Thursday, July 3, 2014

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.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Eero Tuovinen Is My Hero (Part II)

Here's another great quote from Eero Tuovinen (lifted from the discussion Old School Renaissance: Actual Play - Greysands Campaign). It's good advice if you are making mistakes like this.

Regarding the hygiene in determining whether things are dangers or tourist sights, my general advice is to train yourself out of the habit of teleological deduction and categories associated with it: don't frame decisions for yourself in terms of what will supposedly happen. As long as you're thinking of a sea serpent in terms of whether it's a combat encounter or not, you're not being hygienic. The only things you need to know are the in-fiction circumstances and such; those you either intuit, have in your notes, or roll randomly. Once you know that the sea serpent hates surface shipping, or is hungry, or is angry, you have something to work with in determining whether it might attack a ship. If you first decide that it's a color encounter, and then retroactively justify that by deciding that it's sated, then you're doing it wrong.
"Colour event", "tourist sighting", "combat encounter", "deadly" and so on are all terms of unhygienic teleological thinking: they're all about what you imagine might happen either immediately or later. You do not need to know the future, you merely need to know the past and the present.

Eero is even sterner regarding another event in that game (a storm that was never meant to be a real threat).

Edit: The DM running the sea voyage has since commented that the storm had been dangerous, but not able to single-handedly sink the ship (unless the party had done nothing to fix the situation).

This is less relevant for my example of poor DMing (which was about laziness, not mercy) but relevant to the overall topic:
The big, fat hygienic issue with not wanting PC death, though, is that a GM unwilling to face the nihilistic void is a slave to his aesthetic hopes and dreams. In the worst case this causes him to build invisible boundaries around the other players, protecting them from an honest judgement of their choices. Thus the content of play actually transforms from an even-handed struggle into puppetry. For example: when you demand players for initiative in a storm that threatens their ship, and they act upon the matter, but your threat was actually a false ritualistic declaration - what is that if not puppeteering, demanding that the players dance to your amusement? Worse yet, such a GM might end up determining the shape of their ship on nothing more than their own sense of entitlement: dance not well enough my puppets, show not enough fear, and I shall sink your ship out of spite. As you choose to not entertain the possibility of the ship sinking fairly, you have at that moment removed any storm-combating moves out of the realm of actual play, and into the realm of color narration. The least courtesy a GM can make is to make this clear to the players, so they can join in narrating, rather than dancing desperately in their false understanding of the interaction in play. 

Actual Play: Improvisation Done Wrong

A recent session of DCC in the Wilderlands has prompted a number of thoughts on the role of the DM (at least as I see it in the context of old school play):

Actual Play Analysis

A random encounter roll provided the result "chalk marks". I liberally interpreted this and decided to make a tableau of chalk representations of the party appear practically under their noses (i.e. in a corridor they had just passed through and were presently returning to).

The party's ranger decided to search for tracks (which takes a turn and thus increases the risk of random encounters). I decided that the chalk marks had been made by a ghost and that he could not find any tracks.

This was a bad decision because my motivation was to get on with the game, i.e. I was not interested in the chalk marks except as a minor distraction to create a spooky atmosphere.

However, it's the players' job to decide which things to investigate, not mine. Moreover, I should not create illusions but run the world -- I should have impartially determined what caused the marks in the first place (using my intution regarding the world and/or the dice).

(In my defence, I was prepared to stand by my decision and, for example, reveal the ghost to a detect magic spell (recently acquired by the party's witch).)

Next, the party decided to modify their representations: A recently killed dog puppy was part of the tableau and depicted as crossed out. The party carefully removed the cross. I rolled a d6, deciding to have the puppy's corpse rise on a 6 as per animate dead (a power I would then have to attribute to the ghost). Nothing happened.

This was an even worse decision because I acted on the players' speculations (i.e. on a 6, they would have come true). This procedure is remniscient of the RPG Donjon by Clinton R. Nixon. In Donjon, a successful check to detect secret doors means that you do indeed find a secret door (i.e. it is invented on the spot and incorporated into the fiction if it was not there before). Donjon is cool, but a very different kind of game than the old school D&D I'm striving for.

The players should feel free to openly speculate about the world or discuss their plans -- without fear of the DM making their fears (or hopes) come true or preempting (or facilitating) their plans.

(At least I rolled a d6 so things did not rely on DM whim alone.)


A note on the nature of random content

Random content is neither arbitrary nor unimportant:

Random encounter tables, for instance, are carefully constructed to reflect the environment. The Barrowmaze features different tables for different sections or different times of the day and my wilderness encounter tables likewise cover different geographical areas.

A random encounter with other tomb raiders should be treated as just as real and important as other stuff. A random roll creates a part of the world that both players and DM can refer back to. Further rolls and/or impartial DM improvisation should flesh out the details as needed.


I failed to take my own roll seriously in the situation described above, deciding it was merely "color" (i.e. window dressing). Eero Tuovinen has more to say about this -- please check out my next post.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Campaign Diary: DCC in the Wilderlands (Session 6)

Session 6: Traps & Treasure

During downtime, one PC tames a wolf and another arranges a marriage for the village crone. Also, the party is invited by Hirot's ruler for a chat. Back in the Barrowmaze, the party discovers a heavily trapped cul-de-sac with a mysterious key in a silver casket. Careful maneuvering neutralizes all threats. Later, they find the richly decorated remains of a beastman recently sacrificed on a dark altar...

  • CD notes that wandering monsters rarely carry any treasure.
  • KT styles his rogue as a ranger (with skills like Survial, Stealth and Beast Mastery and a tame wolf).
  • A random encounter indicates a graffiti and leads to a lot of soul searching for the DM. More about this when I find the time to sort my thoughts.
A nice session. The players expertly navigated the cul-de-sac situation.

Eero Tuovinen Is My Hero (Part I)

Eero Tuovinen writes very eloquently and with great insight about playing D&D. He is currently discussing his approach and an ongoing IRC game at the Story Games forums here: Writing up Eero's Primordial D&D and here: Old School Renaissance: Actual Play - Greysands Campaign.

Here are some nice quotes (emphasis mine):

I am admittedly beyond hardcore on [the matter of low-level lethality]. I entertain myself thinking up ways to make the D&D support even more meaningless lethality. I find that the constant, nihilistic existential pressure focuses minds wonderfully, and makes the occasional streak of success taste all the more sweet. I simply don't have any interest for facilitating the survival of this particular character any further than his choices, talents and luck take him.

I basically just don't take a D&D GM seriously before they've killed a few PCs. We can talk about it all we like, but until I see them do it, it's all insubstantial theory - maybe their characters have just been skilled and lucky, but also maybe the GM is misusing their wide influence to undermine the supposed dangers. (The D&D GM has such a multitude of influences that it's almost impossible to get a legit game if the GM doesn't want one.) Not that I want my character to die when playing, it's just that I want a legit resolution even more. The only difference between a gauntlet by fire and a puppet theater is in whether there actually is a legitimate possibility of failure.

I should say that while it is possible to make things "too difficult", my experience is that GMs generally vastly underestimate the level to which players are willing to rise. The thing is, if you've already decided that the PCs shall, by and large, live and prosper, then you've already made it impossible for the group to find out how high you can go on the difficulty before the players give up. They'll never have the chance to encounter the setting in all of its true brutality if you as GM shirk away from it. You have to be brave first, or the players never get the chance to be.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Campaign Diary: DCC in the Wilderlands (Session 5)

Session 5: Victory!

The party encounters another group of tomb raiders in the Barrowmaze. They manage to steal their clueless rivals' gold but then help them against a skeleton attack. The party's two new dwarf characters sniff out some gems and the party returns to the surface, fighting a series of small battles (with giant rats, mysterious skeletons and a lone skeleton, respectively). For the first time, they return from their adventures without casualties. Three PCs reach level 2.

  • KT had studied the combat rules and led the way setting up flanking positions, using Luck and reminding other players of their characters' special powers. 
  • When KT began to describe his new character at the beginning of the session, cries of "One line of background only!" erupted. KT, known for writing pages and pages of backstory, continued unperturbed -- he is used to friendly ribbing in this matter.
  • Players got more cocky with 1st level characters, particularly ones with poor stats.
  • The way back to the exit was again a tense affair but also took up quite a bit of time. I wonder if we should double the movement rate in known and mapped territory...
  • The players were very pleased with their success (and rightly so, I might add).
  • I keep 'revealing' rules from D&D 3.5e that are second nature to me but which I never bothered explaining. This is a bit irritating to the players but I'm not sure if a huge infodump at the beginning would have been better. Ask me about charging enemies, for instance, and you shall be rewarded!
In a nutshell
A very satisfying session - the characters' success nicely counterbalances the bloodbaths behind (and most likely ahead of) them!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Planet Algol's DM Credo

I'm slowly working my way through the backlog of the excellent Planet Algol blog. Given my recent self-doubts concerning my bloodthirsty DMing style I find the following quote from this post very reassuring.

Believe me, when I'm DMing I'm a combination of Nethack, Captain Bligh, Larry David and Kali. I revel in mayhem, confusion, and horrendous death. But I don't do it to be a jerk or fuck over players; I do it because I love my players and I love my game, and have too much respect for both of them to play kindergarten softball. This isn't World of Warcraft, this isn't T-ball, this isn't Chutes and Ladders; this is Dungeons and fucking Dragons, so you damn well better hustle and sweat and think and pay attention in order to keep your character's head above water blood.
(Blair on Planet Algol)
Amen to that.

(I had to look up half the references - Larry Who? - but I got the vibe straight away.)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Campaign Diary: DCC in the Wilderlands (Session 4)

Session 4: Level-up!

The party scares off a rival band of tomb robbers and later vanquishes its most dangerous foe so far: a giant rattlesnake. Two PCs fall to its poisonous bite and one more perishes as the party is surprised by stirges while looting the snake's rich hoard of gems. Ladden with treasure and snakeskin, the party makes its way back to Hirot. The longest-serving PC attains level 2 and three others are within 100 XP of level 2 as well. Also, the first dwarf character joins the party.

  • KT can't get over D&D's (Labyrinth Lord's, really) often ridiculous prices. I guess we'll switch to Adventurer, Conquerer, King System. I hope ACKS will appease him (and lay the groundwork for the domain game).
  • Several players tried to handwave logistics ("My new guy, who you meet in the dungeon, brought a ladder.", "We're establishing a depot in this room. Can we just say we've moved all the stuff on my shopping list down here?"). I grant them some leeway (i.e. the ladder) but I'm mostly insisting on proper procedure. High Encumbrance = Low Speed = Many Encounters = High Risk!
  • Speaking of which: Logistics and encumbrance are more work than I anticipated: We're using the brilliant encumbrance system of Lamentations of the Flame Princess but there are so many characters and especially recently deceased characters that inventories need to be redistributed frequently.
  • GB measures the dungeon doors to commission custom contraptions to block them. Adapt or die.
  • New PCs are introduced during the big fight. As a result, we didn't even bother with physical descriptions - the newcomers (four level 0 guys and a dwarf) are faceless cannon fodder at this point. We might want to slow down here a bit.
  • The rattlesnake's poison is lethal, but not immediately so. HM suggests brutally treating a victim right away, amputating if necessary. I improvise a harsh procedure, but the victim dies anyway. I'm not 100% happy with the specifics of my procedure but I do not want to stifle player creativity or slow down the game too much. HM's approach sounds reasonable so there should be a chance it works.
  • HM's rogue harvests the rattlesnake's poison. I use a different procedure than last time.  Gotta have more continuity.
  • It's exciting - and a little daunting - how fast the rulings pile up (harvesting poison, emergency amputations etc.). Once the players are more familiar with the rules - they are mostly new to D&D and its retroclones -, I plan to get their input on the specifics.
  • DMing is more strenuous than I'm used to. I'm looking up all sorts of tables and using proper procedure to be impartial. This takes time more time than just handwaving things or making gut decisions all the time. 
  • On the flip side, prep time is way down. I need about 15 min to prep a session (mostly restocking the dungeon).
  • I'm afraid I do have a sadistic streak (What a surprise, given the blog's name, eh?). During the big fight, I revelled in describing all the gore and even cracked some rather cruel jokes at the beleaguered players' expense (<points at battlemat> "So that's where you're moving to die?" etc.). I feel a bit ashamed of myself (Sorry, GB! I'm glad your fighter made level 2!). I hope my bloodthirst is balanced out by utter impartiality.
  • KT points out that CD has lost eight (six?) characters so far. Wow. CD is taking it well and has remained one of the most proactive players throughout.
  • HM remarks that he found the session "very satisfying" - and adds "... but that's probably because my guy survived."
  • Rolling for random encounters on the way back was very tense.
In a nutshell (and from this DM's point of view, I might add)
An immensly satsifying session with lots of suspense, near-death, death and hard-earned victory. I love this shit!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Campaign Diary: DCC in the Wilderlands (Session 3)

Session 3: Dungeon Delving 101

The party finds out that the dungeon has been repopulated. They carry on, using a (phenomenally tough) wardog named Gromit and charmed monsters to take the point. A major fight with giant beetles leaves two PCs dead and another (plus Gromit) unconscious. Things almost turn into a Total Party Kill (TPK). After some dealings in town, the party eagerly returns for a third foray. The players are getting the hang of dungeon delving and spot and neutralize a deadly spider, look in the right spot for a secret door, and leverage the movement rules to fight zombies without risk. W00t!

  • Everyone forgot about DCC's Luck mechanic. The two dead PCs might be alive if we hadn't.
  • There was a lot of heroism. CW has her (tough but injured) character attack with only 1 hp left and she dies. CD sends his character to the front line in order to match CW's courage. His character dies, too.
  • CW names her second PC "Secunda" and seems resigned to quickly lose her and all future characters. The new PC has poor-to-average stats, too, which visibly impacts her motivation.
  • I announce compensation for poor stats (50 gp or XP per total negative modifier or 100 - that is the question now...).
  • Reacting to player input, I introduce a new rule to make armor offer protection against poison needles and the like (i.e. in situations where no attack roll is involved).
  • I allowed the Charm spell to include low-key telepathy to enable communication with charmed vermin. This was a mistake. I was being soft on the player. Also, the spell is powerful enough as it is. I will rule that this is (a) limited to vermin and (b) specific to this character only. Fortunately, this perfectly fits on account of the mercurial magic roll for this spell.
  • I changed one (harmless) monster power on the fly: A ghost caused unconsciousness rather than fear. I don't like fear effects, as they are humiliating and take away agency. On second thought, however, the fear effect could and should have been described as magical, lessening the humiliating aspect. Also, this was a mistake as I violated my principles. I should not change the powers of monsters (at least not like this, i.e. on the fly and for dubious reasons).
  • Random rolls were really tough this time around: The dungeon was restocked with plenty of very dangerous monsters and the beetles' random reaction was "hostile". I fear that the dungeon seems insurmountable and video-gamey as a result.
  • The Barrowmaze has monsters popping up all over the place (due to the restocking rules) or waiting in isolated areas without exits, rhyme or reason. I do have an explanation for this but I'm afraid none is visible to the players at the moment. I'm afraid that the dungeon must seem very artificial and video-gamey as a result (and Philotomy's "Mythic Underworld" aesthetic is an acquired taste).
  • The zombie ploy should not have worked quite like this. I forgot about the maneuver "partial charge". Fortunately, the zombies rarely had the room for that so in this case the outcome was unaffected by my oversight. I will inform the players and/or change zombie tactics to "overrun the enemy regardless of opportunity attacks".
In a nutshell
An enjoyable session with lots of mistakes behind the scenes. I need to get my act together.

Campaign Diary: DCC in the Wilderlands (Session 2)

Session 2: First Blood

The party manages to close the door with the rats still behind it. They explore several rooms and run into traps and zombies. 4 out of 10 PCs die and are replaced on the spot (i.e. another tomb raider rounds the corner to help out with the still unfinished battle). Perseverance and a hunch lead to the biggest treasure yet.

  • The characters of two absentee players died. Both were particularly cherished (having survived a funnel adventure in spectacular fashion and sporting a natural 18, respectively). The deaths were brutal but okay, but it sucks that the players were not present.
  • The players were disappointed with the treasure. The payout was 70 gp per character so level 2 (at 1000 XP) seems a looong way off. As I have read this complaint about Barrowmaze before, I will double all treasure values in the main complex.
  • I dropped my plan to use vague prices (for mundane goods) after only one session and gave the exact listed prices instead.
  • I had all random encounters materialize near the PCs, i.e. I rolled, got zombies, and had nearby corpses rise as said zombies. This was a mistake as it circumvents the rules for encounter distance (to be established randomly).
  • After the game, the players talked about establishing depots of oil etc., bringing a ladder and developing safety measures (e.g. securing characters with rope). They are rising to the challenge.
  • Via e-mail, the players further talked about establishing procedures for splitting the loot, unrealistic rules, and handling the PCs of players going to sleep during the session (one player's a kid, another a very busy working mom).
In a nutshell
Sitting back, just playing the world and not knowing how things would turn out was great fun.

Campaign Diary: DCC in the Wilderlands (Session 1)

Session 1: To the Barrowmaze!

The newly created party meets up to plunder the recently discovered Barrowmaze. Play begins on the road. The characters travel from Zerthstone to Ottergild, buy some equipment and continue to Hirot. After checking in at the local inn, visiting Hirot's only temple and Ekim's Extraordinary Emporium, they start their first expedition into the Barrowmaze. After a couple of empty rooms, they open a door to encounter a swarm of huge rats. The session ends with a cliffhanger.

  • Character creation took two hours (twice as long as I estimated). I hope that the players will eventually learn to roll up a new character in five minutes.
  • Keeping track of encumbrance and rolling for (wilderness) encounters felt a bit tedious, but I think it is important to establish these key procedures.
  • The players scoffed at D&D's economy, specifically the gold standard and certain prices. I am considering switching the economy to Adventurer, Conqueror, King System (ACKS).
In a nutshell
A slow start but hopefully laying the groundwork.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Campaign Diary: DCC in the Wilderlands (Pre-game Notes)

I've finally started a Wilderlands campaign using my heavily house-ruled version of Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC). My goals are to provide challenge-based sandbox play in the mold of Ben Robbins' West Marches campaign and especially Eero Tuovinen's D&D campaigns (a huge topic you'll have to google by yourself if you are interested). To get the hang of the rules in practice, I've settled on the acclaimed Barrowmaze as a starting point. I plan on opening up the Wilderlands world as the game progresses.

DCC, especially in my version, offers fast character creation (to make a lethal game viable), fast play (to get lots of stuff done), high lethality (to make choices and die rolls matter) and its trademark unpredictability (to protect against lingering habits to railroad and to generate an Appendix N-feel).

The Wilderlands offers just the right ratio of inspiring detail and white space on outstanding maps. I'm using the excellent if somewhat verbose Necromancer edition. Of course, I've heavily modified the setting, too.

I plan to provide the first couple of session reports soon and to then switch to a more regular schedule.