Sunday, September 28, 2014

Reflections on the 10th Running of the Trelleborg Campaign

Friday night I ran the tenth session of my open table D&D b/x campaign at my FLGS. Attendance was good - four returning players and one new one, a guest of one of the others. 

There were, I think, two or three big developments:

One thing we have done more or less from the start of this campaign, is to let players roll all of their own dice: secret door detection, listening, thieves skills, etc. This isn't per the rules of course. The players are always supposed to be second guessing whether they succeeded and there was nothing to find, or whether they failed the roll: "You find not evidence of secret doors", "You see no traps on the lock", etc. 

However, as someone somewhere wrote, any excuse to roll dice is a good one, player's like to roll dice, and we're all adults.  In practice, it doesn't really matter if they roll it or i do. there is tension as the dice are rolled and all await the results. 

A success is obvious to all, but often there isn't anything to find, so I decided that success meant the character was certain beyond all doubt that there wasn't the thing in question, be it trap or hidden door or noise making entities on the other side of the door, and that is how i would describe it. 

If they failed, I'd tell them that they found nothing, but obviously, they weren't totally sure. However, if they really botched the roll, I might suggest that they were sure of their finding, despite its incorrectness. The players, the thief in particular since he attempts these things far more often than the others, started, at this last session, doing that himself when he would roll exceptionally above the required target for a find a trap, would turn to the group and say, "It's safe." 

I thought that was pretty awesome.

However, I also started doing something new this session. I think it's from reading Dungeon World and the whole "make maps, leave space" dictum. 

About midway through the session, it dawned on me: if the player's roll a success GIVE THEM A SUCCESS.  Some of you undoubtedly spit your beverage all of your screen just now, and are perhaps shaking your head in disgust. Hear me out.

The base line assumption in most classic RPGs is that the GM/DM knows all, especially when it comes to the dungeon, or the village or whatever, that it is all well laid out. But, the reality is, we improvise a lot. We improvise NPCs, we roll random encounters and go with it. Some DMs randomly generate hexes as their party explores. All I've done is decided that, my map is incomplete.

So when the characters searched a wall for a secret door, and one of the players rolled a 1, damn right there was a door there. News to me AND to the players, which adds some additional enjoyment to the game for me as well - I'm exploring right along with them. 

I started small: a secret compartment with a minor treasure, finding a trap that had already been triggered (so the door was in reality still not trapped). I got a little cocky with a hidden passage to a room (even though I was able to use it to spotlight one of the characters who rarely gets it), and, although I was glad to reveal some more of the history of the dungeon and why the dwarves abandoned it, I inserted something into the fiction during my improv that I'm going to have to think on a bit. Fortunately it doesn't effect the present state of the dungeon, but the players are going to follow up on it as they try to gain an understanding of the place and I should be ready for that.

The other development Friday night was that I learned that my players, at least what I consider my core group, have an interest in a long lasting campaign that goes beyond the walls of the dungeon. There was talk of renovating the ruined tower above the dungeon to serve as their base of operations. They are claiming several abandoned cottages in town to refurbish and use eventually as worker housing (for the crew who will work on the tower), there was a suggestion of creating their own merchant caravan and selling their wares up and down the road to Hedeby, of buying a ship, exploring the coast for natural protected ports and becoming pirates, etc. 

I could not believe my ears; their characters have goals that go beyond the stated mega-dungeon crawl i use to advertise the game. I had hoped for this, but I did not expect it.

It's a very exciting thing - at least from where i sit - although I might need a new name for the campaign!


  1. Sounds like a great session, sir.

    One of the things about "leaving space on the map" particularly applies to ships. You can always place an island where there are none on the charts they have . . . (do ideas come into your head?).

    Another thing that comes to mind is winning such a ship in a card game . . . which makes me think about party members gambling when in town, which provides an interesting and different interlude. There are numerous games that can quickly be adapted for use in a role-playing environment. Chuck-a-Luck is a very simple and apparently even-odds game (that has a decided "house edge"):

    Players may bet on any number(s) from 1 to 6
    Three D6 are rolled
    If the number(s) bet on do not come up, bet is lost
    If one die is the same, pays even money
    If two dice show the number bet on, it pays double
    If all three dice show the number bet on, it pays triple

    Simple, eh? . . . well the "house edge" works out to almost 8% . . . it is a good way of "taxing" characters.

    Have fun, John.

    -- Jeff

  2. Of course that last idea grew out of a classic plot hook -- character wins deed to gold mine in poker game -- but there is a small problem, someone (or something) else is in the mine and doesn't respect the deed.

    That is still usable in D&D as well, isn't it?

    -- Jeff

  3. I like your way of thinking/playing, leaving room for things to happen that aren't all mapped out/planned out ahead of time. I also like that your players are thinking outside the dungeon, as it were.

    The mine deed should work in D&D - the current "possessor" could be dwarves, some sort of monster, all sorts of things. As for winning a ship, they might still have to find a crew for it, someone who knows how to operate a ship.

    Good stuff all around, you guys. :)

  4. I believe the RPG Donjon is based on that idea.