A little more than a year ago, my step-daughter gathered up a group of players and asked if I’d run some D&D. I said sure. She said that there might be 10 players. <gulp>
I certainly wasn’t going to use D&D 5E. For any RPG, 10 players is a lot. But back in the day, tables were often 10+ players. I narrowed my system of choice to those that had rules for a caller.
“The caller is a player who announces to the Dungeon Master what the group of characters (the Party) is doing. The Caller must check with every player to find out what all the characters are doing, and then tell the DM (quickly and accurately) what they plan to do. The Caller does not tell the others what to do; the Caller merely reports what is going on.” page 53 of Dungeons & Dragons Players Manual (Revised by Frank Mentzer)
I didn’t know who had previous RPG experience, and felt that Race as Class—The traditional classes are Fighter, Thief, Cleric, Magic-User, Elf, Dwarf, Halfling. Though Thief is a later add. would provide the best guide rails. I went with Labyrinth Lord—They were all 10th and 11th graders many of whom I didn’t know their parents, so I passed on “Lamentations of the Flame Princess”.
First, Labyrinth Lord is free. I did not want a barrier to entry for those that may not have resources. Second, it is a faithful interpretation of the Basic/Expert rules of D&D—A game that has proven to have legs primarily from its narrow scope and compact rules system, making it a hacker’s dream..
Day of the Game
It turned out 7 players showed up. Still 1 too many for my 5E comfort level. I went ahead with the plan, introducing the basic rules. Two of the players had previous 5E experience and were a bit suspect about rolling 3d6 straight down and picking a class that included races. When I got to the “you die at 0 HP” they again paused, considering mutiny. I explained that they could just quick make another character and we’ll move on—I used some humor and ensured that they understood things weren’t all that serious
If memory serves we had a dwarf (named Dunder Mifflin), 3 fighters, 1 wizard, a halfling, and a cleric (and about 4 hirelings). I introduced them to Muntberg, at the foot of Dwimmermount. They bought equipment—I prodded the wizard to secure hirelings, as they are the most useful of wizard equipment. In hindsight, I should’ve mentioned more about burning oil
I explained the basic rules of Labyrinth Lord advancement—You get 1 XP per 1 GP of treasure, and monsters give you minimal XP. I talked about the dungeon turn, what you can do, and the frequency of random monsters—Every 2 turns there is a 1 in 6 chance of a random encounter; avoid them. I then explained that the answers were not on their character sheet; They should instead ask me questions as they explore the dungeon.
I gave them each a random rumor which may prove useful, and off they went.
Up the mountain they climbed. Into the entrance. They poked around a bit and opened the first door —I was narrating the mapping to them, but in hindsight, I believe I’ll go ahead and draw out the map as they explore it.; Behind which was 6 orcs and a leader. The battle was fast and furious —reaction checks and morale checks and the casualties quick to pile up. Dunder Mifflin died—An event that left the player a bit shocked. But he chuckled a bit. I told him to roll up a new character, and he started laughing along with the hirelings. As expected, the wizard’s sleep spell secured a victory. Hungry for loot, they stripped everything and decided to head back to town.
Back at town, the characters a bit wealthier and a bit wiser, recruited more hirelings. And Sunder Mifflin, son of Dunder, joined the ranks. Along with Whiskey Sue, Four Eyed Tom, Hairy Harold, and some other hirelings with less memorable names. At this point, I noticed a shift.
The players stealed their resolve and grew interested in defeating the challenges ahead of them. They knew I wasn’t pulling any punches, and redoubled their effort.
After some recovery, they returned, refreshed, and reinforced. Taking a different path, they checked doors, and when they discovered some monsters they prodded their hirelings to take the vanguard—I check the morale and everyone was onboard
This encounter went better for the PCs, they had minor resource losses (at least no PCs died). They pressed deeper into the dungeon and came upon a statue and puzzle. They wanted more information and asked questions. They decided after they left the dungeon they’d go to Adamus to track down a sage —Had we had more sessions, the flow of information to and from the sage might have driven further exploration. Especially as campaign cast members began offering rewards for more information from Dwimmermount
Still fresh, they backtracked to the room in which the first Dunder Mifflin died. The door was locked. Listening, they heard movement behind the door—I rolled on the Dungeon Restock table on page 79 of Dwimmermount – Labyrinth Lord version. With the session drawing to a close, I forced their hand and had them return to Muntberg—By forcing them back to Muntburg, I was invoking a bit of the West Marches Procedure. I did check for random encounters as they made their egress. After all, running out the session clock should not be a teleport to a safe-zone.
We did character creation, rules explanation, two forays into the dungeon (involving 4 combats, exploring 7 rooms), character replacement, and at the table chatter—All in 4 hours. We got a lot done, and the players began drawing connections from inside and outside of the dungeon.
We never did return to this session, but I learned a lot following the “rules as written” procedures of Labyrinth Lord. Namely that this style of play is a group problem solving game. Yes your character is important, but not more so than the campaign and the overall group experience.
From this, I also saw the promises of what a megadungeon focus can bring to a campaign. Part of Dwimmermount’s allure is that it is a focal point of the entire campaign. Buried within this dungeon is an archaeological and historical trove of information that exposes the campaign backstory. With monetary (and thus XP) incentives for producing maps and gathering information, the flow of story into and out of Dwimmermount became evident.