Sunday, November 29, 2015

Dwimmermount with Middle Schoolers - VIII

In our eighth Dwimmermount session, the adventures took a break from the mega-dungeon and its mysteries to travel to the nearby city-state of Adamas to spend their loot and gear-up for their next foray.

This was our first opportunity to work with my "district deck" approach, and it empowered players to make their own purchases with minimum intervention.

As the characters moved from district to district, the dice produced a couple random encounters:

Vale contracted brain fever while trying her luck in the gambling dens of the Excastrum district.  Her condition steadily declined until she was finally able to arrive at an arrangement with a priest of St. Tyche, requiring her to move a portable altar into Dwimmermount.

Meanwhile, Grim was interrupted while browsing the stalls of the Great Market by the hue and cry being raised.  Already bearing a thumb-brand for theft, the watchmen were quick to take him into custody and proceeded to handle him roughly until he bribed them for his release.

In our last half hour of play, the group returned to Muntburg and once more passed through the Red Gate of Dwimmermount to press a bit farther into the dungeon, routing a fresh pack of beastmen and closing in on the suspected location of a staircase leading deeper into the ancient mountain fortress.

I appreciate the way that awarding experience for treasure spent creates a rhythm that carries the explorers in and out of the dungeon at intervals, while always offering players a default goal to pursue whether in town or exploring a labyrinth.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Getting Around Town: Urban Adventuring

I have never been satisfied with my approach to urban adventuring, so when the middle school players in my Dwimmermount campaign announced their intent to visit the city-state of Adamas, I felt the push to try something new.

Ultimately, the front cover was the best part
of this misnamed monolith 
Back in high school, when I played AD&D weekly, I occasionally used the big, fold-out city maps that came with the "City System" boxed set ... but at five and a half by eleven feet ... the maps certainly had a kind of grandeur, but were very hard to actually use at / near the table.

The players never really learned their way around ...

player: "What's number 85?"

me: "Well, it's um ... [flip, flip] ... a candle shop."

player: "I don't want any.  What's number 62?"

me: "Well, um ..."


There's Wayne, from Wayne's Books
posing with a copy.

One solution was to simply label the map, but that still fell a bit flat for me, perhaps because the names alone still didn't empower the players to make informed choices. 

Recently, however, I read Roger G-S's musings on a Street Guide Without Streets.  Mphs.Steve's comment got me thinking about what old maps of cities actually look like and how I can offer my players a shorthand description of exactly what they can do in various districts.

Some historical maps, like this one of Jerusalem,
create a feel for the place without naming or even picturing each street.
Here's what I've worked out so far:
  • a simple sketch of the city to establish a feeling for the place
  • each district gets a card, placed directly on the map
  • each district card lists several locations and what can be purchased, learned, or sold there (e.g. "Jasper the Alchemist - substances identified, select potions at 500 gp / spell level")
  • each time a character enters a district, I roll a D6 for encounters (random encounter on a 1)
  • each district has its own random encounter card (color-coded for fast sorting) 

Here's what it looked like
with cards in place.
As we add locations to a district, I can just add additional cards to that district's pile without the bother of re-keying the map

 The first run went reasonably well, with the players focusing on where they wanted to go and telling me their next move.

"I want to go to the market stalls."

"I'm going to the Shrine to St. Tyche to ask about a healing spell."

My job became as simple as rolling for street encounters and animating key NPCs as they visited their chosen locations.  No flipping around through a city sourcebook, and no delays at the table!

One problem was that the district card text was too small for each player to see from their seats with ease.  Perhaps each location in a district should get its own card and the players can simply sort through the deck when visiting that part of the city.

Finally, it was clear that miniatures would come in handy when tracking movement from one district to another.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Christmas List

Parenting involves so much guesswork that it's nice to have a bit of affirmation from time to time.  This can come from simple places like ... my oldest kid's Christmas List:

  • bigger karate bag
  • classic legos
  • Doctor Who legos
  • D&D Expert set for sissy
  • Books
  • Pet owlbear

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Dwimmermount with Middle Schoolers - VII

With Vale and Ivor’s players away this week, we asserted that they had journeyed to the nearby city-state of Adamas to spend their loot while Grim (disgraced soldier-turned rogue) and Y’draneal (elven rogue) continued their exploration of the legendary mountain fortress in hopes of making another big score. 

The pair of would-be burglars (now second level) were joined by “Blaze,” who apprenticed in spellcraft alongside Hakka (and played by Hakka’s former player) and Curteff, a doughty sell-sword.  

Curteff’s player was another of a growing number of club alumni who have returned from high school to help run games and mentor middle schoolers in the fine art of the dungeon.  

This particular player had also participated in my strategy games elective, and some of his exploits are recounted elsewhere in this blog.  

Since leaving middle school, he has successfully hooked up with a weekly D&D 3.5 group at The Game Vault, our Friendly Local Games Store, and I’m gratified to think that I may have had some hand in that.

After a bit of mucking about in Muntburg, the group unfolded Y’draneal’s map and continued exploring heretofore unexplored areas of the dungeon’s first level.  With Vale away, the party elected to steer clear of chambers where they had met the small, deranged men in prior sessions:

“Yeah, they’ll probably attack us with their shovels or something!”

With Grim scouting ahead, the group soon came upon some more of the porcine beastmen that they’ve faced before (we still haven't used the word "o_ _" in this campaign).  Curteff showed both indomitable courage and deadly skill with his blade and, supported by a bit of arrow fire, he soon dispatched them.  

The adventurers discovered that the beastmen had a captive – a thick-bodied, bearded man of no more than a child’s height.  Blaze was able to identify this fellow as a “Dwimmerling” or “dwarf” in the common speech … a rare creature of magical origin, said to originate from somewhere within the Dwimmermount.  The creature offered them a reward if they would free him and bring him to safety, and the party readily agreed. 

Image result for dwarf prisoner
By this time, a second pack of beastmen had crept up behind the group and launched a surprise attack, but to little effect.  Curteff again cleaved through their ranks and set the creatures to squealing, shrieking flight, though by this time the group has seen enough to have a pretty clear idea of what section of the dungeon these enemies keep sallying forth from.

The group did a little more exploring before leaving the ancient fortress; enough time for Curteff to discover that roasted beastman does indeed smell like pork, Y’draneal to receive a near fatal bite from some hard-shelled arthropod, Grim to start a fire, and Curteff to claim a two-foot-long insect as a pet.  The dwarf proved good to his word and the explorers were rewarded with several heavy bars of silver, earning and spending enough for Curteff to gain second level.

A fine little session which developed a few more patterns and mysteries within Dwimmermount.

Friday, November 6, 2015

House Rule: Carousing Level and Minimum Hit Points when Leveling

I had never heard of Dave Arneson's house rule for XP being awarded for gold spent (vs merely recovered from the dungeon) until I came across it while reading through old Grognardia posts.
The idea didn't do much for me at the time, however, so I just filed it away under, "interesting variants I'll probably never use."

Much later, in Jeff Rient's romping, madcap blog, I discovered his carousing table -- essentially a way for players to gamble on blowing their wealth for even more XP.  It was definitely a cute idea for a certain kind of campaign, but I didn't really see myself using it either.

Since I started running Dwimmermount, however, I decided to follow James Maliszewski's advice and give XP for gold spent a try ... but what exactly are the characters supposed to spend it on?  I mean, how many warhorses can one guy collect?  The expanded equipment list for 5th edition D&D will help a bit (once I multiply a few of the prices by 10), but even that will only go so far.

Image result for horses rowRecently though, the final piece dropped into place.  Somewhere over the years ... maybe in GURPs? ... FASA's Shadowrun perhaps? ... I'd come across the notion of a character's economic lifestyle impacting their healing rate.  Characters who lived wretchedly wouldn't recover at the same rate as those who could afford a luxurious lifestyle.  That's a no-starter in 5th edition with its accelerated healing rates, but then I got to thinking ...

What if your lifestyle (modest, rich, opulent, princely), as established by your choice of when carousing, determines your minimum hit points when leveling up?

That way the players have a very compelling reason to risk a roll on the mishap table.  A rich lifestyle, for instance, means that your lowest possible roll is a 2, whereas a princely level of indulgence assures that, even if the dice come up a 1, you'll add at least 4 hit points when leveling up.

Important to note -- this isn't a bonus, the maximum possible hit points gained remains the same, it simply represents an (expensive) insurance policy of sorts against bum rolls.  And once they buy-in?  The characters have to keep paying to maintain that benefit.