Dogpiling - all day long

I heard the term dogpiling referred to a situation when all the PCs pile in to do the same task, as in searching secret doors, pick locks etc and so mitigating the chance of failure due to the weight of dice.

We play thoroughly BECMI style LL and my players do that, a lot. I have not come up with a satisfactory reason to deny them, and thus this dogpiling continues to annoy me.

How do you deal with such situations? Do you allow just one PC to search per 1 turn (which means encounter checks) or do you only allow just one person to try period?

Your insight appreciated.


“Dogpiling” is one of those things that is or is not a problem based on how it relates to other procedures, conventions, or expectations of play. When I’m running B/X or related games, character actions are limited only by what is reasonable given the time and space constraints involved. So, usually that means it’s ok for multiple characters to search a given area at the same time, but doesn’t make sense for multiple characters to pick a lock at the same time. Also, we make it clear that if you’re searching a room, you can’t also be doing other potentially useful things — like standing guard — so there’s usually incentive to have at least some characters doing something else. And we try to keep a very clear picture at all times of what characters are actually doing, where they are standing, whether or not they have weapons ready, etc. I think dogpiling becomes more of a problem when the group loses track of what the actions taken by the characters would actually look like and it turns into very abstract, vague intentions instead of concrete actions.


I think you have a point regarding the absolute positioning of everybody in regards to the theatre of the mind play style. I gather these details are many times skipped in order to keep the game flowing a bit faster.


I don’t really know BECMI rules, but you could increment disadvantages on repeat actions. In other words, let them take turns performing the same task, but each time they repeat the action, they get a minus on their roll, with the disadvantages accumulating on successive rolls.

More broadly, though, this could be a matter of insufficient motivation to move along. You could introduce some hazard after the first or second attempt, so that they have an incentive to do something other than dogpile on the one specific problem. Other systems (like PbtA) tend to build that into play — rolls have consequences, and failures introduce new complications. Done right, those complications make players less inclined to just sit around and hack away at the same problem until they overcome the dice roll odds to get their way.

1 Like

So my take is that a Turn on matters is time represents risk. Modelled almost always with a random encounter roll, one can increase risk and the value of time by making that roll overloaded, aka a hazard die. That way players know something will happen every turn.

Second, Only one PC can do any one action. Search a 10’ area, pick a lock, rifle through some drawers. I don’t worry if that action takes “10 minutes”, because a Turn is less a measurement of time and more one of risk - and I subscribe to 1 significant action = 1 roll.

Third, I avoid skill based tests. Tell me how you are searching and if it makes sense you get a clue. This can be a bit of work as you have to decide how secret doors work or how treasure is hidden, but a good adventure should tell you and if not (or if you run your own) the effect is worth the trouble. This makes saying “we all search the room” less important, because unless a searcher can come up with some new scheme it matters less.

Fourth, and this is just speculative 'cause I haven’t needed it, let it known that if less then X PCs are “on guard” and you get a random encounter, the surprise chance goes up. Say 1 in 6 (from 2 in 6) for each PC not watching under 3. Though this might work best usuing the OD&D reaction andcsurprise rule… monsters with surprise always (or almost always) attack andcanyonecwith a light gets no (or limited) surprise chances.


I think Gus has the definitive old-school answer, and likely the best one. An alternate take is to steal the philosophy of something like Blades in the Dark, where dogpiling/helping out with tests is encouraged by the system, but:

  • Burns a small amount of a resource, and

  • Exposes the helper to the fallout of the test’s failure

The second bit is obvious, and once it’s driven home that when you stick your neck out for your bud who’s failing to disarm a trap you’re also in line to get your ass roasted or whatever, it lends a lot of fun tension and social jockeying for players to convince their companions that they’re worth the risk.

As for resources, the games we’re playing here likely don’t have anything like BitD’s “Stress” built in, so you’d have to come up with something else. The raised likelihood of being surprised by an encounter as Gus outlined above seems like a reasonable substitution.

I’ve done stuff like this when I have players that bristle at sticking to the strict procedural bent that a dungeon crawl prescribes, and it usually works out well. But probably gilding the lily for most people’s purposes.

@ SymbolicCity

BECMI is just short for Basic D&D. I very much like the small penalty to the roll after the initial try. Also a failed search roll might trigger a negative consequence on a 6 (out of d6)


Players needing to describe what they do differently this time around might give them another check sounds good.

@ Glassboy

Increased random encounter chance + increased surprise chance should do the trick as well.

Thanks ya’ll!


Oh, I know what BECMI is — I’m just not familiar with how it plays. I’ve never played any branded D&D game. I’m not sure I ever will.

One way to deal with multiple player characters attempting the same thing is to follow the rule of thumb expressed in this blog post:

1 Like

Well to be pedenatic and specific Basic D&D has several editions and BECMI is the 3rd of them.

The Basic line consists of:

Holmes Basic: (1977): A revision of OD&D/The White Box/The LBBs that’s got some interesting and unique feature. Usually called Holmes Basic, Rarely called Blue Book.

Moldvay Basic (1981): Many consider it the definative Basic D&D, fully incorporates the Greyhawk modifications from OD&D that also define AD&D. Followed by Expert for levels 4 -14 or so by Cook. Called B/X and occassionally the Red and or Blue Book. Arguably the lingua franca of the G+ era OSR. Most retroclones start here.

Mentzer Basic (1983): Another updated Basic in a box and followed by Expert, Companion, Master and Immortal boxed sets (Red, Blue, Green, Black and Gold) respectively. High TSR, and notably a shift towards a more “Trad” style of play using largely the same mechanics as B/X but with different emphasis. Called BECMI singularly and collectively.

Denning Basic Set (1991) mostly Basic from BECMI, presented as part of a big box set with lots of effort yo make it easy to learn. Levels 1 - 5 not 1 - 3 being the biggest change. Called the Black Box, when its remembered atcall, but remembered quite fondly by some.

The Classic Dungeons & Dragons Game (1994). The Black Book efited into a book format. A forgotten runt of the liter. TSR was struggling at this point a bit.

Both the 1992 and 1994 edition were hampered by the 1991 Rule Cylopedia which bundled BECM into a single volume (Immortals being its own, rather different system). With WotC’s acquisition of TSR in 1997, the Basic line died and 2000’s 3rd edition marks the end of splitting D&D into Advanced & Basic.

The distinctions are somewhat interesting as there are some rule minutiae that changes between them, and eeven big rules changes at first. Mostly though the change is in the way the gamevis oresented, becoming increasingly narrative driven and combat focused and setting aside exploration and puzzle solving as a goal along with almost any moral ambiguity.

This has been a grognard rambling digression brought to you by Gus L.