I’m in the early stages of prepping a new fantasy campaign. One of the specific design goals is that the campaign needs to be able to handle a variable group of players. That means, for the sake of verisimilitude, it’s important that — at the end of any gaming session — the PCs are no longer in the dungeon. (In other words, they need to be in a position where it’s easy to explain why — since player X can’t attend the session — character X isn’t part of the adventure next week.)
Towards that end, I am instituting a simple rule of table etiquette. There are three ways in which a gaming session can end:
(1) The players can, at any time of their choosing, make their way out of the dungeon and end the session for the evening.
(2) As the GM I can, at any time of my choosing, announce that we will stop playing in 1 hour. If, by the end of the hour, the PCs have made their way out of the dungeon, the session ends normalyly.
(3) But if they have not made their way out of the dungeon (for whatever reason), then either (a) everyone in the session can immediately commit to another session within 7 days; or (b) the Escaping the Dungeon! tables will be used to determine their fate.
The Escaping the Dungeon! tables were designed, with a tip of the hat to Jeff Reints for the inspiration, to be used determine the fate of PCs left in the dungeon at the end of the session. At the GM’s discretion they may also be used for some wilderness situations. (For most wilderness situations, I anticipate being able to use PBeM to resolve the journey back to the home base of the PCs.)
|You don't know where you are.|
|You know where you are.|
|You have a clear and unhindered path of escape.|
CHALLENGE ADJUSTMENT: Adjust the chance of escape by +/- 10% multipled by the difference between the average CR of the local opposition and the level of the character. (For example, a 5th-level character facing CR 7 opponents would suffer a -20% adjustment on their chance of escape. In a classic dungeon scenario, you can make this adjustment using the dungeon level — a 5th-level character on the 3rd level of the dungeon would enjoy a +20% adjustment on their chance of escape, for example.)
SMALL COMPLEX: If the characters are attempting to escape from a lair or other small complex, increase the chance of success by 10% to 20%.
MAKING THE CHECK: An escape check is made for each character separately. There is always a minimum 1% chance of escape or failure. On a failed escape check, roll 1d10 on the Failed Escape table below.
|You escape unharmed.|
|You escape but have been permanently altered (maimed, permanently polymorphed, replaced with a double, etc.).|
|You escape but have been injured. You suffer 1d6 x 1d6 points of damage. (If this kills you, see result #8.)|
|You have lost 1d6 pieces of equipment. Determine randomly between slots and bags. If a bag is lost, all of its contents are lost with it.|
|You have been captured, petrified, or otherwise trapped. Roll the escape percentile again to see if your comrades know where you are. If they do not, roll the escape percentile again to see if your comrades have a clue of some sort.|
|You have become lost.|
|You have been transformed into a monster (undead, lycanthrope, mind controlled, etc.).|
|You have died. Roll the escape percentile again to see if your comrades were able to retrieve your body. (Instead of retrieving your body, your comrades may choose to loot it and/or leave it.) If they did not, roll the escape percentile again to see if your comrades know where your body is. If they do not, there is a 50% chance that your body has been utterly destroyed.|
|Opportunity for betrayal. You can choose to either reroll on this table or betray a comrade who would otherwise escape. If you choose to betray a comrade roll 1d6 -- on a roll of 1-4, you escape and they must roll on this table; on a roll of 5-6, both you and your victim suffer the fate they roll.|
The primary goal of this little sub-system is not to punish the players. However, it is designed to provide them with a meaningful motivation to leave the dungeon in a timely fashion. Failing that, it is designed to provide interesting consequences that (frequently) can be followed up on subsequent forays into the dungeon — whether that’s recovering lost equipment, ransoming a lost comrade, or the like.
The actual chance of outright dying, you’ll note is quite slim. If the escape check is the standard value of 50% (and it will usually be higher), then your chance of dying is only about 10% vs. a 55%
The results of the Failed Escapes table, it should be noted, are meant to be flexibly interpreted by the GM given the exigencies of the specific situation in which the PCs find themselves at the end of the session. The creation of a short fable explaining the events leading to their escape (or lack thereof) — perhaps even one garnering them with some bit of lore or insight into the dungeon complex — would not be out of place.
And, of course, the table is specifically designed to be used in a very specific type of old school inspired campaigning. In most of my campaigns I have no problem hanging out the reliable “To Be Continued” placard.