Combat took too long because I had to keep reminding everyone to subtract 5, and because there were so many more misses on both sides. There was also some grumbling, some players thought that a blanket -5 hurt the party more than the monsters. I agree, the blanket -5 works out a little better for the bigger critters with better AC and attack rolls, but you know... life isn't fair sometimes. Mainly though, I think the issue was just that people disliked subtracting from their rolls in general. The party only spent one session in that dungeon and decided never to return. It always bothered me because I felt that there must be some way for me to run an unlucky dungeon in a way that was still fun for the players. The solution came too late, I've moved and don't play with that group anymore. Next time I try to run an unlucky dungeon, I'll be using the Die Bag of Fate.
It'll work like this. I'll drop plenty of hints and rumors about how unlucky the dungeon is, so that the PC's aren't totally blindsided about what they are getting themselves into. Once they are in the dungeon they will quickly see that anytime they (or a monster) would normally roll a d20, they are now passed a die bag and told to pull out one item and roll it (add your usual bonuses). Here's the key...
I will not explain to the players the details of how it works, and ask them not to look in the bag.
Some players will find this maddening I'm sure (the number crunchers and min/max players especially), but I'm hoping the mystery and novelty of it will be enough that the party doesn't retreat at the sight of a staircase. Leaving the details unexplained means that the PC's can't gauge exactly how unlucky the place is, which I think is fitting. I do want them to understand that there is method to my madness, and I'm not just pulling results out of the air. If it seems to be causing more gnashing of teeth than it's worth I'll probably divulge one or all of the following tips.
- Choose dice if you want to be extra careful, stones give a higher chance for both crits and fumbles.
- Success and failure is based (mostly) upon the color chosen.
- When rolling dice, higher is always better.
- Dice have a chance to "change color" depending on the roll and bonuses, stones never do.
I'll also want to make sure that none of the players are putting their fingers on the scales either. After a while someone might realize that a certain stone gives a good result. If I suspect that someone is feeling around for a particular stone I might impose a five second rule, if your hand is in the bag for more than five seconds you automatically fail.
-------------------------------Behind the DM Screen-------------------------------
Pictured below is an example of my Die Bag of Fate. I like these ratios pretty well for the first level of the "unlucky dungeon", but maybe I'll add a few more red and purple stones. Dig it.
If a stone is drawn, the result is based entirely upon the color.
Gold/Brown - Ideal Success (critical hit)
Purple ------- Success (roll damage as normal)
Blue/Green -- Minimal Success (good for a touch attack or Glancing Blow for 1 damage)
Red --------- Failure (miss)
Black/Silver - Epic Fail (fumble)
If a die is drawn, roll it. Add any applicable bonuses to the roll (magic weapon, Dex bonus for missile, ect.). If the total is equal or more than the the number of sides on the die, then the result moves up (at most) one color step.
For example you attack a monster,
You draw a red d20 and roll a 20 = Failure changes to Minimal Success. 1 damage
You draw a purple d4 and roll a 1 = Success, roll for damage as normal
You draw a purple d4 and roll a 1, and your short sword is magical +3 = Ideal Success! critical hit chart.
You draw a silver stone, and have a +infinity to-hit bonus = Epic Fail! fumble chart.
and so on... you get the idea.
Now look back up at the purple dice, see the spotty tan/purple d20? That one gives a special result. It counts as a success for whoever draws it (no chance for critical), when it is rolled I consult my 1-20 wandering monster table and see which beasty suddenly enters the room.
See the green stone with black dots? That one is special too. It gives a Minimal Success, at a price. You do 1 damage to the opponent, but you get cut for 1 damage in the process. You open the lock, but break your lockpick. That sort of thing.
As the party goes deeper into the dungeon, I might add or pull objects from the bag. Adding red or removing purple would reflect an increase in unluckiness. I might add a clear piece of quartz once I decide that an Invisible Stalker is um... stalking the party, whoever pulls the quartz is attacked by the Stalker. I could add a penny, whoever draws it calls heads or tails to see if they succeed or fail. Add a second penny, blackened with a magic marker it is always a fumble. Add a third coin, foreign but roughly the same size and shape, anyone who draws that stumbles upon a hidden treasure/cache of coins (remove from bag after found).
Do I really want to mess with my players minds? Add something that feels noticeably different to the touch. The leg from an old G.I Joe maybe (floor trap?), He-Man's head (helpful ghostly disembodied head appears?), a much folded piece of paper with private instructions/information for whoever takes it. Is any player curious enough to pull the strange items, or do they play it safe and grab for dice instead?