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I GM Lost Mines of Phandelver.

My player's level 2 (soon 3) Druid has discovered that while in Wild Shape in spider form, they are almost impossible to catch, especially since in caves etc. they "fit in" (which I agreed to twice).

However, this results in the PCs knowing pretty much the entire dungeon layout since those are somewhat small.

What can I do to hinder this full exploration without being unfair?

I've tried:

  • Letting time run out. Wild Shape doesn't last too long, but 2-3 hours still suffices for almost all dungeons.
  • Have NPCs swat against the spider if they see it - which doesn't do much due to the high Stealth bonus, and by climbing on the ceiling she now keeps out of their sight/range.
  • Have NPCs change post from between her exploration and the party entering - which kinda works, but still leaves a lot of the dungeon-crawling mystery lost.
  • Have something happen to the waiting group where the Druid would've helped (aka classic anti-splitting stuff)

Any other ideas? I'm ready to amend the prewritten dungeons and maps with new ideas, but so far none came to mind (except maybe an antimagic field in the final dungeon, but it would not fit for any of the other encounters/dungeons before that).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: The Druid is being better burglar than the Rogue. How can I fix that? \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Mar 3 at 15:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm going to leave a gentle reminder to answerer that they should support their answer. The method you suggest should be tested, and that testing should give you expertise to say when it worked and any drawbacks or limitations it may have. This also goes to voters, please look for answers that show experience. Many ideas sound good until you try it and realize you forgot about X thing. \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Mar 3 at 22:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just out of curiosity, how is this not an "idea generation" question? There's obviously a lot of very valuable knowledge in these answers, but there are already 9 answers only one day after posting. Does that not fulfill the "Questions with too many possible answers" criterion of what makes a bad question? \$\endgroup\$ – ammut Mar 4 at 22:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ammut I don't know and looking at it now it probably is [Btw. where can I read up on those criteria?] \$\endgroup\$ – Hobbamok Mar 5 at 11:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Hobbamok There's guidance in the help center and you may want to check out this meta. \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Mar 5 at 14:08

10 Answers 10

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Introduce a threat to the spider.

There are plenty of normal creatures that live in caves that pose a threat to spiders. Frogs, birds, and even other spiders are natural predators. You can introduce other things like snakes and NPCs specifically looking for prey. Certain spells like alarm may not care if it were even something as small as a spider that entered its area of effect.

The spider may get caught in a web, sap, or other sticky substance and lack the strength to break free without reverting to its normal form. This would put them in a predicament since they're within the cave without their team and have to expend further resources or may have alerted the enemy in the process.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is very similar to how I handled a Druid doing a lot of scouting as a rat. They started getting stalked by a cat. \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty Mar 3 at 12:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @guildsbounty then we probably had the same problem just with different flavor \$\endgroup\$ – Hobbamok Mar 3 at 13:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ Very nice answer, I probably was thinking too much along the lines of magic and spells and intentional traps etc. so I completely missed that even without magic spiders are in quite a lot of danger IRL even \$\endgroup\$ – Hobbamok Mar 3 at 13:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Slagmoth Then, as it is being digested, a very bile-covered druid explodes from the toad's innards when the spider's form drops to 0 HP. \$\endgroup\$ – JRodge01 Mar 3 at 18:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @dwizum Only if your druid has proficiency in tiny improvised water crafts. \$\endgroup\$ – JRodge01 Mar 4 at 19:58
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Handle it without crushing it.

One of the best parts of playing D&D is creative uses of game mechanics. Don't take that from your player. Remember, your job as DM is not to counter or beat everything the players do.

What fun is playing a rogue if you never get to sneak around, all ninja-style in the shadows? What fun is playing a druid if you don't get to do super cool stuff like your player is doing??

That being said, it does sound like there needs to be some moderation. Here are a few ways to keep this from becoming an exploit:

  • Add Spider-based challenges: bats and other spiders eat spiders, random encounters of this type would pose a challenge
  • Spiders are slow compared to PCs...it'll take a while for a spider to explore your house, let alone a cave system.
  • Add an element of time pressure. If the party knows that a large scouting party will be returning in an hour, suddenly scouting the whole dungeon is less important than getting in, getting the loot, and escaping before getting overrun.
  • Spiders have poor vision, and may have to crisscross large rooms several times to get the whole picture.
  • Intelligent enemies will notice a spider. Spiders don't tend to hang out where there is a lot of activity, so a spider roaming around in a bustling lair may very well draw attention.
  • As @aslum points out in the comments below, a spider isn't exactly going to have a pen and paper with them with which to do the actual mapping.

Just keep in mind, this is a lot of fun for your player - don't squash them like a bug.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I was considering writing an answer similar to this. I recall a reddit thread I saw recently about a DM that introduced a major library to their campaign. The wizard was excited and started copying spells. The DM tried to stop them with new rules and restrictions, to keep them from getting too much out of it, not realizing how big of a deal it is to a wizard to finally get such an opportunity. The end result? Player quit the campaign. Many classes get game breaking abilities that actually aren't that game breaking if you just introduce appropriate challenges, instead of blocking their use. +1 \$\endgroup\$ – Willem Renzema Mar 3 at 14:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ I love the idea that the spy turns into a spider and has to walk for 2 hours to get 100 yards down a tunnel. \$\endgroup\$ – pileofrogs Mar 3 at 20:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @pileofrogs According to a quick Google, the fastest spider in the world tops out at about 1mph, and I'd expect most are quite a bit slower than that. Not quite as bad as your guess, but exploring on eight feet might take roughly 10 times as long as exploring on two feet. \$\endgroup\$ – Nuclear Hoagie Mar 3 at 20:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ For you last point, it would also be important to note that in a world where shapeshifting is real, Intelligent enemies with something to hide are going to be a lot more careful about small creatures behaving strangely. \$\endgroup\$ – Jack Mar 3 at 23:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the ideas and in-universe restrictions on what can actually be scouted. I in no way plan to crush the whole thing, but merely reel it in to a point where it doesn't break the exploring part of the game [while obviously still making it worthwile] \$\endgroup\$ – Hobbamok Mar 5 at 11:45
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Consider your dungeon a living, changing space.

JRodge01 is right that you should introduce threats to the spider. A house cat goes a long way toward spicing up druid infiltration.

Beyond that though, you can introduce challenges in the exploration process itself as well. Perspective is important. The spider may locate a bedroom, but whose bedroom is it? What's in the chest (that a spider can't open or enter)? What is the garment hanging there that the spider can't get a full view of?

Time is also important. The spider may locate a target or prisoner, but they can't know where that creature will be when they return. Keep the action going even without player intervention. Wild Shape only lasts so long and every moment counts.

And on that topic, what is the party doing while the druid investigates? Surely there are creatures outside your dungeon, whether keen-eyed guards or ravenous wolves. Don't let the party sit there watching one player explore for hours, make them actively hide their presence or silence alarms in some way.

Not every roadblock should be used with each infiltration, but if you train your players that the world is not a flat image, you can limit wild shape reconnaissance while also making it feel like a fun part of the adventure.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Good point about the rest of the party, being a player down during combat a couple of times will make them think twice about relying on this tactic in the future for extended periods. A quick scout of the next room every now and then but any more than that becomes too risky for everyone else \$\endgroup\$ – Lord Jebus VII Mar 3 at 13:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ And never let the rest of the party have input unless they can do so in game (telepathy or whatnot). \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Mar 3 at 19:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Spiders are tiny. I don't recall if they retain their normal eyesight and hearing, but they'd pretty much be living in flatland. If they climb to see, then time burns. \$\endgroup\$ – Tony Ennis Mar 4 at 22:09
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I've seen very good answers here, but I wanted to add my own two or three coppers:

  1. Distance... how big is this spider, what is its movement rate? How long will it take an under 1 inch spider just to cross the first 20 foot long room? A common house spider can run at 1.75 fps, but how long can they keep that up?

  2. Spiders have remarkably poor eyesight. What can they actually see that will prove useful to the party? Climbing to a good vantage point will take time (see Point #1)

  3. Spiders don't carry paper and pens. Don't allow the player to keep notes or draw a map.

  4. As Slagmoth said, no input from the party. And no peeking. The party can't give recommendations on actions, nor should you directly inform the other players what is happening to the spider. Upon his return, the "spider" must recount what he remembers of his journey.

  5. As raithyn mentioned, what about the rest of the party? Idle? Boredom? Wandering monsters? Wishing the spider would return so "we can get on with it?"

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is still a druid in spider form via wildshape not a normal spider. You've got some interesting points, but others aren't based on the game mechanics. Can you support your assertions with how spiders and wildshape work? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 3 at 22:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already and see the help center or ask us here in the comments (use @ to ping someone) if you need more guidance. Good Luck and Happy Gaming! \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Mar 3 at 22:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi Jeffer! I really like the some of the bullet points you lay out as a narrative solution, but it's worth keeping in mind that a spider, as a creature, does have a stat for movement and vision. To wit: 20 feet + 20 climb and darkvision out to 30 feet. If the DM tries to employ the sort of limitations you propose, I think it's worth pointing out that they should be prepared to handle some player pushback. \$\endgroup\$ – Rykara Mar 3 at 23:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ I understand the attribution of "Darkvision" and a movement rate for a "monster" spider. I expect monster spiders (no, not giant spiders, but something similar to a wolf spider/scorpion size) to have 20 foot movement, but I'm betting a druid would like something, well, smaller, and slower. And I, personally, wouldn't expect Darkvision to give good vision out to 60 feet to a creature who can't see 10 feet in normal light. \$\endgroup\$ – JefferMC Mar 3 at 23:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ This question is based on the normal tiny spider. Are you using or suggesting a homebrew version instead? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 3 at 23:57
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One thing you need to consider, is how involved you want this scouting to actually be. The other answers cover spicing up the scouting with actual threats, but if this is supposed to be a low stake "take as much time as you want" kind of situation, you could resolve the scouting as a "scout check". You should talk to the player who wants to do the scouting to make sure you are both happy with how you actually handle the streamlined method.

In my campaigns, I will set a DC based on how well the character can actually stealth, and then roll a d20 "quality check". (On a 1, part of what they learn is blatantly false (seeing things while scouting), and on a 20 they get "near clairvoyance" of the dungeon. This isn't necessary, but my players like the extra 'risk', and the shenanigans that ensue) Based on the roll result and the DC you determined, you then give all the players a quick rundown of what the player learned while scouting.

The other players prefer this because "we can get on with it", the scouter likes this because it shields them crit fails (in my campaign, 1's are always ridiculously bad, and 20's are over the top good; for the fun of it) and they still get to do their cool class thing, and I get to control what the players learn. (I can always say "you must have missed that door" or "the door is in the way", or " must have slipped your mind on the way back")

Remember to talk to your players first though! If they like the thrill of scouting and that they can be caught at any time, they probably won't enjoy having all that streamlined out. You should find a compromise between 'quick and dirty' and what the players actually enjoy.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Will definitely talk about them and propose your system. [the druid can telepathically talk to one of the party, so so far they were kinda like a coaching team so not bored, but we'll see]. Sounds like a really good way to handle it \$\endgroup\$ – Hobbamok Mar 5 at 11:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Hobbamok I'm used to the players not having a link, so usually the main party has nothing interesting to do while the other scouts. (And even if something does happen, running two parallel sessions is not fun X3) That said, Helping =/= Not Tedious. And while this is mostly between you and the scout, if the rest of the party feels the scouting is slow and tedious, the scout player should understand that some level of streamlining should happen. So good luck with the talk, and remember to involve everyone in the decision. One of the players might have a good streamline alternative idea. :3 \$\endgroup\$ – Tezra Mar 5 at 13:12
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You are missing a fantastic opportunity

Provided the other players don't get bored, you have an opportunity for a side mission. If the spider takes damage it'll revert to being a druid again, so this introduces danger. Can you scout the cave without dying?

Spiders can't see too far, so you need to approach closely to explore each area. This makes introduces various skill checks.

If / when they revert to being a druid becuase another critter wanted a snack, give the the rest of the party a chance to hear the druid calling for help. Beyond this, its just another part of the story.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The druid can communicate telepathically with one of the party, so I don't even need to make up why they notice the ex-spiders despair. But yep, this will definitely spice up the next dungeon (or at least one future one, she can't dodge all bats flying around) \$\endgroup\$ – Hobbamok Mar 5 at 11:49
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While this has already been well described, I feel the need to emphasize just how very alien the experience of being a spider can be, and how dramatically that can affect a druid assuming that shape.

The first example is of course senses.

Sight

Most spiders have rudimentary sight at best, seeing on a matter of single digit inches or even millimeters, and at that distance only fuzzy indistinct images.

If we limit ourselves to jumping spiders and webcasters, the best visually that I'm aware of, we still find sight radically worse than what one would imagine, moving up to the "foot or two" range as far as I'm aware.

This means that, for looking around, a spider is more comparable to a humanoid in a moderate fog, if you scaled them to match, for visual range. In practice only the biggest most visually acute spiders would even be able to see neighboring squares of movement.

It also makes every square a spider travels mysterious, exciting, and scary. Which can be pretty cool.

Sound

The spider experience of sound has little to nothing to do with our own. In practice even sounds we would consider very high pitched are well into "infrasound" and is well outside of the lived experience of most spiders.

Instead they focus on the currents of air sensed by their body hair, (an experience vastly beyond the primitive imitation we humans experience when feeling a breeze) and the tremors passing through the ground they stand on (think jurrasic park, but a large beetle is the size of a t rex and humanoids are just stupid big).

Other

While spiders have a variety of other useful senses they are all optimized for ranges well below what a humanoid would find valuable. The larger spiders, megalomorphs, are relatively short sighted and easy to spot, while the most visual spiders, jumpers, are tiny and their idea of "long range" is a foot or two.

Speed

Wolf spiders, the fastest spider of humanoid scales as far as I can tell, reach "up to" 0.02 miles per hour under any sort of sustain. Compared to a human cap of something like 6 miles per hour (a "great" marathon pace). At those speeds travelling across a room should feel like... 300 times as big. ^_^

The Summary

Each room for a human is a huge dungeon for a spider. Travelling through it could be cool and all, but still.

The Hard Answer

I, and my table, are very motivated by the "unexpected bit of realism" and would enjoy a druid suddenly finding out just how freak'n hard a spider's life really is. Hours of play describing arduous travel, tense escapes, and vague descriptions that the players try to, somehow, transcribe into a map could lead to a ton of fun.

But that creates a "main character sub story" which is a major issue in and of itself.

The easy answer

Tell your player you aren't digging how this is working out, and ask what compromise they would consider reasonable.

Often a player using a technique like this feels that something is being interpreted wrong, or is "broken", themselves. Asking them "What am I (as the DM) getting wrong here?" will often pull a player across the table and their answer will fit them, and the table, better than anything those of us on the net have.

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    \$\begingroup\$ While this is a nicely realistic answer, in dnd 5th edition spiders have a darkvision of 30ft and a speed of 20ft. Yeah you can homebrew that, but then the druid will have a problem every time he finds something to wildshape to, namely he can no longer know his own shapes. \$\endgroup\$ – user59614 Mar 5 at 9:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Really really nice answer, but sadly crossed out by 5Es spider stats (which I don't want to retroactively homebrew), but dammit, in the next campaign any druid that tries it will hear the epic story of the small spider in a cave \$\endgroup\$ – Hobbamok Mar 5 at 11:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, that's pretty fair. I might have entirely homebrewed literally every natural animal because I find the game ones wanting, mostly in these sort of "but aren't animals just neat!?" terms. ^_^ \$\endgroup\$ – Suni Mar 5 at 13:50
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There are environments that spiders simply cannot navigate. Water, for example. Have part of a single point of access be completely submerged. A large creature could simply hold it's breath and swim or otherwise push itself through the water. A spider would be completely stymied.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi Hendrik and welcom to the RPGSE! This is a very workable solution for homebrew content but Lost Mines is official (which is to say pre-designed) content. Adding water barriers like this will often be difficult or impossible to implement in those locations that have pre-designed maps. I think it is worth pointing out this limitation in your answer :) \$\endgroup\$ – Rykara Mar 3 at 22:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Rykaraa a pair of walls with running water and an ankle-deep puddle - or some kind of shallow trench to evacuate water - might do the trick give a slant to the ceiling with droplet running to create an obstacle that can be bypassed but will prove dangerous. \$\endgroup\$ – MakorDal Mar 4 at 8:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ as the others said I probably won't be able to introduce de-facto moats here, but puddles and drops for relevant skill checks sounds good. \$\endgroup\$ – Hobbamok Mar 5 at 11:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ To a spider, a spilled bucket of water might as well be a moat or underground lake. I don't think you need to redesign maps or change content in order to make this work - just think on the right scale. \$\endgroup\$ – dwizum Mar 5 at 16:31
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It doesn't seem very realistic that a spider will be able to cover the entire area of a room in a reasonable amount of time. What about just giving them the edges of rooms? A spider will likely need to stick to the walls to avoid getting lost (and also to protect from attacking cats and mice -- which will likely be included intentionally by the guards, as another user pointed out, security against tiny creatures is likely in a universe with shapeshifters).

This actually seems like a fairly generous reward to me, given that keeping track of the exact distances traveled would be very difficult to do in your head.

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My old DM made most of the situations fast paced, a lot of stuff was done in one day, so everything was a resource and we would think twice everytime we were about to use some spell or ability.

Split the team should be a decision to be made as well. Of course you must be reasonable and not punish without giving some chance for them to notice that is a decision being made with some risks. They should notice that the 'safe cave' they are hiding while waiting the druid was recently used or something along these lines.

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