D&D 5e, the Megadungeon, and You

Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons is a pretty cool thing. It makes things simpler than 3.5/4, but it still has mechanically codified cool things. My go to example for this is the Divine Smite feature of the Paladin class, but there’s way more examples than just that.

If everyone is starting at level one, bounded accuracy is a fantastic boon. The difference on a strength attack between a level one fighter and a level seventeen fighter is generally going to be around six (four for proficiency, two for stat increases), which is right around what it is for a B/X fighting-man at levels one and eight. If you have a new guy with a party of veterans, there’s at least a chance he’ll be able to hit some things with a rock.

This also applies in the reverse direction. A CR1 monster can target a level eight Fighter with a spell that forces a charisma save, and that Fighter is just as at risk as he was at level one. I like the emergent behavior this generates in my mind; I see the party setting out for a particular section of the dungeon, and everyone stocking up on motions of Resist Charm because, “Stupid sexy goblins.” got the drop on them that one time, and never again.

There are some problems that it generates in a megadungeon setting though, especially one set below a city. By default a long rest is eight hours, and it restores you back to one hundred percent (exception given to hit dice and exhaustion). This, in my mind, gives the players way too many resources. My solution for this is to make long rests a week, and to allow certain kinds of downtime activities. I’m hoping that the fact that you only get half of your hit die back per long rest combined with some house rules concerning exhaustion encourages players to have more than one character. Jim is shacked up with a level of exhaustion and only half of his hit die, time to bring along James.

I don’t readily have a problem with short rests being an hour. Most of the “use/reset on short rest” abilities are tied to long rests, and so are limited anyway. There are some exceptions, like Fighter’s Second Wind, a Warlock with spell slot fueled cure spells, and Druid’s Wild Shape off hand; however, I feel like these are problems solved by working with your players and having them not be jagoffs. If that doesn’t work, that’s why we have random encounter checks, curses, and undead. I like the way it simulates a lunch break. Take a load off for an hour, restore your spirits, check up on your spells, adjust your armor, and head back out. This seems in setting to me. It stays.

5e also makes the assumption of a six to eight combat encounter adventuring day, which while not a problem in itself, represents a different ideology than the megadungeon. I feel like this is a result of things like five room dungeon design. (If you have a better link, please let me know!) Again, not bad, but if your megadungeon has only five rooms, you may have some problems. In the megadungeon, you go as deep for as long as you are willing to risk, and then you get out. That could be two encounters or twenty, and not all of them are going to be combat. Your players might spend fifteen minutes poking at some trash on the stairwell, and as long as everyone is enjoying themselves, that’s fine. Dungeon! Adventure! What are these different colored mirrors for?!

There is a particular problem with Hildagarde, in that it’s a city. In a city, a safe enough space is always available to the players. If there’s a safe space, what’s to keep the players from just taking the whole week as a rest? The short answer is, there isn’t. You could say that enough random encounters breaks the long rest. Assuming four hour blocks of time for checks, there’s 42 chances for an encounter. That might work? The solution I’m using is tying game time and real world time together. If the PC’s want to rest for the week, then they are out until next week. The players are free to grab some different characters and go somewhere else, but that road is closed for now. Though, as with most things, expectation management is probably the way to go on this.

Bullet points, because I am aware of my tendency to ramble:

  • I like 5e.
  • Mechanically Codified Cool Things!
  • Bounded Accuracy!
  • Long rests as eight hours – I don’t like it. Make ’em a week.
  • Short rests as an hour – Feels good
  • Feels like 5e is designed around the five room dungeon, and gives stuff out as such.
    • This can make requiring resource management difficult at times
  • If you’re in a city, a safe enough place is always available for the players. Tie the game week to the real world week. If the PC’s say they’re going to take a long rest, then the characters are out for that week.

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