Counting Arrows, Tracking Rations – Survival Horror in the Dungeon

This is a follow-up post to my last post about The Light spell: Cantrip or 1st level spell?

It was about how much the game changed, when the light spell went from being a 1st level spell and thus restricted to become a cantrip spell, that can be used without limits. If darkness and survival in the dungeons are not of importance, it makes sense for light to be easily available, but if surviving the dark is a part of the game, then a limit on equipment and magical ressources means a lot to the game, and having to choose between utilizing your light spell to blind a foe or replacing a lost lantern can become an interesting choice. If focus is for instance on encounters and the next combat, then worrying about how to get there, may be an unwanted challenge in the game. When dungeon crawling survival is a part of the game for me.

A part of this is tied to the concept of ‘attacking the whole character sheet‘, the idea that any part of the character sheet is vulnerable to losses, manipulation and change. Just as a character can loose hit points or suffer an ability score drain, the same character’s age can be influenced (earlier versions had monsters or spells aging the characters), levels can be drained (a dreaded attack back in the day) and equipment destroyed (e.g. the rust monster). This opens for new can kinds of threats from monsters and traps, as there more things, that can be removed from the characters without outright killing them.

  • Any part of the character sheet can be attacked.

Likewise any part of the character sheet can be considered a resource to be spent during the adventure, and knowing when and how to spend is a part of the challenge in the adventure. This is why it is interesting to have rope, torches, flasks of oil and rations. Not as things to keep track of, but rather as resources to be spent: You want to douse the graves of the ghosts with oil? Spend your oil on the character sheet. You want to construct a rope bridge across the rift? Mark off your ropes. You want to bribe the animals? Give them your rations (do you have enough left for the journey home?).

  • Any part of the character sheet can be spent as a resource.

And don’t forget considering age, name, background, social status etc. as resources to be spent! Perhaps the sage demands a character to forgo their name in order to gain information, a noble may have to relinquish his or her title in order to stop a foe, and the ghost demands 10 years of your life in order to find rest. A shaman may demand, that a character add a tatoo in order to have a malign spirit removed, and another shaman may demand, that a tatoo is removed in order to receive a blessing.

Again having the players worrying about these aspects add difficult choices to the game (and difficult choices are fun and often help develop the characters’ personalities).

Attack of the Accountancy

What I am not arguing for is keeping meticulously track of ammo (I like the idea of the Usage Die from The Black Hack and that you can carry a number of items related to your strength value), nor tracking encumbrance.

I am still looking for a simple rule to deal with this – right now we simply use the state ‘not heavily loaded’ and ‘heavily loaded’, and the last part is activated, whenever a character is carrying an obviously heavy object or an obviously large amount of objects, for instance when a character want to store an extra plate mail in the back pack or drag home a bag of 2000 silver pieces. When Heavily Loaded the DM can impose disadvantage (from D&D 5th) to physcial acitivities as it seems fit. I have also considered experimenting with the equipment rules from Lone Wolf Adventure Game from Cubicle 7, where you can carry two weapons, 50 coins in a pouch, 8 items in your back pack, and for any ‘special’ equipment it is stated, where/how it can carried/stored (i.e. backpacks on your back). Basically LWAG makes equipment a matter of restricted choices, that are less about handling encumbrance and more about having the players plan what kind of ressources, they want to bring along.

  • A character is either Heavy loaded or Not Heavy Loaded. When heavy loaded the GM may impose disadvantage (0r a -4 penalty if you do not use the advantage/disadvantage system) on physical acitvities, where relevant.



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