Saturday, January 31, 2009

Dwimmermount (Session 4)

Last weekend, my group and I played the fourth session of the Dwimmermount campaign. Unfortunately, I have no photos this week, since there wasn't anything to show off that I haven't already shown off in previously installments. I hope to have some new things to show for the fifth session, because at least some of my Otherworld miniatures should finally be painted and I fully intend to use them. Owing to scheduling conflicts, there will be no session this weekend, which is the first time we'll have missed a week since the campaign's start. I'll be very curious to see if the break has any deleterious effects on play, since it's my growing belief that one of the salient features of old school play is that it not episodic in nature. Consequently, regular play that picks up (more or less) precisely where the last session left off is key. To date, it's worked very well, so I'm hoping that we can continue the same way despite the weekend off.

Session 4 was significant for a number of reasons. First, by the end, all the characters present (Brother Candor, Dordagdonar, and Pike) had reached level 2. I'm pretty happy with the pace of advancement overall, as it's ensured that the exploration of Level 1 of the dungeon remains challenging -- and dangerous -- which brings me to the second significant event: the near-death of Brother Candor. This wasn't the first time that a PC nearly died (that happened in the very first session), but it was the first time that one of the more cautious PCs nearly did so. The party ran afoul of a chamber containing a number of Ranine and he bore the brunt of their assault, thanks to some lucky rolls on my part. In the end, he didn't die and, as his hit points inched slowly downwards, I have to confess that I considered fudging my dice rolls to keep him alive. I'm rather fond of the character, who's amusingly portrayed and I like the irony of a cleric devoted to the goddess of Chance being the primary most moral force among the PCs. But I made a commitment early on to roll my dice in the open and to stand by the results regardless, so Lady Luck favored Brother Candor in the end that night.

One of the great things about a properly designed megadungeon is that it's big. After four sessions of rather extensive exploration, using a map that helped them intuit the likely locations of secret doors, hidden passages, and other such obstacles, they still haven't explored its entirety. Partly, this is by choice. Early on they encountered some rather nasty kobolds who seem to live in some natural warrens that honeycomb the first level. The PCs have diligently avoided going anywhere they suspect more kobolds might be found, since their early encounter with them nearly resulted in a total party kill. Likewise, they've come across at least one room whose set-up is seemingly treacherous enough that they're unwilling to enter it, for fear of activating some trap that could spell their doom. So, they've been traveling around certain areas and still have plenty of explore. Megadungeons need to have lots of options and alternatives so that the players never feel forced to go somewhere they don't want to go. Giving the players a wide capacity for risk management is vital in my opinion, given that so many of the dangers they face will be utterly outside their control. They must at least be able to choose when they're willing to proceed and under what circumstances or else the whole things risks collapsing into something resembling the fable "killer dungeon" of old.

I also had a couple of combat-related insights. I noticed that, if you keep combat bonuses to a minimum, having a good armor class (5 and below) is really useful. Having a bunch of orcs kitted out in chainmail and carrying shields makes the encounter a lot tougher than if they had less impressive armor; I was rather pleased to note this. The other thing I found was that, if you don't want to check combat charts in play, you can just roll a D20, add the attacker's base hit bonus (or Hit Dice in the case of monsters), the target's AC, and any modifiers. If the result is 20 or higher, you've scored a hit that deals damage. The nice thing about it is that it gives a mechanical rationale to "lower is better" when it comes to Armor Class -- not that I needed one but hey :)

All in all, another good session and one that provided me with plenty of food for thought as I work my way through the hidden implications of old school megadungeon play.

13 comments:

  1. Are you going to use some pig-faced orcs in the next session? Those are such great figs!

    Peace,
    Christian
    www.iridiazine.net

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  2. Ha, ha. Welcome to the wonderful world of THAC0 (or in this case THYN20), it is only natural to want to short cut the charts.

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  3. Funny thing is I never understood the hatred for THAC0 that some people seem to have. It always struck me as pretty straightforward, but so does descending AC.

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  4. I always understood the dislike well enough, I just didn't sympathise. ;)

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  5. Care to explain the dislike? Because I don't get it at all.

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  6. Sure, it is the way it is explained in 2e. You take away armour class from THAC0 to get the target number, but you also take away bonuses and add penalties. Sometimes the books would say stuff like "+1 AC" and leave you to guess whether it was a penalty or bonus (usually obvious from the context, but frustratingly ambiguous for some more rules bound folks).

    For anybody who does not like to deal with numbers (a surprising number of people) this is quite an annoying state of affairs, moreso if they are not used to it, asked to do it within a group of their peers, and frequently fail, they find it embarassing and it detracts from their enjoyment of the game.

    A lot of it has to do with how people's brains are wired up (not an accurate statement I realise). My girlfriend found the D20/3e approach (roll dice, add this number, reach target number) more difficult than THAC0 (subtract this number from this number to find your target number).

    In my opinion, both are just processes you can learn to get used to, but then I don't really know what it is like to be somebody else, so maybe not.

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  7. "Risk management", that's a good insight.

    The method of rolling d20 + attack bonus + AC + modifiers >= 20 is the way I've done it since late 1E, use it likewise for saves/thief skills in all my games, and I personally refer to it as the "Target 20" system.

    You say "regular play that picks up (more or less) precisely where the last session left off is key." So you don't encourage the PCs to leave the dungeon at session end? I do, and it seems to help versimilitude (also recommended in 1E DMG, etc.)

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  8. "For anybody who does not like to deal with numbers (a surprising number of people)"

    Some of us were English Majors for a damn good reason....
    ;)

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  9. "You take away armour class from THAC0 to get the target number, but you also take away bonuses and add penalties."

    Worse, my groups were into asking what AC you'd hit. So we'd roll the d20, add any modifiers, and subtract that total from THAC0 to find the AC (which may also by modified down by situational bonuses).

    d20 was quite a relief. 1d20 + mods = AC is much easier than THAC0 - (1d20 + mods) = AC.

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  10. You say "regular play that picks up (more or less) precisely where the last session left off is key." So you don't encourage the PCs to leave the dungeon at session end? I do, and it seems to help versimilitude (also recommended in 1E DMG, etc.)

    Oh, I do. What I meant was that I treat play as continuous from session to session rather than dividing it up into anything more coherent. There's no climax to a session: each session ends where it ends and we continue from there.

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  11. >Having a bunch of orcs kitted out in chainmail and carrying shields makes the encounter a lot tougher than if they had less impressive armor; I was rather pleased to note this<

    Heavily armored orcs seem a bit tough for 1st level. If using some orcs there, I would tend to have them in some shoddy leather at best. Let the players's think "ha ha ha - the orcs suck in this dungeon. Then you hit 2nd or 3rd and there's the orcs beefed up with looted armor components.

    The one thing that is a must for me as far as AC - I have to have a book in front of me open to the hit charts. I know there are easier ways, but It just seems like such a long tradition for me.

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  12. the more I read of this, the more I feel like running a dungeon of my own, but one where you have to really use terrain to improve your chances of survival: maps would be real cave systems (no 10 by 10 corridors); barricades, missile weapons and strategically-placed light sources would play a large role. Thanks for keeping us posted.

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