Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Dwimmermount Season Two: The Bill Comes Due

Intent on discovering vaults yet to be breached by the 40 or more characters who've been swallowed by the megadungeon over the previous 15 real-life months, an optimistic (and reckless) band of first level characters descended to level 4 in search of prime loot and immediately found themselves in encounters that were way out of their league.

Image result for minotaurCaptured by ogre-sized, bull-men they agreed to use their (extremely modest) magic to bring Commandant Bik the head of Krishka, the Matron of Rats.  Soon captured in turn by the rat-folk, the group wasted no time in double-crossing Bik and his savage bovines.

"We have come to help you in the war against the minotaurs." *

"Yeah, we were kidnapped by minotaurs."

However, one of the rat-things recognized first level wizard, Oliver from an earlier skirmish in which the group had aided Bik's warriors and fried one of the rodent-men with a spell.  It began pointing at Oliver and jabbering into Krishka's ear.

Image result for backstab"I think I have a great plan ... I take my sword and cut Oliver's head off." **

Though they scattered initially, eventually the rats rallied, clearly impressed by the party's savagery.  Soon the same rat-thing started pointing at Lucin the archer and jabbering again (perhaps recalling that Lucin shot him in the back some time before).  The other creatures looked on expectantly.

"I simply explain that I will not be killing him at this time."

Krishka made no effort to hide her mistrust of these outsiders, "What do you want in exchange for slaying Commandant Bik?"

"We want the choice to live among you as kings."

"No?  How about really, really good best friends then?"

The party was permitted to rest on the edge of the rat territory (under close surveilance from Krishka's folk) and plan their assault.

"Remember, Bik's a big, fat phony.  All his bodyguards look just like him.  It's just a mirror!"

[this was a pretty reasonable assumption having seen the Mirror Image spell in action -- they never suspected that the great brutes might be clones!]

Setting out, they decided to take the most direct route for Bik's throneroom and stab him a lot.  They kicked in the first door they came to and charged!

Image result for david goliathI assumed that we'd have a total-party-kill within two rounds, but the dice seemed to share the blind enthusiasm of my players and they fought on in the face of my consistent single-digit rolls.  Spells soon expended, three magic-users flung themselves into hand-to-hand combat alongside their teammates.  In fact, they actually managed to bring one of the big bull-men down before the odds caught up with them.  Then, in the blink of an eye, Sialren the elf lost a hand, Lucin Fohrdatboi was cut down, and as the rest fled Thanatos was captured.

Image result for hooves cowRetreating to rat-folk territory the survivors made excuses to Krishka and plans, mapping out a campaign of attrition that they hoped would eventually break Bik's grip on level four.  Their respite was broken prematurely, however, when the bull-men launched a raid of their own.  Deimos continued trying to rally the rats even as the maimed Sialren and Maester Coleman fled, and the madcap mage was struck down at last under the stamping hooves of the enemy.

As club wrapped up for the week, we ran a series of opposed die-rolls to see if the elf and wizard could escape the dungeon before Bik's troops could overtake them.  The pair made it out by a healthy margin, living to tell the tale.

* I cordially dislike the use of the name "minotaur" (bull of Minos) in D&D.  It doesn't make a bit of sense outside of a Greek/Minoan context.  "Medusa" as a race also bugs me, though I have no problem with "gorgon."  Do other DMs have similar hangups I wonder?

** I don't normally allow player characters to attack each other--with middle school players it just degenerates into a series of grudges and hurt feelings--but Oliver's player was busy running Wiz-War at another table and I knew he wouldn't mind much.

We are at kind of a tricky place with Dwimmermount now.  The upper floors have been looted, so characters won't level up based on recovering a good haul of treasure from those levels.  Trying to level up through victories in combat requires either careful tactics (which many of my novice players lack) or completely beating the odds.  On the otherhand, diving deep enough to find rich, unspoiled troves pits the low-level PCs against massively superior brutes like "Bik", making their chance of survival very slim indeed.

The original Dwimmermount campaign developed organically around the play-style and choices of author James Maliszewski's own players ... it's a great fit for those seasoned, careful, and thoughtful players (having been built around them), but Dwimmermount shows its limitations over time with a band of impetuous, impulsive novices.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Dwimmermount Season Two: Much Ado About Rats

We opened the episode with a gaggle of first level characters down on the fourth level of the mountain fortress, clinging to a fortuitous alliance with a platoon of bellicose bull-men. 

Image result for minotaurHaving roasted a rat-man with magic, the big, bovine brutes decided that the adventurers were both amusing and potentially useful. Commandant Bik, impressed with Oliver's spell (and not realizing that the timid mage's sorcery was exhausted) and charmed by adept Deimos's fast talking, agreed to hire the explorers as mercenaries to help his bulls defeat Krishka's rat-folk.

Bik agreed to Deimos's bid of 500 gold for the rat-matron's head so quickly that they realized that they had either asked far too low an amount or that Bik planned to doublecross them.

The five characters from last session were joined by three others (each run by a first time player), on the fairly thin rationale that they had become separated from their ecclesiastic expedition by teleportation traps and were captured by Bik's troops. The brutes just assumed that the strangers all belonged together.

The party:
  • Deimos the mage, level 1 MU (and de facto leader, though out of spells, this player's second time playing)
  • Master Coleman, level 1 MU (complete newbie)
  • Rudolf the goblin (virtual newbie)
  • Salren the elf (this player has been in perhaps a half dozen sessions)
  • Lucin the archer (level 1 thief, first tabletop RPG session for this player too)
  • Oliver the adept, level 1 MU (no spells remaining, played by a seasoned RPG veteran with more than 150 sessions under his belt)
  • Thanatos, a veteran of earlier expeditions (level 1 fighter, played by a veteran of my summer games class)
  • Excalibur the swordsman  (level 1 fighter, played by a 2-year games club vet)
Provided a pair of bull-man escorts and the password to the teleport traps that had plagued them last session, the crew advanced into rat territory.  The beastmen drew back to let the group do its work.

"Oh no, they are going to ambush us!  He said those hoof prints in the dust were suspicious."

"Um, he said, 'conspicuous' ."

"Well ... still, I don't trust 'em."

Image result for split the party

Dwimmermount is a series of stacked and jumbled mazes of course, so when the inevitable branch appeared in the tunnel ahead the middle schoolers did EXACTLY what I've come to expect ... they split the party.

Image result for split the partyFor my sanity I insisted that the players seat themselves according to their marching order.  A quick shuffle later and both groups had positioned their nearly defenseless mages at the front and their heavily armored fighters in the rear ... a puzzling choice, because even if the newer players hadn't quite realized the importance of armor class yet (especially when the average party member had 4 hp or less), it seems like the vets might have spoken up at this point.

Team North took a left and halted when the glare of their torch was reflected by several pairs of eyes.

"Those aren't minotaurs."

"Maybe they are baby minotaurs."

"I don't think so."

"I ready my bow."

"Hey, those rat-men we saw before were invulnerable.  They just kept healing their wounds."

"Yeah, but you killed that one."

"With my spell ... my ONE spell ... I can't do that again today."

"Well ... here, I have this mutant jawbone ... give that to them.  Maybe we can make friends.  Tell them we come in peace and give them the bone."

"Guys, we were hired to kill them."

Meanwhile Team South popped a door open and came nose to nose with a second pack of rat-men.  The abrupt light and the presence of loud intruders spooked the creatures and they took flight toward a stair that descended to dungeon level five.  As many battered substitute teachers will tell you ... the one thing you must never do with middle schoolers is show fear ... they can smell it.

"I shoot one with my bow!"

"I'm gonna swing at them with my shovel."

"I run after them and try to learn their language!"

Image result for startle easily back in greater numbersThe gleeful pursuit was short-lived, however, for upon arriving on level five the rat-men were reinforced by three more of their kind.  The party was now outnumbered two-to-one, and though easily startled, the creatures soon returned ... and in greater numbers.

"Hey, we are peaceful ... we don't want to fight you."

DM: "You tell this to the one you shot in the back?"


DM: "Chittering in anger they spring at you with notched knives and bared teeth."

Image result for skavenExcalibur took a deep wound, leaving his swordarm dangling and useless as he tried to staunch the bleeding.  Deimos's heel was punctured right through his boots by long, yellow teeth.  Rudolf the goblin switched from his (?) shovel to a filthy blanket, snapping it at the rat-creatures like a whip to keep them at bay.   For his part, Lucin made no more attacks, but stuck doggedly to his efforts to negotiate despite being attacked several times.  During a lull in the fight one of the beasts replied:

"Throw down your bow, leave your dead, and depart or we shall kill you."

Back up on level four Master Coleman (played by a novice) worked on negotiating his own deal with the half dozen ratmen that now blocked Team North's progress.

"What can we do that will make you trust us?"

Rat-dudes: "Put out that torch."

"No way!"

"I can see in the dark, I don't care."

"Um ... okay."

Emboldened the rat-creatures approached and began binding any character who didn't resist.  

"Don't you trust us now?"

Rats: "We shall take you to Krishka.  She will judge you."

"Oh no, I'm scared of people with 'K' names!"

Thanatos wasn't going to go quietly and, though blind, he began swinging away with his axe.  Oliver immediately protested.

"Don't!  Your going to hit me!"

Image result for roll one dieI gave it a one-in-six chance and let the players roll ... sure enough, Oliver took a hit to the side of the head and was sent sprawling.  With the other party members having already surrendered, Thanatos agreed to go quietly.

Oliver's death checks indicated that he had been struck with the back of the axe, and though unconscious he would soon recover.  Team North was rounded up and marched off to see the matron of the rat-folk.

Down on level five Lucin threw down his bow and even offered the rat creatures a few of his precious, silver coins.

DM: "When you hold the coins out they recoil, twitching."

"They're alergic to silver!"

"Okay, sorry.  I put them away."

Despite Deimos's efforts to staunch the bleeding, Excalibur's wound proved too grievous and the fighter expired.  Stripping his body of arms and gear, he was left for the rats as Team South retreated back up the steps to level five.  


Eight players is a big group for middle school because the attention spans are (usually) shorter, my comfort zone is three to six, so I had to keep things moving that much faster at the table to keep them engaged.

Thank goodness I was running house-ruled B/X this year vs last year's 5th edition, otherwise I might have lost them.

Even so, we only managed 4 rooms/encounters in 80 minutes ... which isn't terrible (they had fun) but I was really conscious of the effort to keep pulling each player back into the narrative.

Related imageWe had exactly 40 students at club this week and, though I was posted at one corner of the library, background noise became a factor too ... the farthest players from me sometimes had to repeat their actions.  I've never gamed at a convention, but that must be something that DMs in that setting really have to work around.

That being said, I'm delighted that tabletop roleplaying continues to make a strong showing in kid-interest each week as students select which table to game at (4 of our eight tables this week by my count).  Even more importantly, (in my mind anyway) kids are continuing to run RPGs for each other, which is pretty crazy when you consider that they all have interactive digital gaming at their fingertips.