Sunday, December 4, 2022

The Dungeon that Ate Itself

Ochre Jelly, CC0 image
by Marianna Villarreal Ruiz
 I would like to relay I'm interesting development that occurred while I was running Greg Gillespie's Highfell last night.

If you are not familiar, Highfell: the Drifting Dungeon is the second of Greg Gillespie's old- school mega-dungeons. These are huge, sprawling environments with hundreds of rooms, peppered with puzzles, traps, both classic and weird monsters, and bizarre, over-the-top factions. Highfell is a floating island that was once a college of wizards. It's made up of a collection of towers, many of which have single-floor dungeons beneath them, with the dungeon's "level" set more by the towers' distance from the center of the island then by its depth underground.

I am running as vanilla an AD&D1e game as I can; 50% of the play time has been dedicated to traditional dungeon crawling, complete with regular wandering monster rolls. My only house rules are that I'm using the B/X versions of morale and NPC reactions because they are just quicker for me to use from memory.

During their exploration of the Crumbling Collegium of Kalguumer, a sprawling 55 room dungeon filled with secret doors and pit traps, the player characters literally kicked off s bizarre chain-reaction.

The PCs were forced to kick in a door, which, thanks to the noise, triggered off a wandering monster encounter with a pack of nine giant rats.

The party got initiative on the rats, and trying to frighten them off by hammering on shields, flashing lanterns, and making threatening gestures. It worked! I failed a morale check, and the giant rats fled.

One thing I have never much cared for in Dungeons & Dragons is that monster that run away seem to disappear into the æther. Dungeon Masters are not given tools to track where these wandering monsters came from, and where they disappeared to.

I often solve this problem by making my wandering monster table out of the monsters included in the dungeon. Whenever the player characters encounter a wandering monster in the dungeon, I assume that that creature has moved out of its laier. This also means that the table empties out: as player characters kill wandering monsters, they are lairs in the dungeon are left empty, a d blank spaces o  the Wandering Monster table.

But, when I'm running a module I tend to stick with the random encounter table for the dungeon. Mostly to save myself time.

But this left me with a dilemma of "where do these diet rats go?" They have no laier to flee to. They are not part of the dungeon except that insofar as they're on a table.

My solution to the conundrum was to roll a d3 for the number of rounds they would run, and had them move at maximum speed, taking corners that would offer them the most cover, disregarding closed doors, and preferring where they could avoid light.

Eventually, the rats settled in a corner where I decided they would cower unless the player characters showed up in that area in the next hour.

Ghoul, CC0 image
by Marianna Villarreal Ruiz
Six turns later, the PCs moved to within lantern light range of the rats, but I also rolled a random encounter with two ghouls. Rolling for encounter distance, I discovered that the ghouls were sitting directly where I'd had the rats hiding. So, the logical thing to do was to have the player characters discover the ghouls eating the rats.

This is where the comedy begins.

The party cleric turned the ghouls, who and ran at top speed, again looking for the nearest place to hide, as suggested by the rules for turning undead.

This required the goals to run over a pit trap. As they were fleeing in terror, not being careful, they had the same chance of setting off the trap as the player characters did. And I rolled a 1 on the d6 roll, meaning the ghouls plummeted into a pit.

Highfell has random tables for handling what is in a pit. With a high chance that it simply opens up to a 400 ft drop to the ground below. In this case, I rolled that an amber jelly was lurking in the pit. Of course, I didn't have the stats for an amber jelly, they are not included in Highfell, nor could I find them in any of the OSR books I had on hand. So, I substituted them for an ochre jelly.

While the group took a brief bathroom break, I secretly rolled combat between the ghouls and the ochre jelly. The jelly dissolved the ghouls in two rounds, taking minimal damage.

Suddenly free from its pit prison, I decided that the ochre jelly had a chance to wander around, and rolled morale for it. As it passed its morale check, it decided to start wandering. I gave it a two and six chance of following the ghouls' trail backwards. It didn't do so, so I started rolling randomly in the background at the beginning of each turn to determine where the ochre jelly would wander.

Meanwhile, the player characters open the door and startled the monstrous salt bats that were hiding inside. The bats failed a morale check and flew past the player characters, beginning their own circuit of the dungeon using similar rules to those I'd had with the giant rats. Only they stuck to places with high ceilings. Which is how they ran directly into the achre jelly as it was slithering along a ceiling of a nearby hallway.

I rolled a very brief secret combat, and the ochre jelly devoured the bats as well.

As the player characters were exploring a network of secret doors they had discovered, the ochre jelly continued to wander around the dungeon until it fell into a pool of water containing giant leeches.

That combat turned into mutual destruction, with the jelly devouring the leeches but also receiving huge amounts of damage itself.

Thus, while the player characters were roaming around empty secret passages, The Dungeon's population ate each other in a frenzy of bizarre random events.

I look forward to seeing what happens when they discover the aftermath of this bizarre disaster. 

It can be a very interesting exercise to try and keep your dungeon a living thing. While it can add more cognitive load, Tracking where monsters are wandering or fleeing when they are outside of their lairs, rather than consigning them to the Nether has great potential.

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