Back to Nerd World for a second round of “Nightmare Mode” Dungeons and Dragons this past week. We’re talking three dee six in order, straight roll for hit points, and expect multiple save or die scenarios role-play GAMING the way god and Gygax intended. It’s not for Dungeon Masters who are faint of heart – it takes iron will and golden charisma to entice soft and doughy Private Pyle style gamers to the table. They are so used to the bland pre-packaged style of gaming that guarantees success and satisfyingly heroic resolution to something about their character’s narrative arc….I don’t know, I usually fade out after they tell me their character’s level and class. That’s all a decent DM needs to know.
Oh, ho-ho! What a warm glow of satisfaction perseverant dungeon masters can earn when they bring players who use the rules as a masturbatory aid to reach climax with no suspense over to the idea of interacting with the rules as they would sensitive lover. The end result becomes wildly unpredictable, but you can show them that by paying close attention to what the rules tell you, that by massaging situations properly – sometimes you have to use a subtle and deft touch, and sometimes you have to pull that rulesets hair and slap it around a little bit – you can increase your odds of reaching gaming nirvana.
Both happened to the old Alt-Right DM this past week at the Nerd World Emporium.
I kid when I say it’s hard to get players to sit at your table. All it takes is a little patience. There’s always a few of them wandering the edges of a gaming crowd. They have grown soft and fat – and not the good kind of soft and fat (read: Harkkonen) but the bad kind of soft and fat (read: HedonistBot). They expect DMs to appear and fluff them up so they can push their little self-insert character around a fantasy world to an orgiastic foregone conclusion of glory. You can get them to belly those big bellies up to the table with just the same kind of wink and nod their normal street corner paramours give them.
And that’s when you hit ‘em. Blank sheets, 3d6, roll for hit points, yes you keep that 1. The cave mouth beckons. They seem reticent, but adventure awaits, and they salivate at the thought of the tabletop glory that awaits.
The first death is always a shock. They stammer something about unconsciousness – ha – and cling to the idea of negative hit points like a drowning man does a bit of flotsam – double ha! The other players swallow hard and push their pawns around the game world a little more carefully. They survive a fight against wandering orcs and earn pennies for their trouble. More muttering and groans. That’s when you nudge them with a bit of meta-gaming enticement. Thanks to the rumor table, they know – they know, dammit! – that there is a fortune in gold down here somewhere.
They find the hoard in a room guarded by the bastard kids and gimps not worthy of hunting the intruders prowling the halls of the caves. After beating the orcish rejects they discover wealth beyond imagining, and that’s when you’ve got them hooked.
This past week I had a few returning players. Their first foray resulted in a near TPK and the surviving character staggered back to the Keep with a massive loot haul which he used to outfit a return expedition to recover the gold left behind. They engaged in a bit of careful scouting, a bit of misdirection to avoid wandering monsters, and were outraged to find that the stuff the first party had killed to steal had been stolen by interlopers. The newer players had their characters accuse the second level character of duping them and luring them to their doom. It was a great ten minutes of nothing but character interaction and players really getting into the spirit of the first two thirds of the RPG acronym. They were having so much fun they completely forgot that my table also worries about the last two thirds of the RPG acronym.
As they bickered, the wandering monster check came up aces for E. Reagan Wright, and the new loot crew found themselves stuck in a high risk, low reward combat. A few lucky shots and they survived…mostly unscathed. They questioned the lone goblin survivor who pointed them that-a-way, straight to the monster hotel, in exchange for his meager life. He circled around and got to the monster hotel before they did, which resulted in the whole place being on high alert. Not a good situation for the party, but they learn quick.
The thief sent ahead to scout realized something was wrong by the complete silence of the valley, and reported back to the party. While talking, they were interrupted by a passing lizardman squad. Whuh-oh!
Think quick, DM – the lizardmen are heading to Hotel Monsterfornia to pledge allegiance to the flag of the united states of chaos. They are cautious, but the milk-sucking humans attack on sight! What treachery is this? They acquit themselves well, but the live born furheads draw first blood, and the lizardfolk retreat leaving one of their own behind. They have to tell the chief about this duplicitousness, you know?
This is one of those great moments that comes out of using the morale rules as intended. One death among the lizards ended the fight. They are brave, but this treachery must be reported, so they bolt. Too bad for them, the survivors lead the party back to the lizardman camp.
Too bad for Team Murderhobo, they are hurting, and in no shape to take on a full encampment of brawny lizard-dudes. Instead they withdraw and head for a castle on a hill they had seen against an orange morning sky earlier in the day. It seems well kept, and though a risk, if it is manned by humans it might serve as a better base camp for exploring the regions. How convenient!
That’s all we had time for this week – outfitting a new party, three combats, some bait and switch, some boring PC on PC role-play, and some exploration and tracking. That’s a lot of ground to cover in a two hour session, but with the right rule set (read: not one published after 1980), you can do it easy-peasy, testes-squeezy.
Next week’s session will open with the party sweet talking, bribing, or cajoling their way past the gate guard stationed at the Border Keep.