Thursday, May 15, 2014

Reflections on the 4th Session into the Dungeon Beneath Trelleborg

Last Friday, I ran my B/X open table mini-mega dungeon at my FLGS. This post is more about the mechanics/DM thoughts. You can read the summary of the session on the campaign blog.

By Thursday, I had 8 players signed up, then some dropped out, only to be replaced by others. By game time Friday, a storm had rolled in, and that cut the numbers down again to 6 players. Still, a decent turn out.

I had sworn to myself that I would start promptly at 7 PM, and encouraged new players to arrive 30 minutes early so we'd have time to roll up characters and also to talk about the rules and how they differ from 3.5 (which they also play), at least broadly speaking, because I know very little of 3.5 first hand.

Unfortunately, that aforementioned storm played havoc with everyone's travel, including mine. I think, by the time we had a critical mass of players, it was maybe after 7:30 PM.

Although I found the rush to make it to the shop by 6:30 PM (normally I start at 7:30 PM, so I don't have to get there until 7 PM) kind of trying, by 11 PM,  people were hitting a wall in terms of the energy level. Most, if not all, of us worked that day or had to work that Saturday, so it's understandable. There's only so much energy drinks or Mt. Dew can do for you. Gaming on a Saturday, unfortunately, isn't really an option - the FLGS closes at 9-ish on Saturdays, but is open until whenever on Fridays, thanks to their Magic: The Gathering Fridays.

I'm not sure how to really deal with players with flagging energy, except end the session sooner - but that short-changes those who can play longer.

One accomplishment was doing a better job tracking turns with respect to torches / wandering monsters (of which there was one). My girlfriend, who plays Fjörgyn, of Skalafell fame (or is that infamy?), called me out on my sloppy time keeping after she read the rulebook  (the first player of mine i know of, in 32 years of off and on gaming, to go out and buy the book on their own, after playing the game ONE TIME.) With a simple modification of my turn tracker to include a reminder about torches, I solved the problem.

My note keeping for the session wasn't great - I need to get better at that. Especially who talks to whom and what was said. One character made a deal with Sister Ingrid for two Potions of Healing, for instance, and I'll be damned if I remember what they had to pay.

I felt really good about enabling player agency during the session - a choice between two identical doors really isn't a meaningful choice, so i added smells, sounds etc. for players to factor into their decision process. One door, with a hand scrawled note of warning (it even included a reference to the effect of the trap), proved too tempting to resist - and one of the party is now an anthropomorphic bunny. They can't say they weren't warned.

They also had free reign to try whatever they wanted - so when they proposed making their tank (yes, a tank), it seemed so ingenious, I could not say no. I think that went a ways toward building trust for me as a DM - to know that I won't squash an idea, just because it isn't something I thought they would try.

My abstract "battle mat" also worked pretty well. I brought my dungeon tiles to prior sessions simply to show marching order - i just set out a corridor tile and they place their minis on it. But, of course, it quickly becomes a game of tactical mini maneuvering. I prefer theater of the mind combat, so in order to stave off the inclination to see minis on a grid as part of the game, and inspired by the abstract mat in Ancient Odysseys: Treasure Awaits! , I created my own abstract mat and it seemed to work rather well in getting us out of the "I move to this square" mentality.

To everyone's relief, two (possibly more) characters leveled up - a cleric and a thief - and several are much closer now and will probably level up in a session or two. Which is good - because the dungeon only gets more difficult the deeper they go.

The session was quite successful by and large - I got some very positive feedback about my DMing and people seemed entertained. The next session is in mid-June and I'm doing my best to prep areas nearest level connectors because there is no telling where they might go.


  1. I remember a game (many years ago) where as part of the set-up there were flying saucers with a ray emanating out of them with stuff floating up out of the ground. One character foolishly decided to step into the ray.

    His sword immediately flew upwards and his chainmail dissolved and did the same and he grew very pale as a fog began to lift out of him before the flying saucer's ray moved on.

    One of the characters correctly figured out that the ray was drawing iron upwards. The saucers were mining ships. So the party came up with a solution that saved him.

    Wait for it . . .

    Wait . . .

    Yes, they did . . .

    They gave him "iron rations"!

    It cracked me up so much that I had to let it work.

    -- Jeff

    1. That is too funny and definitely worthy of "Yes and"-ing!