Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dwimmermount, Session 17

Session 17 of the Dwimmermount campaign was remarkably uneventful, mostly because it was a session where we kept finding the flow of play interrupted by off-topic banter. That's a common occurrence when either we've missed a session or two and so spend a lot of time catching up with one another or when a player who's not been around in a while shows up and the same pattern repeats itself. I find it hard to get upset about this, since gaming remains for me a social occasion primarily. Likewise, the Dwimmermount campaign is structured in such a way that nothing is lost if we spend a session or two goofing off rather than "getting down to business." I don't consider time spent talking with friends while we're ostensibly supposed to be gaming to be a waste of time and, sometimes, I actually find it a much-needed break for me. Even though refereeing an old school dungeon crawl is incredibly relaxing, I nevertheless appreciate having stretches of time when I don't have to be "on," if you know what I mean.

That said, the party and their henchmen and hirelings did make some progress deeper into the dungeon. First they overcame a room whose floor was trapped by means of Brother Candor's boots of levitation. The cleric of Tyche was the first across the floor, using the walls as a means of pushing himself to the other side. He had a rope tied around him and, once at his destination, he set up a pulley system to pass the boots back and forth to the other party members, each of whom in turn used them to float across the floor without actually touching it and setting off the magical trap they guessed would lead to unhappy results.

The players' ingenuity in overcoming my traps is something at which I regularly marvel. Whenever they open up their packs and MacGyver a means of avoiding death, I'm generally more amused than frustrated, so much so that I suspect I often let them get away with more than I ought to. For example, I probably should have had Brother Candor attacked by some nearby hobgoblins while he was in the midst of setting up the pulley system for his comrades. But I didn't, mostly because the thoughts of a pair of magical boots being passed back and forth across a trapped room was priceless and I never considered the possibility of disupting it. Though I hate to admit it, if my players amuse me, I tend to be far more lenient on them than when they don't. I realize this makes me a bad person.

I also realized that, while not essential, I still benefit greatly from the use of miniatures and dungeon models. I have a very poor spatial sense and, without models, I tend to lose sight of melees. For example, the characters entered a room in which there were a number of trained mountain lions and, although the room had only a single door, I allowed all of the mountain lions to attack on their initiative. Brother Candor's player rightly objected to this and I corrected my error in the next round, but I flubbed it initially, something I wouldn't have done if I'd have had miniatures to look at for the fight. So, next session, I'm not going to attempt to run combats without minis, lest I make the same mistake again. It's a small thing -- the players didn't really care after I corrected myself -- but I prefer to do whatever I can to avoid making mistakes like that and, if miniatures are what I need, so be it.

Short though the session was, we continued to have fun. The characters discovered a section of their current sub-level that was seemingly walled-off from the inside, which has piqued their interest. They were originally gearing up to descend into Level 4, but, now that they've discovered this hidden section, I imagine they'll be spending some time exploring it and trying to determine why it was walled off in the first place.


  1. Good for you not throwing the baby out with the bath water. I find the use of mini's very helpful to keep track of fights and find the anti-mini screed a little silly. I also let my party get away with cool stuff so I will join you in DM heck.

  2. I think a lot of the invective against minis is due to the increased relevance of their use in WotC D&D. My experience is that lots of gamers used them in olden times but just as many didn't use them. They weren't essential and, in the drive to differentiate old school D&D from its by-blows, lots of grognards over-extol the virtues of "minis-less" play.

  3. I still benefit greatly from the use of miniatures and dungeon models<

    After around 30 years of using them, I don't know how anybody does it without them. The sheer fun and chaos of the battlefield is made so easy with something to represent, even if it's dice or boardgame counters.

    Like Jeff I find the anti-mini thing kind of baffling. When I got back into gaming last year, I was suprised by so many people saying "it takes away from the imagination." I just don't get that. I really think it comes from a mindset of not wanting to have to buy minis.

    So James, is all the outside of game chatter before the game, or throughout? A little beforehand is natural, but with limited time on a weeknight I hate when somebody keeps taking us out of it. And there is usually one gung ho player who is like "let's get on with it." Do you not have one of those? I do, but also our kind host has a habit of going into some 5 minute or so story about some girl conquest he made years ago (I never really believe him) or some BS like that. Back in the day when we had 6 hour games chatter was cool. But we are here for a reason. Even at a friendly Friday night poker game you have to get down to brass tacks at some point.

  4. The chatter is both before and during the game. What will happen is something occurs in-game that reminds someone of something and that leads to discussion of this or that related topic and, before you know it, 15 minutes have elapsed.

    Like I said, this doesn't bug me in the slightest. Part of the fun of the campaign is finding an excuse to get together regularly. Efficiency isn't a factor and if we take a little longer to do stuff nowadays than when we were 12, so be it. I have no complaints about our pace.

  5. "Though I hate to admit it, if my players amuse me, I tend to be far more lenient on them than when they don't. I realize this makes me a bad person."

    Yes, you are. You should have rolled for wandering monsters, at the very least.

    If would have been quite amusing to watch Brother Candor placing his fate in the hands of the Lady and hoofing it barefoot back across the room, with Dordagdonar floating above the middle yelling "Pull me back!" to him as hobgoblin crossbows are leveled at them both.

  6. On Minis - I'm not a big fan. There...I've said it. I know I'm the odd man out in this discussion, but I have my reasons. One of them being that I find that it often breaks the "pace" of the game. And during a battle, I find pace to be nearly as important as anything else.

    I suppose I'd better explain myself. When you're building the suspension that leads up to the inevitable encounter you're relying partially on pace. It absolutely kills the mood though when you have to take a break to pull out the minis, draw a map or what have you. I'm having some issues with just this in our 4E game. (along w/ a few other things...if you can imagine.)

    Now saying all that, I can imagine that if you had a set group if minis that you used all the time for "monsters" and another for "PCs" and didn't draw anything, but just used the table top, then maybe the time factor wouldn't be a big deal.

    Me, I like using a piece of paper with letters for the PCs and numbers for the monsters. Works pretty well...

    On chatting during a game - I've vacillated back and forth on this one. When we were in University and used to play huge long sessions on a regular basis, then chatting was a completely acceptable thing.

    Then we got older and our time got tighter. I was often perturbed at the chit chat that would break into the flow of the game. And like Brunomac, I found that it was distracting and took away from our limited time to play.

    Fast forward to today. I don't worry about it so much anymore. I've come full circle like you James, and have realized that this is a social game, a little bit of chit chat isn't a bad long as it involves the whole table. I still take issue with those small side chats between two players while something's going on between the DM and the rest of the table.

  7. James,is it me,or are your Dwimmermount posts getting shorter and less focused on what happened in the session?
    Since the 13th or 14th post you seem to sumarize a lot,giving us less and less details. Are you doing this on purpose? Or there isnt a lot happening in the game?

  8. The last few sessions have been shorter and filled with minutiae, like buying supplies in town, interviewing henchmen, and working out the kinks in the party's maps. I have been summarizing these sessions, because they'd be rather tedious if I went over every bit of detail about the characters' commercial endeavors.

  9. Oh,yes sure,well,I will be waiting for some more action in the future then. Keep up the good work J.

  10. There is exactly one reason why I don't like minis: They are huge sinks of both time and money, and I could never afford either. I think last I checked, they sold a pack of maybe two figures for $12.00. Shenanigans on that.

    So we never used them, and we learned not to need to. In your average dungeon room, the setup is just not complicated enough to really require a map. If it *is* a complicated setup, a quick pencil sketch and Lego guys or extra dice work just fine. Our paladin has permanent dibs on a Lego Predator, which we all think is absolutely hilarious.

  11. On minis: by minis, I meant any representational marker not only actual figures. The new 'old school' movement seems against any form of visual representation as far as I can tell.

  12. We use mini's in our Labyrinth Lord combats because you can have much bigger battles than without. For example, it's much easier to work out the positions of a dozen enemies with minis than without... and you can increase the numbers to much larger levels with ease. It's also fun to make the fighters scramble to try and protect the party mage when they spy a miniature heading right for him...

  13. To be honest, it always seemed to me that Minis were one of the very foremost old-school accessories, largely because my 3.5 group staunchly rejected them.

    I do, however, consider off-topic discussion to be practically essential to what is at its core a social activity.

    Lastly, letting your players have a little leeway if they're being spectacularly clever about how to go things is the golden rule a DM should always remember. Namely, "If it's a really cool idea, you can afford to fudge." Always remember you're running the game, not vice versa.

  14. Hi, James, I'm a recent lurker. Your posts are consistently fun to read. Thanks!

    I've never run or played in a game that used lead miniatures and rarely played any upon hexes or grids. However, almost every game made use of representative tokens or drawings at some point in the action. Often the tokens were simply spare dice.

    At the moment I'm taken with the idea of amassing a collection of generic pawns in various colors. It seems to me a solution with comparatively small expense or fuss.

    Of course, if I had all the time in the world, I'd create customized paper miniatures galore. ;)

    As for leeway for players, from what you describe it doesn't seem to me you're making shameful allowances. Rather, you're basking in your collective cleverness, which is pretty swell.

  15. We use mini's in our Labyrinth Lord combats because you can have much bigger battles than without.

    Yes, that's something I've noticed as well. I've run combats with 20+ combatants with ease thanks to the combination of OD&D's rules and the way minis enable me to see the whole fight with ease.

  16. We play on a large glass-topped table that I scrawl on with dry-erase markers. It is quick and dirty and very effective, especially because I have some small modicum of artistic talent and can normally capture the scene with just a few quick strokes.

    This also obviates the need for mapping on paper to a large extent because the table is big enough that I can just draw out each room that the PCs enter and they can just look at the level. One of the players has a digital camera and takes pictures of the tabletop before I erase anything and then he emails the group the pics from the last session.

    This has been awesome, everyone has a collection of maps and drawings of huge battles to look at when they are jonesing for the next session!