Two posts in one day?! The Alt-Right DM is kind. Also, he had to get this off his chest:
Two posts in one day?! The Alt-Right DM is kind. Also, he had to get this off his chest:
We got a new recruit! The Other Game Shop doesn’t have as big a crowd as The Game Shop, and most of the guys here are into CCGs, but one fine fellow’s scheduled opponent didn’t show up, so he joined us for a little dungeon spelunkin’.
The usual two showed up as well, and this time, they had, “A Plan”. A plan. Ha! They make me laugh.
They bought twenty pounds of meat – devil monster boars eat meat, right? – and a bunch of poison. Then they headed into the northern entrance of The Dungeon and hucked the meat into the boar pit (see map) as they raced for the Tomb. They didn’t get far before running into a squad of lizardmen returning from the Hot Springs. For those new to this campaign, that means the lizardmen are +1 to hit and +1 AC from the refreshing bath they just took.
The goblins were alerted to the presence of the party by the loud squeals of the boarsas they feasted on the rain of poisoned meat and came up to check out the ruckus. The King sent out a lone squad to investigate. (They didn’t check on what the boars were eating – I gave that a 50/50 chance – so all the boars in the pit died of poison. Easy XP, baby.) The goblin patrol noticed the party tangling with the lizardmen, but being lukewarm allies with the lizards, the goblins decided to hang back and watch the fight (again a 50/50 chance which came up aces for the PCs).
After dispatching the lizardmen, the party continued into the dungeon, straight to the (unbeknownst to them) False Tomb. They spotted the big doors, the swinging bridge, and the ten skeleton swordsmen. The Cleric did what clerics do, and they thought that left an easy three skeletons to deal with. Only once the arrows started to fall did they realize that there were ten totes not-turned skeleton archers on the opposite side of the gorge.
Whoops. The wizard who lives in the dungeon and set them on this path (Nerkish the Spergish) didn’t mention that part. Two party members died, one screaming as he plunged to his death in the gorge, they pulled back and decided a little exploration was in order instead.
They found one of the hot springs (unoccupied) and then ran into a full goblin warparty consisting of the King, twelve gobbos, and six boars. They thought it was going to be a TPK, but the poison finally kicked in and the three boars died on the first round of combat. Confused that their heavy artillery had gone down, the goblin’s morale plummeted. They managed to make the already depleted party pay, but once they hit the six goblins dead mark (half the group) they bolted for the safety of their locked lair, the King screaming for them to get back in the fight the whole way.
The party exited stage north.
The survivors levelled up, the rest rolled up replacement characters, and this time brought along as many henchlings as they could for an all-out assault on the Goblin Cave – they descended the long stairs to the left and instead of gerblins found a gray oooze. They were not ready for that. They ran out, leaving three party members behind and put a big red “Don’t Go Here” on their map.
They know there’s a lot of gold coinage down in the puddle with that ooze, but they want to come back with a lot of oil and burn it out later. The important thing from their perspective is that they now know where the goblins live (behind the locked door to the right of the north entrance). But that will have to wait until next week.
Let’s step back and look at this from a DM’s perspective for a minute, shall we?
After three sessions we’ve had almost a dozen battles. The players have mapped out probably half the dungeon, but none of the real critter lairs. They’ve dealt with one big bad guy (Bruud), encountered and run from another (the ooze and owlbears), encountered and kind of work for or been duped by another (Nerkish). They have killed nearly half the goblins, their shaman, and all of their boars.
After three sessions they have two PCs at second level, they have multiple plans for raids on The Other Dungeon. They have brought out just enough loot to keep wanting to back down. They are THIS close to connecting the two lobes of their maps. They know where some fat loot is and have a plan to kill the ooze guarding it. They are thinking about raiding the Weird Wizard Nerkish’s headquarters to get back at him for not telling them about the skeletons. They even think they can end the threat of wandering snakes if they blunder into the lizardmens’ cave. Options galore!
Of the five major factions, they’ve completely dealt with one, allied with another, declared war against a third, and briefly encountered the other two. When the dungeon was prepped I had no idea what those relationships were. I just knew who was where and sketched out some basic reasons for the factions to be moving around. (The goblins walk the dogs. The lizards hit the showers. The wizard checks the tomb.) After the dice came into play we learned the lizards and goblins avoid each other, but have no love lost. We learned Nerkish is cunning and untrustworthy. Poor old Bruud had no time to find out his role before he died.
Twelve hours of fun so far, with no end in sight. Even if their luck holds, you can see how this little dungeon can last for at least another twenty hours of fun and might even have as many as forty more in it. All for about 90 minutes of prep time and ten minutes of prep between sessions.
That’s the glory of Moldvay, my friends. That’s the glory of paring the game down to a game first, and a story second.
Great rumblings stir deep within the ample and Taco Bell filled bowels of the comic book industry. The Comic Book Powers that Be marshal their forces, eager to do anything in their power to force wrongthinking critics like Richard C. Meier and Nerkish to Clerkish to quit the field of battle including targeted harassment and smear campaigns coordinated by comic book journalists and content producers alike.
Meanwhile, the most hated man in science-fiction lashes out with the sort of aggressively fun and action packed product that makes Fake Comic Book Fans break out in a bad case of the vapors. Seeing a market for fans starving for unabashed comic book fun, he raises $120K (and counting) to launch a much needed alternative.
Meanwhile meanwhile, your old pal E. Reagan Wright sits back and watches the fun, having already metaphorically tapped that SJW comic book ass long and deep and hard with his own response to Marvel. Unlike the Supreme Dark Lord, who beats the SJWs by flipping the script, I beat them through an aggressive campaign of Agree and Amplify. American Chavez? Piker. Karl Manverse? Lightweight. Squirrel Gorilla-Girl? How passe.
No, my friend, if you really want to see the end result of SJW Marvel, you’ve got to look at a book published well before those comic Johnny Complain Lately’s dumped their Jawbreakers and Alt-Heroes on the scene. You’ve got to look at the Ultimate Victim, super-heroine critics and readers alike are calling “the bottom” and “Swiftian” and even “to hilarious effect”! It’s the big quadrupling down on the milkshake crew’s antic and ups the antics to…to hilarious…oh…effect.
It might be literary shovelware rammed out the door faster than Weinstein chasing an underage actress with a gaping hole in her heart where a father should be, but if you want to see the future of anti-SJW comic books, and wrapped up in a hot pink sausage wrap bursting with fatty goodness, you can find it here. Right here in the pages of this third masterpiece written by the man who inspired all the copycats out there with their 40,000 subscribers and successful Freestartrs and kids who respect them and good hygiene regimens. I don’t mind them standing on my shoulders. Maybe the shuffle of their feet as they do their victory laps will help keep the dandruff flakes from accumulating.
Hey everybody. It’s your boi, E. Reagan. Back with another session report for The Other Dungeon.
Two players, both of whom have already experienced E. Reagan’s tender ministrations once before. They have two PCs each and two henchlings, a couple of which are about half-way to first level after a big score with few survivors. Splicing the XP among two PCs and mook left them wondering if maybe they should leave the mooks at home. After a brief discussion, they decided that without the mooks the ogre would have TPKed them, so they brought a torch bearer and a spear-carrier/loot hauler along.
This time they were ready to delve into the depths of the wet caves, but before reaching the stairs down into the watery caves, they bumped into a goblin boar-handler and his three cave boars. This goblin let slip the boars of war, and ran back off the way he came – towards the water level. A quick (and lucky) bowshot brought him down before he could get too far. A solid win, because it meant the six PCs could face down the three charging boars without fear of reinforcements showing up.
I had forgotten how tough boars are. They are each a 3HD monster that moves 150-feet per round. The party took down one, which forced a reaction check the other two failed. They ran off into the caves, and the party set off in hot pursuit. They followed them into uncharted wilds – past the curving staircase – and stopped when they heard the sound of a lot more up ahead. They heard voices, too, and a slamming door. And the approach of booted feet, and they retreated to duck up the curving staircase.
There, they found a long hall with doors to either side. They left the thief halfway down the stairs to warn them of approach. He returned, reporting that eight ‘men’ marched passed the staircase.
They pushed on and found a couple of empty rooms to the right, then an elegant foyer through a door to the left. Posh recliners and a fancy carpet and plenty of lit candle-holders holding back the gloom. Before they could even think about looting the place, a door opposite opened, and…
Zack Morris time out.
At this point, all E. Reagan Wright has written down is “two paranoid servant/apprentices”. At this moment in the game, he decides that the apprentices are hyper-competitive and paranoid of each other. Contrast is your player’s friends, so one is short, fat, and young and one is tall, thin, and old. The apprentice that walks in on them is the former, Thomas (with a sibilant ‘th’), dressed in plain brown robes. He stops and challenges the party, thinking they have been sent by his rival, Gerrold (with a hard ‘g’)*.
After a brief discussion, Thomas informs them that the Master is unavailable and they must return another time. The Master – Nerkish Hisself – walks in dressed in his blue robes embroidered with gold numbers and, after a favorable result on the reaction table, offers them a job. He has a golden sword recovered from a ancient battlefield that he can give them if they can open the doors to the False Tomb and fetch him to help them explore. He has been having trouble with the skeletal guards – a fact he neglects to warn them about – and can give them one Genuine Magic Sword recovered from an ancient battlefield and once wielded by a King! They agree and are escorted out.
“No RP in the dungeon,” my third nipple!
They find a locked door that the thief’s lockpick skills fail on. They leave that and find three empty rooms, one of which contains a wandering monster – another giant snake, which they dispatch. They now think they know that the water caves are the lair from which the snakes arise. They aren’t entirely wrong.
They head past the door to Nerkish’s rooms, and decide to try Entrance Number Three, shown on their new map, but before than can leave by the south entrance, run into a gerblin patrol with the shaman! Blood is shed, goblins slain. More goblins arrive – the fight occurs a little too close to the trapdoor leading up into the goblin house. More goblin’s slain, and the party needs to get out. Things are looking grim.
They flee, leaving two of the party behind. But they return to scout the path to the tomb and encounter the boar pit with nine of the ugly things that set to caterwauling the moment the players spot them. Again, the party flees the dungeon, safer and wiser, and plots for next week’s session.
Here’s what they know and (dotted red) what they think they know:
*Yes, I named them after Tom and Jerry. Mnemonics are a DM’s friend.
Johnn Four ain’t a bad guy, for a Canuck. His D&D Tips Site was one of the first I encountered way back in 1999 that wasn’t just some rando writing up his campaign notes on line. I may even have learned a thing or two from him over the last 18 years. I may even consider him the father I never had, and a vast improvement over the father that I did have. That guy was a bum. So was his replacement. And that guy’s replacement, too. I’ve had a lot of dads over the years, but Johnn is like the dad I never had.
Which doesn’t change the fact that five room dungeons are from the devil!
For those of you that don’t know, Five Room Dungeons are dungeons that have five rooms. Hold on now, there’s more to it than that, Johnn has advice for how to set them up. Here’s a primer for the full skinny, but as that page summarizes they constitute:
a pattern to quickly and easily build a dungeon crawl or any short adventure with 5 locations, such as on a spaceship, in a large city, or for this article… a temple in a chasm. With just five simple steps you can have an adventure ready to go that will last you a session of play.
Sounds good, right. But then you get to the ‘selling point’:
5 Room Dungeon are typically linear and follow the pattern below, but rooms can be shifted and you can branch and backtrack as well.
- Entrance Guardian
- Puzzle or Role-Playing
I’m literally shaking right now. My head. Literally shaking my head.
First of all, linear is bad, mkay? It takes away player choice – er, that’s ‘agency’ for you hoity-toity types. What we’re looking at here is a railroad as bad as anything written by Hickman and Weiss. You might as well choo-choo-choose one of WotC’s latest hardback hallways. All you’ve done is slap some lipstick on the rails and called it a sexy, sexy pig. It’s still a railroad. The DM has decreed what will happen in these five rooms, and you players are going to experience it.
Second of all, it’s lazy. For DM and player alike. The DM gets to prep only what he wants the players to experience, then he hands it all to them on a silver platter. There’s no mystery, no search for adventure, no suspense, and no reason to actually play the thing out. You just sit your bulk down in the chair, open your mouth, and let Mama Bird DM vomit the adventure down your gullet.
Look at that! It’s right there in Step 5. Reward! Here is the reward that you are guaranteed. The game isn’t the reward in this set-up. The thrill of adventure and exploration and mystery and pushing back evil, that’s all just fluff for the real reward – Step 5! This plan asks the DM to just hand that over to the players after they finish dancing to his tune, and only at the moment he has prepared. It makes the reward a capstone instead of part of the normal wash and cycle of the game. Instead of a constant churn of risk->reward, you get several hours of risk always working toward one specific reward. It’s great for motivating players to stick to the script, but terrible for allowing players to generate their own scripts.
Compare this five-fold path with its limited potential to the infinite potentials contained in even a small dungeon like The Other Dungeon. One is a claustrophobic snoozefest, the other a vast vista of exciting possibilities. One telegraphs itself to the players, the other only slowly reveals her naughty bits one slow stanza at a time, and rarely ever reveals all. One puts the DM in the driver seat and makes him comfy and safe, the other puts the players in the driver seat and expects the DM to bring his best every session. It puts demands on the DM. It assumes he has done this before, can handle pressure, and invent new fun right there at the table, just like Gygax used to do!
Now, to be fair, this process can work for a convention game. If you have four hours and want to play a one shot that includes a little RP, a little combat, and a little thinky-thinky, have at it. But as regular fare? Bleaurgh. Why would you give up all the romance and exploration and suspense and freedom of a regular campaign for this bland and predictable gray goo? Makes no sense.
Except that all of the modern iterations of D&D make this necessary. When a single combat encounter requires an hour of prep time, the DM gets tempted to take shortcuts to ensure that his hour is well spent by ensuring that the combat gets used. When the players are locked into the One True Ruleset and refuse to allow the DM any latitude, when the players don’t trust the DM or the dice, this turgid mess becomes almost mandatory. Which only means that the Five Dungeon Dungeon is really just a band-aid on a severed limb. It’s a weak solution to a terrible problem that would have been better prevented from occurring in the first place.
And you can prevent it from occurring in the first place by not playing around in front of the threshing machine during harvest time. Metaphorically speaking, what I mean is, if you stop playing Girl D&D and return to Big Boy D&D, you won’t need this lazy fix, because the problem it’s fixing doesn’t exist.
My meeting with the old shop owner didn’t pan out. The fat bastard that runs the place didn’t want to hear about it. He’s probably a Nazi. And a serial harasser. Technically, CNN tells me I’m allowed to punch him for either reason, but my Rascal battery was running low, and I knew it wouldn’t go fast enough to carry me out of his shop before the Five-O showed up. Given my extensive record of getting caught masturbating in the local cineplex back when James Cameron’s masterpiece (Avatar) was in the theaters*, and my predilection for running homeless people over with my mobility scooter, you just know the cops would never take my side of the story.
The Other Game Shop has open RPG night on Thursday nights, so expect a change in schedule for my Actual Play posts from usually Monday to usually Friday. Also, with the change in venue, this gives me a chance to run a new campaign, by which I of course mean a new dungeon, and conveniently enough, I just built a new small dungeon right here on this very blog!
So we get to see how a fresh set of players handles the divine majesty of the Right Royal Knight of Alt-Right D&D who rides the aisles of Wal-Mart upon his trusty battery powered steed as Sir Lardo referees their OSR exploits in The Other Dungeon!
Light crowd last night.
Two players. Four characters. Three henchlings. A full hour of explaining the rules of Masculine D&D. Not the hard-coded rules as presented by the Prophet Moldvay (Hallowed be his name), but the natural expression of those rules. Fell warnings of certain death and certain doom and certain wealth and heroism for the survivors.
Of which there were neither.
First choice for the crew – which entrance to take?
They checked for tracks. A few humanoid tracks leaving the stairs north, strange big animal tracks coming and going in the center, and nothing in the hard pan of the south. Strange grunting sounds, very faint, echoing from the north, too. The sound of dripping water in the south.
See how that works? Three meaningless choices take on meaning when the players actually interact with the options before them. It’s how the game works. It’s not rocket science to people used to communicating like adults.
Based on the information at hand, they elect to tackle the wild animal first and blunder into a nest of three adult owlbears. Said owlbears proceeded to tear the party limb from limb while screeching their hideous cries. Owlbears might be one of the most underappreciated monsters in any addition of D&D. They are mean and nasty and always fight well above their HD weight. No way is any first level party going to survive a slugging math against three of the things. One lone spear carrier managed to escape to tell the tale, and a fresh set of characters set out anew.
Man, twenty minute chargen rocks. We still had time for another delve.
Lesson learned, the party elected to take the big footprint cave this time. At the first fork in the cave they chose not to turn left (toward the party killing owlbears) and instead headed to the right, up a ramp/incline along the right hand side of the passage. In a large alcove they found a heavy oaken door, crudely made, with gaps wide enough to peek between, though not wide enough even for a finger. They could only make out vague shadows beyond – furniture of some sort. No motion. They tried the door, and it was locked.
The strongest member, a cleric, attempts to bash it down. No dice. The next one steps up. No dice. The third winds up for a good bashing…and the door opens! Big Bruud the ogre does not appreciate being woken from his slumber. The reaction check would have been neutral, but for the player’s clear attempts to break down his door. (I assigned the check a -2 due to their attempted B&E.)
One ogre can do a lot of damage to a first-level party. Especially when they can’t bring their numbers to bear. He slaughtered the front line fighters and set to work on the secondary line (a henchcleric and a spear-carrier promoted to PC), but fell to the combined weight of arms, and three survivors looted his chambers. Bruud wasn’t guarding one of the three big hordes, but he did have a sizable stash. He was using a famous portrait of a long dead king as a tablecloth, which made for a very portable fortune in addition to a little coinage. With the fat XP score in hand, they wisely retreated to The Town to count coup and rest and refit.
The third delve wasn’t as lucrative, but they did map out a chunk of the southern cave. They found the first hot spring (empty of lizardmen) and fought a wandering giant snake. They descended the stairs to the cold-water realm of the lizardmen, but elected not to wade into the murky depths, preferring to stay dry for as long as possible. They still think the Owlbear Cave connects to the rest at some point. They also heard the overhead shufflings of the gobbos in the room marked with a question mark, but don’t know what to make of it (nobody speaks goblin).
I updated the wandering monster table to remove Big Bruud – those events shall herefore be classified as “Nothing Happens” until I have an excuse to replace him. Since this is a teaching blog, let’s sneak a peak at the updated map:
(For those playing the home game version, the base map was provided courtesy of Dyson “Salty” Logos.)
That’s a pretty good chunk mapped with only a couple of real threats neutralized. At least they have some breathing room for maneuvering. I was surprised they didn’t run into more wandering monsters with all that mapping. One giant snake seems light to me, but perhaps the dice are saving up all the encounters for next time.
*It’s not what you think. It’s when the heroes firebomb that giant tree into smoking charcoal. Just can’t help myself when that happens on screen. Man, I bet steaks grilled over the charcoal from that tree would taste DEE-lish.
Apparently posting a picture of your extensive game book collection is a thing that popular D&D bloggers do to establish their nerd-cred. Because spending way too much money paying other people to be creative for you is what proves how creative you are? I don’t know, it doesn’t make sense to me, but I don’t makes the rules, I just follows them.
So here. Here’s my RPG shelf.
Other books have come and gone. I’ve had dalliances with the latest New Hotness, from Gygax’s dense and intellectual AD&D to today’s light and childish edition. I’ve piloted mechs in 3rd edition and ridden the Krynn Express adventures, rails and all. I’ve been to cons where escaping the trap of storygaming required me to gnaw off my own leg and felt one limb to be a fair trade for saving myself from an hour of Forge inspired madness. None of these have left an impression on me. After two or three sessions, it became obvious that all of these games fell into the trap of, “Let me imagine that for you,” that dominates today’s RPG community.
But not Moldvay/Cook. For more than twenty-five years, this game has been my go-to, can’t-miss, anything-goes tabletop RPG. It represents the purest, most distilled essence of the magic of RPGs done right. Everything else is but a pale shadow of a simulacrum of a photocopy compared to the raw majesty of these two little books.
To be fair, I’ve used more than a thousand sourcebooks to prep for my games, but my sourcebooks come in tattered, dog-eared paperback form. They were plucked from remainder bins and resale book shops, and had names on the covers like Howard and Lovecraft and Burroughs and Lieber and yes, even Terry Brooks and Piers Anthony. (I used to be young and dumb and not know any better.)
Everything I’ve stolen fit neatly inside these two little books, and the times that players objected to my tender and loving massages of the rules within this robust little two book system have been few and far between. We don’t talk about rules much at the table, we talk about the game. We don’t argue about facing and minutiae, we just play the game. We don’t pause the action for pointless talky-talky sessions in which little happens or in which the talky-talky gets decided by a die roll.
With these two books, we just play the game.
We don’t really need anything else. And so much shelf is light, but games are dense.
And now that I look at this picture again, I feel that my shelf perhaps looks a little empty after all.
It needs a few lit candles and perhaps a framed photograph of Saint Gygax between the two books. Perhaps an offering bowl filled with Doritos and one of my used insulin needles. Perhaps I should move the ashes of my first two divorce papers from the envelop under my pillow to this shelf – that would be perfectly appropriate given the relationship between the these books and my divorces.
Purifying the RPG hobby with the cleansing power of mockery!
Games, civilizations, and the game of civilization.
more than one way to skin a cat
Trying to mix the old-school and the new-school
An encyclopedia of the Cirsovan empire, thoughts on Gaming, Music and more.