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Friday, March 20, 2020

Find Your Own Way

In yesterday’s post To Map or Not, I talked about skipping precise mapping and focusing instead on flowcharts or sketch maps on index cards. But I still feel strongly that the possibility of getting lost underground is an important part of the old school experience. How do we retain that?

First, let’s acknowledge that there are two kinds of “getting lost”:
  1. Not knowing which way to go.
  2. Not knowing where you are and which way you are facing.
The first way is more common, but the second is more serious. But I’d argue from my own experience, as someone who is not really all that great at navigating or exploring, that it’s not impossible to keep track of which direction you are facing. If you enter a dungeon facing North, or arbitrarily call the way you are facing “North” when you start mapping, moving carefully with plenty of light will let you keep track of directions, so it’s fine to call the top of the map “North” and give absolute directions.

Conversely, the things that will get you lost are:
  1. Moving quickly, for example fleeing a monster,
  2. Moving in darkness,
  3. Moving along very twisty paths.
To handle pursuit, forbid any mapping and don’t give distances, exact directions or even exact number of exits.
GM: You’re running down the corridor. There’s a door on the left and some side passages on either side.
Player: We take a side passage on the left!
GM: Passage turns right, but there’s also a door on the left.
Player: Turn right!
GM: Passage ends in a T.
Player: Turn left this time!
Once the pursuit ends, players can try to make their way back as best as they can, or start a new map and hope they can fit the two maps together later. If they want a clue as to which way they are facing, characters with Very High Int (16+) get a d6 roll: on 5+, tell them which way they are facing, otherwise tell them a random direction (1 = North, 2 = East, 3 = South, 4 = West, or roll a d8 or d12 for the direction instead.) Those with some kind of background or ability that would be relevant to underworld navigation would also get a roll, even if their Int isn’t that high. And even though OD&D doesn’t give dwarves direction sense as AD&D does, I’d allow dwarves to automatically know which way is North.

The same roll applies to moving in the dark. If using light, but not mapping, or if trying to map a tunnel that curves or turns in less than 90 degree increments, use a d6 roll, but on 1-4, the players are only off by one (think they are heading East when really heading Northeast.) Shift clockwise on even results, counterclockwise on odd results.

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