The picture above represents an encounter during a recent session of Expeditions in the Northlands for Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG.
Small carnivorous lizards called Well Wyrms attacked the characters (the exact number represented by pips on the dice). The Well Wyrms could attack from the floors, walls, or ceiling. They took only 1 point of damage, but they turned out to be vicious little buggers–scoring two critical hits on the group’s main fighter, dropping him to zero hit points.
For those who participated, it was an intense little combat.
Yet about half the characters didn’t see combat at all.
The problem is evident: the side-passages of the main sewer line were too narrow, 5-feet wide. Only one or two PCs could engage the lizards at a time.
While an occasional encounter like this is bound to happen sooner or later, they should never become common. Once I played a game where even in a 10-foot corridor, half the party did little or nothing as the heavily armored front line fighters did most of the work. Our tactics succeeded, but they made the game boring.
At some point, I considered having enemies attack the group from behind (noise can draw creatures, you know), but it seemed like the encounter would be over sooner rather than later. Then the Well Wyrms scored some lucky hits, and the cleric had to quickly heal a fighter bitten on the neck.
I usually don’t design my dungeons to be so narrow unless I have a specific reason–in this case, it was an abandoned sewer system, so there was a mix of large and small passageways.
In a previous adventure the PCs explored a mine with some constrictive tunnels here and there, but side-passages existed which helped prevent bottlenecks. The PCs, once they learned the layout of the mines, discovered they could maneuver around certain enemies–like the strange mist creature with tentacles which seemed impervious to normal weapons!
When in doubt, add more space so more characters can engage in combat.
Or add more enemies for increased tension…