One thing I find when playing Dungeons and Dragons alone is that I tend to run it like a computer game – walk into a room, kill it’s inhabitants and then move on to the next room.
Rinse and repeat.
It’s fine if you enjoy that kind of thing and it can still be a fine way to kill time. But if like me, you prefer a little more realism, it just feels weird that the monsters are just waiting in their rooms for you to come to them.
I’m sure if you hear a commotion in your house you’d get up to investigate, much less if you are a guard paid to secure an area and keep it safe from intruders.
And do you really think the inhabitants will just try and take you on without warning the rest of the complex that there are intruders causing trouble?
Perhaps they might if they are cocky, dumb or totally lacking in common sense. Or powerful.
But any mere grunt with half a brain in his or her head will recognise the party as a legitimate threat and scream the place down in order to get support.
A good dungeon master in a normal group game will have planned for something like this, whether he is running his own campaign or a pre-made adventure. He will know if a ruckus is heard in one room, there’s a chance that other denizens will be alerted.
However, if you’re playing alone it’s a bit more problematic.
Often, a published adventure will advise the DM to read through the whole adventure in order to get familiar with it and the potential actions that enemies might take as a result of certain triggers.
For example, if a gong was beaten, the complex would be on high alert.
Reading the whole adventure first as suggested will let you know what monsters are in each room and what actions they are likely to take, ruining any pretense of surprise that is already lowered by playing by yourself to begin with.
There’s nothing wrong with that approach if you are comfortable with it, but I tend to prepare myself mentally for that event, whether deliberately or not.
So how do you deal with this if you are playing D&D by yourself?
Did You Hear That?
One solution is to explore each room one at a time, but if there are monsters in the next room you enter, make a perception or listen check for each monster, depending on which edition of D&D you are playing.
If any of them succeeds, you can assume that they have taken position to attempt an ambush (prompting perception checks from your adventuring party), unless the room description rules this out somehow – for example, they might be in the middle of casting a ritual and cannot afford to take their eye off the ball for the moment.
Scout, Scout, Scout
To avoid alerting your enemies in the first place, get the sneaky guy to scout the place out first. If you keep a low profile or bluff/disguise your way through the dungeon, you can map out the area and get the intel on your enemies before you begin your assault.
If you must kill, do it as quietly as you can. This means performing a sneak attack that kills your opponent in one strike.
Either that, or try to kill your opponents in the first/surprise round of combat before they can act.
Pulling it off successfully will mean your enemies have been dealt with without alerting anyone else.
If an enemy escapes and you are unable to catch up with him, start using wandering monsters. This represents the complex being on high security alert. Roll for each room or every second room you enter.
Other Things To Consider
Like I discovered recently, you could occasionally miss important events at the start, such as when you are approaching a stronghold and you walk through the front gates unhindered, only to learn that some guards are keeping watch over the entrance from another room and could have hurled missiles at you.
You could rule that for some reason they have failed to spot you (or roll spot checks to determine this) or rule that they are ready and waiting in some very advantageous position – perhaps you will be ambushed by the same guards from all sides when you walk into a large hall or courtyard.