Friday, February 20, 2009

Dwimmermount (Session 6)

I have no photos to share this time, since the latest batch of painted miniatures (some skeletons and pig-faced orcs) weren't used in the last session. More to the point, I am terrible at taking close-ups of miniatures and the few I tried to take turned out horribly. Perhaps I'll entrust the photography at the next session to someone who knows what they're doing.

Session 6 saw our heroes and their growing horde of hirelings descend into the second level of Dwimmermount for the first time. In their explorations, they discovered evidence that someone had been there ahead of them, although it was unclear whether this was recently or further in the past. Several rooms had obviously been cleared of their former inhabitants and they found notes and symbols painted on doors and on the walls of several chambers. They did not, however, see anyone else on Level 2 who might have left behind these clues, so they assume (for now) that they were not recent additions to the dungeon.

Level 2 presented the characters with several new challenges. They encountered more kobolds but, being better prepared for them this time, they didn't instill them with the same degree of trepidation as those they encountered when they first entered the dungeon. They also encountered some strange "beast men" who seemed to be, for lack of a better word, "employed" in maintaining the traps of the dungeon. This was the first hint that someone or something might be "running" the dungeon from behind the scenes, although, again, the evidence was mostly circumstantial. A pack of ghouls -- how I wish Otherworld Miniatures would produce some of these! -- caught the party by surprise. Brother Candor was paralyzed on the first round of combat, which caused the characters momentary worry, since it meant he could not turn the undead and they would have to face the pack in its entirety, one man down, and without access to emergency healing.

The session was quite enjoyable overall. There were some moments of slapstick humor interspered with the seriousness, for which I was grateful. One of the things I most regret about the megadungeon focus of the campaign is the comparative paucity of opportunities for me to ham it up while playing NPCs. I've always been good at breathing life into even minor NPCs and I love having a large number of them to work with. So far, I've had to limit myself primarily to the hirelings, particularly Brakk the Goblin, whose reliable untrustworthiness is a source of much fun. There's also Erik and Ethil, twin brothers who were hired as muscle and have slowly morphed into medieval equivalents of Hans and Franz. So, I think I'm going to push harder to get the party out of the dungeon and set some other events in motion elsewhere. Whether the players bite or not is up to them.

I'm also a little unhappy with my dungeon maps. On Level 1, I mixed natural caverns with traditional dungeon rooms and, while the result was a good one that lent a nice feel to the place, it was hard to map at times. On level 2, I purposefully eschewed standardized rooms of a rectangular or square shape and went with more irregular ones. Likewise, the corridors are often winding and diagonal rather than straight and there are many, many branches so as to provide lots of potential avenues for exploration. In principle, this is a good idea and I stand behind the decision. However, I'm now more keenly aware that it's hard for my players to map this out at times. It's also hard for me to use our dungeon tiles to represent the rooms and corridors, because I frequently just don't have the pieces to do so properly. The result has been a decline in the use of the tiles, which, while not a terrible thing, still bleeds a bit of the spectacle out of the game and I think spectacle is important.

As ever, I continue to learn.

21 comments:

  1. Ahhh, I am all in favor of the pig-faced Orcs. The only kind. The way these WOTC good for nothings draw the goblins, hobgoblins, orcs and bugbears, they all look the same! Give me the old MM any time! It was a revelation to me when I realised that Tolkien's Orcs were basically Roman Legionnaires with Red Eyes (Red Stars?) ontheir foreheads. But Roman Legion is a organisation, not mark of a nation, so, give me your take on the real differences between the Orcs and Hobgoblins.

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  2. In the world of Dwimmermount, orcs are wild boars given evil sentience and humanoid form by the Eld in the distant past, while hobgoblins are basically goblins subjected to magical "steroids" to turn them into shock troops (again, by the Eld). I don't have origin stories for all of my humanoid races -- kobolds are just there, as it were -- but I have them for many of them, if only to give me hooks when I introduce them into my sessions.

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  3. So, how important is accurate mapping in your campaign? Do you have areas where the PCs need to keep detailed maps with attention paid to accurate scaling etc in order to progress/survive? Do the players seem to enjoy it?

    Going over the LBB pdfs recently, I was struck by how many of Gary's "ways to spice up a campaign" tips revolved around fucking with PC mapping- ie; elevator rooms, teleportation chambers, subtly sloping passages etc. It all seemed incredibly frustrating to me, but then, I don't think I've *ever* actually mapped during a game.

    Somewhat inspired by Dwimmermount, I've been charting out some levels for my own dungeon. Although I want my PCs to keep maps, I'm unsure of how necessary a high degree of accuracy should be. Got any tips?

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  4. In principle, this is a good idea and I stand behind the decision. However, I'm now more keenly aware that it's hard for my players to map this out at times.

    Yep, that's a huge issue for my games, especially when gaming online. In chat-games, I can't look over the player's map and correct them when they misunderstand me. Right now in my Thursday game, the players are doing a simple flowchart style map during the game, and I'm tracing out and scanning the parts of the map they've explored to post between sessions. This means, of course, that rigorous mapping can't be necessary to survival or solving puzzles, but that still leaves lots of arrows in my quiver for making the dungeons interesting.

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  5. Wait - what happend with the ghoul fight!

    On my lastest blog post I talked about researching the phenomenon of "Total Party Kill." Low level parties getting killed by ghouls seems to be a common tale. That whole paralyzing thing. Low level guys tend to miss saves, so these are things (especially a "pack") I would not throw at a party until at least 3rd level. So I'm dying to know some details of how the whole encounter turned out.

    I've always loved the concept of a dungeon being maintained by a society of creatures (gnome custodians being a fave). I have the party heading for the dungeon in my current campaign (I have been dilly dallying them a bit to get them levelled up. I don't want to dick around with the 1-3rd levels), and I still haven't decided what kind of things I'm going to have as "custodians."

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  6. Lots of intriguing stuff! I love how you've scattered a few mysteries in front of the players. Were I in your campaign, I'd be chomping at the bit to figure out what's going on.

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  7. The trend that I see is player maps that are slightly marred clones of DM maps, using the same graph paper. I'd love to see players map on regular unlined paper, it would make the map into less a miniature of the place and more of a guide to what's there.

    Accurate recreations are for the mini battles.

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  8. I still haven't decided what kind of things I'm going to have as "custodians."

    I'd be tempted to use extremely tough, unresponsive golems, for maximum creep. They'd be sufficiently robot-like that you could mess with them, and you could maybe learn something about the dungeon's rulers by watching them. Most of all, though, their presence would suggest that something very powerful was to be found further in. The PCs might wonder if they really wanted to rush into that encounter.

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  9. >be tempted to use extremely tough, unresponsive golems, for maximum creep<

    Now that is something that immediatly conjures up images in a DM's mind. If one sentence causes instant mental imagry in the DM's mind, then it will probably seem very cool to the players. I like this idea. Somehow seems very old school too.

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  10. I love your idea about Orcs being sentient boars, but the Boar in thenatural environment has nowhere near the agressivenes of man or a bunch of Chimpanzees. They don't attack unless you threaten their young. What would make Orcs the enemy of Elves and a threat to humankind? My other question is, since Hobgoblins are goblins on steroids, what do you consider Goblins to be? With regards to Kobolds, I consider them to be devious children of the Jackal God Set. See, they are not really little dogs, but hyenas delivering more souls for the Ferryman! How do you conceptualize Goblins and what do you consider to be the differences between Troglodytes and Lizard men?

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  11. I'm also curious as to what happened during the fight with the ghouls...

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  12. So, how important is accurate mapping in your campaign? Do you have areas where the PCs need to keep detailed maps with attention paid to accurate scaling etc in order to progress/survive? Do the players seem to enjoy it?

    It's not (yet) super important, because I've been sparing in my use of things like teleporters and disorienting effects. However, my players seem to enjoy making the maps and it certainly adds a degree of verisimilitude to play that I think we all appreciate.

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  13. Wait - what happend with the ghoul fight!

    The ghouls were encountered in what looked to be some kind of dilapidated throne room, complete with a dais. When the PCs entered, the ghouls were lying on the ground, as if they were recently-slain corpses. When they jumped up and attacked, they managed to get in a hit on Brother Candor, the cleric, paralyzing him. Fortunately, the other front-line characters -- hirelings all -- had heavy enough armor that the ghouls couldn't penetrate it with their attacks. Another hireling grabbed Brother Candor's paralyzed form and pulled him back into the rear of the group, while the others beat a retreat toward the door. There they held the ghouls back and limited the number who could attack them at once, with the second row of fighters using spears to stab them and archers/spellcasters pelting them with various missiles. The party won quite handily in the end through the use of solid tactics.

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  14. I love how you've scattered a few mysteries in front of the players.

    Part of it is that, as a referee, I try to avoid making up more information than I need for a game session. I've also learned that my players often have better ideas than I do, so I like to throw out nonsensical or "mysterious" things so that they can puzzle them out and offer suggestions that I then either accept or spin off in a related direction. This makes prep for the game easier and results in a better game overall, since there's a degree of cooperation there that there might not have been if I'd decided it all in advance.

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  15. Accurate recreations are for the mini battles.

    Agreed. What's interesting is that another of my players, one who's not the official map-maker, has begun sketching out the dungeon freehand as an adjunct to the graph paper map. He's getting the gist of the dungeon's layout spatially, even if it's not perfectly accurate.

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  16. What would make Orcs the enemy of Elves and a threat to humankind?

    My orcs hate elves because they were created and enslaved by elves. The Eld I referenced earlier are the original -- and evil -- elven race the orcs once served. Orcs are pretty indiscriminate and don't make much distinction between the Eld and other offshoot races.

    My other question is, since Hobgoblins are goblins on steroids, what do you consider Goblins to be?

    My goblins are an aboriginal race of the world. Their origin is unclear.

    With regards to Kobolds, I consider them to be devious children of the Jackal God Set. See, they are not really little dogs, but hyenas delivering more souls for the Ferryman!

    That's rather cool.

    How do you conceptualize Goblins and what do you consider to be the differences between Troglodytes and Lizard men?

    My goblins are a greedy but bitter race, whose lands have been slowly encroached upon by humanity for untold centuries. They don't hate mankind so much as resent them for stealing the goblins' lands and using it to make themselves rich. Many make war on humanity, but many more are trying to use human civilization to gain power for themselves and their people (but mostly themselves).

    I haven't given much thought to the difference between lizard men and troglodytes, since neither has appeared in my game yet.

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  17. Letting your players speculate on mysteries which you haven't fleshed out yet---then fleshing it out with that input---is a super-classic DM trick! It's also great fun for the DM. It needs a good poker face and a strong DM/player barrier though, something I have not been good at keeping up in many of my own campaigns.

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  18. It needs a good poker face and a strong DM/player barrier though, something I have not been good at keeping up in many of my own campaigns.

    In my games, it's pretty well known that I do this, so the poker face isn't really needed. The trick is to ensure that any solution you "borrow" from the players' own speculations isn't exactly like those speculations so there's still a sense of mystery and surprise to the whole thing.

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  19. That's a great idea about Orcs resenting Elves becaue they were enslaved by them. Thank you! Now I have my definition of Orcs as opposed to goblinoids. In my campaign, Twilight/Midlands, loosely based on Greyhawk, there is the Old World - Greyhawkish traditional AD&D setting and Twilight - Wasteland where Sueli Imperium used to be, where morals, spirituality and beings are twisted. Midlands is the frontier where Twilight is kept at bay at the human cost of settlers and homesteaders driven South and forming a human barrier to the Wasteland nasties. Goblinoids are the product of the Wasteland, where beliefs have transformative magical power and self-assertive goblins can moroph into hobgoblin and bugmear progeny. Orcs and Ogres belong to the Old World. Elves are rich and powerful, and are seldom seen.

    Metaphysics operate differently in this campaign setting. Scientific method never took hold because Alteration Magic is simpler and more efficient. Light can not be created or desrtoyed, making crystal ball scrying possible. Universe has cosmic consciousness. Multitudinal panthenons of AD&D Deities are manifestations of that consciousness to its sentient beings. Because of its nature, the Universe is vulnerable to powerful wizards and it protects itself and keeps itself isolated from the multiverse. Lovecraftian Mind Flayers, Beholders and Aboleths are the subconscious manifestations of that cosmic consciousness to keep the AD&D bubble separate. Any outside interdimensional traveler will have to deal with these sanity eroding Lovecraftian nightmares before they can break through into the gameworld. Lichdom is okay, but any wizard powerful enough and curious enough to glimpse a hint of that cosmic consciousness or to try to break out of that world will have to contend with these abominations. On the inside of the bubble are the Elves. In Frank Herbert's Dune, Worms are the Spice. In this world, Elves are the spirit of that world. They are of the game world. The can not conceive of parallel universes or of existance apart from the game world, which they cocneove of as The Forest, not seeignthe reality for the trees. They exist entirely within and are of the reality created by cosmic consciousness. Should anybody be fortunate enough to beak through the barrier of the abominations and land their UFO in this gameworld, it will be the Elves, who will feel compelled to surround and take the alien into custody, Elves will be operating their own version of the Area 51. Elves will believe themselves to be the guardians of their world against the abominable darkness, but as the Elves and Mind Flayers are the cxreations of the same entity. the two will never intersect. Into the wasteland is driven a spirit and his followers out of a nightmare worse that anything a Mindflayer can throw at them. Not knowing who, what or where they are, the Spirits land in the Wasteland and main one takes the form of a psychotic Lich that thinks itself to be fighting the good fight back in its own universe. Finally I was able to put the essence of my capaign into words. I hope you get a kick out of this.

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  20. I'm fairly interested in PC mapping also: I'd love to implement it, and, as a player, to use player-drawn maps; however, 3 of the players are fairly hostile to the idea, and one doesn't really care about stuff like getting lost (lol)- perhaps because I've always drawn the maps for them on scrap paper as they went. I think the key to it is in making it challenging and dangerous, and work in tight spots where an accurate map is a big deal, and the question of how accurate it is causes suspense, but then again, I have to try it first. Any suggestions?

    oh, I have a question: did you ever read Justin Alexander's blog about his 0e, white box experiment? I think I found it in a link to one of the Dwimmermount posts here. May I ask whether his experience was normal, or whether the characters should have died in such massive numbers? (Not to criticize: I'm actually a bit jealous I wasn't in that game, it sounded like good fun!)

    do your players poke around with 10 foot poles? My rogue, who leads the way, has decided he'd rather fall into the pit traps than bother with the pole in my game...

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  21. How easy is it for your PCs to leave the dungeon after they decide to head back to town/return to dungeon from town? is there a lot of random encounters on the way, and making turns and finding out if the maps are any good, or is it more a matter of skipping to the town?

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