How my dungeon lost its zip

I’m running a few good people through a pretty standard published dungeon in my weekly online game. It’s a fantastic game! The guys are brilliant players, and for two hours per week we laugh, we cry, we taste defeat and glory together. There’s nothing wrong with the setting, the system or the people. It’s ace.

And then I listened to received wisdom, gave my npc their own agenda, and played it out.

Previously, the party had been semi stealthy, as parties are, and had managed to kill the evil wizards familiar pretty much by reflex. They didn’t know it was the wizard’s familiar, still don’t in fact, and closed the door and moved off in another direction. A couple of rests later and they decide to track back to the wizard’s part of the dungeon. I decided that the wizard would now know the party were abroad, that they were well armed, albeit clumsy. He knows his guards must have been defeated. He has a potion of invisibility. So I had him make his escape while they were resting.

Which meant that for this week the party spent the entire session exploring hastily vacated chambers with no foes, and little loot. There were occasional clues left behind, but no danger. There was little left to interact with and because of that the session felt much flatter than usual, anti climactic even. I caved in the end and left a dog in a locked cupboard. That gave them something to interact with and have to make decisions about (note: goblins will get disposed of without a second thought. A big shaggy tame dog? Another story)

Now, clearly this won’t be the last they see of the wizard. I’ll continue with his agenda and we should get into a nice revenge scene, possibly with hostages, quite soon. In fact, I can see a much better story unfolding as a result of this in the future. Nevertheless, for today, the dungeon was dull, and that ain’t good. If I’d left everything in place with the bad guys patiently waiting in their numbered chambers, then yes, it would have been unrealistic, but it would have gotten the pulse moving!

Thoughts?

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “How my dungeon lost its zip

  1. Evilgaz

    Did you have lots of rolls to listen at doors, rolls for perception or searching for secret doors or treasure? Did you play it out like something should be there but there never was, so you ended up putting a dog in?

    Skip to the end. If your wizard has gone and everything is gone with him, skip past the endless crawling and get to the bit where they find his gone and head off after him.

    He could have left some guards behind at the entrance / exit with a clever ambush for when the party’s defences are down and they think they’re heading home without loot.

    Is the wizard arrogant enough to leave clues or even a note mocking the player characters?

    Most recent talk of NPCs having their own agendas and doing their own thing will be result in stuff happening. If you’re playing NPCs to their own plans, but none of that is going to interact with the players or what they’re up to – especially to the extent of taking things away from them they might otherwise would be doing – then you’re not really getting it one would suggest. Or is there some other source or talk you’ve been following that I’ve missed old bean?

    Sorry if that sounds a bit iffy, but without observing the session, I’m probably missing something?

  2. Richard

    Might have upgraded to a Potion Of Improved Invisibility and had the Wizard check out his foe’s identities and skills, harry them a bit with some spellage and then peg while there was some duration left. Naturally, there’d be some taunting and threats of dire reprisals for the home invasion. The upgraded Potion should have ensured he could get away to become enemy no 1 for a while longer and the party get some first hand experience of what a charming old cove he was.

  3. kelvingreen

    Yes, you can have it both ways: the wizard legs it but leaves something behind to mess with them. Evilgaz’s idea of leaving some guards at the entrance/exit is a good one; it’s a bit like the opening scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indy escapes the tomb and runs straight into an ambush.

  4. i agree that the best way of running it would have been to frame past the dungeon exploration with the comment, “everyone’s gone; they left in a hurry,” before moving on to more exciting pastures. But hindsight’s wonderful!

  5. Abstract Machine

    1st thing – I’ve made the same mistake & more than once. I get so wrapped up in NPC agendas that I forget to apply dramatic pacing to the unfolding of PC-led events.

    Letting Goldilocks explore is forgivable, but remember there were 3 bears: baby bear could have told the PCs about daddy bear and his hostages.

    Might it be that searching the abandoned dungeon works as a scene rather than as a session? It could have served well as a build-up to something unexpected:-

    a) The wizard left something or someone behind. I think you covered this.
    b) Random encounter. Someone else is searching for the wizard & they’re just as interested in the PCs’ agenda as the PCs are in theirs.
    c) The empty dungeon seems to reveal something about the wizard but in face reveals more about a PC’s personal agenda. It complicates matters & sows dissension in the ranks.

    Basically though, Baz, you’re being too hard on yourself. I’d open the next session with a dramatic conflict that revealed more about why the dungeon has been abandoned & what the wizard might do about it. Someone using magic to ‘see’ through the cute little doggie’s eyes would do it.

  6. steeplejackuk

    Hey mate the only thing that occurs to me, is that usually when a modern day villain knows the game is up, is when he either a) lures the party to a trap, whilst having his own exit strategy, or b) tries to blow the base up with them still in it. But in typical egotistical fashion does it in such a way that he actually wants to find out if there good enough to survive to test his skills and provide him with opponents worthy of his skill. Etc.

  7. Good commentary guys. Thanks.

    I’ve got a potentially great next session out of this so I’ll report back. Looking to get surprise and delight as reactions, and hoping it doesn’t come across as a scold.

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