Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Dwimmermount, Sessions 33-34

Owing to the travel of one of my players, there have only been two sessions in the last three weeks. That does not, however, excuse my having failed to post a separate entry for session 33 before now. I can only say that I generally save writing up session reports for days when I don't have lots of other entries planned and since I've recently had plenty of other material to write, I simply delayed -- too long as it turns out -- which is why you're getting a two-for-one entry today, even though there are several other entries forthcoming.

The last two sessions have been heavily focused on the exploration and mapping of two sections of a single level beneath Dwimmermount. The first section was, as I've reported previously, seemingly used as a test bed for experiments with the "azoth infusion" of living creatures, particularly plants of various sorts. As the characters pressed on, they encountered numerous strange plant creatures, many of them greatly changed as a result of the azoth that now suffused them. This afforded me the opportunity to introduce some mutant plants from Mutant Future into the game and they worked seamlessly, both mechanically (of course!) and thematically.

Having explored this section of the dungeon as thoroughly as their map seemed to imply, they pressed on toward another section. That's one of the things I like about their use of maps: it makes it easier to keep track of where they've been and it gives them a sense of where they still have to explore. Megadungeon-delving without mapping isn't something I can really imagine, as it'd be far too easy to get lost and would likely lead to a lot of frustration on the part of the players. I wonder if the decline in the use of megadungeons (and, by extension, hexcrawls) is at least partly attributable to the decline in mapping among players. In any event, I think one of the keys to Dwimmermount's success is the use of maps, which make it simple to navigate the place and, perhaps more importantly, to give a focus to each session: "We've completely explored this area, but there are corridors extending here, here, and here. There's also a set of stairs going downward and a secret door here. Which way shall we go today?"

Moving into another section, the characters encountered more gnolls, leading them to believe that these humanoids have established a lair somewhere on the level. They also encountered some more "kobolds-but-not," which they hadn't seen this deep into the dungeon before. These creatures are clearly kobolds but they show signs of having changed in various ways -- odd bony protrusions here and there, discolored eyes, and so on. They also behave oddly, using various implements to "repair" rooms in Dwimmermount. The ones they encountered this time were drawing magical symbols onto the floors and walls of a room and they seemed most aggrieved to be interrupted.

Later, the party entered a room filled with eerily well carved statues, their faces contorted in expressions of surprise and horror. This immediately worried them, as they expected it meant some type of petrifying creature was likely abroad. Iriadessa in particular was worried and decided to stay behind with some of the hireling when Brother Candor and Dordagdonar pressed on to investigate. Using rings of invisibility, they scouted ahead unseen. After springing a dart trap, they came to a room that find traps indicated was also trapped and trapped in such a thorough way as to be wholly a danger. The room's only occupant was hidden from view by a screen at the far end and soon reacted to the duo's presence -- they may have been invisible but the opening door still made a noise -- by unleashing poison gas into the room. The characters quickly fled into the corridor and used an iron spike to close the door securely behind them.

At this point, Brother Candor decided to take advantage of his position as "prophet of the Iron God" by returning to an earlier level and taking control of two mechanical men and one mechanical dog that obeyed him due to his possession of the staff of office of the high priest of the Iron God. He took some hirelings with him and set off, leaving the other PCs behind to guard the door to the poison gas room. While he did so, a most amusing series of random rolls resulted in a gelatinous cube wandering down the corridor, surprising the remaining characters and forcing them to engage the creature in a very tight situation. Fortunately, they prevailed and a sword (later determined to be magical) was found within the cube's remains.

Once Brother Candor returned, the characters entered the room ahead. The poison gas had dissipated but there was no sign of its occupant, which the party assumed had escaped through some hidden door. The characters searched, finding in fact two doors out of the room, one of which led to a chamber containing a magic-user and a pair of ogres. Brother Candor quickly cast silence on the magic-user to prevent his use of spells. Unfortunately, the magic-user possessed a wand, which he used instead, as we'd previously established that wands function without the need for speech. Nearly everyone in the party, with the exception of a couple of hirelings and the mechanical constructs, failed their saving throw and were feared as a result of the wand. The hirelings and the constructs eventually carried the day, defeating the ogres and MU -- proof yet again of how useful hirelings and henchmen can be.

Two interesting things emerged from these sessions. First, I'm pretty strongly committed to continuing the use of miniatures in the campaign. They make combat more manageable and interesting and they add a lot of visual appeal to the game. My seven year-old son, who otherwise hasn't yet expressed much interest in playing with us, nevertheless finds the minis and dungeon blocks very intriguing. Second, the Advanced Edition Companion is ever so slowly exerting its influence over the game. I've admitted on numerous occasions that, deep down, AD&D will always be the edition of Dungeons & Dragons for me. My choice of OD&D for Dwimmermount's ruleset is more about wanting to scale back expectations and to keep complexity at a low level to start. However, as the campaign has evolved over the last year, I've been slowly adding rules and elements from the Supplements, bringing the game ever closer to a kind of "proto-AD&D." As it turns out, my players like this and generally share my opinion of AD&D as the edition, so it seems likely that, as the weeks wear on, we'll see more "stuff" added to the game that brings it closer to 1e, albeit a piecemeal and greatly simplified 1e. Thank goodness for the AEC; it's one of the best purchases I've made in a long time.

24 comments:

  1. "I've admitted on numerous occasions that, deep down, AD&D will always be the edition of Dungeons & Dragons for me. My choice of OD&D for Dwimmermount's ruleset is more about wanting to scale back expectations and to keep complexity at a low level to start. However, as the campaign has evolved over the last year, I've been slowly adding rules and elements from the Supplements, bringing the game ever closer to a kind of "proto-AD&D."

    Now that's very interesting.

    Albeit being myself an "old school" D&D fan (Moldvay's Basic Set), it appears every new player I drag to our hobby eventually wants "more options" for his characters.

    That leads me to start with the Basic Set (for the absolute roleplaying beginers) and then quickly move to the AD&D1 books, which I consided, by the way, to be the REAL Dungeons & Dragons...

    Problem is: where does it stop?

    I mean: how long can we play AD&D1 before starting to "need" more stuff (weapons, spells, skills, classes, monsters, magic weapons or artifacts...)?

    Is this the D&D "curse", to reproduce the same mistakes over and over, begining with a "pen and paper" game and ending with two dozens of large books filled with new rules?

    If you compare D&D with Call of Chtulhu, the contrast is great, for this last game is pretty much the same since 1982, and I still take great pleasure to play it...

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  2. Problem is: where does it stop?

    That's why I started with OD&D, since I can add to its basic skeleton selectively and doing so establishes no expectation that any given rule or element of 1e will necessarily be present.

    That said, I do think D&D does languish under a "curse," one that it shares with many RPGs. That's why I've made a great effort to keep the game as simple as possible and to introduce new rules/elements only when they serve a useful purpose.

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  3. I love it! I do have a couple of questions - what do your players maps look like? Do they use graph paper, or freehand it?

    It's nice to see a Hirst Arts dungeon on the table. It looks unpainted? And how much do you have built up? Can we get some more pictures, and maybe a post on how you use it for your games?

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  4. I hope this isn't a patently dumb question, but how do you handle the acquisition of hirelings/retainers/men-at-arms?

    I always felt the D&D (or rather, AD&D) rules were a bit vague. Do they get a day/month wage? A full share of the treasure? A half-share? Whatever the players role-play?

    I'm about to begin a new campaign and have surprisingly never had players who wanted to use retainers. I suspect this group will be different and would like a pointer or to (or a reference to the rule(s) I'm missing).

    Thanks!

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  5. James, I agree that megadungeon play and mapping go hand-in-hand. Not only is mapping almost compulsory, an incomplete map drives much of the game...What's behind this door over here? Does this corridor connect with that room over there? It is certainly not heroic and it is not the only motivator (I would hope, anyway), but good mapping can create compelling adventuring.

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  6. In the spirit of being helpful even if I'm butting in, I have a suggestion for S. S., CFA regarding paying hirelings:
    If dungeon-delving is a rare/novel activity in your setting, let the players try to work it out, and roleplay through the resulting labour disputes. I have a sense it'll add to the depth and engagement of the game.
    If dungeon-delving is well established as a kind of industry, but you want a nice "period feel" for it, can I recommend Bartholomew Roberts' Articles of Account (should be possible to find online, otherwise there's a copy in Angus Konstam's Pirates 1660-1730. Opinion is divided over whether they were happy socialist-anarchists or dowtrodden petty tyrants, but in general they operated share systems rather than wage systems, and fairly egalitarian share hierarchies, with the captain getting maybe 4 shares, an ordinary sailor getting 1 share and a boy getting half a share - similar divisions are found on English and Dutch privateers, and privateering was actually a respectable, legal profession.

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  7. Another great constant, from the Barbary galley to the Caribbean pirate to the Timawa slave-raiders to the East India companies, that's bound to discomfit long-time players: compensation was almost always paid for injury or loss of ability arising from the venture. Very often where dependents were known about that included compensation to them for a death. Such compensation tended to be fixed, not variable with profits, and could be 6 months or a year's pay for an agricultural worker in compensation for the loss of an arm, leg or eye.

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  8. clarification: compensation equivalent to a year's typical pay for an agricultural worker at the place of enlistment... whatever you adjudicate that to be. I'm not suggesting that dungeoneers are likely to need threshers or ploughmen in their party, but ag. work tended to be paid at fairly constant rates across early modern Europe and provided a handy going day rate for labour; it informed a bunch of ideas about proper pay even in industries - such as piracy and privateering - where day rates were not used.

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  9. I went the opposite way over the decades - scaling back my 1st edition AD&D to proto-AD&D you describe. Don't rush into the weapons speed modifiers and such, and your game will still stay fast and breezy.

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  10. Thanks Richard - I'm familiar with a lot of what you mentioned, so that will be very easy/convenient for me to adopt.

    Much appreciated.

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  11. Chello!

    Nice write-up..Dwimmermount is your own creation, I take it?

    I've been tempted to get some Hirst molds myself, but my wife threatened me with bodily harm. I'm allowed to have them when the oldest daughter goes to college and her bedroom becomes my study and I can store them there! :)

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  12. I'm curious, James: have your players (or just the mapper) tried to capture the 3D aspect of your dungeon, the vertical axis and the way the levels relate to each other? Or do they simply have a flat map for each level? Most dungeon designs I've seen (not many in recent years, I'll grant) are flat, using only the X and Y-axes, rarely taking advantage of the Z.

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  13. Really, guys, "curse"? I never looked upon added options as any sort of "curse", merely a natural projection of expectations as players get more experienced and want more variety. We all know the one guy who has every item in the DMG memorized; he's the guy we invented the Bracers of Invisibility or Ring of Missile Protection for. Nothing wrong with it, I consider it one of the great strengths of the game, and it doesn't have to end up with stacks and stacks of supplements being the inevitable endgame.

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  14. @David:
    The maps I draw as we go are done with pencil on graph paper, either freehand or with a straight edge. Once I get a collection of related maps I often convert them to campaign Cartographer just for the practice.

    The dungeon tiles are indeed Hirst arts blocks. Specifically the Fieldstone mold #70 and the Flagstone tile mold #260. These are a new design that I built more recently than the older modular dungeon we'd been using. Yes the blocks are unpainted, The local store where I buy my plaster also sells plaster colourant that gives it that nice gray colour out of the mold.

    I have some more pictures of the whole set I've made so far at http://s91.photobucket.com/albums/k285/SH_Sagan/Terrain Work/

    @Anthony
    I have made some small attempts to make a 3D dungeon out of all my maps. The main stalling point is that I'd do this through the use of AutoCAD and 3DSMax, both of which will require me to make a huge number of tools to create the maps. I just haven't had the time and energy to do this so far.

    So so far the maps of Dwimmermount are a stack of pieces of graph paper and a few Campaign Cartographer files.

    We have however used the maps as overlays for each other to determine if stairs lead somewhere we've been. Just this session last we found some stairs up that after consulting the old maps we determined leads to an area of the dungeon that we've not been yet.

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  15. I hope this isn't a patently dumb question, but how do you handle the acquisition of hirelings/retainers/men-at-arms?

    I actually crib the rules from Moldvay/Cook for hirelings/henchmen, which dictate the number of each a character may have based on his Charisma and how loyal they will be. Those same rules also include rough costs per month to employ them, which I have rejiggered slightly. The PCs often share their wealth with hirelings and henchmen get a half share of XP each in addition to any monetary rewards their masters grant them.

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  16. It is certainly not heroic and it is not the only motivator (I would hope, anyway), but good mapping can create compelling adventuring.

    Yep. I think the ever-growing map of Dwimmermount is one of the things that's kept the campaign going for as long as it has. My players are very motivated to explore the place to the fullest, which, being a megadungeon, will take forever. I'm constantly adding new levels to the place, as well as changing details here and there in order to keep it "fresh."

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  17. Don't rush into the weapons speed modifiers and such, and your game will still stay fast and breezy.

    There's little danger of that. I never used speed factors when I played 1e back in the day, though I did use weapons vs. AC adjustments. I'm often tempted to use them in OD&D, but I have come to enjoy the speed of combat as it is that I don't think I'm missing much.

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  18. Nice write-up..Dwimmermount is your own creation, I take it?

    Yes, it's the megadungeon around which my OD&D campaign currently revolves.

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  19. I wonder if 3e's insistence on the use of battle mats and such, that contributed to the decline in mapping skills. Or, was it White Wolf-like story games, which may not use maps at all?

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  20. I also started with a simple system for simplicity(LL) and find it hard to resist expanding it before I even start playing it.

    I'd be curious (in possibly future blog posts) what kinds of things you are adding? and why?

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  21. I wonder if 3e's insistence on the use of battle mats and such, that contributed to the decline in mapping skills. Or, was it White Wolf-like story games, which may not use maps at all?

    I think the deterioration of mapping skills happened way before WW or 3e appeared on the scene. As I recall, most gamers abandoned maps -- and dungeons -- during the tail end of 1e and certainly during 2e.

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  22. I'd be curious (in possibly future blog posts) what kinds of things you are adding? and why?

    That's the plan. I've already added some spells, monsters, and magic items from AEC. I'll almost certainly add more as time goes on.

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  23. That Gelatinous Cube model.. whereever did you find such a thing? It looks great!

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  24. That Gelatinous Cube model.. whereever did you find such a thing? It looks great!

    It's an Otherworld mini. You can find a link to their site on the right hand side of the blog.

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