Dungeon Notoriety and the 15-minute Workday

Recently over at the Greyhawk Grognard, there was a discussion of how to deal with “the 15-minute workday.” This is a situation in which PCs become so risk averse that they immediately retreat to a safe haven after expending any resources at all in the dungeon, nickel-and-diming their way through the even the shallowest dungeon levels.

In the comments, Talysman responded:

*Discourage* the players from returning to town every time they run a little low on resources? I’m trying to *encourage* them to do that! It doesn’t have to be easy, and things can certainly change between visits, but I think there should be a series of short expeditions instead of “hanging on until the last hp”.

I agree with Talysman that this behavior is precisely the kind of careful management the lethality of an old-school dungeon requires, but I’m sympathetic to Joseph’s concerns that the necessary risk of a dungeon expedition can be eroded if the PCs are risk-averse in the extreme. The solution I would suggest is to make the dungeon itself a resource to be managed: If the PCs appear to be hauling loot up risk-free, others will be emboldened to try their luck in the dungeon’s depths.

Flora's mallewagen, by Hendrik Pot

Download Dungeon Notoriety and Interloper Tables (PDF)

The linked document details what it is essentially a random encounter roll when treasure is brought up from the dungeon; the likelihood of encounter is modified by the secrecy of the dungeon’s location, the party’s health on returning, and the amount of treasure retrieved.  The latter is variable by market class (ACKS’s I-VI reckoning of market size, with I being global metropolises and VI being tiny hamlets), and based on the monthly wage of three heavy infantry and the number of said infantry on the market.  The translation of other ACKS-isms to B/X-like games should be fairly transparent.

Since returning to town from the dungeon is typically a call for a short break in the games I’m in, it should also afford me the opportunity to roll some dice and replace a defeated group of orcs with a NPC party eager to get in while the getting is good.

17 Responses to “Dungeon Notoriety and the 15-minute Workday”

  1. January 30, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    The simplest way to discourage the 15-minute workday is to end the session whenever the PCs emerge from the dungeon.

  2. 2 Scott LeMien
    January 30, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    Does the player part of your personality ever want to kick the GM part, Charlatan? I ask because I feel like you just told the GM: “Hey, why are you using those bullets on the PCs? Here, use these new armor-piercing & incendiary rounds.”

  3. 3 Cole
    January 30, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    @ Eric Minton

    “Eric Minton

    The simplest way to discourage the 15-minute workday is to end the session whenever the PCs emerge from the dungeon.”

    I understand the point you are trying to make but I don’t want to have a situation where the PCs say “we should go back to town and buy a few hundred feet of rope” (or whatever) and the DM says “Well, if you do we have to quit now and come back next week.” Even if it’s memorizing some uncommon spell instead of buying more rope. I would rather have it be a choice made on the potential benefits and risks of taking a day to leave and return than an artifical “no, you can’t.”

  4. 4 Charlatan
    January 30, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    Eric: That is always the DM’s prerogative, but (as someone who only runs occasional adventures, and not regular games) I have to prefer the overhead of negotiated consequences over the end of the session. I want to reserve walking away from the table for real-world problems as much as possible, or I may not get to run games at all!

    Scott: Not really! I try not to propose a rule or table that I wouldn’t want to operate under as a player, and I’d adjust the tables if I felt like the consequences were out of scale with the decisions made.

  5. January 30, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    This is where “Gygaxian naturalism” shines… if the dungeon is conceived of as inhabited by a bunch of creatures actually living and moving around in it, leaving every time the party has expended some resources isn’t a risk-free strategy. In the day(s) in between delves things will change… dungeon cleanup critters like carrion crawlers and oozes may move in to feed on the corpses, making those places high risk for little or no treasure; intelligent monsters may re-occupy and fortify emptied areas, reset traps or plant new ones now that they know there are adventurers exploring; unintelligent monsters may also shamble into the newly abandoned areas now that there aren’t inhabitants warding them off. Basically, if you take every opportunity the players give you to restock the monsters but not the treasure, you can adjust the balance of risk vs. reward to encourage longer delves.

    The notion of rival parties cropping up is still a good one, particularly if the adventurers have managed to eliminate one of the major monsters that will be hard to plausibly replace over the short term.

  6. January 30, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    Greg Costikyan did a great novel along this theme: http://www.amazon.com/Another-Dungeon-Cups-Sorcery-Book/dp/0812501403

    Short version: Stereotypical adventuring party goes into the dungeon. Manages to find wealth beyond their wildest dreams. They are set for life. At least, until they get back to town, and everyone wants a cut of their treasure…

  7. 7 sean wills
    January 30, 2012 at 8:18 pm

    Clever stuff – nice one, it will def see some use in my game :)

  8. January 30, 2012 at 10:26 pm

    Thanks for the book recommendation, Lugh, I ordered it from Paperback Swap! I was just seeing that Costikyan is thanked in the ACKS credits; whether this is because one of us was a fan of the novel, or because he worked on one of our Basic-line source inspirations, I do not know.

  9. January 31, 2012 at 2:25 am

    Charlatan, are some fun tables. I love setting up little rivalries with NPC’s and NPC parties around the whole ‘dungeoneering phenomenon’ and this kind of stuff helps buttress the idea that the rest of society is aware of adventurers, gold inflation, opportunities for easy loot, and so on.

  10. January 31, 2012 at 6:49 am

    The traditional solutions to this problem are wandering monsters. Wandering monsters in the dungeon were bad enough; the ones outside were even worse, since they were not all mixed together, higgilty-piggilty, instead of being arranged by depth in terms of toughness.

    Unless the dungeon is underneath the town, I suggest reviewing the wandering monster suggestions for your version of the game and including in your campaign. Remember: wandering monsters rarely carry treasure with them; that’s all stored safely back in their lairs.

  11. January 31, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    Brian, the wandering monster tables per se aren’t dynamic (although it would be easy enough to say “roll an extra check if the adventurers are carrying lots of gold and another if they’re wounded) or appropriate to civilized areas. Since so many of the classic mega-dungeons (Blackmoor, Greyhawk, Undermountain) are in fact under a city – which makes sense since a sufficiently rich dungeon will tend to generate a boomtown around its entrances – I think it’s good to have a table that specifically handles friction caused by moving treasure into civilized areas, and let the wilderness wandering monster tables handle the Gygaxian naturalism of “what’s in the woods that wants to kill adventurers under any circumstances.”

  12. 12 Bargle
    January 31, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    Wizard spells only cause a 15 minute work day, when only wizard spells are managed as a resource. If you are 15 moves/turns from the exist of a dungeon, that is 15 wandering monster checks, 5 torches, and a weeks salary to hirelings.

    You see, now there are other resources to be managed, the players are rational actors, if the only resource to replenish is mu spells, they will replenish them as often as possible. The 15 min work day is a rational byproduct not of poor game design, but of poor use of resource rules by the DM. Wizard spells could be anything, if wizards had at will powers, but the DM enforced encumbrance rules for sacks and backpacks, filling up a sack with 500cn would mean a trek back to town after 15 min.

    The key is enforcing resource management getting out as well as getting in. Recource to “dickish DM tricks” like magically having competing parties from the town start looting the dungeon, or restocking the kobold dens with goblins in WW I style trenches is a hamfisted fix to a problem of the DM’s ow making! The players aren’t the jerks, they are–again, acting rationally; the answer is not to punish their actions, but to fix the DM’s mistake.

  13. 13 Charlatan
    February 1, 2012 at 2:22 am

    I’m sympathetic to what you’re saying, but I think you misread my intent here, which is specifically not to have magically appearing competing parties, and certainly not to replenish monsters out of nowhere. I’m trying to outline a system whereby there is a chance, when PCs return with treasure from a dungeon, that a group of locals decides to try their luck at the same game- hence the scaling of the interlopers to the market the treasure is returned to, and the probability modifiers around the familiarity of the dungeon and the party’s state on return.

    Of course, you may not be interested in generating this stuff procedurally! But I think there’s a misinterpretation afoot if one thinks that successful hit-and-run tactics on dungeons mean that random encounters aren’t being rolled, or that spells are the only resource being so carefully managed.

  14. February 1, 2012 at 4:25 am

    @Bargle: in my view, the job of the GM is to figure out how the world reacts to what the players do in it. If you want to run it as if it were a computer game, with everything perfectly static except as dictated by encounter tables, go right ahead.

  15. 15 Scott LeMien
    February 3, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    @Bargle, you do make an interesting point for neglected resource management. I wonder where the tipping point for fun would be on this, though?
    Encumbrance, Lighting, Food, Exertion, smoke inhalation, wear & tear–these might all be fun ‘extra’ charts for a DM to option or ignore, much like the excellent one Charlatan constructed. I wouldn’t mind seeing a ton of these, like the Judges Guild charts.

  16. July 6, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    I’m a bit curious from whence you derived the wealth threshold numbers – having seen a few smart parties in my day, these would seem to essentially guarantee interlopers under many conditions. Other than that, looks great.

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Past Adventures of the Mule

January 2012

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