Thursday, July 3, 2014

Campaign Evaluation: DCC in the Wilderlands (Sessions 1-12)

Sessions 1-12: A New Hope

The Good
  • Combat is quick, brutal and very tense.
  • Magic is powerful, dangerous and unpredictable.
  • Dungeon crawling does not kill roleplaying. Creative players find opportunities everywhere.
  • There were plenty of heroic acts, all the more meaningful because the risk of death is real.
  • The DM has no idea what's going to happen and is as excited as the players.
  • Due to the PCs' interactions, the village next to the dungeon is taking shape at a rapid pace, spawning opportunities for adventure and roleplaying.
The Bad
  • The Barrowmaze lacks the kind of sword & sorcercy atmosphere and sense of wonder I desire.
  • I dropped the ball regarding faith and religion. I failed to set the mood with the village priest and except for one player's initiative, these elements are largely absent from the game... 
The Ugly
  • Resource management, random encounters and using miniatures on a grid can be tedious at times.
  • Dying - especially dying over and over again - can be frustrating and strain player creativity and compassion. (The players are handling these challenges well, though.)
In a nutshell
The campaign is just like I hoped it would be! All sorts of challenges remain but I'm looking forward to every session. A big thank you to my players -- you're making it happen!

Going forward, the campaign log will be in German and switched to
(Update: As of June 2016, we're at session 37 and still going strong. Good times!)

Campaign Diary: DCC in the Wilderlands (Session 12)

Session 12: Early Retreat

The characters carefully examine a room with mysterious holes in the floor. They are disturbed by giant beetles and unknown cultists and return to the village early. The characters sell some loot and some of them later examine the enchanted forest nearby, moving into it for a few yards.

  • The session was quite slow and few things happened: The characters spent a lot of time searching for traps, fighting minor random encounters, selling loot and debating whether to explore the enchanted forest or not.
  • A potential problem rears its head: The players are responsible for pacing and risk management and cannot rely on the DM to provide either.
  • That said, I should have asked them to either examine the forest together - or not at all. There are too many random factors for me to foresee how long various endeavours might take, so solo quests are not really an option. 
  • Grognardia has a nice article on the The Rhythm of the Old School that has a more positive view on some of these issues.
In a nutshell
A session that was too slow for my tastes.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Campaign Diary: DCC in the Wilderlands (Session 11)

Session 11: The Power of Magic

The characters begin to plunder the area where they were ambushed the other week and retreat with some gold. Back in the village, the dwarf attempts to teach other tomb raiders but is foulmouthed by unlucky adventurers. He sets things straight with a duel to the death. Later, the party's witch casts detect magic with critical success. She sees and identifies everything magic in the entire village. Among other things, she finds out that all the children are under a spell. When the witch casts detect magic again some time later, she fumbles and transforms a tavern wench into some kind of earth elemental. Fortutnately, the dwarf is able to repair some damage done to her before the effect wears off after a few days.

  • After 10 sessions with almost no magical incidents, the unpredictable DCC rules struck twice! The fallout occupied most of the session.
  • Switching gears wasn't easy -- I started rolling for various NPCs' magic items, for instance, but detailing an entire village's worth of adventurers on the fly was too much.
  • DCC's curveball means there's a lot of work to be done (such as detailing the magic merchant's treasures) but I think it's a great opportunity.
  • The players used the unusual opportunities to portray their characters in various ways (CD's fatherly dwarf, HM's opportunistic rogue etc.).
  • CD risked a valuable character in a deadly duel. His character was brand new, true, but also sported above average rolls. The Luck stat provided some measure of safety I assume, but it can't protect against critical hits so it took real courage to enter the duel.
In a nutshell
An unsual but fascinating session.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Campaign Diary: DCC in the Wilderlands (Session 10)

Session 10: Ambushed!

The witch uses charm on a captured cultist and the party learns something about the Necromancers of Set and the Acolytes of Orcus. The captive also provides a partial map before being dispatched by the party afraid of the spell wearing off. The party then moves into a sector held by the followers of Set and are ambushed on the way out. The enemy's main ploy (skeletons attacking under cover of darkness) fails but it's a brutal fight nonetheless. A veteran fighter (level 3) goes down to a series of lucky attacks and the party's dwarf dies, too.

  • Prep was a lot more work than usual because I had to decide what the captives knew exactly. I copied a part of the map and edited out traps and room numbers -- always aware of the fact that none of that information might be needed (if, for instance, the party failed to take anyone alive). 
  • The characters act as a true team: HM burned Luck several times to save a comrade and CD and CW continued to willingly hold the frontline.
  • KT jumped through a secret door sliding close to pursue an enemy. He immediately became afraid of his own courage and regretted his act, at least until things had turned out well. I love it how such acts are at once really dangerous and really heroic!
  • KT was contrite about the death of CW's fighter because he had planned much of the party's tactics in the ambush.
  • I wonder if this would have been a total party kill if not for the party's unusual extra light source (a glowing rune). I had forgotten about that item and was unsure if it actually cancelled darkness. I gave the item a 1-in-6 chance of doing just that and rolled it without any consideration for the possible ramifications. Just like I want to handle things!
  • The party has reached a deeper, more dangerous part of the Barrowmaze. I described a change in architecture but I'm not sure the players realized the significance.
In a nutshell
An informative session with a terrific fight and brutal losses.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Campaign Diary: DCC in the Wilderlands (Session 9)

Session 9: The Thing in the Pit & Masked Strangers

The party uses the newly discovered entrance and scouts the area. The characters find a deep pit trap and are attacked by a huge insectoid creature living in it. One of the party's rogues kills it with a poisonous arrow. Next, a party of masked strangers accompanied by two zombies appears. The mysterious strangers talk about their plans to attack the Acolytes of Orcus - and who the hell is that?? - deeper in the Barrowmaze. The two parties decide to join forces. Even though the characters are betrayed and attacked almost immediately they manage to dispatch the strangers easily.

  • I had rolled up the thing in the pit several evenings ago and had been expecting a massacre ever since. However, the party never ventured down that particular corridor until this session. KT's gut instinct (and good memory perhaps - NPCs had described a man being dragged off into that corridor) and HM's poisonous arrow saved everyone's ass. KT has since pointed out that he was merely roleplaying: He wanted to portray his character's superstitiousness and chose a random corridor to fuss over (rather than holding up the game by doing this all the time). =) =) =)
  • I like how the deadliness cuts both ways: Monsters have to save or die, too (or can be ripped apart by a lucky crit).
  • I gave the players some glimpses about things going on behind-the-screen: I noted that the insectoid creature had been a dangerous monster but that I had rolled no treasure for it whatsoever. Sorry guys!
  • I resisted the impulse to comment on the strangers' tactics despite my players' curiosity. The players judged the strangers' tactics ineffective and were wondering what was up with that. 
  • The party has begun to employ scouting tactics. To my surprise, HM seemed not at all concerned when his rogue sneaked up on two giant scorpions by himself. He was bent on how to kill them rather than afraid for his life.
In a nutshell
A tense session, especially from my perspective.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Campaign Diary: DCC in the Wilderlands (Session 8)

Session 8: A New Entrance

The party moves into the mountains to cure the cursed dwarf. His trials - being made feverish and then jumping into a cool mountain lake - yield additionally, albeit quickly degrading saving throws. He lives. On their way to the Barrowmaze the party encounters and secretly follows others  tomb raiders who are doing excavation work on another mound. Back underground, the party discovers a staircase leading to the surface -- another entrance to the Barrowmaze! A fight with skeletons turns ugly when one the party's fighter fumbles on the first round, killing the dwarf. Critical hits by the skeletons take another life. Armed with two new magic weapons the party leaves via the newly discovered entrance, narrowly evading another group that apparently uses it on a regular basis. They cut a deal with the village witch to help with identifying one of the new weapons.

  • CD and KT cook up a new maneuver between sessions - enter the flaming tennis ball (lint and tinder, really) to light up long passages and prevent monsters from advancing to just beyond the party's torchlight.
  • There have been very few fumbles and critical hits until this evening. DCC's tables can be very dangerous indeed. 
  • There is an interesting debate on whether to sell magic items for XP (to level up) or to keep them in the party. (XP is only awarded for wasting hard-won gold on boozing and wenching etc.)
An intense session with tons of interesting encounters and discoveries!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Campaign Diary: DCC in the Wilderlands (Session 7)

Session 7: A Tragic Death

The party moves its supply depot deeper into the dungeon. The witch charms the deluded ghost encountered in the last session who then reveals the creatures and treasures in the immediate surroundings. A fight with a mysterious skeleton puts the fear into the players' hearts but their characters prevail. Ladden with magic items they return to the surface. With the exit less than 100 feet away, the party is attacked by robed skeletons. Bhain the Dwarf, carrying enough gold to level up, dies and Thorin the Dwarf is cursed and - pending another save next week - may very well die, too. The party vanquishes the skeletons and chops off Bhain's arms to retrieve his magical chainshirt (as Dwarves turn to stone upon death).

  • CD suggests a contract among the adventurers to deal with various money issues (e.g. buying healing potions together, handling the property of dead characters etc.). I never saw much point in founding 'adventuring companies' before but now - given the high death rates - this makes perfect sense! Another revelation regarding old school social dynamics.
  • The party gathers information about certain monsters rumored to prowl the dungeon and buys silver weapons and ammunition. Knowledge = Power.
  • In DCC, it's possible to charm un-dead (with a penalty). I like that because they have unusual points of view and information.
  • When a mysterious skeleton reduces GB's character from 10 to 1 hp with one hit, he almost panics and wants his character to flee the scene. Massive pressure from the other players - "Our guys are as just as dead as yours if that skeleton hits any of them" - and even death threats convince him to stay and fight from the second rank. He's in a bad mood after that.
  • CD saves the witch's life by preventing her from entering a tomb with a green slime. After the fight with the skeleton everyone but CD seemed to have forgotten about the party's suspicions regarding that tomb. It's one of several close calls, not all of which the players involved are aware of.
  • The death of CD's dwarf continues his streak of bad luck. He is a cautious yet proactive player but the dice have been against him for many sessions now. Here's hoping his luck will change!
In a nutshell
A succesful delve that ended on a grim note.