Monday, May 4, 2009

Dwimmermount, Session 11

Yesterday saw the first session of the campaign in which the majority of the action took place not in Dwimmermount but in the nearby city-state of Adamas. The characters had intended to get the mysterious silvery-black oil they'd discovered analyzed by an alchemist. Since Muntburg has no alchemists of its own, Adamas was the only option. There they made the acquaintance of a fellow named Jasper, who agreed to look at the oil and gives his expert opinion on it (for a fee, of course).

While the characters waited, they all went about their business, with Dordagdonar penning multiple scrolls of read languages since it's a spell he thought useful but unworthy of being memorized while adventuring most of the time. The characters keep themselves quite poor -- more on that in a bit -- so the elf thought he'd save himself some money by hunting down some of the materials he needed to make the scrolls. One of the ingredients was the encephalic fluid of pixies. As it happened, Pike had kept the corpses of some pixies he'd encountered in Dwimmermount. The problem was that Pike doesn't trust Dordagdonar (and rightly so, since he'd cast sleep on the fighting man inadvertently during one combat), so it took a fair bit of alcohol before Pike would agree to give up the pixies to the elf for his scribing.

Meanwhile, Brother Candor visited the library of the temple of Tyche to do some research into both the cult of Turms Termax and Dwimmermount itself. He discovered Turm had once been a mortal man and was a rebel against the anti-magical tendencies of the Thulians. For his rebellion, the Thulians sought him out and they eventually did capture and brutally torture him, except that, instead of dying, he achieved apotheosis and escaped, now an immortal being. Oddly, and without explanation, the same Thulians who slew him then adopted Turms as one of their primary divine patrons. Of course, once the Thulians turned to evil, the worship of Turms -- and indeed the practice of magic itself -- fell into disrepute, since it was closely associated with their misrule.

Dwimmermount itself seems to have been a Thulian military base. This jibes with what they've seen within -- lots of armories, barracks, etc. Dwimmermount was very carefully guarded by the imperial army and very few outsiders were allowed into it, the primary exceptions being members of the Guild of Alchemists. This naturally sparked Brother Candor's interest and he decided to go and check on Jasper earlier than originally planned. Taking the party with him, they found the alchemist's shop was closed. Brakk the goblin was able to open the lock and get them inside. Jasper was nowhere to be found in the front area of the shop. His office in the back was behind a locked door that Brakk successfully recognized as trapped. Unfortunately for him, he wasn't able to remove the trap, resulting in a bucket of acid falling on his head. He failed his saving throw and took more damage than he had hit points, leaving behind a smoking corpse.

Inside the office, the characters found Jasper -- dead and nailed to the ground with long spike made of silvery-black metal. Brother Candor recognized that this was the Final Torment of Turms Termax, the one from which he escaped by divine ascension. Naturally, this led him to believe that cultists of Turms had slain Jasper and taken the oil sample they gave him. Of course, he couldn't prove this. He rued that he could not yet cast speak with dead (being only 4th level), but figured the priests of Tyche could do so. Without a second thought, Dordagdonar chopped off Jasper's head, placed it in a jar of formaldehyde, and explained that it'd be simpler to transport just the head than the whole body. The party dithered about what to do with Brakk, figuring they owed him a burial, but also realizing that his dead body made it less likely anyone would suspect others were in the alchemist shop. Brakk would look like a burglar that ran afoul of one of Jasper's traps. The party also spoke with the owner of the candle shop next door, where they learned that Jasper often visited the temple of Typhon. He had a regular client there among the god's priesthood.

Returning to the temple of Tyche, they had speak with dead cast upon Jasper's head. In the process, they learned that Jasper was killed by masked men. These men took the oil, which Jasper revealed was "azoth," which Brother Candor came across in his researchers as being "philosopher's mercury," a rare element believed to be a distillation of magic iteself and a key ingredient in transmuting base materials into higher ones. According to some books he read, azoth played a role in the apotheosis of Turms, since even mortal flesh was a base material that could be transmuted into something higher.

The party then concluded they needed to find out whom Jasper had visited and might have told about the oil. They enlisted the aid of a woman named Gaztea, a thief and rumor-monger. After a few hours, she informed them that Jasper had visited a priest of Typhon named Saidon, who was a collector of rare artifacts, relics, and exotic items. He was a regular customer of Jasper, but he did not seem to be in possession of the azoth. Gaztea couldn't prove that Jasper had visited anyone else but Saidon. The party soon worried that someone might trace the azoth back to them, so they hurried back to Jasper's shop, where they were met by the candle maker, who informed them that the constabulary had visited the shop and were looking for information about the murder and theft there. Fearing that the constabulary might come looking for them, they hightailed it out of Adamas, taking Gaztea with them as a replacement for Brakk.

The session was a very good and a turning point for the campaign, since it's the first time that active plot elements came into play. As I explained to my players, I'd been expecting this session to occur earlier and had had the broad outlines of it in mind for several weeks. However, they kept forgetting to return to Adamas, being quite content to stay in Muntburg and explore Dwimmermount. I'm not one to push them to do anything they don't want to do; this is a sandbox campaign, after all. I have sprinkled lots of little plot elements throughout, but it's only now that they're starting to knit together into something vaguely coherent -- and it took 11 sessions. Personally, I have no complaints about this, since the players set the pace rather than me. Still, I am both surprised and strangely gratified that Dwimmermount alone has held their attention for so long.

I'll also note that the "Dave Arneson rule" for converting gold into XP is working beautifully. I only give XP on treasure that is spent. This means that every time they find gold or gems or whatever in the dungeon, they have to use it to buy things for themselves, whether they be scrolls, new gear, hirelings, or just a night out on the town if they want to gain experience points from them. This has served two purposes: 1) They must return to Adamas if they want to spend big sums of money and 2) They are perpetually poor. I am very satisfied with this, as I am with the campaign in general -- an excellent session overall.


  1. Sounds like a great session and a good reminder that investigative stories can work in retro-style games. One question: Didn't priests of Tyche wonder about the severed head they were brought? :)

  2. The priests of Tyche deal with adventurers all the time, so the severed head was hardly outside their normal experiences :)

  3. Relating to your use of the "XP for GP spent" rule, are you using rules for training costs? I find that is a good way to keep the PCs lean and hungry...

  4. There are no training costs in this campaign. I used those rules back in my AD&D days, but I never really considered them here.

  5. >good reminder that investigative stories can work in retro-style games<

    What would lead one to believe otherwise?

    I actually find this a refreshing change from the dungeon stuff. A city visit after ages in the dungeon area is always a good boost. Let's the players feel there is a world around them. Be careful, James, or there's going to be roleplaying going on soon.

    In my current campaign I have spent 11 games getting the players to the dungeon, and so much is going on it will maybe be at least two more. I originally meant for it to take around 3 games to get there. In my case, getting into the dungeon will be the refreshing change.

  6. I must have missed that you switched to Dave's XP rules. You didn't use them from the start, did you?

    Anyway, I have always considered them the most sensible way to handle XP ever since I read about them a few years back. For a lot of reasons I haven't been able to get a D&D game going since them, and actually try them out.

    I use very plain and by the book rules for my own T&T campaign (it is my first one, so I'm not house ruling more than absolutely necessary), and gold have never been a basis for XP in T&T. Maybe I should try it out.

    Great fun to get to know a bit more about the mysterious liquid found in the dungeon! I have probably been just as curious about it as your players. :)

  7. I've used Dave's XP rules since the beginning, but it's only now that I've really begun to see serious benefits from doing so. I am glad I stuck with this approach.

  8. What would lead one to believe otherwise?From my point of view, nothing*, but some people think retro-style games are all dungeon-bash.

    *(Of course, some divinatory spells make maintaining a mystery more difficult for a GM who hasn't thought ahead.)

  9. Huh. Now *I'm* intrigued. I want to know what's going on, and I'm not even playing. Very interesting stuff.

    We recently hit a similar point in the Traveller game -- all the PCs semi-random investigations are coalescing into something resembling a plot. It's a really satisfying aspect of sandbox play that I'm just now discovering; I like seeing what shakes out of the intersection between my random hints and the PC's interests.

  10. Ditto. My Call of Cthulhu campaign started as a set of seemingly unrelated scenarios, but now the players are making connections and starting their own investigations, and my Cthulhu-as-sandbox experiment seems to be taking off.

  11. Has anyone else tried this rule of XP for spent gold, and tried also, XP for gold (you either keep the gold or convert it into XP)?

    I want to try out one of those two methods, and am looking for others experiences using such rules. Allowing to get XP for shopping doesn't seem so bad.

  12. I'm digging the alchemical element. I've played in too many campaigns where magical happenings are swept under the rug as "just magic". Putting it in terms vaguely representative of real world occult beliefs actually makes magic seem more fantastic, in my opinion.

    I've been busy laying all sorts of (mostly) unrelated plot threads in my own campaign since "rebooting" it. The players have already started drawing connections, even where there are none. (of course now that they've done so I'll have to start weaving some of their assumptions into the plot!).

    Even though my campaign seems to have a much different vibe than Dwimmermount, this blog and many of the comments it generates have been an invaluable resource in improving my game. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  13. Great session. It's always exciting when the players start pulling on some of those lines you've been laying about. I think gaming is at its best when no one knows where things are headed.

  14. I find both Oddysey and Kelvin Green comments to be interesting as my own campaign has been evolving in the same direction. My original intention was to have something like the West Marches, but I've found that my players--like nature--seem to abhor a vacuum. They've managed to start to string together all the background stories (originally there just for color) of characters and locales with all the moving parts (the semi-random events and encounters I've throw at them) into an organically-evolving meta-plot.

    I have to admit that it's been great fun, sorta of like our own homegrown D&D Lost in the making with even me not exactly sure how it all fits together.

  15. Quite so, ckutalik! There is a downside to the sandbox though; the players seem to cheerfully ignore the plot hooks and rumours you have actually planned in favour of chasing some off-the-cuff bit of business you improvised not ten minutes earlier!

    I'm lucky in that we only meet for about three to four hours every week, and we don't always play my Cthulhu game. As a result, I can stall at the table and then spend the time in-between the sessions to prepare for the players.

    Of course, they then go and ignore that, but that's the game! ;)

  16. There is a downside to the sandbox though; the players seem to cheerfully ignore the plot hooks and rumours you have actually planned in favour of chasing some off-the-cuff bit of business you improvised not ten minutes earlier!Something like that was the genesis for one of the most interesting plots currently running, so it's not all disadvantage. But I wouldn't want to run a game like this if I wasn't very comfortable with improvising on-the-fly. Though, to be fair, I wouldn't want to run any game if I wasn't comfortable with improvising. There's really no way around it, I find.

  17. Nope, I quite agree. The unexpected twists are part of the fun!

  18. Dwimmermount itself seems to have been a Thulian military base..
    This threw me as I had imagined the Dungeon as an unreal location, one of the best Old-School ideas. A quick look at your comment on previous Thulian post set me straight. Your in-post links are essential!

    Concerning maps, how did you run your players in your city? I prefer an overall impression map of a city, with hasty sketches of streets and buildings as players move to significant locations. These sketches become fixed post-game with more careful draftsmanship and used in subsequent games.

  19. Concerning maps, how did you run your players in your city? I prefer an overall impression map of a city, with hasty sketches of streets and buildings as players move to significant locations. These sketches become fixed post-game with more careful draftsmanship and used in subsequent games.

    I have a pre-defined map of the city's boundaries, which includes the locations of the most important places. Other individual locales are made up on the fly and then become fixed as play proceeds.