Thursday, April 30, 2009

Playing the Dungeon of Voorand - Falling down some stairs

Tonight's game was a bit shorter than usual, partly because I'm home alone with my daughter and she wasn't to keen on the idea of going to a game store and watch daddy play a game. I did manage to convince her and it was a game this week! I do think having a regular game make a whole lot of difference.

Last time we played they had found some very twisty passages, and broken down a wall to get to some monsters. Now they decided to go exploring a bit, and that caused them to remark on how the dungeon seemed to grow all the time. I felt really satisfied by that. They sat there and looked at their maps and I got to hear them say that there was obviously some stuff over here and how those investigations shaped their exploration. The Megadungeon really works! While I still think the parts of the dungeon they have explored are kind of to square, I think it might be a good idea to start out soft. I continuously develop the dungeon and I do indeed grow it as they go along for a slightly more "organic" feel. Apparently they now not only plan from expectations build from their mapping and exploration, they also have realized that this is not such a small place after all. Now they are thinking of going back and see if there's more stuff on level one!

So, they found a pool of water, with undecipherable mystic powers. Canteens filled they moved on and after some shenanigans managed to have one character fall down the stairs turned slide and then did a rescue operation to get a 900 lbs (at least!) centaur PC up from level four before he got eaten by a grue. Much fun was had. Croaking frogs caused the players to visibly turn paler. Good stuff. You did it, Dave (and Amityville Mike).

Now I have to go and actually map up some of that level four!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Travel interrupts posting

I'm now on the road, exploring the wilds of northern Ontario, so posting might be a little sparse in a couple of days. On Wednesday I'll get to posting on a regular pace again, and will try to keep up a post every other day. You just wait.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Kobold Quarterly, interviewing Dave Arneson

When I heard that Kobold Quarterly was coming out with a new issue, and that there would be an interview with Dave Arneson in it, I decided to finally pay up and take a look at this new gaming magazine. I have heard a lof of positive things about it so even if I don't need more general OGL d20 stuff (this is Dragon Magazine, resurrected, folks!), I guessed it worth checking out if the last ever Arneson interview was in there.

Today my copy arrived, and it was noticable that even though I live in Canada, the shipping was free! Nice. I even got a handwritten note of thanks for checking out the magazine, and would I consider subscribing? No, I wont, but thanks for asking. So how was it, and did Dave say anything memorable?

So, the magazine had some new powers for Bards, an article about bat god, familiars, some monsters fleshed, reviews and some columns. The latter included a new one by Monte Cook, which might evolve into something interesting and some of the new creatures was dinosaurs, and they are kind of fun, right? All in all, it was a mixed bag and it felt quite unfocused. It felt a little bit like Dragon when it was at its most journymanlike.

What I really cared about though, was the interview. The answers to the questions sometimes felt very short and terse to the point of banality. Considering the bad health Dave was suffering from I'm not that surprised. Interestingly enough, he does expand a bit on the answers when they're about some early experiences of Blackmoor. Some of the questions probably would have been more fruitful as starting points for longer conversations, since they are so general that it's hard to give a very meaningful feedback. One example of that kind of question is “What makes for a balanced game”? Who says it's even something desirable?! It can be argued about, quite a lot. Still some nuggets of wisdom appear in the answers to this interview.

One thing I have read about before, and which got me thinking as I read about it again, is the question about the players involvment in the game. It's fairly clear cut that the old school way of doing things is to involve the players by making the encounters in the game challenge not only the characters, but also the players. Dave had a thing he did, where he physically removed his players from the table to a specific environment and observed how they acted when he yelled in the dark, and things like that. I found that interesting. While I like to put forward information in my game which will tell the players things which will help them steer their characters action, I can see how that way of doing things involved the players in a different way. While I can see some value of the position taken by a player who want the game system to help him figure things out, since his character have a high intelligence, I still like to make the player somehow contribute. While it might not be feasible to do it in all situations, setting the player up and using his or her actions as a starting point, might be a middle ground. That way you could let the game system take over after setting up the situation in a LARP fashion. Now, this is nothing revolutionary, but it still made me think of new ways of exploiting that physical aspect of the game. There is a difference between playing World of Warcraft alone in front of your computer and hanging out with some friends rolling dice. Maybe using that physical difference a bit more isn't such a bad idea?

Well. As I said I'm not exactly revolutionising gaming here, but sometimes it pays off to get reminded of obvious stuff and it can get the brain going. I probably will have to think more about it a bit more and also some things he said about the story being central to the game, since it did trigger some associations in my brain. More about that in a later post.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Playing the Dungeon of Voorand - Goblins galore

Having done an attack on a temple of amphibian abominations, the players tonight got involved in some scuffling in close quarters. After realising that the way to the temple had closed, they decided to explore some of the parts of the map of level two which still was mostly stubs of hallways unexplored. Having picked a direction the wandered off. I remember how one thing often mentioned in discussion threads about good dungeons very often was how fun it was to give the players a hint of stuff to come, and then force them to take a long exploratory route to get there. I liked that, and have used it at some points in my own dungeon. This time I think I was too obvious about it, though. So, after seeing arrow slits in the wall, and hearing snoring noises they didn't just take note and move on, they smashed down the nearest wall to get to the source of the snoring!

Now, I had put in a dead end in a corridor a bit away from the room with the snoring and guess where they brought out the hammers? The first one to stumble through the rubble of mortar och stone yelled at the top of his lungs, and since behind him were a wolf troll, a centaur and a dwarf and a very martial looking fairy, they actually paused. Then someone made a wrong move, and the slaughter began.

So, in a very crowded area 15 goblins and five delvers tried to kill each other. I called for DEX SR just to be able to made a successful attack, and our wolf troll decided he contributed best by sitting on top of a bunch of the goblins. Even with that limiting the fight a bit, it took fifteen combat rounds before it was over!

Compared to other nights I've played T&T it was slow slogging, and not all that smooth. We almost every round tried to do things like running away, tripping and pinning opponents and maybe that was why. I liked the idea of evening the odds a bit by grappling and pinning opponents. I let it happen as a plain CON based Saving Roll, and let as many opponents as the level be pinned and subtracted them from the Monster Rating. Even subtracting those goblins it was a fight where we regularly rolled combat totals in the 300-400 range. I'm beginning to think that the fact that armor in modern editions is not ablative might have contributed to the long time this fight took. Almost every point of damage dealt was spite damage!

After delving for a while my players have now almost run out of things to spend their money on. I haven't been that generous, but they still have armor values in the 20-40 range and then it becomes kind of hard to do anything but spite damage. It would be interesting to hear how other T&T game masters have handled that.

Finally I brought in the golem from the next door, since it seemed likely that he would be disturbed. He was not much of a hindrance, though, since all of my players seem to prefer blunt weapons! A couple of whammy's later and he was down and they brought him out of the dungeon and sold him for scrap metal. Pure entrepreneur spirit in my players. I like that.

So, now is the question if I keep ramping up the opposition or try to bring them decent challenges some other way. We will see next week.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

To craft the Dungeon of Voorand, Part I

In my last post I talked about the Dave Arneson memorial adventure we played. I also alluded to my megadungeon The Dungeon of Voorand, which is the place where my players take their character hunting for riches and glory. What I will write about in a short series of posts, is the reasons I have for starting that dungeon, and how and why it's designed the way it is. Fasten your seat belts. Here we go.

Actually, the idea of me running a dungeon based game seemed more than a little far fetched not that many years ago. I started gaming ages ago, with the attitiude that dungeon crawling was just a hack & slash puerile phase wich was beneth me. I was better, more sophisticated, than that! The heights of arrogance that so marks a teenager. Oh well. Much later I had become jaded with the “sophisticated” games I ha d been playing, and after reading some play reports I finally started my own dungeon delve. How that went, and how I did it, is a tale for a later date. Now I'll focus on this specific way of delving, namely megadungeons.

Those of you who keep up with the discussions at Dragonsfoot, or the Knights & Knaves Alehouse or read some of the many old school blogs, might have heard it all before. But since I'm running a T&T game I'll repeat some of the discussions some since the T&T tradition is a bit different from the D&D one. T&T have long been supported more by solo adventuring than the classic GM led way of gaming. Make no mistake though, one of the first megadungeons was for T&T!

A megadungeon is a dungeon that's big. It's supposed to feel vast, multilevelled and encompas the whole of the playing experience. It's a setting of it's own. You don't “clear out” a megadungeon, it breeds new creatures and wonders to explore. The way I see it, the focus is on the exploring. For more really interesting discussions about the care of and feeding of megadungeons I refer to the links above.

So, how have I then tried to accomplish this feel in the Dungeon of Voorand? Well, I started with the idea of a big mountain, a volcano, under which the ancient and powerful goblin god Voorand lair. He is my persona in the game, and the source of mischief and entertainment. I decided to imagine an insanely powerful goblin wizard bored with age and with all the traits of goblins magnified by his power and unstable mind. So, the dunegon would be what have been called a “fun house” dungeon, as fitting with the insane patron. I had some cool ideas and I started to put them to paper.

Pretty soon it became clear that I draw maps with very boring and straight lines, and with plain doors and square rooms, unless I force myself to be adventurous. I knew that on level one I wanted to have a tribe of hyenakin, and a tribe of scalykin and that they were enemies. I also included a bunch of uruks, and a big hulking troll obsessed with cleanliness. Having drawn their lairs and some utility rooms around them, I connected them with fairly straight lines. Now for my first warning. If your dungeon looks like a very sparse tree with a main trunk and some branches you have done the same error I did. Don't do that.

After a session it was clear that this was way to linear, and also way to small! I had put down a few entrances to lower levels on the first map, and now I drew a few rooms on a new paper and then lined up the papers so I could see how the entrance exited in a specific square of my graph paper. From that square I now had to line it up with my new rooms, which naturally made it less linear! I also put in a few stairs from the other parts of level two I had detailed, which now went up to other parts of level one! Of course they sometimes showed up in fairly cramped places when I lined graph paper, which forced me to be creative.

Now you might ask why I did this? What's the point? The point is that in this more convoluted environment, mapping became more involved. It made my players look at their map and wonder “how does that fit together? Shouldn't there be a room beyond there as well, where there's a blank spot?” Wonder indeed, when they suddenly start to see the tunnels themselves as something worth exploring, just like that thread of twine they used to follow through more story and storytelling based games. They were seeking adventure, and not me spoon feeding it to them.

So, the attitude I started with was to make the dungeon the story, the mystery. Thus the exploration became the main theme! After a few months of play I think this way of playing is something very refreshing and cool for me. Naturally the game system I'm using also helps in shaping the game. In the next part of this series I'm going to talk about that, and how Tunnels & Troll made my dungeon suck less.
May you always roll doubles!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

In memory of Dave we killed some frogs

My megadungeon campaign, The Dungeon of Voorand, took a week off this week. I wanted to do something as a memorial for Dave, and when Mike Curtis (of The Society of Torch, Pole and Rope fame) published a amphibian themed dungeon I decided to take that and use it for this week's T&T game.

I had already put in a row of weird statues of level two of my dungeon, and the players had been trying to understand how to open the doors the statues were facing. I decided to give the key to them, in both meanings of the word, and they got an amulet to hang on the neck on one statue, and having gone through the now active gate the had been teleported to my new area. I still haven't decided if it's actually a sublevel or just a part of the jungle I had already planned for my dungeon.

So, there they were in the middle of a rainforest, underground. In front of them lurked a steeped pyramid with a gigantic frog sculpted on top. After some prodding they ascended en entered the dungeon.

All in all it went well, but when my youngest player decided to do one of his impulsive and suicidal moves by jumping down the well to level two I actually cheated, and ignored him until every one had talked a bit more and at least some rope had been tied to help them down. At that moment I was really happy that faeries are a common player race, since it made it easy for me to get some information across about what was down there.

Finally they went down to level two, and the fight between 30 gigantic toads and five player characters went fairly smoothly. Thank Trollgod for the fast flowing T&T combat system! The best part was when the party naga wizard was swallowed by a toad, and then cast a TTYF powered up four levels from within the beast! It was kind of late and I decided to add that to the hit total for the whole group (way to easy on them, I know) and it took out the remaining toads. It was very memorable, and due to some nasty Special Attacks triggered by spite, we had not only one exploding toad, but also one killed character. Death by tooth and fang, amphibian style. Yay!

I think this incarnation of the Temple of the Frog was successful, and we cheered and laughed a lot about freewheeling fun stuff, which I think Dave would have liked. As always I was amazed how easy it was to grab a module for OD&D and jot down some MR in the margins and run it as if it had been written for T&T all along. I will see if it's possible to publish my T&T stats in some handy format if someone is interested.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Some visions of games past

Note: I just noticed that the text I uploaded was a draft, not the final version. Sorry. You got to see for a short while how my drafts look like.

I have been thinking about how as the gaming greats die, we are loosing not only friends and fellow gamers, but also knowledge. As soon as you start to delve a bit deeper into the history of the hobby, you'll find that a lot have changed. The very basic way the games work have changed! Did you know for example, that in the early Blackmoor game the Dungeon Master was not the only one to play the opposition? Everyone took their turn playing the monsters!

One gamer who have been with us since the hobby began and played with not only Gary Gygax in Greyhawk and Dave Arneson in Blackmoor, but also with M.A.R. Barker in his Tekumel campaign is Michael Mornard (aka Gronan of Simmerya). He has spread entertaining nuggets of wisdom on the net about roleplaying and how it was done back then. Robert Fisher have collected quotes and memorable sayings that he felt worthy of preserving. I just read through them all and found them both funny and enlightening. Go see for yourself!

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