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To vent out from the exams the whole group finished not long ago, I'm preparing a simple D&D3.5 game. A mindless dungeon crawler with lots of enemies, loot and the usual stuff with just enough story and background to keep things together, as in games like crawl, nethack and such.

The thing is, I like to drop surprises, traps, twists, puzzles/riddles and unexpected events from time to time to make the world they are playing in as unpredictable as possible (They can do whatever they want, but so do NPCs). The players know this and like it, but they told me not to put "too much" since we all want to chill out and not think too hard.

I already intended to keep the puzzles and riddles to a bare minimum (Maybe one or two ridiculously easy ones), but I'm worried they will find any slight event twist, trap or quest as too much. It's mainly about having fun not even worrying about the characters, so I don't want to overdo it.

I tend to improvise everything except the basic story outline and some fixed stuff so I don't have any problems dropping new and unexpected things in the game if I see they are bored or removing them if they are not having fun, but I'm afraid of giving them an event that will kill the mood completely.

My question is, when are riddles, event twists and "general thinking stuff" too much? Specifically on a dungeon crawler as the one I described.

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4 Answers 4

up vote 13 down vote accepted

When It's No Longer Supporting The Dungeon Crawling

You've got a clear focus on what you want this campaign to be - a mindless dungeon crawler. Your players seem to agree with that goal. That makes this easier, because everybody has already said exactly what they want.

As such, mindless dungeon crawling should be the focus of the campaign. Anything else should be present to support the dungeon crawling, such as your limited amount of story & background. Traps and riddles are no different. They can be part of a good dungeon crawl, in limited quantity.

If you start throwing lots of them, or really difficult ones into this type of game, they're taking away from the focus of the game by bringing the mindless dungeon crawl to a halt.

It's hard to put an exact number on that, but my general advice for this type of game would be to use traps very sparingly. If the players have to stop at every door and search for traps, that's taking away from the focus on mindless dungeon crawling. If they can charge in and at one point encounter a mildly inconvenient trap, that's probably okay. Crippling or killing traps are definitely out as options.

This is probably one of the rare campaigns where comedy traps are going to be okay (like the Order of the Stick's BBQ Sauce trap). You hit a trap, something kind of amusing happens, and it leads to a fight as part of the dungeon crawl. Have a laugh, continue the game, and the focus is still where you want it to be.

Riddles are more okay so long as the players don't get stuck spending 5 minutes dealing with one. Try to keep them easy, and keep the consequences of failure minor. Give an alternative means of getting past the riddle. You don't want to have the players dealing with it any longer than they want to, and if they start brute forcing through them, that's when you know they've had enough.

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So much emphasis on "use traps sparingly": many 3.5 games I've been in have been spoiled by the paranoia induced by the DM trying to catch you out with unexpected pit traps. –  ioanwigmore Feb 16 at 15:52
    
The comic traps are actually a very god idea, I think I'll use one or two of those, thanks! :) –  Achifaifa Feb 16 at 22:33

Let your players decide when it's too much

Provide alternatives. For example, the hallway splits into two rooms, one filled with pipes, pits, barbed sticks and magical stuff, the other has an angry minotaur chained to the exit door. Let them pick their challenge for themselves, they will know what they want.

You can make your traps comical, that way hitting a trap or avoiding one is a success either way. Maybe the acid melts away the (non-magical, non-relevant) pants of the unlucky victim. He'll run around without pants for the remainder of the dungeon. that's probably more fun at the gaming table than having avoided it.

In the end, you can leave the hard parts in, but make them optional. Solve the puzzle for extra loot, or just charge into the next room.

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The problem with letting the players choose is that if they see two rooms with clearly defined challenges it's not a surprise anymore. Sure it partially solves the problem, but the game becomes a bit dull if there is not going to be anything they don't expect. –  Achifaifa Feb 16 at 22:36

In general, and to add to what has already been said, the gaming group will let you know. Since you have already stated they enjoy 'occasional' traps and puzzles, I think I would hold back to a one-in-eight, a one-in-ten, or a one-in-twelve chance of a trap/puzzle. Watch their reactions and then readjust for the next session. Quests are another matter, I think I would cut back to a one-in-twenty, or one-in-fifty, just so that they aren't overplayed. By cutting back, it might make the quests seem to be more 'important'.

Even 'mindless' dungeon crawls can require some thinking. (e.g. you - I found a twisty piece of metal here in this rubbish, let me break it and then I'll chuck it in the nearby chasm. Fellow party member - What did you just do??? That was the key we needed to get to the treasure room. you - well that's the thief's job. FPM - Do you remember that vial you broke? That had the antidote to remove the poison from our thief, without it, he died.)

I had one DM who placed so many plot lines within his world, it was extremely hard to keep track of them. Sure a player had plenty of options, but there were times when we said "'f' it" let's head off on a new tangent to get away from the tangled mess.

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Not an exact answer, but a solution...

While I'd never suggest such a thing for many campaings, I guess yours might benefit from granting "reality twist tokens" to players. Those would be rare tokens players could spend to bend reality to basically skip or reverse something they don't like, in a similar fashon as the "skip a level" which is present in some videogames.

While this could easily ruin more serious settings, I think it might fit well in a dungeoncrawl like yours.

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