Do you remember your first delve? The excitement! The wonder! The chaos! The catastrophically bad choices…
As a gamer of over 30-years experience, I take certain tenets of dungeon delving for granted. To me, they are obvious. However, after watching my 10-year-old son run his first game, I realised they are anything but obvious to beginners. The game was great fun – but total chaos. The boys had a blast killing goblins, but could have been more successful if they’d followed the basic rules of dungeon delving:
- Never split the party: This is really basic. If the party splits up – even if only temporarily – it makes its component parts much weaker. Of course, the rogue still needs to scout but generally speaking the party should stay together whenever possible. Remember, dungeons are full of peril and you are stronger if you face it together.
- Delving deeper increases the danger (and reward): The deeper you go, the greater the dangers and rewards. This is an absolutely basic tenet of dungeon design, but one that is not immediately obvious to a beginner. Making it harder, the dungeon’s design might actually mean that going higher (or further away from the entrance) increases the danger.
- Always have a plan: Just wandering into a dungeon to see what is there, isn’t the world’s best plan. Being prepared is a principle of successful adventuring. Plans can be simple, for example, “find a stair leading to the second level” or more complicated: “hunt down and kill the orc chieftain lairing on the third level.” Whatever your plan is, know it and stick to it.
- Always have a balanced party: A party should have a balance of skills and abilities. A party of rogues sounds great in principle but without a healer, a wizard-type and a decent fighter some encounters are going to be too difficult to overcome. Having a balanced party gives you the best chance of overcoming most encounters without anyone dying.
- Leave before you can’t leave: There is always a temptation to do “just one more room.” (Ask the players in my Borderland of Adventure campaign.) If resources are running low and the party has enough left for one good fight you should leave. Dungeons have wandering monsters, after all, and you should expect to at least occasionally encounter them. Running into a random encounter when you are down to your last few spells and several of your companions are unconscious or near death could be fatal. If someone dies – or is unable to continue due to petrification, unconsciousness, fear, a curse or whatever – leave as soon as you can. Continuing is akin to splitting the party.
- Stock up on mundane equipment: Unless your character is 1st-level or tremendously poor, there is no excuse to not have a decent supply of mundane equipment. Rope, pitons, mirrors – even 10 ft. poles – can be the difference between life and death. Use it liberally and replace what you use. I’ve seen entire adventures derailed because no one had any rope. When you get to higher level and you can afford bags of holding and the like there is no excuse to have the right tool for the job.
- Don’t fight everything: Not everything in a dungeon needs to be killed. Some monsters may be too tough for the party, while others might be indifferent – or even friendly – toward explorers. Even if the monster you meet are hostile, a fight doesn’t have to ensue. Diplomacy, stealth or good old running away are all viable strategies.
- Keep a good map: A decent map is invaluable. Knowing where you are and where you have been is a cornerstone of good delving. An accurate map can also give hints as to the location of secret chambers, lost passageways and more. If you get lost in a large dungeon, you might never get out.
- Winning every fight is impossible: Knowing when to retreat (or run away) is a vital skill for a new player. Not every fight is winnable. Understanding that will increase your life expectancy immensely.
- Learn as much as you can: Before you go into the dungeon, learn as much about it as possible. Local residents, rumours, aged sages and even the diaries of previous explorers could all contain clues and information vital to the success of your expedition. When you are in the dungeon, pay attention. Graffiti on the walls, discarded equipment and even the layout of the area can all give vital clues as to what lies within. Successful adventurers use their senses, intelligence and common sense.
And, here’s a handy infographic presenting a summary of the information above!
Help Fellow Gamers
Do you have any other hints and tips for adventures embarking on their first delve? If you do, leave them in the comments below and increase the life expectancy of neophyte adventurers everywhere!
Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.