dungeon.

    So – get to the point right? Players have been coddled to death by rules that make everything completely evident. “I can climb a rope! How do I know? Well because I have that skill, see!” Even seemingly “new” players are usually folks who have been playing MMOs or other equally dumbed-down games, and are used to having everything laid out before them.

    The old D&D that I grew up with was all about making it up as you go along. The mage has one spell – so does the spell define the mage, or does the player define the mage? The player of course! The player had to breathe life into the character, had to make the character a useful piece of the party – even after his 3 points of magical damage have been dealt out. But that isn’t how it is in the modern game, in this game the mage is always useful… because the designers said so. They gave him abilities to constantly deal out damage! Isn’t he special?

    I prefer the old game, where the players defined their world, and the players were the ones who crafted their characters, not the rules.

    So this all goes back to your question – what do you do when the players insist on crawling through the hallways of a deserted tomb, long after everything has been found or killed? Let them. It isn’t the DM’s job to reveal all the secrets, it’s the DM’s job to provide the ability to uncover those secrets.

    My 2-cents

    -Leger

  6. @michael:
    I wouldn’t say I was really frustrated, just that it wasn’t the most exciting session we’ve ever had. You should expect a fair amount of hyperbole in my posts such that I can get at the meat of point I want to discuss. That said, I’m sorry if you were frustrated about the robe thing. I have to be a hard-*** about these kinds of things though, as you’d never forgive me if I assumed some action (loot taken, door opened, room entered, etc.) that resulted in a trap going off that killed your character.

    If players want to come up with a list of down-time activities for me to adjudicate between sessions I’m totally fine with that. They may not always get the best prices for items sold, but can certainly expect something reasonable and it will cut down on wasted adventure time. I leave that up to you guys to initiate though if you want.

    BTW, you’re absolutely correct that a major contributing factor in this particular case was the rapid introduction of two new players in the middle of the adventure. That said, I still find it an interesting point to pontificate: what do you do when the players stubbornly bang their heads against a brick wall?

  7. @Leger:
    I absolutely agree that it’s not the DM’s job to dole out the secrets just because the players failed to figure something out. The only real control point the DM has at this point, I think, is the rate of random encounter rolls. Increasing them may teach the players that dawdling in dangerous locations is a bad idea, but the players may just doggedly push through them, thus losing even more time banging their heads against the brick wall. Decreasing them might push the game through faster so the players can move on to the good stuff, but it also feels a little forced, like somehow suddenly the dungeon is no longer a living place but a “level” to be “cleared”.

    I suppose the only real choice here is to just keep playing by the book, and let the dice tell you what to do. You may get either side of the above issue out of pure randomness, but at least your conscience is clear.

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