Things to Consider Before Your D&D Party Enters a Dungeon
We’ve had a lot of talk about dragons recently, but what about the other part of the game’s name: Dungeons? They seem pretty straightforward -- you go into underground caverns and hideouts, fight your way through some creepy critters, and reap the rewards.
Realistically, though, they’re not that simple. Dungeons can go for miles and miles underground, with twisting, turning passages, challenging terrain, and creatures attacking you at every turn. Oh, and it’s probably dark. With all that in mind, how do you navigate (and RP) your way through dungeons?
Facing Your Fears
It’s easy to gloss over it all, but dungeons are full of all sorts of things that are scary to the average person. There’s darkness, tight spaces, and probably plenty of creepy crawlies and spiderwebs. Sometimes there are even underwater portions you might need to navigate. Chances are pretty good there’s something in that list that makes your character at least a little nervous.
Whether you decide to use that fear to nudge along some character growth or possibly just make for some fun RP, keeping those circumstances in mind can help make things interesting.
What does that have to do with navigation? Everything! If your character is scared of the dark, maybe you should voluntarily give them disadvantage on attack rolls or survival checks. If they’re claustrophobic, that may affect the routes they choose within the dungeon. Decide ahead of time what your character fears, and be consistent with it.
Navigating the Labyrinth
Some dungeons are just a single passage with the occasional chamber opening up, sure, but more often than that, they’re full of turns and forks and loops that can confuse even the most directionally competent character. With that in mind, it can be helpful to devise a way to track the way you’ve come.
Of course, the problem with marking your progress is that anyone, or anything, coming behind you can also mark your progress and, theoretically, follow behind you. Ideally, find a way to mark your passage that you know to look for, but looks natural to the average passer-by, so that you don’t have angry kobolds on your tail trying to steal your candles. That might mean putting some rocks in some particular configurations or making some tiny marks on the wall near the ceiling where they’re hard to see. Discuss your options with your party, and devise a plan to keep you from walking in circles -- as well as a way to backtrack and find your way out.
The Struggle with Supplies
The thing about a lot of dungeons is that you often don’t know how long or complicated they are until it’s too late to turn around. It might only take you a day or two to get through, or it might take you weeks. Like many things, it pays to hope for the best while planning for the worst.
The most important things to have with you are going to be the supplies the party can’t survive without -- namely, food and water. Without these essential items, your characters can begin taking points of exhaustion, making any encounters you happen upon far more difficult. If you have a 5th level cleric or a 9th level paladin in your party, that’s a lot easier thanks to the spell Create Food and Water. But if this spell isn’t available to your party, you’ll need to figure out how many rations you can comfortably carry, not to mention what you can afford.
If your party is underground for an extended period and doesn’t have access to that magically helpful spell, you may need to consider how you can restock your stores with what’s available in the dungeon. Not much grows underground, but you may find some mushrooms or be able to track some creatures for their meat. If all else fails, there’s always the possibility of eating grubs and insects, but if your Dungeon Master (we call them Quest Masters) is like me, they’ll probably make most of the party make constitution saving throws to see if they can stomach eating them, unless they play a race who wouldn’t have a problem with that.
The Trouble With Light
Another thing to keep in mind as your party is navigating a dungeon is your light source. Chances are it’s going to be pretty dark underground, and chances are you have at least one party member who doesn’t have darkvision. While that may be a mild inconvenience other times, that can be crippling underground.
You may be thinking there’s a simple solution here -- carry torches, or use the light cantrip! And yes, that is a possibility, but you must remember, you’re heading into areas that can go years without ever seeing any real light, so as soon as you step into a dungeon carrying a torch, you’re also creating a beacon announcing your arrival to any creatures that come anywhere near you. That means you have to weigh your options; is it more dangerous to lead your party members through the dark, or to attract troublesome attention with your light?
Navigating dungeons involves a lot of choices, and there isn’t always a right or wrong option -- sometimes, it’s just the lesser of two evils. When possible, discuss your options with your party, plan ahead, and make your way back out to the fresh air once you’ve killed the baddies and taken the loot!