Webster’s DFRPG Dungeoncrawl Sequence

In my quest to run an Open Table megadungeon game in the classical style, I have made some decisions about how I want to handle the implementation of the Dungeoncrawl game structure.

To recap, the game structure is The Alexandrian’s term for the underlying methodology that allows for clear and simple play. Game structures answer the two most important questions:

1) What do the characters do?

2) How do the players do it?

The most successful scenario structure in the history of roleplaying games is the traditional dungeoncrawl…. What makes it work?

First, for the player, it provides:

(1) A default goal. Specifically, “find all the treasure”, “kill all the monsters”, or some other variant of “clear the dungeon”. In other words, the structure inherently provides a reason for the player to engage the scenario.
(2) A default action. If a player is standing in a room and there’s nothing interesting to do in the room, then they should pick an exit and go to the next room.
Collectively, these mean that the player always has an answer to the question, “What do I do next?”

Second, for the GM, the dungeoncrawl is:
(1) Easy to prep. In fact, it’s virtually impossible for even a neophyte DM to screw up the design of a dungeoncrawl. What’s he going to do? Forget to draw an exit from the room?
(2) Easy to run. This extends beyond the macro-structure of the dungeoncrawl and begins to depend on the D&D ruleset itself, but, in general, any action proposed by the players within the dungeon will usually have a self-evident method of resolution. The dungeoncrawl also “firewalls” the adventure into discrete chunks (the individual rooms) which can generally be run as small, manageable packets.

Collectively, these mean that even first time DMs can reliably design and run a dungeoncrawl without leaving either (a) their players stymied or (b) themselves confused.

The Alexandrian, Game Structures Part 3, Dungeoncrawl

Deciding On Dungeon Fantasy RPG

Following on from my realisation that I prefer the Combat game structure to include meaningful consequences for how the character attacks the opponent, I decided that this was the strongest appeal for the GURPS game engine. Given that the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game (DFRPG) exists as a specific implementation of the classical Dungeoncrawl game genre, it makes sense for me to lift that as my core rules engine.

One of the things that is missing in the DFRPG, however, is a specific Dungeoncrawling procedure. This is the strength of the Old-School Essentials iteration of the classic Basic/Expert Dungeon & Dragons game. Going back to my roots, wherein we played D&D using this procedure in the 1980s, I wanted to import it to my game.

Sequence of Play Per Turn

1. Wandering monsters: The referee makes checks as applicable.

2. Actions: The party decides what action to take (e.g. moving, searching, listening, entering rooms).

3. Description: The referee describes what happens. If monsters are encountered, follow the procedure described in Encounters…

4. End of turn: The referee updates time records, with special attention to light sources, spell durations, and the party’s need to rest.

OSE Core Rules, page 28.

This import turned out to be relatively easy. In OSE, a turn is 10 minutes of time and it’s trivial to break up activity in the dungeon into 10 minute chunks. Utilising a simple tally sheet or tick-box arrangement in my notes, it’s easy to track off the 10 minute “turns” as the game progresses.

For the Wandering Monsters step, we’ll roll 7- on 3d6 per turn. This is a change from the DFRPG norm of 9- on 3d6 per hour but it more accurately invokes the Old-School dangerous underworld feel that I am going for. I’ll create some Wandering Monster tables per the usual suggestions.

The major change in DFRPG terms was to figure out the movement rate for the 10 minute turn. In OSE, characters move at a rate equal to their movement rate in feet per turn. The idea is that, “This (very slow!) rate of movement takes account for the fact that PCs are exploring, watching their footing, mapping, and trying to be quiet and avoid obstacles.” Helpfully, DFRPG operates on the same assumptions of care being taken while exploring dungeons.

Looking at the fastest movement rate in OSE, we see an unencumbered character moving at 120 feet per turn. That’s 40 yards per 10 minutes, or 4 yards per minute. Yes, very slow indeed. It’s also the same rate of movement per 10 second combat round.

Coming back to DFRPG, the Base Move for a typical unencumbered character is 5 yards per second. To emulate the old-school pace, it seems reasonable to use Move x10 as the base exploration movement rate. Operating at the pace of the slowest party member, we already know DFRPG takes into account encumbrance from armour and gear, so this maps nicely.

OSE specifies the party must rest every hour for one turn. I am not keen on enforcing this but I notice that DFRPG does give a Fatigue Point cost after every battle, based on the character’s encumbrance. This represents the stress of fighting. It also encourages periodic rests which, interestingly, are measured in 10 minute recovery periods: you get 1 FP back per 10 minutes.

I think adding in 1 FP penalties for moments of specific stress in the dungeon can evoke the same effect as the classic game. For example, when a trap triggers and is bypassed then perhaps everyone takes 1 FP for the stress. It’ll encourage caution but also reinforce the dangerous nature of dungeons.

There is no need to address searching in the dungeon because DFRPG already specifies the procedures for spotting traps, secret doors, and other hidden stuff. The last thing to adjust was the Wandering Monster encounter distance: 2d6x10 feet in OSE can become 2d6x3 yards in DFRPG (surprise and lighting guidelines acknowledged).

There it is. My approach to reinforcing the Dungeoncrawl game structure to better emulate the Old-School Essentials feel with Dungeon Fantasy powered by GURPS. Can’t wait to get down there!

Game on!

One comment

  1. Is stealth and searching for traps, hidden doors etc included in that slow exploration pace?
    40 yards per 10 minutes is incredibly slow otherwise. It’s way below ‘very cautious’, considering I could literally drag myself along w arms alone at 0.5 mph! That’s still 146 yards/10min.


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