Monday, January 12, 2009

Dwimmermount (Session 2)

Dwimmermount continued yesterday, although with a slightly different roster of players. One player (whose character was Vladimir the dwarf) couldn't attend and a player who couldn't make it the previous week (whose character was Pike the gravedigger-turned-fighting man -- he used a shovel as his weapon initially) was able to attend. It'll be nice if the group ever manages to reach full strength or, better yet, get additional players beyond four, but, for now, I'm just content with consistent play, since, as I noted before, I think it's a key both to success generally and specifically in the case of old school play.

In session 2, the players took the map they created the previous week and started to examine it for routes they'd not yet explored, as well as the likely locations of secret doors or other hidden features. I was very pleased about this, because it showed the utility of actual map making, which is something of a lost art in the hobby. I also liked how the presence of a map allowed the players to plan their return to the dungeon. They were more knowledgeable about the level's contents and, by looking at the map, they could make good surmises as to what they might encounter elsewhere within it and prepared themselves accordingly. Excellent.

In the absence of the thief class, Vladimir the dwarf had functioned as the party's trap finder. Since Vladimir's player was unable to attend, Brother Candor decided to take on a second hireling (in addition to Lorne the lantern-bearer, brother of the ill-fated Lars) who was similarly skilled. This resulted in the employment of Brak, a goblin, who worked quite cheaply but whose ultimate loyalty was somewhat more malleable than his dwarven counterpart. Henga the shield maiden remained in the service of Dordagdonar the elf, having proved useful as a moveable barrier around which he could shoot arrows.

The session involved a lot more exploration than did the previous one. Part of it was because the players had a better sense of the general layout of the first level and could thus use their time more efficiently. Part of it was that they were simply more bold. They have quickly internalized the notion that, since looted treasure is more valuable in terms of XP, it's in their best interests to find as much of the shiny stuff as they can. Of course, this also resulted in more encounters with dungeon denizens too, but they showed a good command of tactics to give them an upper hand. They also demonstrated an understanding of discretion being the better part of valor, since they avoided entering a large room filled with what they believe is a large contingent of orcs, complete with a leader type, all decked out in ancient Thulian armor. I was similarly pleased at the way they handled traps, even going so far as to haul in logs lumbered from a copse of trees on the face of Dwimmermount to prevent a portcullis trap from activating and trapping them in a room.

Poor Lorne joined his brother in death, which required another trip back to Muntburg to bury him -- can't be too sure in a dungeon. The players worried that, after two men in their employ had died, they might start to get a reputation that'd make it hard to hire more men in the future. So they took several days to travel to the City-State of Adamas to look for alternative sources of labor. In the end, after having bought new and better gear and stocking up on supplies unavailable at Muntburg, they decided against hiring any "city folk," figuring they were more likely to betray them or at least prove unreliable. Of course, the same could be said of Brak, but no one seemed to care, probably because he quickly developed a quirky sketch of a personality that made him endearing. Should he ever die, I expect there will be much mourning.

I was very pleased with how the session unfolded. We created a new house rule regarding the use of small and improvised weapons (roll 2D6 and take the lowest for damage) and the groundwork has been laid for the further fleshing out of the world beyond the dungeon. Although the players only visited Adamas briefly, it will loom largely in the future, as will Muntburg, though I intend to keep the focus on Dwimmermount primarily for a while longer. They just discovered one likely set of stairs leading to the second level, but they're far from clearing level one, so there may be other options.

As a referee, I'm finding this a very satisfying experience. It's much more laid-back than the more "story-heavy" games I've run in the past and, despite my more on-the-fly approach to it, the whole thing hangs together nicely. Characterization is starting to emerge among both the PCs and NPCs, but it's still inchoate, much like the sense of the wider world. I also find it great to watch the recapitulation of history at my table, as the players find themselves coming to similar conclusions as early players about how best to deal with certain things in the game. I'm learning a great deal from the experience and expect to learn much more as we play more.

Both my children (ages six and nearly-nine) hovered around the table at various points, taking a keen interest in the proceedings. I've played a simple version of D&D with my daughter in the past and I think she wants to get in on the action again. My son was more impressed with the dungeon blocks, from which he constructed his own underground lair. That's his creation in the picture above. As distracting as their presence occasionally was -- and I'm grateful for the indulgence of my players as I catered to the kids' questions and comments -- it's also great to see them enraptured by what we were doing. I remember well reading articles during the 1979-1981 period that showed photographs of the elaborate dungeon set-ups of groups that used handmade blocks and terrain to complement their painted minis and being awestruck. I was already playing the game, of course, but those articles had a powerful effect on my young imagination and almost certainly played a role in cementing my lifelong love of this game. We'll see if my games have a similar effect on my children. If the minis and blocks don't inspire them, perhaps my cool mask will instead ...


  1. I'm confused ... that's not your kitchen table, and that's not your gaming table downstairs. Have you -- gasp! -- changed furniture in the four years since I was in your place?!

  2. Actually, that is the same kitchen/dining room table we've had since we move to the place, so I suspect your memory is just off. We rarely played upstairs back in those days.

  3. It sounds like it was a fantastic game! I was thrilled when my step daughter (22) asked if she could play, in the middle of my last session of my solo game. It makes it so much fun when someone can just join and have fun that easily.

    I think I like your writeups - succinct and sharing the gems of what was learned/experienced that made it memorable.

  4. I'm really glad that you are documenting your Dwimmermount campaign. It helps to see how an old school sandbox campaign can organically develop over time.

  5. Just de-lurking to agree whole-heartedly with M.gunnerQuist. I'm enjoying the "journal" a lot, keep it up!

  6. Goddamn this is so old school. I mean, a dungeon you enter and exit with each session. And hirelings! I consider myself very old school, but for the most part hirelings never had much of a place in my world. Sure, I would have let players hire people if they wanted to, but for some reason they hardly ever did.

    In a true killer dungeon though, it's best to have somebody around to stick their arm in a cubby hole for you.

    Speaking of which, what killed those hirelings?

    James, I'm also curious about the character encampment before and after sessions. Have they set up a temporary camp on the mountain itself? If so, any wandering monsters for those moments of the game spent outside?

  7. Congratulations on session 2. I also enjoy reading about your campaign progress. I am curious, where did the dungeon set pieces come from?


  8. Speaking of which, what killed those hirelings?

    Lars, the original hireling, died from a failed save against a poison gas trap. His brother Lorne was slain by an orc.

    James, I'm also curious about the character encampment before and after sessions. Have they set up a temporary camp on the mountain itself? If so, any wandering monsters for those moments of the game spent outside?

    The PCs never had a camp either within or without the dungeon itself, though Brother Candor did re-consecrate a shrine to Tyche so that he could conceivably use it as such in the future. Typically, though, they'd leave the dungeon and head back to Muntburg, the nearby keep, and recuperate there for up to a week to regain their hit points and re-supply. About three weeks of campaign time has already passed this way.

  9. I am curious, where did the dungeon set pieces come from?

    They're Hirst Arts blocks crafted by a friend of mine.

  10. >the nearby keep, and recuperate there for up to a week to regain their hit points and re-supply. About three weeks of campaign time has already passed this way<

    Sounds like some hardcore Vegas gamblers I know.

    Poison. There's another big reason hirelings are around in old school D&D.

  11. Aww! Your kids were interested? That is so adorable. I hope if I ever have kids they'll want in on the hobby.