Saturday, August 16, 2014

Dungeon Trick Features: Spinners

Here is another one in a series on trick features from dungeons. Spinners are a trick feature I remember from video games, mostly, not face-to-face tabletop dungeons. But still, they're on my mind today.

Spinners turn you around, either in a specific direction (one facing change when you step on it) or randomly (1-4 facing changes when you step on it). Usually, in game, it would be accompanied by a second extra flicker of the vision box, letting you know something was up.

Wizardry: Proving Ground of the Mad Overlord had these in spades on one of the deeper levels. I explored only a tiny bit of that level once before I gave up. Some annoying spinners in Ultima IV are why I haven't really gone and finished the game. Well, that and not being able to save in dungeons, which is another issue unrelated to tabletop play.

Spinners seem to me to work as a map-confuser in a video game context. In other words, only where:

- all the corridors really look exactly alike. Not "all alike" but exactly alike.
- you have no recourse to chalk, string, remote observation (except from a mapping spell or (P)eering at a Gem)
- your whole party always fits in a 10' x 10' space - no stragglers or rear guards or scouts.

In a face-to-face game, what can a sudden physical or magical facing change do to you?

I'm thinking, not a lot.


Spinners would be fairly easy to detect, unless it's a total secret change with zero distortion or disorientation. In games with dwarven direction finding, Absolute Direction, and/or a party with a little bit of sense about markings and spacing out the marching order, the spinners will be pretty obvious even if they're no-disorientation magical turnings.


As map-confusers, spinners are probably not useful in the way video games used them. Spinning rooms - ones that magically/divinely turn around so Door A leads to Room B when you come in, but to Room C when you go out - are potentially much more useful and challenging. Those can confuse mapping and act as disorientation devices pretty easily, especially if they only activate once the doors are closed to prevent easy detection.

One possible use of spinners is tactical. For example, you can use spinning floor sections as part of a trick room, where the spin is totally obvious, potentially fatal (you lose balance and fall during combat), and/or combined with any of:

- flying monsters
- pit traps full of fatal stuff
- dangerous patches of nastiness.

In other words, reducing "spinner" to "unstable floor with facing change" would make it a useful challenge.


As a mapping confuser, outside of video games, I think spinners don't work. They assume too much about your limited choice of actions and your orientation and the sameness of the dungeon. If you want confused mapping, there are better ways to do it. For example, the direction-confusion from the Caves of Chaos works brilliantly in actual play.)

As potentially larger spinning rooms, they could work. As smaller tactical difficulties (fly or die rooms), they've got some real usage. As they existed back in video games, no, I don't think they work.

An entirely spinning dungeon is something else entirely, of course. That's a mapping challenge and a solving challenge, but it's not the same as those little spinner squares I'm talking about here. Not all that spins are spinners . . .


  1. Perhaps you had it in mind already, but what you've reminded me of is this:

    1. I was just coming to post about the same thing!

    2. Actually, this one, not that one:

    3. Well, there went an hour of my time. Thanks!

  2. These types of tricks inevitably don't work in my games for the simple reason that for whatever reason someone always has Absolute Direction.

  3. I think the key to spinners is to deploy them while the party is already confused or restricted in their motions. If you stick one at the bottom of a pit trap or in a dark and foggy room, the party won't have enough good information to tell which direction they are facing.

    Any sort of one-way passage in general are a good place to use them. You can make the spinner out of a small circular room that only has one doorway. You go in, the whole room spins randomly, and the door now opens on a different hallway and you don't know which way you're heading anymore.

    You can also get the spinner effect with Portal-style gates - Just block a corridor with the "blue" gate and place the "orange" gate facing a different direction. There are plenty of other non-Euclidean effects that will get you the same result.


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