Lighting as Dungeon Encounter: Two Methods

David Trampier

Brendan at Necropraxis recently had a great post on using the random encounter die as a time-tracker — instead of just triggering wandering monsters, the encounter die could also lead to torches burning out or lanterns running out of oil.

As initially written, he advises just ignoring such results for the first two or three turns when it would seem unreasonable for new light sources to be dying. But it got me thinking, “What if there were a simple way to simulate time passage in the check itself?” Two ways popped into my mind, actually.

First, let’s assume you’re using a traditional die roll to determine random encounters (this is the assumption in Brendan’s post). Maybe your normal random encounter check is made with a d6, with an encounter occurring on a 6. You might end up with an encounter table that looks like this:

1-2: Nothing
3: Monster spoor
4: Monster
5: Torch
6: Lantern

Rolling torch or lantern means the corresponding light sources are going out.

In order to reflect the passage of time in the check, instead of always rolling on the d6, we’ll follow an ascending dice chain. DCC players should be quite familiar with the chain that includes extra funky dice (d3-d4-d5-d6-d7-etc.), whereas other flavors of game will use a more traditional chain (d4-d6-d8-etc.). Personally, even playing something other than DCC, I’d still start the chain at d3, since it’s easily simulated with d6/2 and gives a nice, low starting range.

1-2: Nothing
3-4: Monster spoor
5: Monster
6-7: Torch
8+: Lantern

So turn one I roll a d3 on the table, turn two I roll a d4, turn three I roll a d5 or d6 depending on my chain, and so on. Since a lighting result indicates a clear passage of time, after such a result is rolled the dice chain resets back to d3.

But there’s another way to simulate time passage for the encounter checks, and it’s one I’ve written about my fondness for in the past: playing cards.

I’ve talked about using cards for wilderness travel hazards (inspired by Savage Worlds), using cards to represent the extra danger of traveling at night, and a two-part post (here and here) on cards for dungeon encounters. Let’s say you’re already using cards for encounters, and you have a table of specific encounters keyed to specific cards. As you draw a card each turn, instead of putting them all in a single discard pile you stack them by suit. Once you’ve drawn a card from each of the four suits, torches run out, the cards are consolidated into a single discard, and you begin the suit stacking process again. Lanterns last twice as long as torches, so they only go out every other time you complete the suits.

In the first dungeon post, I broke out a lot of relatively simple probability math to compare cards and dice as randomizers within a dungeon setting. For this post, I’m going to have to point someone else’s math, because this is way beyond me. Over at Mathematics StackExchange, the conclusion seems to be that on average you’ll draw 7.66 cards to get one of each suit. Seems like a reasonable average, and using this method the torches will never expire sooner than every 4 turns.

However, this assumes a standard 52 card deck, and all of my previous encounter decks include the Jokers. This will change math slightly depending on how you handle it. Either you don’t count the Jokers toward light sources, in which case they will last slightly longer on average, or you do count them as wild cards, in which case the average comes down.

Personally I prefer the latter, especially because it slightly increases the chance that a single card could indicate both an encounter and the expiration of light sources, which seems like an awesomely tense moment at the table.


Author: John Carr

Gamer, comic guy, office drone.

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