Tuesday, July 9, 2019

SUPPLY - The Risk Economy Part II


Slow building tension and risk is one of the goals of the Risk Economy, a way to encourage exploration by offering the chance and creating a need to find the best routes through a location, unpuzzle secret entrances into new areas or discover safe havens within the dungeon. Yet, time and space alone won’t make a compelling Dungeon Crawl. Wandering endless halls can still feel like a time filling chore rather then slowly building tension and a constant concern that the characters have delved too deep. For the Dungeon Crawl to work there needs to be palpable slowly increasing risk. Random encounters provide one essential form of risk, but by design they aren’t predictable and calculable to the players - they may create dread or a sense of danger, but it’s one that only incidentally increases over time as the dangers of the dungeon become better understood at the price of depleting party numbers, spells, equipment and hit points.

Light, food and equipment are another, far more regular, character resource subsystem..

Jeff Easley's cover to the 1986
"Dungeoneer's Survival Guide"
Both Random Encounters and Supplies depend on Timekeeping to be meaningful and emphasize the risk of exploring, but they are also separate mechanics that can be implemented effectively or badly. Supply or Resources are the steadier, more constant risk subsystem most directly related to the exploration and spatial aspects of play (though random encounters can be used to good effect in other types of adventure), but they require more than simply a large dungeon and timekeeping to function. The mechanics of encumbrance and with it treasure with XP value are also implicated, but will need to wait for a more in depth discussion. Supply alone, assuming there’s the possibility of depletion and an associated risk, present a counter intuitive, but useful way to mitigate the danger of puzzle solving and exploration.


One popular complaint about classic Dungeon Crawls, but even more, about modern efforts to implement the Dungeon Crawl is the high lethality and arbitrary nature of puzzle obstacles. Critics reject adventures where players quickly come to fear traps and dungeon dressing that threatens or conceals instant destruction. To some extent this is a playstyle problem - a player ethics of completionism (likely borrowed from computer RPGs), or a GM problem of antagonism and performative rigor - but it’s also a mechanical problem.

Old Games

Let’s talk about old tabletop roleplaying games - specifically the kind of games played in the 1980’s and recently depicted in the nostalgia...