Monday, October 4, 2010

Dwimmermount, Session 53

Things picked up considerably in this week's Dwimmermount session, perhaps in part because an irregular player dropped by to join in the fun. Normally, he plays the dwarf Vladimir, but, because of the fact that the party is now separated from the surface with no obvious way to return to it, I couldn't establish that Vladimir had entered the dungeon alone and joined up with them. So, instead, the player took over the role of another dwarf, Murn, who is Dordagdonar's crossbow-wielding hireling. This arrangement worked out quite well and, as I said, I think there was a greater vibrancy to the session due to the presence of "new blood." This makes me think that the old model of a very large pool of rotating players may well be another key element to the longevity of the campaigns of yore, in contrast to the decidedly more anemic assumptions of today.

In any case, the party continued their explorations, taking some more time to figure out the nature of the strange floating sphere they discovered last time. Brother Candor bravely touched the sphere with his bare hand, which caused it to glow more brightly. In doing so, it illuminated a series of symbols etched on to its grayish-black translucent surface. Most of the symbols were unknown to the PCs, but they did come across one that looked similar to the sigil for Dwimmermount they saw on a ley line map found on an upper level of the dungeon. And while the symbols on the sphere were connected to one another by a series of lines, the connections did not match those of the ley line map, suggesting that it represented something else. Dordagdonar surmised that it might be a map of other worlds reachable through a series of portals, some of which were located on this level of Dwimmermount.

Pressing on, they entered a room containing a pair of displacer beasts, whom they defeated after taking a significant amount of damage. They'd encountered these creatures before and decided that they were pets of the Eld. These too seemed to have been placed here by the Red Elves, since an examination of their bodies revealed they had bejeweled collars around their necks, suggesting someone valued them. Exploring later rooms revealed evidence that someone had been through these chambers recently. There were footprints in the dust -- both humanoid and other -- going in several directions, as well as signs of something bulky and heavy being dragged along the floor and through a series of doors. Rather than spend a lot of time cataloging the ruined and unusual contents of these rooms, the PCs elected instead to follow the tracks of the heavy object.

This led them to a large room where they surprised a group of five people wearing what appeared to Eldritch garb -- treated leather breastplates, odd helmets, and carrying wickedly curved swords. Most interesting of all was the fact that these people were human, not Eld. They were hunched over a large metal box with no obvious hinges but which was covered with markings and several strange protrusions and lights. Taking advantage of surprise, the party employed both a wand of paralyzation and a hold person spell to immobilize four of the five humans. The fifth quickly surrendered to the PCs, identifying himself as Vardon, a slave of Jallak of Morkoja.

The characters took a long time interrogation Vardon, since it would be a while until his companions were freed from the magic that held them immobile. He explained that he and his fellow slaves had been instructed by Jallak to fetch a "power storage unit" and bring it to a room deeper on this level. Vardon had no real awareness of where he was, though he was overjoyed to discover that he was no longer on Areon, which he described as "a horrible place -- especially for humans." This led to a brief discussion of the fact that the Eld kept humans as slaves on the Red Planet and that, apparently, some humans also kept humans as slaves as well. Vardon was clearly displeased by this, making a comment about how distressing it was that those humans who'd rebelled against the Eld nevertheless mimicked many of their former masters' worse traits. Brother Candor assured him that the party had no such plans and indeed offered to free Vardon and his companions once they found a way out of Dwimmermount, although he did not deny that, even on his world. slavery was commonplace.

Brother Candor added that he didn't think Jallak would be returning anytime soon, since the party had defeated him and sent him back through the portal to Areon. Vardon was pleased to hear the Red Elf was gone but did not think he would be gone for long and, when he returned, he would bring with him more -- and stronger -- reinforcements. "Jallak doesn't like to lose," he explained. Vardon also explained that the power storage unit was to be used to drain the power from a "stasis chamber" in another room. He offered to take the PCs there if they wished, which, of course, they did. When asked about what was in the stasis chamber, Vardon replied that it was "some man -- a human" and that "he's been there a long time from what I understand."

Briefly, the characters worried that the chamber might have held Turms Termax, since they'd earlier learned that the ascended mortal was still trapped somewhere within Dwimmermount and that his latter day cultists sought to free him. However, when they entered the room to which Vardon directed them, they instead found a single human male, floating within a faint purplish-blue energy field. He wore odd clothes unlike any they'd ever seen and wore lenses on his eyes like some of the sages and scholars of Adamas. Not knowing what to do, Dordagdonar used the communications device that Xaranes the Iron God had given them, hoping to get some useful advice on the matter. Unfortunately, Xaranes was extremely cryptic and elliptical in his answers, as he often was, and his advice, such as it was, consisted of suggesting the PCs use their own best judgment.

With that in mind, they asked Vardon to help them drain the power from the stasis chamber and free the man within. As the energy drained away, the man dropped to his knees and collapsed briefly before coming to consciousness once again. He appeared to be perfectly human and, except for his odd clothes, he could have passed for an inhabitant of Adamas or any other settlement in the vicinity of Dwimmermount. He spoke a language that was unintelligible to anyone not using a device that enabled the understanding of foreign tongues. The man looked around confusedly and asked, "Where am I?" To this, Dordagadonar explained that the man was in Dwimmermount, who only confused him more. The elf elaborated by explaining that it was "mountain fortress," which seemed to make more sense to the man, who replied, "Oh, you mean like Cheyenne Mountain."

This naturally led to a long and circuitous conversation with the man, who identified himself as Dr. Mason Halsey, a researcher -- or "sage," the characters understood him to mean -- from a place called "New York" who'd been working on a "temporal displacement" experiment in association with "Project Phoenix." He didn't know precisely how he'd gotten to Dwimmermount but he mentioned that, before the PCs freed him, he'd briefly been conscious and seen "other people," describing them as "some guys in weird robes and a head in a jar." The party had no idea what he was talking about or to whom he was referring, which led to even lengthier conversations about where/when Dr. Halsey was and its relationship (or not) to the Earth -- wherever that was -- of 1989 -- whenever that was.

Brother Candor did his best to reassure Dr. Halsey that they would do their best to sort out his predicament and get him back to his own time and place if they could, but, right now, they needed to escape Dwimmermount before the Eld returned. He offered Halsey a sword with which to protect himself, prompting the scientist to ask, "Do you have a lead pipe or, better yet, a crowbar instead?" Confused by this, the group headed off to the stairs upward they'd discovered earlier, hoping that, if they got beyond the portcullises at its top, they might find their way to safety. And the session ended for the night here.

Needless to say, it was a fun time and I was glad to at last be able to introduce a few more elements into play that I'd been considering for some time. The additional details about Areon, as well as the Stranger from "Earth" were ideas I'd wanted to work into the campaign at some point, but the opportunity never really arose until yesterday. Now that it has, I expect future sessions will be even more interesting.

35 comments:

  1. Brilliant stuff! I wish I had a tabletop gaming group at the moment :(

    Antonio

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  2. "This makes me think that the old model of a very large pool of rotating players may well be another key element to the longevity of the campaigns of yore, in contrast to the decidedly more anemic assumptions of today."

    I can say for certain this is the only reason that I've kept a game going for the past year and half. We all have adult lives and it's not possible for all of us to make every session, but I've got a sizable pool of casual players that I can usually rustle up 2-3 extra players if need be.

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  3. Sounds like a great session; you're working the science fantasy theme for all it's worth. The moment the trapped NPC said "Cheyenne Mountain," I more than half-expected him to turn out to be Daniel Jackson from Stargate. :)

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  4. Anthony,

    There are more than a few Stargate homages in the Dwimmermount campaign, so I'm hardly surprised you expected that.

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  5. "Do you have a lead pipe or, better yet, a crowbar instead?"

    I see what you did there....

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  6. "There are more than a few Stargate homages in the Dwimmermount campaign,..."

    Most satisfying. :)

    I meant to ask: the swords carried by the human slaves of the Eld - are they "live" swords, or just for ceremony? (I'm surprised the Eld would allow their slaves weapons. If so, they must be sure of their loyalty, or their docility.) And did the players allow them to keep their weapons?

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  7. I meant to ask: the swords carried by the human slaves of the Eld - are they "live" swords, or just for ceremony? (I'm surprised the Eld would allow their slaves weapons. If so, they must be sure of their loyalty, or their docility.) And did the players allow them to keep their weapons?

    You know, it's one of those details I added in haste -- I was making this up more or less as I went -- that I probably shouldn't have, for the reasons you point out. In any case, I now have something to explain later :)

    And, yes, the PCs let the slaves keep their swords. They're very trusting like that.

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  8. a very large pool of rotating players may well be another key element to the longevity of the campaigns of yore

    A lot of our early campaigns had a number of adventuring parties (often only individuals) operating in the same campaign world independently of each other. This worked rather well, because, often one player character would set in motion events that would affect the other characters in the campaign without them being the focus of the events. And naturally, as characters became more powerful, the events they tended to create affected more people.

    Then again, this came from our wargaming roots, and seemed a far more natural approach to us.

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  9. "You know, it's one of those details I added in haste -- I was making this up more or less as I went -- that I probably shouldn't have, for the reasons you point out. In any case, I now have something to explain later :) "

    Heh. :)

    It occurred to me they could be the Chaschmen and Dirdirmen of Vance's "Planet of Adventure:" allowed to carry some weapons (not the best, of course) because neither their masters nor they themselves could ever imagine rebellion... until some outside agent showed them the way.

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  10. James - a couple of questions I've been thinking about.

    For your style of "sandbox play" (which I find very intriguing but have never executed as a referee), can you give us a sense of how much of the information above you had "planned out" versus how much you made up based on the actions of your players? I know your players read the blog so I'm not looking for you to give anything away, but I'm also fascinated by comments you make that seem as though you make up really interesting campaign plot points "on the spot", but then toward the end of your summary above you mention "The additional details about Areon, as well as the Stranger from "Earth" were ideas I'd wanted to work into the campaign at some point", so clearly you had thought about those ahead of time. I'm just trying to understand your process a little more. I have definitely fallen into a pattern of preparing way too much background information for my games, most of which never gets used but which takes time away from me working on the actual things that my players are dealing with.

    Secondly, I remember reading that your daughter plays the female magic-user in the group and I was curious if she still plays. Do you find the experience of refereeing a group that includes old friends plus your daughter to be different? What are the pros/cons? I game with three different groups, all made up of old friends, and I have a hard time imagining us including any of our children in the game. Part of why I game with these friends is to have some "adult time" away from the kids.

    Great write-up, as usual. Writing the campaign summaries for my group is always the thing I dread the most.

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  11. We're ready for you in the blast chamber, Gordon.

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  12. It's nice to see you use the stranger, but I would have thought it more of a player character thing than an NPC.

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  13. It's obviously going to be James' Mary Sue DMPC...note the glasses! ;)

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  14. Sounds like fun. Do you ever podcast your sessions?

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  15. "Sounds like fun. Do you ever podcast your sessions? "

    That would be pure awesomesauce!

    Loved the crowbar detail James. Great summary, as usual.

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  16. I've always been exremely hesitant to introduce modern, Earth-origin characters into my D&D games. I've always felt it would break some sort of wall to have a character in-game from 1989 that could complain about losing a fortune on the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII and fist-pumping while chanting "Woof-woof-woof" after dispatching a goblin. It's too much a focus for the actual players and connection to the real world. Plus you'd have a character who could conceivably make gunpowder (especially as a scientist) and any number of other modern inventions.

    I'd worry it would end up being like the moment the Star Wars Prequels really lost me in the Phantom Menace with the pod-race announcer and his inane modern-Earth appropriate broadcast. It just punctures the illusion that this is some other world and time.

    Maybe I take it too seriously or I'm just a lousy enough DM not to be able to pull it off succesfully.

    Or, I guess it could turn out Dwimmermount is on Earth and Aeron is actually Mars in the distant past (or even future I suppose) and it all might make great sense.

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  17. If you've got a player who would have his character bitch about loosing money on a super bowl bet or would call out woof-woof after killing a goblin- I think the coming from modern day Earth thing would be the least of your problems. I mean who gets transported to a land of magic and dungeons and monsters and talks about football? I guess that all depends on the player. I have a hard time envisioning the guy you're speculating about, truthfully. Furthermore, I'm also not sure how Earth being the Dwimmermount world makes it somehow more sensible, especially considering that a connection to the real world was part of your problem. Beyond that, time travel doesn't seem any more "real" to me than dimensional travel, really. Gunpowder, however, depending on the character of your world, could be an issue. Although, I think actually making muskets and what have you would require a bit of infrastructure and even making one decent gun would probably take a long process of trial and error. High tech stuff, on the other hand, would, imo, require a lot of infrastructure, and even then you could always say that the laws of physics work differently on your world- which is true already if Vancian (or any other kind of) magic is present.

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  18. @Aos

    James is going for a John Carter of Mars sort of feel with this type of character, and I have no problem with that. I didn't mean for my post to be a negative attack on it as such, just a voice of my concerns about introducing such a character in my own adventures.

    When it comes to 1980's tags, it's not that a player would have to say those things, it's just that in order to establish a character as being from 1989 (or whenever), little tags like this would have to come up. Otherwise, what would distinguish the individual from any other character from another place/time or even another location in the Dwimmermount world (say an isolated tribe who knows nothing of the world at large)?

    With gunpowder, early hand cannons weren't anything more than bronze tubes that you lit with an external match. Fire-lances were bamboo. It certainly isn't out of the realm of any metalworking society to create.

    Dwimmermount as Earth (or Earth-related) just makes it easier for me to accept that out of the infinite universes and dimensions and creatures that time/dimension travel implies, a representative of Modern Earth would happen to end up there.

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  19. @Coldstream,
    I get where you're coming from, but, I hope you don't mind just a bit more friendly disagreement.
    John Carter came from a time with popular culture as well, and he didn't break out in to renditions of "Golden Slippers" or "Yellow Rose of Texas" or "Dixie" for that matter. He spends far more time ruminating about how awesome and honorable he is. He mentions his place of origin a couple of times and then moves on. And aside from the social awkwardness he has with Dejha Thoris due to his misunderstandings of Barsoomian culutre, it never seems to matter that much. Really, I have recently read the first three books and it hardly comes up at all. ERB was much more interested in Mars. What sets JC apart is his sense of honor, the shielded nature of his mind and his ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound. It's not where he comes from that matters, but where he is.
    I would think that were I transported to such an environment, I'd be more likely to grouse about the lack of dentistry, toilets or espresso. I travel abroad every year for months at a time, and I hardly talk about the states at all; I certainly don't talk about American Football. Furthermore, I am a scientist (archaeologist) and I work with scientists, and many of them (including me) are completely, or at least mostly, oblivious to popular culture. As for gun powder, again, I see your point, but are inaccurate bronze tubes that are probably less effective than longbows going to mess up your game? And if they are, once again, if Vancian Magic works, the laws of physics are different anyway, so you could just rule out guns and gunpowder and move on. Alternately, you could just embrace it and see where it takes you. If it doesn't work out you could just drop it from your next game.
    As far as the time dimension travel thing goes, from my perspective; you have to end up somewhere, why not a complex with doorways to a whole bunch of different worlds?
    Anyway, I will harass you no further.

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  20. It occurred to me they could be the Chaschmen and Dirdirmen of Vance's "Planet of Adventure:" allowed to carry some weapons (not the best, of course) because neither their masters nor they themselves could ever imagine rebellion... until some outside agent showed them the way.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, that's more or less the solution to which I've tentatively come.

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  21. Martin,

    I plan to answer both your questions in a large post either later today or tomorrow, since they're well worth expanding upon beyond a small comment.

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  22. We're ready for you in the blast chamber, Gordon.

    =)

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  23. It's nice to see you use the stranger, but I would have thought it more of a player character thing than an NPC.

    That was my hope too, but the circumstances for it never really came to pass. Now, depending on how things unfold, Mason Halsey could well become a PC, so I'm not yet prepared to give up on that hope.

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  24. It's obviously going to be James' Mary Sue DMPC...note the glasses! ;)

    In all seriousness, it's actually been years since I had any "pet" NPCs in my campaign. Perhaps it's because it's so rare that I ever get to be anything but a referee, I have "lost the taste" for that kind of attachment to a single character.

    Hmm, that's an interesting thought ...

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  25. Do you ever podcast your sessions?

    Dear Lord, no.

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  26. Loved the crowbar detail James.

    I'm glad so many people approved of that. It got a bit of a laugh at the game table too.

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  27. As far as the time dimension travel thing goes, from my perspective; you have to end up somewhere, why not a complex with doorways to a whole bunch of different worlds?

    I have a post planned presenting my thoughts on dimension/world travel in fantasy campaigns, so I'll do my best to answer some of the questions put forward here.

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  28. Are your players into the pulp fiction that you use as your inspiration for the campaign? If they do or dont read that stuff how has their knowledge or lack of knowledge impacted the campaign? I hope that makes some kind of sense. great read and campaign as always, keep up the great work.

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  29. "In all seriousness, it's actually been years since I had any "pet" NPCs in my campaign. Perhaps it's because it's so rare that I ever get to be anything but a referee, I have "lost the taste" for that kind of attachment to a single character.

    Hmm, that's an interesting thought ... "

    This is unspeakably geeky of me, but when your account got to the glasses and strange clothes I got all excited, "Oh man...James is going to break the fourth wall and put himself in the game..this is going to be awesome/hilarious "Dwimmermount? But..but..I made it...this must be a crazy dream...""

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  30. @ Coldtream and Aos

    Maybe it's because I absolutely adore the "football fight" scene in the Flash Gordon movie, but I would love for a displaced 20th century earthman character to be making football references!

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  31. @ Blair- I love that movie, but that's got to be my least favorite scene. However, in retrospect, I think you are totally, right. I'm going to embrace the football scene.

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  32. Can someone please explain the crowbar reference to me?

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  33. @Desert Scribe

    The crowbar is a reference to the first-person shooter video game Half-life, where the protagonist (a physicist if I remember) finds a crowbar as his first weapon. It's sort of a symbol of the game now.

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  34. Are your players into the pulp fiction that you use as your inspiration for the campaign? If they do or dont read that stuff how has their knowledge or lack of knowledge impacted the campaign? I hope that makes some kind of sense. great read and campaign as always, keep up the great work.

    My players are all pretty well versed in the source material on which I'm drawing.

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  35. Coldstream:
    "When it comes to 1980's tags, it's not that a player would have to say those things, it's just that in order to establish a character as being from 1989 (or whenever), little tags like this would have to come up. Otherwise, what would distinguish the individual from any other character from another place/time or even another location in the Dwimmermount world"

    What a weird statement. This is like saying that every American tourist movie character should be wearing a Hawaiian shirt and act in a particular stereotypical manner.

    In my Wilderlands game the Stranger NPCs and PC sometimes say things indicative of their origin, but I've never seen anything silly or jarring - you *can* play it for laughs of course, like the American Football scene in the early '80s Flash Gordon movie, but that's never necessary. And they vary as much among themselves due to personality, national origin etc as do the native Wilderlanders.

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