Thursday, February 2, 2023

1e's Time in the Dungeon

The introduction to the AD&D 1e DMG mentioned that it's reasonable to omit random encounter wandering monster rolls if you understand the purpose of random encounters and it doesn't apply.  It doesn't tell you what that function is, though.  So I went looking for it and sadly didn't find it.

Instead, I found the table of how long various actions in dungeon exploration take.  It's split across a page boundary (pages 96 and 97) so I have reproduced it in text here rather than as a screenshot:

  • DOOR - search for traps: 1 round
  • DOOR - listening for noise: 1 round
  • ROOM - mapping, and casually examining a 20'x20' area: 1 turn
  • ROOM - thoroughly searching after initial examination: 1 turn
  • SECRET DOOR - checking for by simple tapping of floor or wall, by 10'x10' area: 1 round
  • SECRET DOOR - thorough examination for means to open, by 10'x10' area: 1 turn

I was very surprised to see the time-costs of some of these actions listed in rounds (which in 1e are minutes, 10 per turn, not 6-10 seconds) rather than turns.  I went back and checked and B/X (well, OSE) simply doesn't have times listed for any of the interactions with doors, and doesn't distinguish between types of searching - it just says that searching a 10'x10' area takes a turn.  I think I had been running listening at doors, searching them for traps, and searching for secret doors as taking a turn each.  I'm not sure how I feel about breaking the atomicity of the exploration turn and allowing it to be subdivided further into rounds.  I also find it very amusing that on page 97 shortly after this table of suggested times to perform these actions, Gygax complains about players who search everything and listen at every door.

Assume that your players are continually wasting time (thus making the so-called adventure drag out into a boring session of dice rolling and delay) if they are checking endlessly for traps and listening at every door. If this persists despite the obvious displeasure you express, the requirement that helmets be doffed and mail coifs removed to listen at a door, and then be carefully replaced, the warnings about ear seekers, and frequent checking for wandering monsters (q.v.), then you will have to take more direct part in things. Mocking their over-cautious behavior as near cowardice, rolling huge handfuls of dice and then telling them the results are negative, and statements to the effect that: “You detect nothing, and nothing has detected YOU so far —“, might suffice. If the problem should continue, then rooms full with silent monsters will turn the tide, but that is the stuff of later adventures.

But...  my brother in dice, you set the time cost to perform these actions so low that players would be stupid not to search for traps and listen at every door.

Maybe it's stupid to require a turn to listen at a door - but it works well and it's an actual choice!  And if it takes a turn to listen at a door, search it for traps, or try to pick a lock, then maybe you really don't need the no-retry clauses.

This does force me to consider that maybe I should give the party "free" attempts at finding secret doors in passing, assuming that they're tapping as they go because it's quick, and then make a successful turn-length search primarily for finding the mechanism of action / trigger.

There is also an interesting bit in here:

A gnome, for instance, must remain relatively quiet and concentrate for a turn to detect facts about an underground setting. Likewise, a dwarf must work at it. An elf doesn’t detect secret doors 162/3% of the time by merely passing them unless he or she is actually concentrating on the act. A character with a sword must have it out and be thinking about its power in order for the weapon to communicate anything to him or her. To sum it all up, DON’T GIVE PLAYERS A FREE LUNCH! Tell them what they “see”, allow them to draw their own conclusions and initiate whatever activity they desire.

Emphasis mine.  I think grouping in the use of magic sword detection abilities with these inherent racial abilities is telling about the expected frequency and ease-of-use of sentient swords.  There are no swords with detection abilities on table III.G. Swords on page 124 - swords with detection abilities only arise from the Sword Primary Abilities table for "unusual" (sentient) swords on page 167.  In conclusion, further evidence that the sentient sword rules are significant and have a purpose.

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