Sometimes we want to simulate the traversal of a complex space over abstract time. If your adventure isn't actually a dungeon crawl (where you've mapped out various rooms as scenes and are using a battle map with a fog of war to illustrate progress through it), you can still use a dungeon crawl to resolve a series of scenes as if the PCs had embarked on such an adventure. And as the core rules explain, that physical distance need not be an actual dungeon: you could be traversing a dark forest, a burning skyscraper, or a forgotten underwater city.
The dungeon crawl action, like the journey action, is meant to be serendipitous and collaborative. The goal is to take up less time out-of-character than a fully fledged exploration in-character, but you could run the scenes that arise from this action in real time if you wanted to.
Here's how you run it.
Running Dungeon Crawls
To run this action, you set hold, design the dungeon, and then enter its rooms, resolving each room with an appropriate check.
First, set an amount of hold required to complete the dungeon. PCs successfully exit the dungeon (or find what they're looking for inside it) when they've achieved enough hold. By default this number should be 3; the higher the number, the longer it will take to complete.
Design the Dungeon
If you don't have a particular dungeon in mind, have your players help you create one. Go around the table and ask each player to describe:
- The theme for the dungeon. This can be as abstract as a single word: madness, treachery, honor, for example. It could also be more specific, such as "corrupted magic" or "blasphemous secrets."
- Its purported purpose. Known history or simple rumors might tell the story of the dungeon's creation and its original purpose. Whether what is known is correct is ultimately up to the GM (and the rolls that arise from the crawl).
- Its principal inhabitants. Whether this means the people or monsters who inhabit it now, or those who created the dungeon is up to the table. This will help you populate the dungeon with culturally appropriate perils.
- A legend or rumor about it. Dungeons can be mysterious, dangerous, ancient, and everything in between, but what makes them inviting to adventurers are the stories others tell about them. Such tales (which may only border on the truth) may speak to the dungeon's treasures or the treachery contained therein.
Set the Scene
Each time the players enter a new room in the dungeon, roll on the Dungeon Challenge Table to determine the nature of the challenge that lies within. Keep in mind, since the whole crawl happens in abstract time, it's entirely possible the PCs spend several days in the dungeon and come across many other unremarkable rooms. What we're playing out are the remarkable ones.
Dungeon Challenge Table
|1||Puzzle||Puzzles are hard to come up with on the fly, so this is where random tables will come in handy. That being said, players should be able to lean on character knowledge to solve the puzzle if they're at a loss as to how to solve it as players (or even invent a solution that makes sense to you). Any checks to solve the puzzle yield clues as to the nature of the puzzle or approach to solving it.|
|2||Manmade Trap||A manmade trap can be as simple as a bear trap or as complicated as a powerful magical sigil. The key is that it was designed with a purpose—to keep intruders out, for example. Like puzzles, a good trap can be found among random tables.|
|3||Environmental Hazard||A classic pit full of spikes, a collapsing floor, a tight crawlspace: you draw from the environment itself to create the challenge.|
|4||Skill Test||A skill test can take any form, but it's best solved by a narrow set of abilities that the PCs may or may not have. Picking a lock or dispelling evil magic each suggest that rogues or mages should intervene, and the scene can be solved quickly if the right skills are at hand. But the scene becomes a more interesting challenge when the right skills for the job aren't available, and the PCs have to figure out a way around their gap in ability.|
|5||Clock||A clock represents time pressure: the PCs only have a few rounds to solve the scene before a complication becomes inevitable. Roll a d6 to determine the units of time they have to figure it out (rounds, for example). A room suddenly flooding with lava is a fine example of a deadly clock.|
|6||Stealth Test||Sometimes the threat posed by the room is greater than can be confronted directly. Perhaps the PCs have come upon a nest of slumbering giant centipedes and the sanest approach is to sneak by.|
|7||Combat Encounter||A combat encounter need not be resolved by switching to encounter mode (although that is an option). Clearing out the goblins in the scene could be a trivial task for powerful adventurers, but there's always a chance that something might go awry that they didn't expect, and that's what the check involved is capitalizing on.|
|8||Unkillable Monster||This doesn't have to be a literal monster, but any unstoppable force that is impossible to face head-on. The successful response is either to run or take cover until it passes, outwit it, or concoct a way around it.|
|9||Downtime||A downtime can utilize any downtime action like monologue, parley, montage, or even journey. For example, if the PCs are confronted with a horrific scene, they may need to have an interior introspection to steel themselves; similarly, the PCs may encounter native inhabitants who can be reasoned with, and a monologue is in order. You can even have an entire montage or journey action take place within the dungeon crawl scene. Trekking across a number of mythical biomes at the center of the earth might replace the scene entirely with the journey action.|
|10||Lore Test||Specifically this is a test of the PCs' knowledge of the dungeon's lore, or lore from the campaign at large that has come to bear on the dungeon itself.|
|11||Moral Dilemma||Here PCs would face a sticky moral choice or test of principles. The dungeon may have its own perverse sense of morality that the PCs have to suss out: an ancient hideout of assassins may except you to make the treacherous choice, whereas a tomb of paladins might require an altruistic choice.|
|12||Choose Two||Choose two challenges and combine them.|
Resolve the Crawl
How you resolve the each room depends on what's in the room and how you want to manage time while in the dungeon.
Choosing a Mechanic
A skill test challenge might involve a room filling up with fetid water that requires the PCs to lift a heavy column to escape. A simple attribute check with group action might suffice to achieve hold in this scenario. Similarly, a magically sealed door in a room that's collapsing in on itself might require a PC to dispel its magic in time and be resolvable with a spell check. If your peril is best measured as a success check rather than a pass/fail result, you can also resolve the room with a single-act scene check, with all the options it provides. In this case, rolling poorly means they lose hold (or more hold is required to complete the dungeon). See the Dungeon Success Check table below.
In the above cases, after the roll:
- Apply a success or failure outcome from the Dungeon Success table or the Dungeon Complication table;
- Award hold (if they succeeded);
- Run the next room.
Dungeon Success Check
|Poor (5+)||The party loses hold (or an additional hold is required).||The party lost their way or the path forward is impeded, requiring more time to complete the dungeon.|
|Average (7+)||The party rolls twice on the Dungeon Complications table and chooses one.||If say the peril involved fire, for example, and a "everyone receives a minor peril" is rolled, the GM might rule that everyone receives the burning status.|
|Good (11+)||The party gains 1 hold.||The party safety exits the scene.|
|Exceptional (13+)||The party gains 1 hold and rolls on the Dungeon Success table.||A successful escape might afford the party time to pilfer a treasure chest (gold).|
|Extraordinary (17+)||The party gains 1 hold and rolls on the Dungeon Success table, choosing between two options.||A particularly successful escape might afford the party enough time to choose between successes: discover a treasure (gold) or rescue an NPC (gain strength in numbers).|
|Legendary (21+)||The party gains 1 hold and rolls on the Dungeon Success table twice.||A maximally successful escape might afford the party time to not only pilfer the monster's hoard (gold) but also plot a strategy to defeat it in subsequent scenes (discover an adventure hook or clue).|
Dungeon Success Table
|1||Lore||Lore is beneficial knowledge that will help the party safely explore the dungeon. Discovering that the monster is vulnerable to fire by reading a dead adventurer's discarded journal is an example of recoverable lore in the dungeon.|
|2||Adventure Hook||Because the dungeon is generative and even you don't know what comes next, it may seem impossible to provide an adventure hook or clue that informs its remaining scenes. The adventure hook could be about the dungeon, or it could be about the adventure at large. If it's about the dungeon, provide an interesting artifact from the dungeon's theme (a jungle totem, a corpse with a key, 1/2 of an orb) and then let the players use it as narrative advantage for any subsequent scene.|
|3-4||Gold||Gold can come in the form of actual currency, gems, or other monetarily valuable objects. Roll a die commensurate with the danger they faced in the scene.|
|5-6||Supply||The party rolls 1d6: on a 1-3, the supply is consumable; on 4-6, the supply is cheap; on a 6, the supply is luxury and roll again; if the result is another 6, then the supply is a treasure.|
|7||+2 Forward||A +2 forward is a bonus to the check for the next scene. This can either be a +2 on the roll, or advantage conferred to it. Narratively this means something was accomplished in the previous scene that sets the party up for success: the party hides themselves in the skin of the giant vampire bats they slew to sneak through the monsters' den in the next scene.|
|8||Global Story Tag||The party creates a global story tag that can be invoked later. For example, they befriend the frog people who live underground and can call for their aid on a future scene.|
|9||Recovery Items||These are consumable treasures such as antidotes, elixirs, mana potions, oils, etc. Roll for one or more on the treasure table commensurate with the danger they faced in the scene.|
|10||Gain Strength in Numbers||It's possible the party recovers an NPC from the scene, or perhaps monster, construct, or other "helper" who then joins them for the rest of the crawl. Treat this helper as you would any other NPC, allowing the PCs to invoke it once in each round to provide aid.|
|11||Status Effect - Minor||You choose a relevant status or spell-like effect to confer upon the PCs that lasts until the end of the next scene. For example, the PCs discover that the mushrooms growing in the cave can be used as a powerful amphetamine, and it grants them all haste as they venture into the next scene.|
|12||Status Effect - Major||You choose a relevant status or spell-like effect to confer upon a single PC that lasts until the end of the crawl. For example, the PCs is blessed by the shrine of a long dead god, and granted advantage on spell checks.|
Dungeon Complication Table
|1||Everyone is Separated||You can treat this, mechanically, as adding an extra hold, which you run separately for each player.|
|2||The Party Gets Lost||The room itself might not have been the problem; instead, the party gets lost transitioning between rooms. This creates exhaustion for everyone involved. Everyone rolls a d6 and loses that many MP.|
|3||Someone Suffers a Major Peril||A major peril is one that doesn't go away without the proper cure: for example, a disease is curable by a restoration spell or potion, or the proper mundane cure. Poisons and curses are also major perils. For the purposes of the crawl, the major peril lasts for the duration of the crawl.|
|4||Everyone Suffers a Minor Peril||A minor peril is one that goes away over time. For example, if the party is subject to extreme cold, they'll receive the slowed status effect. For the duration of the crawl, a minor peril lasts until the end of the next scene.|
|5||GM Global Story Tag||The GM creates a global story tag to be used against the party. For example, they leave behind evidence of their passage through the sacred tomb, which invites the souls of the dead who reside there to seek them out in future rooms (e.g., The Dead are Watching).|
|6-7||Everyone Loses Gold or Supplies||The party was so busy trying to escape the scene, they left valuable supplies behind. Roll evens or odds to determine if what is lost is gold or supplies: for gold, roll a d6 to determine the percentage of the total gold each PC has left behind, rounded up; for supplies, you can have each player roll 1d6: on 1-3, a consumable is lost; on 4-5, a cheap is lost; on a 6, a luxury is lost. If the PC does not have the supply in the first place, take away the same value in gold.|
|8||-2 Forward||A -2 forward is a malus to the check for the next scene. This can either be a -2 on the roll, or disadvantage conferred to it. Narratively this means the party may have exited the previous room, but it wasn't a clean escape.|
|9||Everyone Suffers Lethal Harm||Everyone suffers 1d6 lethal damage (representing physical harm) for the duration of the dungeon crawl.|
|10||Someone Suffers Attribute Damage||As a result of some catastrophic misstep, someone in the party suffers 2 attribute damage for the duration of the dungeon crawl. Roll randomly for the attribute and for the player thus afflicted.|
|11||Someone Suffers Wounds||As a result of some catastrophic misstep, someone in the party suffers 2 wounds for the duration of the dungeon crawl. Roll randomly for the attribute and for the player thus afflicted.|
|12||Someone is Left Behind||You can interpret this turn of events as the crawl requiring additional hold in order to backtrack and retrieve the missing party member. Alternatively, the missing PC can attempt a scene alone to try and catch up with the rest of the party.|