Monday, May 16, 2011

More Thoughts on Tumbling Your Dungeon

Keeping Track of Things
I talked a little with my most veteran player (and sometime DM) about his experience inside the Tumbling Dungeon and what he would need to run it.  His first idea was to have a separate map of each state of the dungeon.  I told him this is actually what I started with; four maps in my DM folder.  It turned out to not help.  One reason was that I wanted all my notations (monsters, treasure, corpses) on one map for ease of use while DMing.

But the more fundamental reason was that I had no problem keeping track of how the dungeon moved, but of the orientation of the fixed things within the dungeon.  One example is the pedestal in the center of the dungeon that contains the constantly mixing golden elixir.  It would be much easier to say it is levitating, suspended in the very center of the dungeon's central room.  But if you are saying the whole reason of the dungeon is to mix this elixir, then it needs to be attached to a wall.  And then you need to be able to tell the players the pedestal is now on the ceiling, now in front of you, etc. 

Party faces unexplored chambers
The primary non-tumbling feature in the dungeon is the party.  So, as a DM needing to tell the party what is front of them everything changes.  This became most boggling when some PCs entering the dungeon to join the party late came from in front of them, because the parts of the dungeon that were near the entrance had rotated around the original party.
Party needs to turn around to explore

I'm sure the ease at which any DM can manage this varies, I had a hard time of it.

I don't know any solution to this other than a digital map on a laptop or a physical model the DM can manipulate behind the screen.  I contemplated and almost made a little index card-origami model for myself.

The Sand Room
I would revise the sand room if I ran another party through it.  The cool thing about sand is that, unlike water, you can walk across the features it hides and you can't see them.  You might hide furniture, daises, thrones, etc.  The problem is, that the sand will always find the floor, so these features will only be apparent when they are on the wall or the ceiling, not a very useful place for thrones.  What I did was hid a world map, meh.  The party wasn't very excited by this and it didn't seem to utilize the full potential of the sand.

Now, I think I would make it hide work benches, anvils, sorting tables-- things that would be useful for thirty minutes at a time and could be attached to the wall.  You could have shelves too, as long as they were shuttered and the items inside well-secured.

Again, the whole point for me in tumbling the dungeon was not to try to confuse players, which seems like a much easier task, but to pack more exploration and wonder into the same amount of dungeon space.  Having a workshop appear where before there was only a sandy-floored room seems to get at this.  Especially if players begin suspecting something interesting might be hidden under the ten feet of sand.

Because the dungeon is consistent and only has four states it isn't too hard to figure out.  My players figured out how to get out in about 30 minutes to an hour of real time in which they were paying close attention to things and trying to map.  That being said, with about 15-30 minutes between rotations, it can take some time to ride out the tumbles until the exit becomes usable.  So this can play havoc with the idea that a party needs to end a session outside of a dungeon.  This didn't cause a lot of problems for me-- I just used dreamlike logic to warp different players in and out of the party when they were present to play.  But it might be a hitch if you are using Jeff Rients' table of Dungeon Doom.


  1. Somehow the sand room escaped me. That's brilliant. I'm picturing things that might keep their sand until they're almost completely inverted, or tip it out unpredictably, like cooking pots and funnels or bottles. Have I already mentioned the old gag from the Prisoner where No. 6 notices something written in the bottom of his beer glass so he drinks it down to see

    ? Sand clocks are such a powerful reference, I'd use the sand as a timer for some event. Or to power machines as it runs through them.

  2. Question: if you were in the sand room when it tumbles would you automatically get buried or could you stay on top of it? does the sand always form a triangular lean-to against the wall it just tumbled from? If you cause vibrations in the sand room do you shake more sand loose?

    I propose that Fireball is not hot enough the melt the sand into glass, but Lightning Bolt might well make fulgurites. Which in turn might make fabulous magic flutes.

    Maybe I'd make it a domed chamber with just enough sand to fill the dome, so it looks like a flat floor when you first come in. Or even do a giant hourglass thing with it: one chamber is (mostly) blocked off for 2 rotations, then the other. Too similar to the water room?

  3. The way I ruled it, the tumbling was never fast enough to become a hazard itself (except when they dawdled in places like the long hallways). But my players were terrified of being "smothered in sand" so they gave the room wide berth.

    A dome room with a representation of the sky might be nice, and I like the idea of a hourglass but I'm having trouble imagining where the entrance would be. Maybe at the pinched middle?

    It isn't quite alchemical but what if the hourglass' two chambers stored a collection of metal weapons or utensils, the sand's constant movement keeping them rust-free and sharp.

    I keep going back to the idea of the way sand fills depressions and maybe there could be various shapes of pools in the floor that magically fill themselves when empty of sand. Maybe the Pools of the Ancients.

  4. I see them entering the hourglass through a hollow tube that feeds into the middle, therefore at the fulcrum, but I bet other solutions are possible.

    Re sand filling depressions: these could be some kind of moulds? If you filled them with water or coated them with a reagent then you could cast stuff out of them? I don't know what you'd want to cast: statues, golems, maps/instructions, shrines, armor with special properties?

    Alternatively, if you got the hourglass really hot that sand could become glass. I don't know what the players would do with a giant melting pot of hideously dangerous hot glass, but I bet it would be useful to the alchemist. Heat it up and cool it down and you've cast all the heatproof items in the room into glass. That sounds like a mistake to me, but... If you could spin the dome while it's inverted then you just might be able to make giant lenses (yes I know IRL you'd then have to grind/polish them for weeks and they might be full of bubbles, but maybe there's a magic for that).

  5. Great thoughts as always. But look what I did, I forgot the depressions will never be free of sand while on the bottom! You only ever have depressions on the walls or the ceiling. That's why I made it a map, not pools holding liquids. Blarggh, I think the spatial part of my brain is stunted or something.

  6. What if you could roof over the depressions to keep the sand out of them? No: too much explanation: how would you ever explain that that was the plan? Except it would be an awesome secret passage - one you can't get to unless you reconfigure the machine. Maybe there's a scroll/player handout that shows you there's a secret passage under the hourglass, and then it's up to you to figure out how to get there.