The dungeon was a pyramid of some sort, and if I recall correctly, we were supposed to have been lost while guarding a caravan and this was our only chance at finding water and shelter. So, the “levels” got bigger as you went down. That was a problem you see, because I lost both henchmen on level one and was now all alone.
But I was playing a thief and decided that I could at least sneak around the place and see if I could find whatever it was I needed to survive (though I seriously considered drinking the blood of my fallen companions). The pyramid was filled with mainly undead types - some of the lower end undead, the stupid shambling kind, some variant on zombies. So, I thought I could outsmart the zombies.
An unusual feature of this dungeon was that the stairs down to the next level were typically behind a door. I asked the GM if the doors were hanging on wooden frames, and there was a picture of a door in the book, and it was on a wooden frame, so he said yes. Seems unimportant to you, right? But these were slap together characters. I hadn’t picked my gear, but instead was handed a “standard dungeoneer’s backpack”. Sure enough, it had iron spikes and rope.
So, I missed an early stealth roll somewhere and caught the attention of two undead things. I ran and was able to pull a bit ahead of them. I ran up the stairs, waited (listening), and as the two undead skeleton-like things hit the top of the stairs, I slammed the door shut. We rolled something or other, and one got caught in the door, while the other rolled head over heels down the stairs. I was able to fight and defeat the one while he freed himself from the door. But the other one had died from the fall down the stairs. (This was a pretty low-level dungeon.) The game was now on.
I did some more stealthy exploring and found a longer stair - 30’. That’s decent damage as you probably know - far more than a Lv 2 thief can do with a weapon. Those wooden door frames became important, because I pounded two spikes into the wooden frame and ran a trip wire across. I spent the next few hours, sneaking around the second dungeon level, shooting enemies with my crossbow and running for the stairs. I would leap over my trip wire and race down the stairs. They would follow and both being kind of stupid and in a hurry, they would hit the trap and bounce down the stairs. Any that survived - backstab. Yeah, they knew I was there, but they couldn’t exactly protect themselves from me now could they.
I then went around level three and had them chase me up the stairs. I had come up with a mace somewhere and as soon as I got up the stairs, I would duck to the side, and then clobber the first guy up the stairs with the mace. Typically, that one or some other one would fall down the stairs. I then raced to the next staircase and did it again. Thank goodness the undead don’t learn from their mistakes. I cleared the second and third levels of the dungeon easier than the first, and now I was alone.
Is there a point? Of course, there is! #1 - The guy with the home field advantage should be using tricks and traps and simple battle strategies to give himself all the benefits possible, and it shouldn’t take much to do it. #2 - Just because you don’t have home field advantage doesn’t mean you cannot do some tricking and trapping of your own. Even things as simple as bear traps in a hallway while you shoot missiles and make them charge you - with the right lighting, that’s easy enough to get away with.
I don’t want anyone playing one of my games to get PTSD, but those of us who have been in dangerous situations before know that you check your brain BEFORE you charge into a dangerous circumstance. Well, the sane ones do. Even a veteran warrior in chain mail and carrying a shield is going to prefer thinking, even for a second, before doing something dangerous. If you can get your enemies to skip that step, then you should have them in the palm of your hand.
This post was written as part of the recently released Death Traps of the Aldar aka All About Tricks and Traps, the latest in our Small Bites editions. Each Small Bites book looks deeply at one subject, a character archetype, a race/monster, a style of questing, or some other role-playing/world building subject. This one details everything having to do with puzzles, traps and other game mastering tricks, but within a fully defined mission showing both the stats for point-based characters (like in Legend Quest) and class-based characters like in most of the die-20 games. Not only that, but we get into what it takes for a GM to put a bit of that fear back into your missions (not cosmic horror, but some jump scares and some nervousness). Some of the sense of uncertainty that FRPGs had when they were new.