Monday, January 19, 2009

Dwimmermount (Session 3)

Session 3 of my Dwimmermount campaign occurred yesterday, despite the absence of two of the players. This left only Brother Candor, cleric of Tyche, and Dordagdonar the elf, along with their hirelings to return to Level 1. Because their explorations last time stalled owing to the discovery of a large chamber they believed to be occupied by a great number of orcs, they hired an additional hireling -- an archer named Sam -- for additional muscle, given the fact that both Pike and Vladimir weren't present.

Their explorations led them to encounter primarily orcs, who seem to have taken up residence in this area of the dungeon. They even discovered yet another hidden entrance from the outside -- a mountainside cave -- that they presumed the orcs used to enter in the first place. These orcs seemed to have a penchant for using wolves as guards and companions. Unfortunately, I didn't have any wolf miniatures.

Along the way, they made great strides in mapping out more of the first level, discovering several more sets of stairs they assumed led to a lower level, although they have yet to test that theory. They also circumvented a few traps -- they're getting better at detecting them -- and stumbled across a few unexplained oddities whose purpose they haven't yet determined to any degree of satisfaction. This was the first session without any deaths in the adventuring party, so, by that metric, it was a great success.

I continue to find the unfolding of the campaign enjoyable and enlightening. I won't go so far as to say I'm watching history recapitulate itself, but there is a sense in which I am seeing my players go through a similar process as many early gamers did in coming to grips with what a megadungeon campaign is and how best to proceed within it. I take particular pleasure in the way that the map has been used. They've been able to intuit the likely location of secret doors, traps, and other obstacles simply by looking at the map and that makes me very happy. Dungeon mapping really is a lost art and I genuinely believe a lot is lost by its having fallen by the wayside over the years. Likewise, the lack of a thief class had been a boon to my players, who've developed very good instincts about when, where, and how to look for traps, as well as ways to overcome them.

I'm alslo enjoying watching the characters slowly take on distinct personalities. Brother Candor, for example, is genuinely concerned about the fates of his hirelings, whereas Dordagdonar treats non-elves as "ephemerals," as he calls them, and shows a certain nonchalance about their fates that's at once disturbing and strangely endearing. Brak, the goblin torch bearer, has proven his worth on more than one occasion. He's also become a source of comic relief, which I think is important. In my experience, most roleplaying campaigns need moments of light-heartedness and the secret to preventing their becoming too "jokey" is to find a good in-game "safety valve" for such humor. Brak is it in the Dwimmermount campaign and it's helped keep our sessions fun without descending into utter silliness.

Once again, a good session. Of course, we had brownies and ice cream, so of course it was a good session.


  1. Good stuff. I appreciate the insights into the issues that you and the group encounter. I am especially interested to see how you keep things fresh in a mega dungeon campaign.

  2. One of the "secrets" I have already discovered is to make sure that there are always lots of options available for the characters. That means plenty of lateral movement -- sub-levels, many entrances/exits -- as well as a good variety of encounters. Nothing kills the fun like having to wade through room after room of the same monsters. I'm also slowly building up the outside world and providing reasons for the PCs to get involved in things outside the dungeon. I don't want that to overshadow the dungeon, at least not yet, but it's important that the groundwork be laid for it so you can take advantage of it later on.

  3. Do you roleplay the hirelings or are they merely beasts of burden? Do you allow a player to take control of a hireling if he wants, make rolls etc? I suppose they are less likely to be played realistically that way but I would think its a drain on a DM to keep track of hireling behaviour.

  4. The players generally control their own PC's hirelings, but I use morale rules derived from Moldvay (it's simple and easily transportable) so that the players don't turn them into nameless cannon fodder. So far, I've been roleplaying the hirelings to the extent it's been necessary, but I'd certainly welcome a player who decided to take up the mantle and do so.

  5. The lower levels must be explored!

  6. I only ever played 1st ed AD&D and dungeon creation never appealed to me. I associated them (mistakenly as I'm learning) with a rudimentary repetitive kind of play. Its great to see how a dungeon expedition is properly mounted with hirelings, equipment and a mapmaking player. Intriguing but odd.

  7. Great stuff, James. You're spot-on about the need for some comic relief at times, especially in a campaign which is mostly serious in tenor. In my own, one of the characters came across a fairy dragon which befriended her and provided such, as well as saving the party's bacon on two or three occasions.

  8. It's a pleasure to see the campaign unfold. You've really inspired me to begin work on my own large dungeon.

  9. How is the rate of XP gain so far? I seem to recall Moldvay Basic suggests that some PCs should likely be levelling up after 3 adventures (ie sessions).

  10. How is the rate of XP gain so far?

    After three sessions, only the cleric is level 2. In general, I'm pretty pleased with the rate of XP gain and the characters are learning that defeating monsters isn't the most efficient way to earn experience, especially when most of them have very little treasure. I suspect that, as time goes on, the players will become a little more bold and probably gain more XP per session, since they're playing it safe for now. I see this as a feature rather than a bug, though, and much prefer that it be the players who determine the rate of XP gain by how they choose to proceed.

  11. I love the irony: using Third Edition miniatures (including a very dungeonpunk orc) in an Old School game.

  12. Had I more metal minis of the appropriate sort, I'd use them and in fact plan to do so in the future, but, for now, they're all I have ready access to. Since they're intended primarily as "markers" rather than anything else, they're really no different than using dice to represent wolves.

  13. Yes, you're right, although I've recently been buying up lots of different types of miniatures with the aim of covering all the main monster types so I can at least represent them. A couple of times I've had my players saying "What's that?" when I pull a miniature out (it was actually a ghoul) and then hear my description of it. In a lot of my combats I have multiple types of enemy and I think the miniatures do help with instantly telling the different types apart and roughly what they might be (of course, I try not to tell them what a creature is and leave them guessing!).

  14. I agree entirely that miniatures can serve an important role at certain moments in the game. But I just had to chuckle to see Wizards of the Coast so well represented, considering the nature of this blog. Sorry if my sense of irony gave offense; I'll now return to my normal lurker status.

  15. Lance,

    You didn't offend me, so no worries on that score :)

    FWIW, I don't bear any particular ill will toward WotC, although I do believe they've undertaken a number of decisions that run counter to the origins and spirit of D&D, but then so did TSR.

  16. Hi James,

    Great stuff. I don't know what it is, but I certainly do love reading game recaps.

    Couple of quick questions if you don't mind.

    1. Would it be possible for you to mention some of the "creative" solutions that the players have come up with in order to work around not having the traditional "trap finder" class? Seems to me that there are a lot of differences between how an old school game is played from the player's perspective versus a newer generation game.

    2. This is more of a personal observation...But it leads to a question. I have found that using minis seems to have taken away from my game. The players have the tendency to listen less and use their eyes more. Physical eye vs. mind's eye, if you will. And because of this you get more players tuning out. A few of the other reasons I'm not keen on minis is that they take time to set up, time to move and take away from the theatre of the mind aspect of the game. It's tougher to imagine the daring fighting man leaping across a table, slashing at the orc captain.... if you've got a mini that you're moving "two squares"...etc.

    Now, saying that, I do understand that there's a tactical aspect that's a LOT more clearly represented with minis than without. I don't argue that fact one iota. I suppose that I depend a lot less on the "tactics" per se than I do the visuals and "color" of what's taking place.

    The question then: Do you find any drawbacks in utilizing minis in a game such as Swords and Wizardry?

    Kudos on the game James. I'm tremendously enjoying reading the exploits.

  17. >In my experience, most roleplaying campaigns need moments of light-heartedness and the secret to preventing their becoming too "jokey" is to find a good in-game "safety valve" for such humor<

    I dunno how it happens, but there are lots of fun, often ironic, humor moments in my games. I guess it's one of my joys - the humor that just seems to come out of players and characters situations. I haven't had an outbreak of game-killing silly willy shit since I kicked a mouthy player out of a session (to much applause as he left) over 20 years ago. I am truly blessed that the humor in my sessions comes naturally, apparently with a built in safety valve.

    I think as long as you try to stick to dramatic tension a bit, things don't get too out of hand character-wise.

    The funniest part of my latest campaign was when one of my new players, Jeff, got horrible rolls for stats for his cleric. I even give best 3 of 4, and still horrible. I eventually had him roll up another set, just as bad (and a bit worse). After moving a couple of points around, he still ended up with a 7 Dex so he could have a decent wisdom. It was almost supernatural how bad he rolled. When he said, matter of factly, that it was OK because this happened every time in every game and he was resigned to it, I almost bust a gut holding in my laughter (I had only just met the guy - I'd have been ruthless with a friend). These funny moments were great, because most of us had just met less than an hour earlier, and it was a great ice breaker. I can't wait to see what happens with his next character.

    It's a bummer that all the players can't come to all the games, James. You at least have things set up to accomadate that. I tend to leave sessions in a situation where just one player not being there cancels the session. Just because the guy with the wizard can't make it next week, I gotta go another couple of weeks before gaming. Damn.

    >I'm also slowly building up the outside world and providing reasons for the PCs to get involved in things outside the dungeon<

    That's a good idea, because you'll be ready with a bunch of possibilities once you decide the Dungeon needs a break. Just like my long-running game world, things start with a dungeon, and then the world develops around it. Classic way to build your world up. Starts with a dungeon, tavern, and equipment shop and grows and grows...

  18. 1. Would it be possible for you to mention some of the "creative" solutions that the players have come up with in order to work around not having the traditional "trap finder" class?

    They've learned to love the 10-foot pole for one :) They're quite observant too, taking note of the nature of the environment ahead of them and employing small objects from inside the dungeon to test suspicious areas for traps or other devices. They also carry with them things like iron spikes, block and tackle, and so forth to overcome obstacles they encounter.

    2. This is more of a personal observation...But it leads to a question. I have found that using minis seems to have taken away from my game.

    I've been very inconsistent in my use of minis over the years, so I've played D&D with and without them. I don't have a strong preference, but I have found that having a dungeon model on the table makes the mapper's job easier and helps provide a good point of reference for all the characters' prodding and poking and checking for traps.