Thursday, September 23, 2010

Darkness, Light, and Exploration

After stumbling around Suomenlinna's tunnels (just one room in) with only a lantern to guide my way for a little while tonight, I have to say that a 120'/turn exploration speed is generous. 1 in 6 chance to find secret doors in the darkness lit only by torches and lanterns? Generous. 2 in 6 chance of being surprised by creatures coming straight down the hall? Totally believable.

OK, seasoned explorers will get around a lot easier than I did, but you really can't see shit in the dark with just a piddly lantern. And mine was battery-powered - no flickering. I walked straight into a rather large puddle and never realized it was there until my foot was wet. I didn't run into any walls but that was about it.

I suspected that the darkness and can't-see-anything cinematography of the two Descent movies was close to reality, but movies always use light filters so I didn't want to use that as a guide... but really... a bunch of yahoos going underground and trying to
find things? Insane.

Darkness is bad news, man.


  1. Not to mention a torch is throwing off all sorts of smoke in an enclosed space...

  2. I walked this last week - it's a 2900m long canal tunnel in the English Midlands and pitch black in the middle when you can't see either entrance. Could not believe how long it took for the next 100m marker to come up. How can it take me three minutes to stroll 100m?

    Even with a modern torch I was looking at puddles on the floor without being able to tell the depth nor how long they went on for.

    Very wet feet and my jeans wicked the water up to nearly knee height.

  3. Went exploring a civil war era fort with my family when I was a kid. We all had flashlights and were in an area we probably shouldn't have been in. Could hardly see a thing even with more then half a dozen flashlights. Walking back down one corridor we had all walked down earlier we discovered an open shaft in the middle of the floor that none of us had seen on the way in, any of us could have easily stepped to our death.

  4. I've been spelunking a few times in caves that are several hundred feet beneath the surface. Most caves of this type require a lot of crawling and squeezing through very small openings. The floors and walls were compeltely covered in a thin layer of very slippery mud. Turning off the light and just sitting there was incredibly eery. I had never experienced darkness or silence of that magnitude. Hell, if you think about it, the pschological effects alone should impart a negative modifier to adventurers.

  5. ...and when I say crawling and squeezing, I'm talking about lying on your stomach, sucking in your breath and hoping you don't get stuck. Fortunately, I only weighed 120 lbs at the time (high school) and was only wearing jeans and a t-shirt. It would have been impossible wearing armor or even carrying half of the crap that a typical pc does. Not to mention how succeptible to ambush you are in that position! ; )

  6. A exercise like this is something every role-player should do at least once. Someone used to electric lighting just has no clue how dark it is in a proper dungeon, how treacherous the ground you can't see can be, how sounds and echoes carry in twisting tunnels.

    Another thing worth trying is going camping with little or no modern equipment. Forests on cloudy nights are darker than most would imagine.

  7. Played NERO LARP for 10 years and you learn what works and what doesn't work on a dungeon crawl.

    Some quick commentary
    If you really were going dungeon crawling experienced parties would treat it like caving with a series of base camps and henchmen leading deeper into the dungeon.

    A experienced group of people can get a lot done and there is a synergy effect that multiplies everybody effort.

    Everything is dealt with before moving on(or as some put it everything dies before we push on.)

    There is a breaking point in combat where everything collapses and the group loses cohesion. Most character death happen at this point.

    Situational Awareness is your #1 skill for survival.

    You shed gear like crazy carrying only the minimum. You just don't want to be burdened with crap it will kill you.

    In caves there are going to be areas where you can fit but your gear can't beware. Also in caves you will be slimed with mud.

  8. @navdi - I most definitely agree with the creepiness of primitive camping. There is a very nice primitive site with lots of trails nearby that I camp at a couple of times a year. If I didn't have my dogs with me, it would be a much more sleepless experience!

  9. I have done som IRL "cave-crawling". And it's really, really dark. And there is no way I would have liked to fight even a kobold there, with any weapon. No human would survive a fight with any creature/monster with infravision in a real cave. Without extreme luck, anyway.

  10. I remember years ago thinking '120 feet in ten minutes? Preposterous! We shall modify this and move at a realistic speed.' lol.. the arrogance of youth.

    I think a great addition to any referee book would be advice on how to impart this very humbling information to players in an interesting way.

  11. Love this post. :)
    I've never been in that sort of dark other than in woods; it was great to hear that the slow movement rate is justified!