|dungeon explorers are like lemmings: default = "plod recklessly forward"|
I've been here before with adventuring parties much smaller than my current 23 players. Heck, even in the bearded-adult role-playing game that I run about every fortnight the guys are merciless about splitting up and getting into various sorts of trouble while I scramble to spin plates and keep things from getting dull (it's largely about knowing exactly when to cut to the other scene). So when prepping session two I could reasonably guess where things were going and have some challenges and Smartboard slides awaiting my intrepid middle schoolers.
I opened class by sharing their own feedback and analysis of the last session and engaged the kids in trying to solve the problem of pace (though two students did observe that we moved faster the longer we played). Several kids suggested having a second referee, so that we could adjudicate orders and narrate at roughly twice the pace -- very cool ... they want to grow new DMs ... isn't that really the ultimate Victory Condition for this exercise in role-playing / pedagogical mash-up? Help them reach a stage where there can be four or five sessions running simultaneously while I float to support and oversee?
I had three volunteers and chose one brave young lady (non-gamer, no former tabletop experience) to jump in and assist.
The party quickly put the beat-down on the remaining two killer crocs and then, as predicted, promptly split the party -- one group paddling east across the pool and the others heading south -- each group with some vague notion that their route seemed the most likely way down into the crater and The Forbidden City.
Handling the Split Party:
Actually, this was much easier than in a tabletop RPG with a more normal sized group of players. There I think constantly about dramatic pacing (when to cut the scene) and player boredom. Here, we simply switched back and forth between each turn. Here I'll relate what happened to each group separately however.
The Southern Tunnel: "What Could Make Tracks Like That?"
The southern group skirted the croc pool and came to a broad, sandy cavern with a tempting set of steps leading up to a closed door. Showing more caution than I would have guessed, they carefully skirted the marked, damp portion of the floor, opting to try to cling to the eastern wall and climb to the foot of the stairs.
I hadn't considered that option, but figured, "Why not?" Because Dagger characters have no ability scores, their saving throw (15+ on all checks for every class at first level) became the skill check for the two plate mail armored explorers who tried it. One succeeded, the other fell into the ... da-da-da-dummm quicksand!
"I knew it! I knew it! That's why I didn't go there!"
While this one guy started gather crocodile bones from the heap they found near the mouth of the cavern in hopes of making a bridge of some kind, a few of the cagier elves began rolling search checks (1-2 on 1d6), hoping to score a little loot. Instead they found some strange tracks -- huge clawed tracks with wide placement, as if some arthropod of great size had ...
"I check the ceiling."
"I make a listen check."
"I make a fire-arrow and shoot it toward the shadows at the back of the cave."
"I go back to where the other group is."
Just as one plucky knight (that's what fighters are called in Dagger) and his elf companion manage to reach the steps and two other elves work to pull an explorer from the quicksand, danger pounces!
I wanted to draw a creature with an ankheg in mind, but ran short of prep time and couldn't get to a scanner, so I grabbed an internet pic. The kids were suitable impressed and there were groans and perhaps even a squeal or two when I displayed a 5' x 5' view of this image, attributed to Matt Bulahao.
While three explorers tried to sneak away to the south (and found a dead end) and three more ignored the monster to pound open the stuck door and look for treasure, the rest proceeded to kick the tar out of the monster. I gave it AC 15, 3 attacks/round, and 40 hit points. It was down by about half and getting ready to use its acid-regurgitation attack when class ended. [BTW, that's a pretty good sentence to be able to write about a middle school class]
The Eastern Tunnel: "The Walking Dead Taught Me What Happens When You Act Like a Hero"
The Eastern tunnel group found their way into a cavern of their own, this one dimly lit by an opening far above. Though a few more Yellow Musk Creepers were clearly marked on the map, at least one hapless elf strayed too close, failed his save and became our first casualty. Soon, however, it became clear that mere recklessness wasn't to blame ... someone on a shelf at the eastern end of the cave was actually pelting the Creepers with stones in effort to get them to release their deadly pollen over the party!
It was the pesky tasloi of course, and when the party didn't retreat they soon added javelins and hurled stones to their barrage. The dice were rolled openly and were quite vicious. In but a few rounds both wizards and an elf were down and two more explorers were wounded. The group faltered, then one young lady (non-gamer) decided to throw her self at those vines in an effort to climb up and take the fight to the "gremlins".
Perhaps inspired by her courage, my lone hard-core gamer student (he's played console RPGs quite a bit and quickly categorized this as a "dungeon crawl") did something unexpected: he dashed to the center of the cave and, noticing that my illustration of the tasloi had large, sensitive ears, he began shouting and banging his shield to draw their attention while his fellows climbed up the trailing vines. He endured the first volley of about five rolls unscathed (and there were some cheers) but the second brought him down with hits from two heavy stones.
As the class ended, the first three explorers reached the top of the shelf and quickly began dispatching their foes (knights get 2 attacks / round in Dagger).
We will open again with discussion on Monday and I'll give short, reflective writing assignments to the four players of deceased characters while we move to the final encounter area (rope bridge) and the Eastern end of the Black Canyon.