Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Dwimmermount, Session 14

The most recent session of Dwimmermount was one of those sessions. Anyone who's run a longstanding campaign knows what I'm talking about. It's not that the session wasn't fun or that nothing transpired during the time we played it, because neither of those things is true. Indeed, the party ventured further into the current level and made a number of possibly significant discoveries, chief among them being that Dwimmermount was used at some point as a monastery devoted to the Thulian god of magic, Turms Termax. Granted, they had suspected this for some time, but the preponderance of religious artifacts, monastic cells, and ritual chambers more or less confirmed it.

It's also not that the session was devoid of "action." The characters continued to encounter vermin, such as giant spiders and centipedes, as well as hobgoblins and an increasing number of undead, albeit of a mindless variety. There were traps to be overcome and secret doors to be found and all the usual obstacles one would expect of a megadungeon. The characters have also finally begun to find some valuable treasure, not the paltry copper and silver coins they have found in large numbers to date. Brother Candor acquired a stash of clerical scrolls for future use, as well as some potions, which will come in handy. And Dordagdonar and Iriadessa inched ever closer to advancing a level.

But Session 14 was a classic "just a bunch of stuff that happened" session and my players were fine with that. That's the nature of RPG campaigns in my experience: not every session is a roller coaster ride of excitement. That level of intensity is neither sustainable week after week nor, in my opinion, desirable. "Slow" sessions are valuable. They give everyone a chance to catch their breath and they're very low maintanence for the referee. I didn't have to come up with impromptu NPC personalities or describe an entire quarter of the city-state because the PCs wandered off on some whim. I could simply use my notes to the dungeon and proceed more or less as planned without much hassle, which I appreciated. I should note too that my players seem to do so as well. It being Father's Day, our contingent was smaller than usual and the social aspect of the evening loomed larger than usual. This was a "comfort" dungeon crawl -- something to pass the time without placing too much of a burden on either my players or myself.

I am loath to compare long-term campaigning to anything in the real world, since I know from hard experience that one or more people will misread my intention. Therefore, I will be vague and simply say that, in life, there are many long-term, emotionally-engaging commitments into which one can enter. To expect that those commitments will each and every time generate the same kind of passion and intensity is a recipe for disappointment. Sometimes -- often -- one is simply content and perhaps even grateful that the level of emotional engagement has subsided to less thrilling levels. I doubt that human beings can be ecstatic 24/7, 365 days a year and I rather suspect that, if they tried, they'd make themselves an emotional wreck in fairly short order.

The absence of constant esctasy is not an indication that a campaign is failing or that it's grown stale. It could be, but, in my experience, it's mostly an indication that a campaign is growing comfortable and that players and referee alike have settled in to a pleasant routine. Now, routines must be broken from time to time and I certainly don't advocate allowing a campaign to fall into a rut. No one wants that. However, we need to be sure to distinguish between comfortability and staleness. The two are not the same and to confuse them has, I fear, brought a premature end to many a campaign on the verge of having the staying power that leads to long-term satisfaction.

I think a lot of gamers are too impatient to let a campaign find its feet and they bolt at the first sign of things becoming "boring." By many measures, my last session was "boring," because it consisted mostly of mapping and some scattered combats, few of which had any greater significance and none of which were all that dangerous to the PCs. Nevertheless, I think last session was important and contributed to the health of the campaign, even though nothing particularly exciting transpired. But, months from now, as the campaign has unfolded further, no one will remember Session 14's dullness. If they remember it at all, it'll be for its significance in the ex post facto "story" of exploring the megadungeon, a story they themselves helped to create through their shared memories of time spent around my dining room table imagining a world not their own.

Nothing of great import may have happened in the game, but I can assure you something of great import happened in my home this past weekend: my friends and I got together and gamed.

12 comments:

  1. Nothing of great import may have happened in the game, but I can assure you something of great import happened in my home this past weekend: my friends and I got together and gamed.

    Amen to that!

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  2. I'll second that emotion, asmodean66!

    James, it's been my experience that these kinds of session are often followed up by the next session being a blockbuster.

    On a side note, I really like the name "Turms Termax'. Is that just something that sprung out of the dark depths of your brain, or is there a story to it's creation. Care to share any more info about the Thulian god of magic?

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  3. Hmmm...I grok what you're saying though it's a perspective I haven't really thought about too much. Makes sense though as to why only particular instances stand out, even though one remembers "gaming a lot" and "lots happening."

    Out of curiosity: what do you think brings on the intense bits (as aside from 'comfort crawling') once the initial thrill of the campaign wears off? The occasional unique trap or monster? The extremely deadly encounter? A particularly memorable NPC or adventure objective?

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  4. Turms Termax is my own formulation, but it borrows heavily from several sources. He's basically Hermes Trismegistus of Hellenistic Egypt and later occult lore, envisioned as an ascended mortal who's become the god of magic, alchemy, astronomy, and writing. The name is a play on several related mythologies. Turms is the Etruscan name for Hermes and Termax is based on the Roman phrase "ter maximus" or "thrice greatest."

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  5. After 3 games of near constant combat and exploration (important player missing for those games, so just had the party get side tracked to some hills and an abandomed dwarvish mine), tonight I gotta get on with the main adventure, with pretty much the players going to a town.

    This will be serious down-time compared to that constant action of the previous games. Sure, plenty to do in town, and maybe even a little mischief and violence to get up to, but mostly character development and lots of role play will go down (I hope).

    And it's hard to guess how players will react to it. Will they be glad for a chance to expand themselves beyond the chaos of combat, or will they be sitting there wishing they were still bashing in kobold heads in those hills? Guess I'll find out tonight...

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  6. A couple of rolls on some weird random tables and long-term adventure hooks is what is try to use when a session is growing stale.

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  7. Very interesting post. IMO this is what can lead to a failure in the "megadungeon" model...the interminable mapping and crawling and random monster rolls with no certain goal or conclusion can sometimes lead to boredom or wandering attention....heck, even a baseball season is over at some point (no matter how bad your team is or how many seasons they have missed the playoffs...). In my own campaign, I make sure I mix in "mini" goals here and there to lead to some sort of feeling of accomplishment every couple months or so. Otherwise, I think the grind can wear on some gamers and they drift away, looking for a "different high".

    It will be very interesting to see how the current crop of players is faring, say, a year from now in Dwimmermount.

    Mike B.

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  8. Keep up those great Dwimmermount post! I just read them all! Great stuff!

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  9. Hear hear! Praxis. Session fourteen sounds like one of those nights on the wilderness trail when you and your friends sit and just watch the fire dance, a comfortable interstitial moment between death defying adventures.

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  10. Out of curiosity: what do you think brings on the intense bits (as aside from 'comfort crawling') once the initial thrill of the campaign wears off? The occasional unique trap or monster? The extremely deadly encounter? A particularly memorable NPC or adventure objective?

    It's mostly unpredictable in my experience. That's the other thing I've learned: there's no way to guarantee or otherwise ensure the players will react to something as I might expect they would. I've included monsters or tricks I fully expected them to get excited about and they did't, while other fairly mundane things really fired them up. That's the real joy of the campaign: it's as much an adventure for me as my players.

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  11. Hey!

    When is session 15 gonna be posted?

    Some of us are waiting! ;)

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  12. Session 15 will be this coming weekend. Expect a recap sometime early next week.

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