Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Dwimmermount with Middle Schoolers - I

Following a character generation and general introduction session, this week in my after school games club 4 players (all 7th and 8th graders) began a serious exploration of Dwimmermount, James Maliszewski's megadungeon.

Never one to shy away from system heresy, I'm running it using 5th edition D&D, both to challenge myself to stay abreast of changes in the game and to help the players become familiar with a game that they can actually find being sold retail in our community (Pathfinder being the only other real choice in that department).

The lads (all four players are male) created what may have been the squishiest party I've ever seen, with two wizards and two rogues / thieves with nobody wearing any protection better than plain old leather armor, except for the fact that, as a sort of afterthought, they hired a pair of mail-clad mercenaries from the nearby fastness of Muntburg.

Our explorers:

  • Grim, a former soldier of the Muntburg garrison who was branded for thieving (we don't yet know if he is innocent or not) and who is persona non grata around the fortress.  Grim offered to act as a guide, steering the party to the foot of the haunted mountain.

  • Haka, a socially off-putting wizard who is obsessed with walking in the legendary footsteps of Turms Termax.

  • Vale, a persuasive female adept of the magical arts.  Over the last few weeks she has had strange, vivid dreams of the mountain and powerful minds waking and stirring in the depths.

  • Y'draneal, an elf who sees in the long-sealed fortress of Dwimmermount the chance to pull off the largest burglary job in memory.  As the group's only demi-human he does what he can to keep his race concealed, though he is sometimes betrayed by the cinnamon-like odor he emits.

Joined by two sell-swords (Ivar and Hethla) and having failed to convince the castle bailiff to part with any of his prized mastiffs, the small band was met in the gateway of Muntburg by Faure, an apprentice of Jasper, a sage of the nearby city-state of Adamas.  It has come to Jasper's ears that there has been an increase in the activity around Dwimmermount and, should anyone manage to find a way to breech the long-sealed halls, he would be willing to pay well for accurate maps.  The party rebuffed this offer vigorously, fearing that somehow they were being played, but after taking their leave Y'draneal hastily made his way back to Faure's side and secured the name of the street wherein he might find the sage.

Passing the Red Doors of Dwimmermount's first level with surprising ease, the party seemed quite interested in interacting with the various statues they found, going so far as to look for levers or ancient inscriptions.

Soon, however, the party seemed to fall victim to the same odd, lemming-like spirit that I've seen strike many dungeon delvers of their age ... despite a few suggestions that it might not be a wise course, they split the party ... then spit it again.

art  by Chad Thorson
Now Y'draneal may have had some reason to strike out on his own ... the party's light spell was spoiling the darkvision which he was in no hurry to admit possessing, and he was intent on mapping (something that the others didn't seem interested in bothering with).

On the other hand, Haka and Grim seemed propelled forward by a mix of greed and the need to be the first to find the next thing of interest.  Their headlong exploration soon led them into contact with some kind of porcine beastmen wearing the remnants of ancient Thulian armor.

A Charm spell on the foremost creature forestalled immediate combat, but the session ended with the pair dashing back up the long hallway with a whole pack of the brutes at their heels.

As a DM, this left me pondering once again what impels such blind recklessness among my players.

I think that electronic games are probably a contributing factor.

Earlier in the week I played Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess with my younger daughter.  The design of the game, which is heavily focused on both dungeon exploration and combat, pushes the player to rapidly expand her map of explored areas.

In fact, in Zelda, the newly discovered door or passage is nearly always the right way to go.  Rational, efficient game play includes dashing into unexplored areas with the greatest speed possible.  Death isn't really an obstacle because of Link plunges to his doom down some chasm you just restart (with all the same equipment), having only lost a little progress.

What makes perfect sense on a console platform, however, is a recipe for failure and frustration in a classic table-top game.

I'll be interested in seeing if I can shift these young lads to different mode of play.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Return of Strategy Games Club

Caves of Chaos by Michael Komarck
Tomorrow marks the return of my after-school Strategy Games Club.  Open to students grades 6-8, we are usually joined by a number of club alumni from the nearby high school as well.

In addition to the usual fare (Settlers of Catan, Small World, Risk, and Shadows Over Camelot) this year's lineup will include two new additions of note:
  • My older daughter, now in 6th grade, will be running an extended B/X wilderness sandbox D&D campaign based entirely on classic TSR module X1 The Isle of Dread.  This setting is just packed with potential: dinosaur hunts, a ruined temple, lost races, pirates, pearl beds, and the zombie master!  She's run around nine sessions on the island before, and she's comfortable with the setting, so her growth will come in the areas of group management (she observed just today that middle schoolers are more demanding as players than high school students) and engaging, evocative descriptions.  Both of these will come through practice of course.

  • Once my daughter's table is full, I'll be offering Dwimmermount, run with 5th edition D&D.  Yes, that cross-version heresy will doubtless cost me my OSR card, but turning new roleplayers on to a version of the game that is both in print and which can be found in retail stores like Barnes and Noble or Books-a-Million just feels like a better way to go.  I'll be adapting on the fly, so there will be some rough patches, but aside from 30 years experience with mixing versions I've also got this going for me ... that's right ... Dwimmermount coil-bound, baby!  No grappling with $75 worth of "looks pretty on a shelf" ... Imma gonna use this sucker ... which means it's going to need to lay flat on the table just like my copy of Chainmail.
It'll be good to get back into the swing and get a third RPG campaign up and running again.