Friction and Wandering Monsters: Sandbox Dungeon Master’s Toolkit

Entering a dungeon in a miniskirt generates many friction points.

I’m working on a modular sub-level for the upcoming issue of Fight On! dedicated to Paul Jaquays, and wanted to share a mechanic for tying wandering monsters to friction points.

The idea of friction points is to provide a gameable system for dynamically tracking the dungeon denizens’ level of awareness that there are adventurers at large. Things that draw attention, like screaming girlishly at the unexpected appearance of an ugly club-wielding humanoid, earn friction points. Measures taken to defuse the situation, like creating an illusion of a dungeon boss announcing “False alarm, nothing to see here,” can reduce the party’s accumulated friction point total.

The easiest way to tie this to wandering monster checks is for friction point totals to increase the likelihood of an encounter. For example, you could say that as long as the PCs have accumulated less than 10 friction points, wandering monsters appear at the normal 1 in 6 chance.  This increases to 2 in 6 at 10-19 friction points, 3 in 6 at 20-29, etc.

The system I’m experimenting with is to also change the die type rolled to see what exactly appears when the wandering monster chance comes up. When the dungeon complex is relatively undisturbed, you roll a 1d4; when all hell is breaking loose, you roll a d12.

Friction Points Likelihood Die Type for Table
0-5 1 in 6 d4
6-10 1 in 6 d6
11-15 2 in 6 d8
16+ 2 in 6 d12

This works with a specially designed wandering monster table. The actual table would have 12 entries, arranged according to the ranges below:

Roll Encounter Type
1 – 4 Normal wandering monsters
5, 6 Patrols investigating disturbance
7, 8 Armed response teams
9 – 12 Reinforcements called in

What I like about this framework is that even when friction points are high, a low roll on any dice type always leaves open the possibility that the random encounter will just be whatever normal vermin might come by any time, unaware that they’re wandering into a dungeon complex that’s at a Code Brown level of full alert. At the same time, the higher results possible as the dice type increases open up ranges of monsters that will only appear when friction points are high. These could be powerful denizens that normally stay in their lairs but are drawn out by reports of trouble, creatures summoned to deal with the threat, opportunists from other dungeon areas hoping to profit from the chaos, etc.

Another way to look at the table above is to say that when friction point levels are minimal, there’s a 100% chance that monsters encountered won’t be specifically looking for to the party as the source of a disturbance. This chance decreases to 66% at low levels, 50% at moderate friction levels, and 33% when levels are high. Altering the dice type steps – for example, using a d3 as the normal encounter dice, and a d20 as the high-alert dice – could further tweak these probabilities.

8 Responses to “Friction and Wandering Monsters: Sandbox Dungeon Master’s Toolkit”

  1. 1 GrayPumpkin
    April 14, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    Very interesting stuff, I’ve toyed with implementing something like this in the past, but never got very far with the design. I will be stealing this idea for future campaigns.

  2. 2 Chris Newman
    April 14, 2010 at 8:31 pm

    What I’m wondering is when you roll 9-12 and reinforcements are called do the players have a chance to stop the call, or is it automatic?

  3. April 14, 2010 at 9:02 pm

    The framework assumes that the denizens are spread out enough and have enough opportunities to detect the PCs & spread their alert status that this can be handled in an abstract way – and are best handled abstractly since the alternative would be having to track what’s happening at each guard post / crystal ball / watch tower etc. in detail.

    The abstract ways players can prevent reinforcements are via friction points – either not earning them in the first place (e.g. not letting survivors get away) or by taking steps to de-alert the enemy (e.g. charming guards and getting them to spread the word that the situation is dealt with).

    If players came up with a concrete solution that prevented reinforcements – like whisking the dungeon into a separate demi-plane – I’d modify the wandering monster results accordingly, just like if I roll a wandering monster when you’re in a secure area I say “OK, so now that monster is out in a non-secure place in case you go there later.”

  4. 4 faustusnotes
    April 15, 2010 at 12:31 am

    just out of interest, who is screaming girlishly at who in that picture?

  5. April 15, 2010 at 12:40 am

    Good question. Underdressed females in dungeons are inevitably demons or dopplegangers or medusae or something, so it’s quite likely that she is the wandering monster here.

  6. 6 faustusnotes
    April 15, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    and is that a club in his hand, or is he just really pleased to see her. Failed my sense motive again…

    I don’t use random encounters, but I like this idea.

    I read a review of Warhammer 3rd ed recently, which described some mechanic they have for handling intra-party conflict they also refer to (I think) as friction points. Interesting ideas, both.

  7. April 15, 2010 at 9:03 pm

    This is an awesome idea. :D I’ve done kinda similar things using multiple dice and probability curves, but this is quick, elegant and effective. Thanks for sharing!

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