That One Session of Dwimmermount

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>

Five fantasy adventurers standing on floating stairs.

“Dwimmermount” by James Maliszweski; Cover by Mark Allen.

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 LordThey 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.

Into Dwimmermount

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.

Conclusion

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.

Discovered an Unknown to Me Sibling of the Old School Primer

I’ve been following the great posts from the “OSR Guide for the Perplexed” call. Sidenote: Take some time to go Google “OSR Guide for the Perplexed”. Kuroth’s Quill post pointed me to “Megadungeon Tactics: Mission-Based Adventuring” by Matt Finch. An article unknown to me and published in Knockspell #4. According to Kuroth’s Quill:

This is an excellent resource for old-school dungeon-exploring players in general, and helps players to effectively deploy in play the concepts outlined in Matt’s Old School Primer (free).

That piqued my interest. Scratching together some RPGNow credits, I downloaded Knockspell #4 and read the article (from 2009).

First, this article is addressing the rise of the Megadungeon, something of which I’ve never played in. Nor given all that much thought to how I would explore them as a player.

Sidenote: There is Grognardia’s 2008 post My Megadungeon: dwimmermount. Please take the time to read this whole site. Michael Curtis’s 2009 Stonehell Dungeon looked to address the organizational layout and modularity of megadungeons. Also consider Rappan Athuk, Banewarrens, the Worlds Largest Dungeon, etc. Regardless, something about 2009 begged everyone to explore massive dungeons.

I found the advice reshaping my understanding of an aspect of role-playing that I’ve often set aside; The strategic consideration of adventuring, especially when you have fragile characters.

Matt Finch provides practical advice at the intersection of mechanics and dungeon topography.

First and foremost, understand the rewards struture of the game. In older editions and the OSR, character get XP for gaining treasure, defeating monsters, and completing quests. In an adventure, if you tally XP sources, the majority of possible XP comes from treasure. Sidenote: Consider that a 100 XP monster might be a barrier to 1000 XP of treasure. Where possible, mitigate the chance of that 100 XP monster ever attacking you. Bribe it, ambush it, lure it away, etc. After all, your fragile 4 HP wizard can die in one hit from a monster that deals 1d8 damage.

With this understanding, optimize for treasure and do your best to ensure an upper hand in any conflicts. Inversely, avoid efforts that are unlikely to produce treasure or that can introduce further conflict complications. This is codified in the various approaches into the dungeon.

Second, understand that dungeons often have procedures for random encounter checks. In otherwords, monsters that won’t have much treasure. Which runs against your rules of optimization. Reduce your chances of random encounters by being efficient and judicious.

First Expedition

This is where you aim to map the corridors. Sidenote: GMs require the players to declare which character is doing the mapping and has the map.

The corridors are your flight path when you cut and run.

Understand the flow of the dungeon. How you can use it. And how others can use it against you. In this first expedition, there is an assumption that you won’t gain any treasure but will reduce your chances of random encounters.

Matt encourages a devious strategy, analogue to “doubling a volunteer’s pay”. Hire elves and dwarves promising a share of the treasure. PCs, be generous, after all the plan is not to find treasure. Yes this is disingenuous, but what is a poor dungeon raider to do? Sidenote: They have secret door detection and stonework cunning to sniff out anomalies in the corridors

Elves and Dwarves are one form of preparation; Another analogue is spell selection. In this first foray, its all about reconnaissance spells. Sidenote: Character creation is quick, so take a calculated risk with this disposable PC; Instead of preparing sleep consider detect magic or even read languages.

Another point Matt raises is around topography:

Keep in mind especially that corridors which circle back to other corridors are very dangerous in running battles, because they allow enemies to hit you from more than one direction at the same time.

Understand the physical flow of the dungeon. From this understanding you can later optimize your approach and even use the dungeon topography to your advantage (or at least minimize its disadvantages).

Prepare for the Second Expedition

With a map in hand, the players/characters should discuss and plan their next expedition. Where do they think they can smash and grab some treasure? What might there approach be? While this is a more dangerous expedition, the goal is to optimize treasure acquisition. Sidenote: This in turn leads to leveling-up and increased durability of characters.

From here, Matt Finch provides a trove of information and approaches, as outlined in the conceptual table of contents for this article:

The First Two Missions

  • Expedition #1: Map the Corridors
  • Expedition #2: Recover Lost Cash Flow

Expeditions After the First Two

  • Type #1: Rinse and Repeat
  • Type #2: Checking for Details
  • Type #3: Deep Excursion
  • Type #4: Rescue and Recovery
  • Type #5: Gadgeteering, Gizmology, Amateur Siegecraft, and Buildstuffological Engineering

Conclusion

The advice from Matt Finch’s “Megadungeon Tactics: Mission-Based Adventuring” from Knockspell #4 can be summed up as know the risk/reward elements of the game and take an iterative and agile approach in dungeon delving with an initial focus of understanding the flow of a dungeon.

My Response to an OSR Guide For The Perplexed Questionnaire

Filling out an OSR Guide For The Perplexed Questionnaire, my answers are inline.

One article or blog entry that exemplifies the best of the Old School Renaissance for me:

A bit of a cheat, but the index of Secret Santicore PDFs demonstrates a community dedicated to crafting all kinds of interesting ideas.

 

My favorite piece of OSR wisdom/advice/snark:

The Hardest Core RPG Theory Post

Best OSR module/supplement:

I love Dungeon Crawl Classics #66.5: Doom of the Savage King, a small sandbox with numerous approaches.

My favorite house rule (by someone else):

Carousing by Jeff Rients

How I found out about the OSR:

It would’ve been around 2011. I was following blogs about gaming, especially learning about Dungeon World. It was a take on old school gaming. And in September 2011, I bought the 1st edition of Death Frost Doom and the Grindhouse Edition of Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

I started reading James Raggi IV’s Grindhouse Referee Book and thinking “This is so very good.”

My favorite OSR online resource/toy:

BarrowMaze’s Meatshields

Best place to talk to other OSR gamers:

Google+ and through other blog postings (get the OSR OPML from Save vs. Total Party Kill).

Other places I might be found hanging out talking games:

I’m dipping my toe in MeWe. I’m over on Reddit (/r/osr as /u/takeonrules)

My awesome, pithy OSR take nobody appreciates enough:

Don’t give me a backstory, make it happen at the table.

My favorite non-OSR RPG:

Burning Wheel

Why I like OSR stuff:

OSR games use a familiar and common rules framework, focusing instead of content and ideas. Instead of introducing yet another boutique set of rules, energy is spent creating and mixing ideas.

Furthermore, much of it is released under the OGL, meaning the rules remain free for future use.

Two other cool OSR things you should know about that I haven’t named yet:

If I could read but one other RPG blog but my own it would be:

Ramanan Sivaranjan’s Save vs. Total Party Kill

A game thing I made that I like quite a lot is:

My Random Bond generator for Dungeon World; Useful for connecting two NPCs together.

I’m currently running/playing:

I’m running a 5E game using the Tomb of Annihilation adventure. As I continue to increment the Death Save DC, I relish the dread of the players.

I don’t care whether you use ascending or descending AC because:

I used THAC0 and BAB, both work fine. Besides, shouldn’t you be running from monsters anyway?

The OSRest picture I could post on short notice:

osr-image

Burning Wheel Lifepaths Inspired by Warhammer Fantasy

Recently, I’ve been reading through the First Edition of Warhammer Fantasy RPG. The character creation is rather spectacular. Encoded in the career descriptions is a vibrant setting, and a clear antecedent to Burning Wheel.

Table 1: Villager Setting Lifepaths
Lifepath Time Resources Stat Leads
Toll-Keeper 6 yrs 15 City, Peasant
Skills: 5 pts: Bandit-wise, Haggling, Appraisal, Persuasion, Accounting
Traits: 2 pts: Humorless
Restrictions: May not be the character’s second lifepath
Targeteer 4 yrs 8 +1 P City, Noble Court, Outcast
Skills: 5 pts: Bow, Fletcher, Contest-wise, Wager-wise, Travel-wise
Traits: 1 pts: (Stead Hand)
Table 2: City Dweller Setting Lifepaths
Lifepath Time Resources Stat Leads
Bawd 5 yrs 11 Noble Court, Outcast, Seafaring
Skills: 4 pts: Good Times-wise, Streetwise, Haggling, Brawling
Traits: 1 pts:
Restrictions: May not be the character’s second lifepath
Pit-Fighter 3 yrs 7 +1 P Outcast, Servitude, Soldier
Skills: 5 pts: Brawling, Dirty Fighting-wise, Acting, Appropriate Weapon, Crowd-wise
Traits: 2 pts: Scarred, Cold-blooded, Fearless, Resigned to Death
Roadwarden 4 yrs 8 +1 P Outcast, Soldier, Village
Skills: 5 pts: Riding, Road-wise, Countryside-wise, Ambush-wise Sword
Traits: 2 pts: Saddle Sore, Cautious
Note: Groom, Roadwarden, or any soldier lifepath
Raconteur 5 yrs 9 Outcast, Peasant, Soldier, Village
Skills: 5 pts: Oratory, Blathering-wise, Conspicuous, Persuasion, Seduction, Etiquette, Story-wise
Traits: 1 pts: Witty, The Story
Coachman 4 yrs 11 +1 M/P Outcast, Soldier, Village
Skills: 4 pts: Riding, Traveler-wise, Firearms, Observation
Traits: 1 pts: Jaded, Cool Headed
Requires: Groom, Roadwarden, or any soldier lifepath
Table 3: Noble Court Setting Lifepaths
Lifepath Time Resources Stat Leads
Explorer 6 yrs 15 +1 M/P Any
Skills: 7 pts: Cartography, Navigation, Oratory, Riding, Foreign Language, Read, Write
Traits: 2 pts: Cocky, Callous
Requires: Sailor, Scout, Student, Forester, Huntsman, Strider, or Your Lordship trait
Munitioner 5 yrs 25 +1 M City, Outcast, Seafaring, Soldier
Skills: 6 pts: Engineer, Munitions, Mending, Metalsmith, Explosion-wise
Traits: 2 pts: A Bit Deaf, Prominent Scar, A Bit Crazy
Requires: Sailor, Scout, Student, Forester, Huntsman, Strider, or Your Lordship trait
Note: Counts as an Engineer for lifepath requirements.
Court Druid 8 yrs 32 +1 M City, Outcast
Skills: 7 pts: Etiquette, Astrology, Spirit Binding, Ancient History, Symbology, Sing, Curse-wise
Traits: 1 pts: Mysterious
Requires: Any previous lifepath that contains the Sorcery skill
Table 4: Outcast Setting Lifepaths
Lifepath Time Resources Stat Leads
Witch-Hunter 6 yrs 15 +1 M/P City, Religious, Soldier, Villager
Skills: 6 pts: Oratory, Stealth, Crossbow, Interrogation, Throwing, Agent of Chaos-wise
Traits: 3 pts: Suspicious, Zealot, Loner, Rigid Moral Compass, Sixth Sense
Requires: A Soldier or Religious lifepath