Behind the Screen: Dungeon Pacing…

2009 October 20
by Dante

In my current campaign, I designed a small single-level dungeon for our players to explore.  Now, our group is comprised of several people that have children, so often our gaming sessions get punctuated by real life family needs.  The pacing and planning of our game sessions have transitioned somewhat naturally to episodes of content throughout the session, and there’s no reason that dungeons need to be any different.

Different Encounters Suit Different Needs

Battle encounters are pretty straightforward and there really isn’t much that can be done here aside from scaling the number or difficulty of bad guys up and down.  However, how you choose to tether these battle encounters together can make all the difference.  Within our dungeon, I built in puzzles, reward challenges (which I will cover in a moment) and standard battles all alongside one another.

Often when certain members of our group are putting their children to bed, the rest of the group can either choose to continue with a smaller non-battle challenge, or the game simply pauses in order to accomodate them.

Reward Challenges

This isn’t a new concept, however it is one that I have started to employ in lieu of treasure parcels.  So badly did I want to use the trap creation rules of the DMG and DMG2, I decided to accumulate a few parcels of treasure from bad guys in the dungeon and hang a easy-to-medium level difficulty trap around it for them to overcome.  You would be amazed to watch how many lengths your players will go through to get at some treasure, and how much they doubt that a giant treasure chest full of gold is safe to touch.

If I had a silver piece for every time I heard “this had better not be a Mimic” I would be a pretty rich Dungeon Master!

Pacing is your friend

In all, learning to structure your campaign to suit your audience is a fun process.  Figuring out what works, what makes your group crazy (in the bad way) and what makes your group crazy (in the good way) is a great process to sharpen your Dungeon Mastering skills.  As always, the cardinal rule of branching out into new territory is to listen to your players.  They usually do a fair job of communicating to you what is working and what isn’t.

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