Wednesday, April 12, 2023

THE UNDERCLOCK: Fixing the Random Encounter

For a long time, I had the same random encounter table rules as everyone else:

Every 3 rooms (or 30 minutes of exploration time), roll a d6.  If a 1 comes up, a random encounter happens.

After a couple of years, I even added

If a 2 comes up, the players get an Omen--a clue about an upcoming encounter.

In practice, this . . . never quite felt the way that I wanted it to.  And it's taken me a decade, but I think I know why.

by Peter Mullen

First, look at the math.

This works out to 1 random encounter every 18 rooms, and one omen every 18 rooms.

We probably got through 4-10 rooms per session, so random encounters don't pop up very often.  (I don't use a lot of empty spaces.  Most of my rooms have something to interact with.)

Some people roll a random encounter every room (including every long hallway).  This feels a lot better, but it also means that back-to-back encounters are not infrequent, and it feels too unpredictable.

Second, look at how omens are supposed to work.  You're supposed to find the omen, which (a) builds suspense and (b) lets the players prepare themselves, prior to the encounter itself.  Omens weren't happening with enough frequency.

Third, consider the stated goals of random encounters.  (Time pressure, versimilitude.)  Random encounters are not the best way to achieve either of those.  Often, when random encounters occurred, they felt disruptive.

Anyway, I am giving up on:

  • tracking torch durations
  • random encounter checks

I think I have something better.

Design Goals

Time Pressure

The four most vital currencies in a dungeon crawler are:

  • Time
  • Information
  • Hit Points
  • Expendables (potions and spells)

It doesn't feel like a dungeoncrawler to me unless all four of those things matter.

The reason why we track torch depletion and random encounters is because we want a source of time pressure.

I like games where time a critical resource.  Players can't read every book and tap every brick.  They need to be tactical in where they spend their attention.  

This is good!  It raises the skill level for dungeoncrawling and makes players scrutinize my dungeon for clues.  Do they have reason to think there's a hidden door in this room?  If so, they'll spend some time searching.  If not, I'll keep moving.

But I don't think random encounters are very good at this task.  Random encounters don't put much time pressure on players unless they're very frequent, and at higher frequencies (1/room or greater) they feel too uncontrolled to me.

Suspense vs Surprise 

Surprise is when the alien suddenly attacks.

Suspense is when you know the aliens are getting closer.  You are running out of time, and you are running out of ammo.  I think that most DMs want their players to feel suspense, more than surprise.

A truly random roll (a flat 1-in-6 chance) doesn't offer much suspense.  Surprise, but not suspense.

To increase suspense, you want the players to feel like they're running out of time.


I'd also argue that random encounters don't do much to make a dungeon feel like a living, breathing place.  Random encounters frequently feel out-of-place (especially when they're not well-localized to the story and the rooms around them).

Time Pressure

Random encounters are meant to be a tax on character time--don't dawdle in the dungeon or you'll lose HP--but they often feel like taxes on player time--don't dawdle in the dungeon or you'll be stuck in some pointless combat for 45 minutes, when everyone would have more fun with 45 minutes of exploring new rooms.

If the only goal was to put time pressure on the players, you could replace all random encounters with a cold wind that deals 1d6 damage to everyone (save for half) then moves on.  The players are still penalized for taking too long, and then everyone can get back to dungeoneering.

(These last two points are really just complaints about how the random encounters are written, rather than the mechanic that produces the events.  I'm including them only out of a sense of completion.)

by Peter Mullen

The Underworld

The Underworld is not just a basement or a cave.  The Underworld is a place that hates you.  It is hostile architecture.  It hates you in a way that only the blind tonnage of stone and cold air can have.  It hates your lively blood.  It hates the sunshine warmth still lingering on your skin.

Live there long enough, and the Underworld can learn to tolerate you.  You will grow pale and cold and strange, like the other inhabitants of that place.  The long years will render you smooth and inoffensive, like a pearl held in the mouth.  The Underworld's irritation fades and scabs over.

But this doesn’t apply to delvers.  They dig greedily and they dig fast.  They are hated the most, and this hatred is felt as soon as the Underworld is entered.

Explorers have a myriad of names for this feeling of supernatural dread.  The Claws of the Underworld.  The Black Rat Whisper.  The Fosydra.  But only one name suits our purposes here:

The Underclock

It starts at 20 when you walk into a dungeon.  When it reaches 0, an Encounter happens.

You will periodically roll a six-sided Underworld die and subtract it from the Underclock whenever the party expends time or noise.  Examples of actions that provoke an Underclock Roll:

  • Exploring a new room (including long hallways).
  • Moving through 3 already-explored rooms.
  • Lingering or searches.
  • Making noise (e.g. kicking down a door).

NOTE: the noise of combat doesn't normally contribute to the Underclock.

Some more facts about the Underclock:

  • The Underworld Die explodes.  If you get the maximum value (e.g. a 6 on a d6), immediately roll it again and subtract the result from the Underclock.
  • If the Underclock drops below 0, an Encounter is triggered.  After the Encounter resolves, the Underclock resets to 20.
  • If the Underworld Clock equals 0 exactly, it resets to 3.  The Underworld's attention is elsewhere, momentarily.
  • If the Underworld Clock equals 3 exactly, a Shadowing Event occurs.  So the clock reaches 0, it bounces up to 3 and a Shadowing Event occurs.  (These are just omens/spoor/clues, more or less.)


You can rest at any time.  You'll get all of your HP back after you do.  There are 3 prices.

1. The first cost is time.  You’ll have to roll some Underclock Rolls.

  • If you are resting in the middle of a well-traveled location, make 3 rolls.
  • If you are in a secret room that no one else knows about, you don’t need to make any rolls.
  • Everything in between is either 1 or 2 rolls (defaulting to 2 rolls if you aren’t sure).

These rolls explode normally.  If you are interrupted by an encounter, you’ll need to start over.

2. The second cost is a ration.  Cross it off your inventory.

3. The third cost is attention.   Each time you rest in the dungeon, increase the size of your Underclock Die.  d6 -> d8 -> d10 -> d12 -> d20.  Each time you spend a night sleeping on the surface, decrease the Underworld die by one size, down to a minimum of d6.

Everyone knows that you shouldn’t eat anything in the Underworld. 


The Underworld hoards its treasures.  It hates the idea of its gold returning to the surface.  Far better that the treasure remain in the possession of one of its inhabitants.  Someone who will carry the gold until it dies in another dark corner.  

Whenever you leave the dungeon, the dungeon degenerates.  Things may change, the dungeon may restock, but most critically, the treasure depletes.

Every time the players exit to the outside, the biggest treasure pile in the dungeon loses 20% of its value, stolen away by agents of the Underworld.  (Sometimes this is an elder dungeon spirit, sometimes this is just a goblin with a boot full of loose coinage.)

Integration with Other Systems

The Underclock replaces torch depletion and other random encounters. 

The party still needs 1 lit torch for every 3 adventurers.  Everyone gets -1 Initiative for every person not sufficiently illuminated.

The maximum Underclock value is reduced by 1 for every point of Encumbrance held by any member of the party.

The Underclock replaces regular durations of spells, etc.  30 minutes = 3 exploration turns = 10 points on the Underclock.


It takes an average of 5.9 Underclock Rolls to generate an encounter.  There is a 0.3% chance of the Underworld clock generating an encounter in a single roll (really a series of exploding d6s).

This is roughly comparable to the old "1-in-6 encounter chance every 10 mins".

Encounters are Shadowed approximately 33% of the time.  The other 67% of the time, they are not preceded by any Shadowing.

I do love that it is countdown, which makes the time pressure feel much more palpable at the table.  I would say "you've been in this dungeon for 3 hours now" and no one would care.  I would roll a random encounter check and players would glance over.  But people pay more attention to the Underclock.

"But Arnold, doesn't this allow players to game the system?  If the Underclock gets down below 6, won't they just hunker down somewhere safe until it goes below 0?" - You, probably.

Yes, of course the players will be more cautious when the clock is low, and slightly bolder when the clock is fresh.  That's kind of the point.  There's a texture to time that didn't exist before.  The players are supposed to be fully aware of it because it's a tangible-and-fluctuating measure of risk.  And the characters are supposed to be fully aware of it because they all develop heart murmurs when they draw the Underworld's attention.

If the players hunker down somewhere safe to let the clock expire, consider it an organic replacement for the Exhaustion mechanic that you see on overloaded encounter die mechanics.  (I like overloaded encounter dice.  I like the Underclock more.)

The integration with rests and HP is also something I like.  You can get all of your HP back easily, but at the cost of making the dungeon more dangerous.  There's an interesting decision here.  Should the players press, their luck?  Or break for lunch?

Similarly, there's another tension when deciding when to return to the surface.  The thought of a goblin walking off with 20% of their loot is very motivating.  The decision should be interesting and impactful (like most of the core decisions in an OSR game).  (Of course, if your game sessions are bounded by leaving the dungeon, this extra motivation is not needed.)

I'm also trying to simplify torches and encumbrance to the point where they are still important, but I want to move them out of the spotlight.  Players shouldn't spend much time or thought on them.  (I don't think I've ever had an interesting, impactful gameplay moment arise from torch depletion.)

Simple Mode

The Underclock counts down from 20 to 0, losing 1d6 every exploration turn.  An encounter happens at 0.

If you want to add some version of "the dungeon gets harder when you rest" or "treasure vanishes when you leave for the day" feel free implement your own version, or not.

Math Discussion

I wrote some Python to roll dice for me.  (Feedback welcome.  I've never shared any code before.)

Here are the numeric results.  

Here are the visualizations:

These are almost exactly the results I wanted when I started looking at candidate mechanics.  


  1. I know I post a lot of weird mechanics, but seriously, you should try this one.

  2. I'm keen to try this. I definitely want my players feeling 'suspense over surprise' and I enjoy the way that's centred in this design. I'm curious as to how often this might see foreshadowed encounters that precede a 'face to face' encounter. It's satisfying to me when players to draw the connection between the spoor and the thing that's trying to eat them etc.

    1. I agree! The shadowed events happen frequently enough that it feels like something is moving around nearby.

  3. Great ideas here, I will likely use them in some fashion. Perhaps as-is in a specific dungeon to try them out. The most interesting idea here is degeneration, which would seem to solve an obvious problem that everyone politely ignores. It annoys me to no end that old school grognards wave their hands at the problem, acting as if it doesn't exist.

    I was surprised in the intro where you seem to indicate you only charge 1 turn for every room, regardless. In our games everything takes time: locks, finding secret doors, exploring new hallway, stealthy movement or testing with a pole, forcing doors, trap checking/disarming, etc etc., so players are judicious about what they choose to do.

    Broadly I agree about encounters feeling like a tax on player time. Gygax even notes this in the AD&D DMG on Page 9. Still, encounters are more than combats. Weak encounters may not approach. Strong ones may threaten. Reactions may make an encounter friendly, which opens many possibilities, and your previous post was on Parley in any case. The players may win surprise or the distance may be great- perhaps the players simply flee, and now a threat is left in a specific room. Most of all this is where spells come to the fore, with held portals, sleeps, and charms- but GLOG casting might change the calculus there in a way I am not familiar with.

    1. I give them a bit of free investigation whenever they enter a room, but any substantial actions (like a full search) take another exploration turn.

  4. What about integrating torch runtime with the Underclock? The lower your levels of light, the higher the dice and so on. The idea the the darkness out of sight is a cruel and terrible thing tickles me, and I'm keen to preserve the association of "more light = more time left"

    1. I actually had this in my first version of the Underclock (it was a torch timer mechanic before it was the Underclock), but I dissasociated it from torches because I think it works well even in this simpler format.

      YMMV, though.

  5. Damn, this is compelling. There are dials of fiddlyness here to play with, though, before I adopt it.

    1. Good! Hack it up, make it your own. What dials do you want to turn?

  6. This gets me thinking about how to take it beyond the dungeon where camp, village, town, and city are pockets of relative safety from the Wilderness which hungers to reclaim such places and their occupants.

  7. Maybe similar in philosophy (visible indicator of increasing encounter probability) to this: (dice pool of d6s increasing in size each turn, roll pool if players make a noise or reach 6 dice, encounter if any ones rolled, clear pool after 6 dice). Looks like the Tension Pool works out to be a time based encounter every ~9 turns on average (though only possible every 6th turn), plus encounters from noise, which seem like they are punished more "harshly" than with the Underclock. The explicit shadowing mechanic in the Underclock is really nice. Would be interesting to compare in practice!

    1. There was an early version of a system I read back in the G+ days by Emanuele Galletto called "Far Below" that used this mechanic and it was the first time tracking mechanic that got me excited. I think I'd basically do it like this:

      -things that take significant time add one or more d6s to the pool, with every d6 being roughly equivalent to 10 min
      -roll the pool every time you add a die
      -any 1s are encounters, more 1s means more dangerous encounters
      -any 2s are omens/spoor/shadowing, more 2s means fresher tracks or clearer omens
      -2s and 1s together means an encounter you hear coming, the number of 2s is how many rounds you have to react/prepare before it finds you
      -some classes get scout dice which are added to the pool. These are different colored d6s which treat both 1s and 2s as omens

      Lots of ways to tweak this further. If the dungeon goes on "high alert" maybe all the d6s become d4s.

    2. Angry's tension pool was my first thought, too. And having played with it a few times, I can say it works extremely well. I'm thrilled to see another take on the same idea. It appears as if the math on the Dungeon Clock and the Tension Pool are pretty similar (the amount of time and rolls per encounter, I mean). To me, that's like independently verifying an experiment: it suggests the mechanics are in the right ballpark.

      Two things I like about this Dungeon Clock are, 1) the foreshadowing mechanic, and 2) the 'attention' mechanic (increasing the die type). These have a wonderful "living dungeon" feel, and I'll have to think about how to make them work with Angry's tension pool (and my Savage Worlds system!).

      Finally, I appreciate the thoughts on torches. I'm pretty new to running dungeons (I've been a mostly "narrative adventure"-type GM for years, and am now running my first exploration-based campaign). I'm not sure what to do with torches in my game. They're certainly not fun, but on the other hand they're a useful mechanic for punishing unprepared and/or unlucky dungeon-delvers. The -1 to initiative is cool, but doesn't work with Savage Worlds. I'll think on this some more.

    3. You'll come to appreciate tracking torches (via whichever method) the first time their _last_ torch goes out...

      Or when they try to routinely make it home on the last torch and then roll a tricky encounter...

      Not sure how I'd incorporate it in the Dclock but I used to play a flat 1 in 6 chance torches flap out if pcs are at a dead sprint/flee. Probably just a d6 roll for Dclock.

  8. Thought: If one were feeling a bit twee, you could key the specific encounter to the specific negative number rolled. Obviously some issues with modularity. The interactions with die sizes etc seem fun though (e.g. some encounters only triggering after resting in the dungeon).

    1. Fun idea, but that only gets you 5 slots on your encounter table pre-lunch, and I like a bit more variety for the morning. If the die still explodes when the clock is negative, that does handle the issue I guess!

      Pretty interesting if you build your encounter tables with the scaling clock-die in mind though; potentially -13 to -19 could be used as encouragement not to take so many rests in a delve - all those encounters could have xp debt special abilities for example, making the next level further away.

      Alternatively, rather than typical encounters, those results you can only roll on a d20 could be environmental - the spirit of the dungeon itself trying to cave in on top of you, drop you to your death etc. It has a nice touch of malevolence at least.

  9. This is really amazing, especially the tracking of the clock to rooms. Making it open to players about how much "time" there is on the clock really builds in to the tension and makes time a resource, whilst at the same time offloading some of the bookkeeping from a strictly GM task.
    I've always really wanted to use random encounters (as most OSR dungeons seem to be built with the expectation of them), but I could never really get my head around incorporating them due to the massing amount of internal bookeeping. I think this is really going to help.

  10. This is cool! It seems like it has a lot of potential for some of the modifications to the encounter system that you've tried out in the past: for example, with a ranger on the team, maybe the countdown starts higher, or you step the die size down, or raise the number under which you get a shadow, or what have you.

    My main quibble is, what makes you ever buy new torches? Just once per expedition? Other than that, I miss the explicit exhaustion mechanic of the overloaded encounter die, as it gives a chance to try to hoof it out while encumbered before the exhaustion kicks in. All that being said, you make a good case that the benefits of this outweigh those drawbacks.

    1. Yeah! There are a few knobs to turn. The non-depleting torches bother me on a fundamental level, but I think the benefits are worth it.

      How have you been, by the way?

    2. Came here to say the same thing, I really liked your post back in the day about Noise and Alertness, wondering whether they would work together or not at all.
      On a different note, Arnold, have you ever thought of substituting the dice for a deck of cards? In my experience with board games, they really help the players engage with the mechanic, since the result is very obvious (it's written on the card!) and as a bonus, you can get fancy with art and whatnot.

    3. Yeah, things like the Overloaded Encounter Die brought me back around to caring about depleting resources generally, so side-stepping that strike me as "but wait, I thought we all agreed that *wasn't* the way to go?!" Even so, as I said, you make a good point about how tracking such things often doesn't do what it's intended to. It seems like you could likely handle this the same way as rations (cross off one torch per X number of rests) and/or attention (whenever the underclock steps ups by two die sizes, cross off a torch), but that's likely more fiddly than its worth. Restock all torches per expedition would likely do 80% of the wanted work.

      And I've been good! Lurking along here and with a few other blogs, but not running anything for awhile, and so not posting much. It's all "in process", though, of course.

    4. Hmm, thought I had responded last night, but it looks like I did not. If I did, apologies for a double post.

      I agree that the benefits seem worth it, but maybe there's a way to build in some kind of depletion. The simplest is just "buy new torches every expedition", but you could also link them with rests (perhaps the die size goes up more if you don't have enough torches?). Maybe not worth it, but thought I'd throw out some ideas.

      Otherwise, I'm good, thank you for asking! I haven't been running anything in a while, but I'm starting to get the itch. I've also not been blogging on gaming stuff, but it's always floating around, so maybe soon.

    5. You can still deplete torches like with the overloaded encounter die. When you roll a 1, subtract 1 from the underclock like normal and also torches go out.

    6. I'm about to run this in my play-by-post game and the solution to the torch dilemma that I decided on is to just apply the underclock to torches and lanterns the same way its applied to spells. 1 torch 20 points on the underclock, 1 flask of oil in a lantern 80 points on the dungeon clock or 4 cycles.

  11. the only thing I really want out of this that you don't have in it is a way for players to increase their odds of finding spoors. having more Rangers or whatever in the party (as PCs or hirelings) should increase spoor-finding odds. some spells and magic items should increase spoor-finding odds. and I'm not *totally* sure how to integrate that into the math of your thing but yeet...

    1. Every additional ranger increases the numbers that yield spoors. Spoors on 3, 8, and 13 or something.

      If your whole party is rangers, spoors on all prime numbers.

  12. This is fucking brilliant. I'll be stealing it at the first possible opportunity.

    1. Likewise. I've been looking for a better way to handle encounter checks. You could even do this with overland travel, where every hex = roll, and if you were so inclined, you could have it affected by terrain and stuff.

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  14. But after 4 or more exists to the outside (to reset the dungeon clock) there is very little reason to return to this particular dungeon, because it means much more risk (dungeon escalates) for much less reward (biggest treasure is 20% or less). So, at least, the external motivation is mostly gone, and you might see a lot of parties 'dungeon skimming' because if the money is the biggest (or the only) objective, in order to maximize profit and minimize risks, this is the best strategy.

    With this approach, it is also not economically feasible to explore the dungeons which were already in any way explored because it will have very little treasure (previous visitors exhausted it), meaning that PC will lose on a lot of 'layered dungeon' situations where they find traces of previous parties and their various mishaps, and if all dungeons are brand new (so to say) to use Chris McDowall's approach about signalled / i.e. pre-used traps is also more difficult.

    1. It's just 20% of the coinage/jewels in the big pile at the end. I don't think I would remove magic items and other loot.

    2. And other parties don't deplete the dungeon by exiting. Only the PCs deplete the dungeon. It's dungeon-as-sport.

      You could say that the reason treasure is missing is because it was stolen by other rival adventuring parties, though.

    3. Traces of previous parties are still possible... the dungeon only depletes if they leave! Maybe if multiple parties have gone into a dungeon and died there the hoard grows, the dungeon growing bolder from feasting and tempting more ambitious prey...

    4. "Only the PCs deplete the dungeon. It's dungeon-as-sport."
      If the system construct is so artificial that in-world reasons for treasure depletion don't matter and have no consequences (only PC cause treasure depletion - not other people / adventuring groups, and treasure is gone forever regardless of who took it (even if by the logic it might be still in a dungeon, just misplaced) and it is forever impossible to recover), why keep any in-world pretense of any motivation but the sport itself? Let in be Dungeon Delving Games, let PC party be scored on their performance and judged, and timed with actual clocks, deducted totals for any time-outs outside of the dungeon, given golden medals to the winners, and so on.

      But if what I had just described creates some inner rejection to the DM, if pretense of living, believable world and PCs as living people with some internal believable motivations others than just 'lets get more gold' seems to be important, maybe the sheer artificiality of such system isn't a best match.

      To me the system is just way to artificial to use if I want any kind of immersion, both as DM or as a player. Why PCs are so special that treasure depletes only when they leave dungeon but nobody else? Why cannot PC recover the treasure? Why always, always 20% straight even if PCs as much as break a camp on a meadow just outside of the dungeon for a day and it is the same rate as if they are gone for 3 weeks to the capital?

      Some simplification in otherwise complex systems is expected but to me, as it is written right now, it robs the game of too much of what I play TTRPGs for.

    5. I meant to add that obviously it is a matter of taste and if both DM and players are fine with this kind of system construct, all that matters is their fun, but personally I cannot discard how much this kind of system simplifies out of game world as a side effect.

    6. @Kyana Good points, but a lot of the crawl *is* artificial. In other words, it's a game about crawling, with very little or no politics, factions, detailed towns, etc. And rules like this one make that game more interesting, because you're right, there are a lot of drawbacks otherwise. I suppose the question is, Is dungeon exploration central or incidental to your campaign? It's incidental to mine, but I run a factions/politics/whatever sandbox.

  15. For larger dunegons it also seems reasonable to isolate the dungeon's immune response by level or section. Perhaps even migrating the treasure to these untouched portions, encouraging the players to move past the safe and the known. To delve too greedily and too deep

    1. I'm imagining that the immune response will be isolated to a section at a time, too. Maybe 20-50 rooms? Bigget dungeons have smaller penalties for leaving.

  16. I fuck with this. It manages surprisee and suspense both. Good fuckin' work, Arnold.

    I think I'd use the Underclock roll to do more, though. Whenever that d6 is rolled the individual result could also indicate stuff like local effects, or NPC actions. Heck, now that encounters and omens have both been externalized from the roll result, it opens up the potential to find new tasks for the roll result to take off the referee's shoulders.

    1. Here's a really simple implementation of that?

      On a 1,
      A sensation of dread creeps over the party. All hirelings test morale. Light sources deplete by 2.

      On a 2-5,
      All active light sources deplete by 1.

      On a 6,
      Light sources do not diminish.

      Then you say "a freshly lit torch has 3 charges, its brightness (light range) is halved when there's only 1 remaining, when none are left the torch burns out."

  17. Some of the talk about the underworld reminds me a lot of I am in Eskew, which incidentally is a pretty good mine for ttrpg weirdness. I don't play an OSR game, but this seems like it may be useful in my own games, so I'll be trying some version of this system where applicable. Looking forward to trying it!

  18. Were the spoor results supposed to get rarer as the PC foolishly stay longer? assume before the roll the result is a 5.
    If you are rolling a d6 then you have a 1/2 chance of no results, 1/3 chance of a spoor, and 1/6 chance of no encounter.
    On the other hand if you are rolling a d8 you have a 3/8 chance of no results, 1/4 chance of a spoor, and a 3/8 chance of an encounter.
    Then this all gets more extreme at the the closer to zero you get, and that the bigger dice indicate that you get to that point faster. means that I think that the die changing might not be what you want.

  19. OH MY GOD just had a half-decent idea to make this slightly more diegetic: you take a drug or an herb or whatever to make yourself "palatable" to the Underworld, sneak past its defenses, right? but you can feel it wearing off, you can feel the sweats creeping in after an hour, your body gets numb, and you learn to know the signs. (maybe don't even tell the players what number the clock's at, just run them through a laundry list of symptoms.) you can redose, but overdosing even a little can get nasty fast, and god knows you don't want to end up losing all feeling in your legs in the middle of an ancient tomb.

    this might require a *slightly* more complex system, but gives players another cool way to interact with the thing-- cover themselves in immunosuppressants to the dungeon's immune system

    fuck, I could probably write a whole hack based around this. huh.

  20. It seems like a lot of rolls and substractions per turn, but I do think it is really good at, what you call, providing texture to time. Getting close to underclock depletion is an omen on itself.
    Let me tell you what I use and see If you like it: I roll every room or every 2 rooms depending on the dungeon zone.
    The wandering monster table has six different monsters or encounters.
    One of them (the weakest or one of the weaker) might appear the first time it is rolled, but at least five of them are always prophetized the first time you roll them, and they appear the second time and every time after that.
    On a roll of five, for example, you hear the howls of the wolves in the distance. Or see a joyful bandit who might even help you. The second time you roll that result, you face the wolves, or the same bandit posessed by the cursed treasure he just found.

    As the omens deplete, the table becomes much more dangerous.

    I don't track depleting torches usually because I forget to. Thats the truth.

  21. This system got me inspired and so I hacked it a bit for my own system. I was trying to figure out a way to integrate torches, and came up with this:

    Underclock is decreased every 10-minute turn. Each lit torch is represented by a d6 that starts at 6 and decreases by 1 each turn, going out when it hits 0.

    The number that the underclock starts at is equal to all the torch dice added together (so if 3 party members lit torches as they entered the dungeon, the clock would be 6+6+6=18). Each time the clock reaches 0, there's a chance to light torches before the new maximum value is calculated.

    I'm not sure how this'll play, I'm afraid it might make torches too powerful. They'll at least be limited by how many they can carry, but I don't like the idea of every party member having a lit torch all the time. Any feedback or advice is appreciated!

  22. I don't really like these kind of super abstract mechanics. It's the kind of mechanic that doesn't really have any answer to someone waiting 7 minutes in a room, or someone casting a spell on some piece of machinery because they know how long both of them last. Like usage dice, I find it makes extremely simple things into arbitrary and fiddly ones.

  23. How visible is the clock to players? If they ask what the current value is, do you by default just tell them?

  24. Just wanted to say - I used this for the first time tonight. Well done, sir! This is a game-changer (literally). I love this mechanic, and my players did too.

  25. This is a good system, but there's a bug in your code. In your while loop you reset `omencount` every loop iteration, so you only count omens that occur on a 17 followed by a 3 or greater. If you hit 17, then roll a 1 or 2 on the next iteration the omencount will zero out. In reality you should have an omen just over 50% of the time with your original system.

    I suggest using github gists to share code publicly. It's free and doesn't require your viewers to set up an account. Here's one with my rewrite of your code which fixes the bug, and makes it more pythonic

    I also put together my own simulator with numpy and matplotlib comparing your fixed original rule to my own alternate rules. I prefer the idea of the clock exploding when it reaches zero like a real countdown, and more frequent omens. So wrote a set of Alt rules where ticks repeat on a Max roll, encounters are triggered when the clock reaches zero (or goes negative), the clock resets to x whenever below x but still running, and omens triggered when clock == x the first time. I put it all together in another simulator I wrote and pushed to github.

    My preference is for the Alt rule where x==3. It keeps a similar distribution as the original rule, but foreshadows more often, and has more uncertainty about triggering an encounter when close to zero, as the clock can reset more often.

    Check it out and Star the repo to let me know if you like it, Or open an issue if you have any problems with it.

  26. I ran this with the hack that they get a warning any time it's 6 or below. This means-

    1. Every encounter is in some way presaged or connected to the environment.

    2. At 6, there's a variety of options. Sometimes the random encounter will happen *next* turn, or it might happen in *six* turns, so the players get to inhabit a slightly-pressured space for a minute.

  27. I used this in my hexploration game and shadowed every encounter (starting at 6), which the players liked- Made it hard to distinguish whether they were hearing lions because they were in a lionful hex, or because lions had wandered over.

    It also made for some fun tension because sometimes I'd roll low and there'd be an extended moment between the shadow and the encounter where the party just exists in tension.

  28. I just wanted to chip in and say that I love this idea. I'm planning on running Abomination Vaults in Pathfinder 2e and I think this will fit perfectly. I don't know how well Degeneration will run with a prewritten adventure, but I think it'll be hard enough as it is, especially with each 10 minute action (refocus, heal wounds, etc.) adding another roll to the underclock...

  29. I've used a very simple version of the underclock with three separate groups, simply rolling a d6 and counting down to 0 from 20. Nothing else. Works an absolute treat, choosing where to hunker down when it gets low feels good, makes the characters feel like experienced dungeoneers. Zero complaints. Going to swap to d6 exploding to add more Surprise, since there is plenty of Suspense. Maybe omens? Maybe having it bounce around near zero? Maybe not. It feels good, wish I had a spindown d20 to use it with.

  30. What does a point of encumbrance mean here? Just want to be sure to get a full picture.

  31. Thanks for creating this! It keeps rolling around my head and I want to design whole systems around it. It reminds me of the encounter rates in Etrian Odyssey game series (or Persona Q) where the bubble gets more red the closer you are to an encounter. It's just so great.

    Remixing B/X with this and other changes would be really special. Thanks again for the dream and design fuel!

  32. Very interesting. I might dip into this.

  33. I like it, but I also enjoy some of the results of an overloaded encounter die - or more specifically - players being given dungeon specific clues, additional info about the dungeon itself. I would have it so rolls of 1 on the underclock die yield clues and hints about the dungeon itself, this works well with the increasing size of your Underclock Die. It would represent the adventurer's awareness decreasing in correlation to their increasing panic.

    I would also hack in random torch durations. Rolling 1 or 2d20 when one starts using the underclock and after every encounter. Next to each result I would draw a torch. When the clock passes those torch indicators a torch would extinguish.

  34. I love this idea and I'm going to use it next session!

  35. Curious if you use the shadowing results for any old random encounter or for the boss on a level. Seems the boss would have funner 'spoor and omens' and build more suspense.

  36. Damn. Just . . . Damn. This it really satisfying. Cant wait to try it out.

  37. This has worked very well with my group. While I try to emphasize diegetic mechanics where possible, some abstraction can really help. This is a great example: the players can make more informed choices about the pace at which they explore the dungeon.

  38. I love this, I too thought of tension dice at first which I've used but I think I like this better. My other immediate reaction is to combine it with Hazard dice for more results when the clock get low. Here is what I was thinking:

    On a result of 5: Advantage (In the normal hazard die this is just a free turn, but that is every other turn above 5 when using the Underclock. So I propose a small bonus to what the players are currently attempting--advantage on a check, some extra treasure, automatically uncover secret information, etc).

    On a result of 4: Dungeon shift (Change in environment conditions. The temperature shifts, a secret door opens, etc)

    On a result of 3: Omen or Sign of encounter, as in the original Underclock.

    On a result of 2: Expiration of effects (Typically lit torches go out. This could also be used for ending transient dungeon conditions, spells, or other limited time effects).

    On a result of 1: Fatigue (Each party member must rest or take damage or another penalty for pushing on. Yes, this still results in counting down the clock and increasing the countdown die).

    On a result of 0: Reset to 3 as in the original. (Or, optionally, reset to 6 instead. This will lower chances of omens but increase the chances of all the hazard results).

    Below 0: Encounter as in the original.

  39. To Underclock Part 3: increasing the size of the clock key. One small downside here is the reduced chance of the dice exploding. May just roll more d6s instead?

    We don’t have to use all the math rocks :)

  40. wandered over here from The Pastel Dungeon. LOVE this. Been using the Angry GM pool mentioned above which worked well. Gonna try this for a few weeks and see what happens. Thx for sharing.

  41. I'm going to tell my players they have to run the clock, and they need a physrep they can hold in front of a webcam to show the party when it comes up. I'll still roll the die to avoid "mistakes" though.

    Cannot express how much I'm looking forward to seeing the actual clocks, abacus, polo mints on a pencil, etc, that they wind up using to represent the clock physically. Some of these folks will 100% surprise/scar me for life with their choices...

  42. This is brilliant, but I had an idea for an addition.

    Not showing the players the exact number of the clock. Rather, use a color system. Like, 20-15 is green, 14-7 is yellow, and 6-0 is red. (or even more graduations)

    They won't know the exact number on the countdown, just that it's really starting to stink.

  43. This is so good. Well done. I can't wait to use this. Arnold just out here casually dropping mechanics that revolutionize the game.

    As for light i think everyone is making it too complicated. The meaningful choice is that carrying supplies is having less room for equipment or treasure.

    Lanterns exist. Realistically oil will burn for 1 hour per 1/2 oz. So you can have a kit, costs 1 gp, takes 2 slots, and it has enough food, water, and oil for one person for one day. All the choice and none of the math.

    There's even enough weight and value left over for some bits and bobs such a kit might have. Boot lace, foot ointment, some hard candies, sliver of soap, tiny bottle of Tabasco.

  44. Could you explain the encumbrance mechanic that reduces clock size? Are we talking for when a character is over-encumbered or otherwise slowed down (plate armor)? Or if using slot-based, for each slot over some threshold? Or only slots dedicated to significant treasure? I wonder...

    1. Every item above your carrying capacity reduces the maximum Underclock value in this way. Armor does not. (Unless it exceeds their carrying capacity.)

  45. Such an amazing mechanic! Can't wait to try this.