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Oridaellin

The importance of dungeon crawling

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As most RPG veterans know, the dungeon crawl is a very useful and important adventure element in nearly every system.

 

Dark Heresy is thematically and mechanically not overly interested in dungeon crawling however, which is mostly fine. Dark heresy is not DnD, players do not smugly pool their skills to solve puzzles in order to rescue the princess.

However, the dungeon crawl is often quite important during actual play, everything from raiding a faceless trade smuggling den to delving through an ancient heretical temple can fall under this type of play.

It feels to me that there is remarkably little in the books that supports this aspect of the game, the armory only contains screamers and the GM section barely touches on it. 

 

I'm interested to know how the community deals with dungeon crawls. Are they less important than I give them credit for? Are there any especially good tools or items to use for these encounters?

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I would say this only depends on the GM's style. You can play DH quite character driven e.g. in extensive investigation adventures. But you can also implement your dungeon crawls, e.g. boarding a space hulk.

 

I am not sure what kind of tools you are expecting from the system to help you create such an adventure and my DnD days are far behind me, so I don't remember anything in these books being specific about this topic.

 

I can't think of any special tools in the DH rulebooks. Maybe the list of possible antagonists? You might want to look in the DH1 creatures anathema source book or the short adventure band purge the unclean, which includes an adventure on board a space hulk.

 

Otherwise you might be able to copy tools from DnD. If you would list them, I am sure people would find creative ways to adept them.

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Death watch: Ark of lost souls have some information about building space hulks. I must admit I have not tried it out yet, so cant comment on how good it is, but it is clearly a tool for "dungeon crawling". Apart from that you are correct, there is indeed no supplement that describes how to set up a chaos cult den and what surprises could be in store for PCs infiltrating or raiding the place (as far as I know). I guess one could imagine having a section in a future book about this.

 

Mostly when designing such a place it is about setting up the locality and which NPCs are present where in the complex. In case of chaos cult a ritual might be ongoing when the PCs arrive. Secret passageways and hidden rooms are as much a reality in Dark Heresy as in any other RPG. The only thing that I don't really use are elaborate mechanical traps. There can be some explosives if you fail to put in the correct code (or security check) etc, and as you mentioned screamers.

 

In Dark Heresy you also have the situation where the acolytes are storming the chaos den together with a number of inquisition storm troopers / arbiters / etc. In that case the scenario is more about catching the arch villain before its too late and stressing the players against time can create some fantastic moments.

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Death watch: Ark of lost souls have some information about building space hulks. I must admit I have not tried it out yet, so cant comment on how good it is, but it is clearly a tool for "dungeon crawling". Apart from that you are correct, there is indeed no supplement that describes how to set up a chaos cult den and what surprises could be in store for PCs infiltrating or raiding the place (as far as I know). I guess one could imagine having a section in a future book about this.

 

Mostly when designing such a place it is about setting up the locality and which NPCs are present where in the complex. In case of chaos cult a ritual might be ongoing when the PCs arrive. Secret passageways and hidden rooms are as much a reality in Dark Heresy as in any other RPG. The only thing that I don't really use are elaborate mechanical traps. There can be some explosives if you fail to put in the correct code (or security check) etc, and as you mentioned screamers.

 

In Dark Heresy you also have the situation where the acolytes are storming the chaos den together with a number of inquisition storm troopers / arbiters / etc. In that case the scenario is more about catching the arch villain before its too late and stressing the players against time can create some fantastic moments.

 

Or attempting a low profile sneak attack, because stormtroopers and arbiters tend to draw a lot of attention. Clearing heretic/xenos/mutant infested factories, mansions, warehouses, sewers, cave systems, ruins, and even the occasional military complex are common enough occurrences in the imperium, and it would be a waste for the party to never go on one of these expeditions. In the end, someone always has to clean up the garbage, and if a group wants to keep its subtlety, they will most likely have to do this themselves.

 

Any investigation only campaign would get boring eventually, and it always helps to have climactic battle/base raid to end your adventure on planet. 

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I think the opening adventure found in the core book has a good take on an dungeon crawl, if you keep up with the adventure it plays out like a chase scene. Your party dosnt have time to rest 24 hours unless they miss a certain important encounter here. And since there are several deadly battles in this adventure and it ends with an even more deadly battle it really lives up to the dungeon crawl. 

*Arrive Here search for clues
*Follow clues to Group X before they are silenced
*Group X brings you to Target Alpha 
*Target Alpha has information about "Main Plot to be carried out at this time"

*Will your players make it in time? Will they stop the forces of chaos? What will happen if they fail?

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Reinforcement characters are a good tool for this.

They represent a 2-3 influence investment - which is not beyond recoup from a successful Inquisitorial operation - and allow players, once they've identified a heretic hideout, to substitute their 'frail old scholars' for something much more suitable - whether it represents hiring mercs, calling the boss and asking for a kill-team to be seconded to them, or going to the local sanctionate station and discretely flashing a rosettte.

 

Whilst the narrative talks about investigation, there are a lot of combat rules - and (for the first time in a 40k RPG) a 'threat rating' against opponents as a 'ready reckoner' to try and create equal-ish combat encounters.

 

Straight-out combat 'episodes' are fun - the thing that makes it feel more 40k is planning; as much on the player's part as the GM. Don't just walk them into a tunnel and go - let them figure out possible opposition with inquiry and scrutiny (of course, as the GM, you can retroactively make them right or wrong as you see fit!), get hold of the underhive tunnel plans with scholastic lores, make influence checks to arm up on grenades, etc.

 

Remember that this is essentially the same mechanical RPG as Only War, which is almost purely a combat focused RPG and works fine. The key to keeping things interesting is to make sure your players know the combat section of the rulebook well - consider printing them a copy of the combat actions sheet - and use the full range of actions. A lot of times when I've started a game, the players see enemies and trade semi-automatic bursts until one side falls over, which is of limited fun. I was no better

 

By comparison, when I gave them the list of options and threw them into unequal fights where they had to use tactics to win, things started to get much better. A 'scene' where they essentially fast-roped from a valkyie in through the stained-glass window of a chapel, guns blazing, is still one of the best gaming sessions we've had - with things like cover, darkness, damaging cover as heavy weapons shred the stone pillar people are hiding behind, tactical advance (move up whilst still keeping the protection of cover for one turn), suppressing fire (something that makes even a low-level opponent with an autopistol hard to deal with), and melee against more dangerous foes with things like defensive stance to hold them up rather than try to actually win.

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One question you need to ask yourself regarding any traps is: How do the people who placed the traps deal with them ?

 

I've seen far too many dungeons designed where the only way in and out is through unavoidable traps. Traps that clearly took a lot of effort to set and can not be disarmed to let friendlies through. Yet there are NPCs living deeper in the dungeon with no explanation of how they are supplied with food, or no way to communicate with whoever is giving them orders.

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A couple useful tools that I and my players have found are minis, mats and markers. You can purchase a washable mat with a grid or hex (often both) for about $10-20 from amazon or any large supermarket or hobby shop. These work very well with minis (40k or other) and my players very much enjoy this method the most as it allows them to have their own little avatar which they get to move and what have you.

 

Secondly, it allows the GM to draw out the current room or area they are going to have combat in, which again, my players say is excellent since it allows them to tactically see their surrounds and environment to make the best use of each situation. Giving a useful look at the situation, enemies position and any environmental hazards, tools or scenery to be used or destroyed.

 

Destructible terrain and damage easily covered: this method allows you to draw in terrain such as crates, walls and natural barriers. Not only does it give you the tactical layout but writing the number of its cover value is very helpful for both the GM and the players. In addition to quick refrence, it also makes it easy to damage cover as well. You just tick down the CB and you can just erase or draw the item damaged or destroyed so you and the players get a visual representation of the actions in battle.

 

Here is a hastily put together list of useful ideas and tools!

 

Miniatures! Having some 40k minis is a fantastic little bit of fun in its own right, but when combined with tactical combat its heightens everything as well as makes encounters more vivid. Describing a bloodthirster may give your players a good idea of what it looks like but placing their Imperial Guard mini in base to base contact with a Bloodthirster gives them a fairly accurate depiction of how screwed and intimidating that thing really is. If you are not a 40k army collector like I am, then I recommend to just buy maybe a box or two of Imperial guardsmen, or maybe just a command squad box, (Convert one to Chaos)some Chaos rabble models and maybe a few daemons. I have one small box set of each of the major daemons, Nurgle, Khorne, ect... for variety sake, they also happen to be really cool models. They also have greyknights and inquisitor models which are somewhat reasonably priced. 

 

Minature terrain! Since I have 40k armies, I also have terrain pieces, which makes for great tools and scenery to place on top of the tactical map. Nothing like running through a wrecked city scape with your Warband chasing down or fleeing from the forces of chaos.

 

Or perhaps you are not looking to spend$20-200 bucks on warhammer models and supplies, fair enough. I did my first campaign of Dark heresy with a pirated digital copy of the corebook, a single five star notebook and a notebook of graph paper. Grab a pencil, pen and have a couple thin tip markers handy and make some dungeon crawls. Graph paper is very simple, easy and cheap. Each squar can equal a meter like it did when I used it for my players or 10 if you want to make a really big area. Make each page a level of a dungeon have a staircase or elevator (or any other suitable reason to have a choke point which opens to a new area) and sketch out your room designs. This in and of itself it actually a whole lot of fun, though I do recommend scripting out some details of your adventure as you'll need to plan ahead and be more thorough when doing this method. For example, write out main bag guy, key events, plan out some puzzles or any backtracking which might be needed for the dungeon and draw the rooms to facilitate your ideas. (Fun fact newbies GMs, although a legal or pirated copy of the corebook is easy and convenient, nothing will substitute the real thing. I now have 3 hard copies of the original corebook and it makes everything much easier, keeping one handy and a spare to hand off to your players is an excellent setup, though unlike me, I doubt you'll need to buy that many)

 

Think pen and paper is so 1999? Well, have no fear space RPGer this is the 21 century with 41 century warfare! Roll20 happens to be an incredibly powerful tool which is fairly easy to use and require little effort to start and is wholly free!

 

Does all this sound a bit overwhelming? Have no fret, because it is! But nothing worth playing comes easy so I have some tips I have used in the passed with these mediums which you may find helpful.

 

*Tips* For dungeons!

  • Make sure rooms are roomy. Room to maneuver, interesting architecture and plenty of cover make for better combat encounters
  1. Stale basic box shaped rooms will turn boring very quickly, use some of that potent GM imagination and make rooms interesting! Remember, it really helps to imagine the whole building and its functions to then decide shapes, sizes and room numbers and their contents
  2. Cover! make use of pillars, boxes and natural items which should be in a room
  3. Try not to make too many choke points unless its narrative fitting, try to have two or three main ways of getting through a room
  • Set up traps! Nothing will make your players groan and learn the usefulness of perception than a tripwire, a floor tile diping when stepped on, or the odd door which is heavily sealed with strange runes and alien symbols as well as odd noises coming from behind it
  1. Land mines!
  2. Rabid xenos or kill servitors hiding in nooks!
  3. Ambushes! Nothing says welcome to Dark Heresy like pushing a button which illuminates the warband and then a heavy stubber opens up on them.
  • Boss battles!! Angry that your players have been murdering all your murderhobos you send at them with ease? Now you can setup proper ambushes and draw a rooms layout to be more challenging, have a lieutenant and his kill team tucked behind heavy cover on rafters above the room the players walk into; the limit is your imagination!
  1. 40k is all about the epic nature of things, make boss battle rooms then, well Epic! Always give your evil doers the advantage unless the narrative or cleverness of your player would nullify it. 
  2. Extra minions are a good way of making a not so physical challenging boss fight better
  3. Muscle similar to minions: add foul creatures such as kill servitors, cyberdogs (something a little more exotic than "Lacky with slightly better equipment" ) or Darth Vadar like muscle bad guy, not the brains of the outfit but someone to protect and enforce the BBEG will
  4. Try to put in special gear or unquite equipment for bosses, be it tainted by the warp, xeno origin or whatever is related to the plot, it helps to have the environment and weapons/gear of the dungeon crawl be of the same motif
  • Cinematic battles and Dynamic environments! Draw thin pathways in a skeletal room with only a few platforms, fill in all the squares area the walkways and say they are molten metal in a mechanicus factorium, allow your players to try and knock enemies into the pit of death or vice versa! What fun and thrills!
  1. Have an ice cave which opens up to the surface causing think layers of snow and treacherous terrain; causing -2 to AG bonus movement and running or anything which is based on movement to require a agility test or negative modifiers
  2. Try a sewer, Wide tunnels with sickly goop in-between walkways which damages or hinders equipment if fallen into, noxious gasses sick to lower levels, forcing toughness test forcing fatigues if players or NPCs get pushed in
  3. Space ships! Have rooms with equipment in them which can be used by the players, be it simple weapons, shields or more advanced things like a terminal to open an airlock which will cause everyone in the room or a separate room to evacuate. If heavy weapons are used roll chance die to see if they damage or destroy things like life support or blow up a fuel line running through the walls; forcing players to change tactics and weapon types to prevent their own accidental deaths.
  4.  Setup turrets or control terminals for your tech savvy PCs to use to aid or hinder opponents/allies in combat! See that large shelf holding all those heavy crates, hanging above the enemy formation? Maybe a good shot could knock out its support and cause it to fall on the opponents! 
  5. A graveyard, thick large trees and massive headstones and crypts offer countless points of cover and hiding places, place in a thick spoooky fog which hinders visibility and makes range combat impractical
  • Loot and time crunch! Your players need to make it to the fifth floor down to prevent the plasmacore from overloading? They don't have to stop at each floor inbetween but maybe a BBEG or an useful ally, or maybe even a Relic or loot may be under threat or stashed away, will the players deviate from their course to gain an advantage or take no risk and rush to the plasmacore giving the BBEG time to continue his or her's nefarious plot!?
  1. These need to be well thought out and should be only applied when a scripted adventure is done for best effect
  2. Have areas with clues or hidden material such as video logs or keys or terminal access passwords to aid the players for some of the challenges ahead
  3. Dangle a carrot with a risk reward factor; have an enemy trying to sabotage, loot or kill someone/something, at the same time, have a separate goal such as bomb, or an ally in need. Give the PCs a choice if they want to do one or the other, or give them multiple tasks which need to be done in too short of a time frame, this can be more easily done when plotting out the rooms and levels of the dungeon to allows players to see and feel the large distances placed between the goals or choices.
  4. Give your players toys! Have some hidden rooms or bosses drop useful loot. Have a locked room with a mechanicus symbol on it. If they players are able to pass a hard Tech use test, allow them to loot the interior be it just a single dose of Sacred Machine Oil, or single clip of armor piercing rounds --Few things give players a yelp of delight when you tell them they walk into a massive motorpool with empty Sentinels with a Autocannon strapped to their sides and a horde of Orks are charging to their location
  5. Let bosses drop their sweet gear for the players! Give bosses heretical gear or stolen goods which are powerful, this will make the PCs choose to corrupt themselves (leaning towards radical or outright Chaos) or return it to their proper owners for an influence gain
  6. Have treasure rooms, boss battles are great but create incentive for characters to explore your dungeon by giving them money, tools which may aid them later in the dungeon, or a special weapon which could be the only thing that can kill a ghost haunting a part of the dungeon
  7. Have background and fluff! Have a room with countless books in it, or a single videolog or diary which contains useful information, or if further studies could grant a cheap or free lore skill, or even forbidden... Have these items require time to read and analyze, detracting from the main goal may give an advantage to the BBEG or perhaps the time spent reading/viewing the material may give a hint or a bonus towards an certain type of enemy or an insight to the plans of the PCs opponents.

There ya go adventurare/game masters, those are several of the tools and methods I use to create my dungeons and adventures. Obviously these are by no means limiting and can be expanded upon as you see fit, but I have noticed quite a few people not just on this forum but in most RPGs feel overwhelmed or are unsure where to start when it comes to creating adventures. The best advice I can give and hopefully others will agree with me, is think of something you would want to play and find to be a neat and interesting idea, story and environment and build from there. Always try to make everything you do interactable with the players in some way, shape or form. If it does not add to the atmosphere or gameplay remove it or simply do not put it in to begin with. And remember rule zero, the goal of the adventure is for the players to have fun and a memorable experience, do not penalize them for being clever and subverting your plots, roll with it and enjoy watching your players wreck your dugneon.

 

 

Edited for grammar and corrections**

Edited by Olifant

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