Saturday, September 3, 2011

Whither Dwimmermount?

As  most of you know, the Dwimmermount campaign went on hiatus when one of its key players moved away while he hoped he'd still be able to make it into the city on a semi-regular basis to get together, that hasn't happened. Now, to be fair to the player in question, the way things developed in campaign is entirely my fault. When I began the campaign way back at the beginning of 2009, I'd hoped that, with enough players and with a megadungeon at the center of things, I could avoid just what happened. I had hoped that, as in the earliest days of the hobby, individual characters wouldn't become the focus of the campaign, that role being taken by Dwimmermount itself.

Unfortunately, as players dropped out of the campaign or showed up ever more regularly, I failed to replace them and so, inevitably, the campaign did become focused on a handful of characters, the loss of any one of which made it ever more difficult to continue playing. Had I done what I'd originally intended to do, I should have been recruiting more players all along, with the understanding that only some of them would continue to play with any devotion, while many, if not most, of them would be drop-ins who showed up more rarely. Had I done that, I think the campaign could have weathered the loss of a single player. Indeed, the very idea of a "key player" is antithetical to the kind of campaign I was hoping I'd actually run. I guess old habits die very hard.

Of course, a few weeks ago, I got the chance to run a couple of levels of Dwimmermount with a group of total strangers at OSRCon and it was a blast. The rekindled in me thoughts of my original goal for the campaign: a "rotating cast" of players all of whom explored the same megadungeon. That idea would work, I think, if I had ready access to a site other than my home at which to meet. I say that because, while I have had very large numbers of players in my house at any one time, it can get crowded and less conducive to the kind of play I prefer these days. Likewise, given that, under my original conception of things, I might not know who is going to show up in advance, I think I'd find it easier to manage at some "neutral" locale -- like the "games day" meet-ups or gaming clubs I remember from my youth.

The obvious solution, of course, is to turn to Google+ and the other online tools that are fueling ConstantCon and I will admit the thought is an attractive one. The biggest issues for me are twofold. First, finding a time when I can do this without distraction. During most days, I am not alone in my house, which means that I'm primarily restricted to the evenings, after my family has gone to sleep. That's fine, but I need to sleep, too, so this would likely mean a fairly small sliver of time in the late evenings -- say, between 10 PM and 12 AM EST -- and I'm not sure that's enough time, especially if I only do this once or twice a week. Second, Google+, as I understand it, works best with four players and a referee, which, again, is fine, but that means I'm either going to have to severely limit the number of players who join the campaign or I'm going to have a largely different crew every session, which rather undermines the notion of a campaign. I say "severely limit," because, based on the emails I have received, a very large number of people want in on any online Dwimmermount campaign I might theoretically start. Even if I am picky in whom I choose, we're still talking a lot more possible players than I've ever had access to locally -- an embarrassment of riches indeed!

Meanwhile, one of the remaining players of the Dwimmermount campaign has kindly offered to run a low-key Labyrinth Lord + AEC campaign set in the world of Red Tide for my wife, my daughter, and I. My wife's not really a roleplayer. She enjoys the idea of it and is obliquely interested in fantasy (though not necessarily "D&D fantasy") and decided to give it a try. My daughter, of course, is very interested in both roleplaying and fantasy. She was drawn to this idea because Red Tide includes several Asian-derived cultures and, these days, she's quite fascinated by all things Japanese. Me, I'm just happy to be able to play once in a while rather than referee, which is my usual role. We've only had one session so far, but it was enjoyable and I look forward to more. As the campaign progresses, I'm sure I'll have things to share about it here.


  1. The G+ hard limit is 10 participants, and I have not tried that yet, but I think that the "optimal 4" is overstated. I have been in hangouts of 6 & 7 and had no troubles due to the numbers.

  2. That "sliver of time in the evening" after the kids are asleep is when I game on Google+. For me, this is a blessing, allowing me to get in much more gaming than I'd be able to do otherwise. Some GM's run the same group a couple times a week during that "sliver of time."

    Reports are coming out that, if some people turn off their video feeds and just use audio, you can get up to 8-10 players all going at the same time. A lot depends on the quality of your own connection.

    But being able to game from the comfort of my study with cool people from all over the planet that I've previously only known through blogs and forums is just plain awesome.

  3. It's actually not a hard thing to do. Some players embed themselves so deeply in the campaign milieu that it doesn't seem right to run it without them, even if it was an open world with multiple parties and storylines. My last big fantasy campaign went the way of the dodo when one of the key players died and another moved overseas. The players dwindled (graduating and going on to postdocs around the world will do that to you), and whilst I've seriously thought about it, restarting with new people, no matter how enthusiastic, just didn't seem right.

    Another friend lost the player who had ended up being closest to discovering the deep secrets of his Gamma World campaign (to marriage to an anti-gaming wife). I think that took his heart out of running the game and the campaign dwindled. Again, being post-university also had a great effect, but it was just the coffin and nails.

    It's something that happens. Campaigns have a life expectancy.

    Speaking for myself, I really did enjoy your previous on-line Dwimmermount game (of course, effectively running it PBeM did slow things down, but it also meant that it was possible for me to play given the time differences between us). But as an old MUD player I have no problems running stuff via text alone.

    Although I do want to check out some of the commercial virtual tabletops, to see the degree that they can be customised in order to run one of my games online. [I could probably hack Maptools, but it will probably be cheaper to avoid reinventing the wheel.] I also think audio is also quite fine for running a game, as the information conveyed by video isn't really worth the computational overhead.

  4. Ya audio can be great. You can nicely manage a dozen folks with something like teamspeak or mumble even moving around folks to different channels for sidebars. People use these all the time in mmorpgsi wonder why I don't hear of more folks using them to table run games?

  5. That's unfortunate about the regular dwimmermount group's hiatus. Reading the archives and seeing the campaign world unfold coupled with design thoughts peppered in the posts was compelling to me, to say the least.

    I know that if I, a newish reader and light poster, was intrigued enough to send James an email indicating interest in a Google+ game, he must have had many, many similar responses.

    As I am almost forty and live in a small town, the birth of RPG's on Google+ is really fortuitous and timely (since I finally have a significant amount of time on my hands). I need to go over to Zak S's and keep looking for a Labyrinth Lord type game to show up in the Constantcon game postings :)

    Anyway, I hope that James continues posting about his campaign and players in Dwimmermount.

    Great Blog.

  6. Regarding what gdbackus said--it does look like G+ is doing a better job of handling more people than it originally was.

    Although technical problems still happen (depending on who is in and what their connection looks like) lots of people have been managing to play with more than 5 windows open in the last couple weeks.

    As for the "rotating cast", what seems to happen is that choosing your time slot automatically screens out a lotta people. Thereafter you get a core of people able to commit at that time and if things go well on that first sdventure those people tend to keep rolling on that day and at that time.

  7. The alternative, of course, would be to try to find yourself some more players in Toronto to fill the empty seats - I'm sure I'm not the only one who'd leap at the chance.

  8. From what I've seen 10-12 ECT seems to work for many people. I've been running my Vats of Mazarin game Mondays (although not this Monday) during that same time frame and things are working out great.

    If you're interested in seeing how much can be accomplished within just a couple of hours for a megadungeon-centric campaign, drop me an e-mail at tombowings (at) gmail (dot) com and we can work something out.

  9. Call me old fashioned, but I think it might be time to go out and recruit some new blood for your table top. I know that that can be easier said than done, and might even take some trial and error. But I think the table top is so much better, hands down. Good luck with the future of the game, I really enjoy Dwimmermount, and have missed it here on your blog.

  10. Again, I'd jump at the chance to play an OD&D game in person with ya. Glad I'm back in Toronto.

    As for Constantcon, keep us posted if you're thinking of running a game on Google+. Would certainly be interested.

  11. I ran one of my rare public OD&D (White Box plus Supps) games yesterday at a big local con, and even though I didn't even know if I'd have any players, I had a packed table of 8.

    As usual it was huge fun, and a couple of the players (three actually) had played in my public games before even though I didn't know they would be there, and they didn't know it was me doing this session. But still, my true joy is campaign play. Having the time to explore characters and places and situations over many games. But it is kind of a rush presenting for mostly strangers, and seeing what they might do with their characters.

    Online gaming has zero appeal to me. It will always be about face to face around a table for me.

  12. That 10-12 EST slice is definitely the sweet spot for me (for the same reasons). I think I would be part of the massive flood of people who would want to play in your Google+ ConstantCon game.

    Whether you find some more people to play with locally or set up a regular game on the internet I suggest you find some way to keep gaming. I just kind of fell out of the hobby years ago and making room for it again now has been something of an uphill climb over competing priorities.

  13. I wonder if you could work around the problem by having a large, low-level party -- let's say 12 to 18 characters.

    Then you start the campaign with whoever's around... first four (or six or eight or whatever) are that night's PCs. Everyone else is relegated to NPC status.

    That way you can have a large group, but mix it up depending on the night/availability.

    I'm assuming there would be some way to record the night's activities so those who don't make it on a particular night can relive what happened... and/or have a player assigned to "scribe" duties and have him or her write up the details.

    Yes, it would suck to not be able to play one night because you show up 15 minutes late... and suck even more to discover your PC got killed when he was an NPC spear carrier.

    But it's better than not being able to play at all... and since everyone is low level, you can always reroll and re-enter the fray.

  14. or I'm going to have a largely different crew every session, which rather undermines the notion of a campaign.

    I guess that depends on what your definition of a campaign is. Personally, I've come to view a campaign as a unifying world and backdrop behind which adventures occur. I don't see any reason that a consistent party has to be part of that. Was West Marches not a campaign?

  15. Was West Marches not a campaign?

    For some meanings of "campaign," most certainly, but, these days, I tend toward a meaning stronger than a "persistent world."