Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Dwimmermount, Session 52

I have to admit that, lately, I've been finding it a little bit harder to get into the right frame of mind for my weekly Dwimmermount sessions. A big part of it is that my mind has shifted into sci-fi overdrive as I work on the revision to the Thousand Suns rulebook. I've been spending a lot of time doing that, staying up late on some nights, and I've been more tired than usual and that too makes it hard to shift my thoughts back to fantasy. Now, as you probably know by now, I'm a big believer in barreling through lulls in enthusiasm for a particular campaign. In my opinion, a successful campaign is founded greatly on perseverance in the face of gamer ADD, which I consider a scourge on the hobby that's greatly warped our sense of what a campaign is and ought to be.

This week's session also had an internal issue that kept me from getting right back into the swing of things. At the end of the last session, the party holed up in a room hidden behind a secret door in order to make camp and sleep so as to recover spells, etc. That makes good sense and I applaud my players for their decision to do this. Otherwise, their characters were likely to wind up as dead as Dordagdonar's henchmen, Angrboda, whose preserved body Murn the dwarf crossbowman is still lugging around. Brother Candor has nine more days in which to use his scroll of raise dead on her if he ever intends to do so (He hasn't so far because of the weakened state in which that would leave her).

Anyway, resting means that the players get to spend a lot of time deciding which spells to memorize for the next day and, because they were doing so from inside a dungeon level without any obvious means of escape, they decided to take even more time than usual determining their spell selections. Given this, I decided to use this as an opportunity to correct the spellcasting characters' spell slot charts. Since the campaign began using Swords & Wizardry, shifted to OD&D, then shifted a hybrid of OD&D plus Labyrinth Lord, there was some confusion as to how many spells per level each PC received. I decided now was the time to firmly establish that and I did so by going back to the LBB figures (which, I should add again, are faithfully reproduced in Original Edition Characters for Labyrinth Lord -- it's the only clone product I know of that does this for OD&D).

Once that was done, actual play started, but sufficient time had been spent in dealing with spell selection and the new spell slot numbers that some momentum was lost and I never really got focused on the game. Still, some exploration was achieved -- a fair bit, actually -- but most of it will probably only seem valuable in retrospect. The PCs encountered a wandering gelatinous cube, which they quickly dispatched, inside of which were some largely worthless gems, though, as Gaztea remarked ruefully, these gems were the most treasure they'd found in a long time. The party then decided to move in a different direction on the level than they'd gone previously, in hopes of further expanding their map of the House of Portals. This led to the discovery of yet another room whose contents had been obviously removed, judging by the marks on the floor and walls. Dordagdonar began to wonder why so much furniture had been removed and why.

Further into the dungeon, the characters found a circular room, with a set of circular stairs leading up. Inside the room were two statues, one of a man clad in armor -- very similar in appearance to the one they encountered in the sanctuary earlier -- and a beautiful woman wearing a nondescript robe. The stairs led into another circular room about 40 feet above, but egress from that room was blocked by two closed portcullises. Brother Candor wasn't bothered by this, as he noted that Dordagdonar had knock memorized and could thus open one of the gates if needed. In OD&D, this is a plausible interpretation of the spell's description, but in AD&D, it's explicitly forbidden. I can't fathom why this might be the case, but I wonder if it had anything to do with lifting gates being the role of the high Strength fighter.

Beyond the circular room was a long hallway filled with alcoves that held frighteningly lifelike statues of four-armed ape-like creatures, each of which held a nasty weapon. The floor of the room was covered by the tattered remains of a fancy carpet and there was a set of very large double doors at the end of the hallway. The characters chose not to move forward, fearing that the statues would come to life -- this seems to be a commonplace in Dwimmermount -- and decided it'd be best to scout in different directions to see what they could find. This scouting led to a different circular room in which the characters at first thought they saw someone (or something) but that was shown to be empty when they cautiously entered. The characters continued to see shapes out of the corners of their eyes, but, when they turned, they saw nothing and the wand of enemy detection revealed no immediate dangers. They also heard low, whispered voices whose words they could not make out, but, again, there was no evidence that anyone was in the room with them.

The room also held a large, semi-transparent black globe that floated in the center of the room without any obvious means of support. In the center of the globe they could see a faint white light. The globe moved ever so slightly up and down, as if it were bouncing but it was nevertheless quite well secured to its place in the room and nothing the characters did in its vicinity caused it to move more vigorously or to stop slowly bouncing. The party took pains not to touch it, since they hadn't yet decided whether it was dangerous or not.

And that's where things sort of petered out for the evening. As I said, it was a less productive session than I'd have liked and I take a good part of the blame for that, but, as much as I believe in pushing through rough patches in enthusiasm, it's not as if one can simply manufacture it by doing so. In the grand scheme of things, a few mediocre sessions are inevitable, so I'm not too worried about another one. Still, after the fun we had in the previous week, it was a little disappointing that the most recent session didn't carry that momentum forward.


  1. Eh. I wouldn't call it a loss by any means; you've introduced several interesting mysteries that should keep the players speculating ... and maybe a bit paranoid.

  2. I agree with Anthony. It sounds fine to me. I'm especially interested to see if they ever figure out the cause of the mysterious whispering and shadows just beyond their sight.

  3. It's not gamer ADD that will kill this campaign, it's the never ending home brew campaign style that will. The open ended "keep going until we think of something else to do" style of play that was pervasive during the 1E days just does not work.

    You should try the Paizo Adventure Paths. They have a beginning, middle, and end. The DM and the players always know how close to the end the campaign is. When you have this knowledge you can pace your energy, enthusiasm, and creativity and never have a "rough patch". Once the campaign ends you roll up new characters and start another. I have been playing with the same group of players since our 1E days and we are on our third adventure path. We have never experienced the depth of play and excitement that we find with each AP. The homebrew stuff is dead for us and our gaming has never been better.

  4. @ Cibet

    I imagine that there are players that like their rails, but I am not a fan of it.

    At our table we prefer to make our own paths. Being told "No, you can't do that" because it doesn't follow some predetermined 'path' or 'story' is sort of the antitheses of our play style; or if I may be so broad as to say the play style of old school gaming.

  5. @-C

    How is being trapped in an endless dungeon NOT on rails again? The whole point of the "dungeon" is to keep the players on the rails.

    In any event it sounds like you have never read or DM'd a Paizo AP. Take a look at one and when you read it instead of thinking of it "on rails" just think of it as "a mega-dungeon with many locations, monsters, and NPCs already built for you". In fact if you read through one I bet buy chapter 3 you won't be thinking about rails anymore, you'll be thinking about getting some people together to actually play it. Believe me I never thought I would feel this way but after taking the plunge and actually DMing my group through Savage Tide I knew there was no going back for us.

  6. @ cibet

    It also sounds like you've never read any of JamesM's other posts.

    He's also been running this thing for two years now and I think it's hard not to call that successful.

  7. I can't comment on every one of Paizo's campaigns, sorry, "adventure paths", but Rise of the Runelords was hideously linear, with no potential for variation or exploration, and a stack of clichés a mile high.

    We're playing Kingmaker now, the "old school" campaign, and it's much better, although we all had a chuckle when we tried to explore certain hexes which were detailed in a then-unreleased book, and hit an invisible wall. ;)

  8. It seems to me that people tire of D&D because they are jaded. Whatever brand they play, their affections travel from one genre to the next on a quest to keep from being bored, and yet boredom just lurks everywhere. It reminds me of drug addiction, really. A person always has to have better, new, fresh, because things get tiresome so easily.

    The fact that nothing ultimately satisfies in life is supposed to teach us something. We can't make our happiness the most important thing and still be happy.

    Having said all that, I'm not saying James is a jaded D&D addict, though maybe he is, I don't know. But something in his post reminded me of the restlessness that, I think, dims the joy of all gamers.

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  10. Geez, James has a less exciting session than usual and folks start worrying about how to "remedy" his terrible situation! Some sessions are just going to be more fun than others... people have different moods, things are changing in our lives, any manner of reason, really. It's not an existential quandary and it doesn't mean he has been playing D&D wrong all this time... it's just an off-night.

  11. Paizo makes some great products, and they're a company I like and applaud. That said, I've read through several of their Adventure Paths, and I can see how they would be fine for a DM who isn't very good and a group of players with little imagination, creativity, or patience.

    I know he'll disagree with me, probably vehemently with copious citing of 'evidence,' but the poster above is about the clearest case of 'Gamer ADD' I've ever seen. Enjoy :)

  12. @ cibet

    I couldn't imagine running anything straight from the text to the table. Our play group has settled on bi-weekly play sessions. But, sometimes not everyone shows up so we have a second little campaign going on the side and currently I'm using B4 The Lost City as the model. But, it has been adjusted as a means for the characters to learn more about "The Ancients" in our campaign world and add a little more dungeon to our gaming. And I have made dozens of changes to it. I seldom find any module fits a play group or its style out of the box. But, a group of explorers should never hit an "invisible wall" during any adventure unless it is actually there for a reason beyond, "please buy our next book!"

    Also no story should be so obvious that you know exactly where you are and where you are going. That is just dull.

    As for James' campaign. I think it has plenty of story and plot going on. There are several factions at work in the dungeon that range from internal, external, to extraterrestrial. Their motives vary and the player characters have to figure out what those groups mean to them and what they are doing. Not to mention tons of mysteries. Just the fact they finally found the Portals level was a big development. And the next challenge to them is to survive long enough to survive. I have seen plenty of sessions where all the players accomplish is a lot of talking to NPC's or spending hours being distracted by something in the game world. Sessions like this aren't uncommon. And usually just the lull before the storm. They are part of any successful campaign.

  13. "survive long enough to survive" - ugh ... make that "survive long enough to learn its secrets and escape" In my defense I have been ill.

  14. The comment about a few worthless gems being the only treasure they've found for quite some time would be a bit worrisome to me. But I actually like and embrace the notion of D&D adventurers being treasure hunters, fundamentally rational when it comes to weighing risks and rewards. As opposed to people spelunking into incredibly dangerous places just to poke around and map it out.

  15. The comment about a few worthless gems being the only treasure they've found for quite some time would be a bit worrisome to me.

    Why so?

  16. One of the things I really like about old school D&D is how focused it is. I like that I can say to new players, "this is a game where your objective is to keep your guy alive and get him rich" instead of "this is a game of make-believe where the only limits are those of your imagination" or something like that. Of course, that's not all of what D&D is about, but I like how much more accessible a sandbox campaign is when you have a strong default player objective. So if a player were to say that, I would infer that the campaign is drifting away from the sort of focus that I prefer, because I'm being too stingy with the treasure.

    I don't mean to imply that I'm giving you any advice on how to run your game. Just talkin'.