Sunday, November 10, 2013

Social Game for Strangers

Saturday, I ran The Dungeon of Akban, from the Swords & Wizardry quickstart, for a group of players at the not-really-local-to-me game shop. For rules, I went with my favorite, Moldvay Basic D&D - converting the dungeon was straightforward.

I had a great time but I was surprised at how draining it was. By the end of our four-hour session, I was running on fumes. None of my home sessions have gone longer than 2 hours. This is something to keep in mind if I go through with my plan to run 4 games at DragonCon next year.

While it wasn't flawless, I got some positive feedback from a few players - and most everyone seemed to be having at least some level of fun taking a nostalgic trip with B/X. The players themselves were great and I think credit for the fun goes to them more than anything I did.

The intrepid adventurers at Giga-Bites Cafe, Saturday afternoon.
My confidence definitely improved as a result of the experience. I'm more certain I can run for groups of strangers at DragonCon and I know that the next public game I run will be that much better, as I apply the lessons learned this time to future games.

What lessons?

  • I lost track of initiative more than once - as in, whether or not the NPCs had acted. If anything, it was to the players advantage, still, it seemed unprofessional to me.
  • One trap that I really didn't like and had thought about removing, I didn't and in fact, I should have. I didn't have it pat, and frankly it was one of my weakest moments; I felt like things were getting away from me. Next time, I go with my gut.
  • They will explore a lot less than I think - this was a fairly small dungeon and in 3.5 hours of actual exploration (the first 30 was chargen) I think they explored about 25% of it. This doesn't mean I'll prepare less, it just means I can consider some one-page dungeons I wanted to run, but decided against due to their small size.
  • Drink water. Have at least 2 on hand, full, at the start.
  • Let the players roll all of their actions, even those that traditionally would be behind the DM screen - detect traps, pick locks, etc. Why? One player did it accidentally and i decided to go with it for them, and then when another did it, I thought, "You know, we're here for fun, What does it matter if they know if they were successful? If they fail, there will still be consequences." Plus, it's something else for the players to do. Any opportunity to roll dice is a chance for some tension.
  • Actually, the more I think about it, the more out in the open the dice are, the more the players can see that I'm not fudging anything. I'll probably do all of my die rolls out in the open as well from now on, including wandering monster checks.
  • Make the font bigger on the chart for Monsters to hit. Ditto for the PC chart on the DM screen. I could never quite see it - I was standing up a lot, and at the angle worked against me.

I'm running another one-shot dungeon crawl in early December, which I'm now even more excited about, and then I'm 90% positive I want to run a monthly open table dungeon crawl campaign for the meetup group in 2014 - perhaps something in a mega-dungeon or at least a mini-mega.


  1. Well done on running a game for strangers, and for enjoying yourself. Sounds like you learnt some useful tips for your next game, too.

  2. When I GM, I always roll my attacks openly. I don't tell them what they NEED to hit however (or what the "monster's" level or hit points are of course). These are things that they need to figure out for themselves.

    I DO like to make some rolls behind a screen (not telling them what they are for . . . indeed they are often just to raise the tension level).

    By the way, the longest game that I ever ran at a Con was years ago at Pacificon. We were scheduled for 6 hours but the game scheduled to use the table after us (for another 6 hours) was cancelled so we just kept playing . . . for 11 1/2 hour total (allowing time to clean up).

    At at that point the party finally solved the logic problem that had been dogging them for hours. So it is always a good idea to have more prepared than you think you will need . . . just in case.

    By the way, at the end of the game all of the players thanked me profusely. I remember one of them saying, "I've always heard about games like this but I never thought I'd get to play in one."

    And always remember, John, that the players don't know what's written in front of you. Change anything you want "on the fly" if it works better that way. Having fun is really what it is all about.

    Congratulations on a successful run and good luck with the next one, sir.

    -- Jeff

    1. Thanks, Jeff!
      11 1/2 hours? I haven't played a game that long in almost 25 years. Then again, a convention provides its own energy so maybe there, and there alone, i could pull something like that off (as a player, not as a gm by any means!).


    2. I was much much younger then. I certainly couldn't do it now.

      -- Jeff

  3. Awesome! I'm happy that you were successful.

  4. Dude, you are being way too critical on yourself!

    On my side of the screen everything was pretty awesome: the action was fast-paced, the encounters were tense, and, most importantly, everybody had a great time.

    1. Thanks, Tony!

      I do tend to be critical of myself - not sure what gold standard of GMing I'm aiming for sometimes!

      I can't wait for next month's meetup.

      Hope you can make it!