Running the Dwimmermount campaign has been a valuable experience on many levels, chief among them being how much fun I am having playing "D&D" again. I really can't emphasize enough the pleasure that this campaign has brought me. As I've said repeatedly in this blog, it's all well and good to theorize and philosophize about this stuff -- obviously -- but, without play, it's all largely meaningless. This is a hobby, after all, not a debate club and it's play that really matters. I've had fourteen sessions of this campaign since January (the most recent of which I'll post about later today or tomorrow) and they've all reminded me in various ways why I not only entered but stuck with this hobby for nearly 30 years. I think we all need to be reminded of that regularly or else the old school movement will, like many other movements, eventually become hollow and lifeless.
The other thing of which the Dwimmermount campaign has reminded me is that the much-derided resource management of old school games -- the mythical "15-minute adventuring day" -- is actually a boon rather than a bane. In the majority of our sessions, the party's explorations into Dwimmermount cease because the players decide that they've used up too many of their finite resources -- spells, potions, hirelings -- to continue without seriously risking their own deaths. They then head out of the dungeon either to nearby Muntburg or (more likely) three-days-ride-away Adamas to re-supply.
The result is that, with a few exceptions, most forays into Dwimmermount are not very long and typically end at inopportune or at least unplanned times. That is, the players can't anticipate when one of their front-line fighters is going to be slain by a giant ant or when their magic-user will run out of sleep spells. These events may in fact occur just as they're about to explore a new section of the mountain-dungeon for which they've been searching for some time or that they know will contain both great riches and great danger. But prudence -- that fine old school virtue -- dictates that discretion is almost always the better part of valor. Thus, they leave the dungeon keen to return as quickly as they can, because they are often on the verge of some new discovery. The finitude of their resources regularly ensures that they never have their fill of the dungeon in any given session; they are kept hungry for more, which ensures that the megadungeon holds their interest.
That's not the only benefit of managing finite resources, however. All these trips back to Muntburg or Adamas to re-supply and seek out new hirelings to replace their fallen comrades are opportunities to roleplay and to explore the world outside the dungeon. Some referees could simply let the PCs buy what they need without incident, treating it as a purely mathematical exercise and there's nothing wrong with that. Not every trip back to Adamas is an occasion for me to throw some random encounter at the party or to introduce some eccentric NPC -- but many are. I relish those opportunities, because they're where I get to ground the characters and the dungeon in a larger context and to create a "web" of connections that I can then later use for ideas, both within and without the dungeon.
Many of the emerging "plots" of my Dwimmermount campaign were extemperaneous inventions of mine as a result of rolls on a random encounter table or simply riffing off one of my players' comments about his character's activities in the city. Those inventions were made possible by the fact that the PCs aren't self-sufficient. They have to leave the dungeon and return to their home base, sometimes several times in a session. I don't see that as a flaw in old school gaming; I see it as something praiseworthy, for, without it, there'd have been no Jasper the alchemist or Saidon the spoon-wielding cleric of Typhon or the Argent Twilight or many other now-integral elements of the campaign. Because the characters only adventure 15 minutes a day, as the saying goes, they had to fill the other 23 hours and 45 minutes with something. That something is the stuff from which a campaign is made, the stuff that keeps the players coming back week after week keen to keep playing.
Resource management is, in my opinion, one of the key features of old school gaming. Its removal, or at least its watering down, is a marker for the end of that style of play. I also happen to think the impetus behind its removal is built on a fallacy, one that equates any form of "downtime" as antithetical to fun gaming. My experiences with Dwimmermount over the last six months have taught me that, while resource management guarantees that, at some point, the characters must pause for a time, that's not always a bad thing. The action may end when the PCs leave the dungeon, but that doesn't mean the adventure does.