Saturday, December 26, 2015

Eero Tuovinen Is My Hero (Part III)

Eero Tuovinen has this to say on "optimizing at the expense of a robust and compelling fiction", e.g. by "swinging some sort of a pole-marmoset-flint knife combo platter in a customized effort to keep my character safe":

[T]o me the ideal of beautiful and powerful play in an organically developing Gamist game with heavy focus on positioning, such as this style of D&D, is to grasp with determination at a subject matter and challenge proposition that you find compelling; the question is not whether you could win at a GM's obstacle course by stacking rules and positioning to your favour, the question is whether you can triumph against a challenge chosen and internalized by yourself within the fictional constraints, partially unspoken, that determine whether your play is petty or compelling. Not whether you can build a knight that can slay a dragon, but whether a knight as per your understanding of knighthood can slay a dragon.

From this perspective we find that the actual tactical and strategic choices the players make and feel most strongly come about as a combination of two elements that reinforce each other: is what you're doing compelling as a fictional proposition, and is it smart (or effective, equivalently) as a move? In this context the oft-cited D&D attitude of maximizing your effectiveness for the sake of party success is irrelevant, and it is much more relevant to make room for an individual player's character image, the personal constraints they choose for their challenge: this guy [...] wants to triumph without resorting to underhanded tricks, this one wants to play a naive greenhorn, this one's playing a fatalist who is seeking his own death... All of these can be played in effective ways that are also compelling rather than flimsy in terms of fictive credibility.
I find the knighthood example particularly apt because my group has had discussions about the viability of playing an honor-bound, never-back-down-in-the-face-of-evil paladin in our old school campaign.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Becoming a Killer DM: Owning Up

Yesterday, I fucked up and ruined the integrity of our campaign. Now I'm trying to restore it.


The party confronted a major monster. The monster's description said it would probably talk to the characters even though that meant giving away all but certain surprise.

Stepping on a slippery slope that would prove my downfall, I gave the monster an insanely high initiative so it could maintain its advantage while still talking to the characters.

When hostilities erupted, one player actually beat the monster's initiative anyway, then rolled well on a spell casting roll, and then rolled spectacularly well on damage.

Behind the screen, I silently added +20 hp to the monster's hit points to prevent it from dying on the spot. OUCH!


I have some excuses, all of them bad, and some thoughts on how to foster the kind of mental hygiene espoused by Eero Tuovinen. Dunno if I'll get around to posting them next week.

In any case, my first fix is to own up to cheating.

For next week – the party is still in the middle of the fight --, I'd like to proceed as follows:

The monster's new and improved stats and abilities remain unchanged.

The permanent damage the monster has done up to this point is revoked (i.e. one player character regains two points of Luck and a valued henchman is not teleported away after all).

I hope to get things back on track.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Campaign Diary: DCC in the Wilderlands (Session 12)

Session 12: Early Retreat

The characters carefully examine a room with mysterious holes in the floor. They are disturbed by giant beetles and unknown cultists and return to the village early. The characters sell some loot and some of them later examine the enchanted forest nearby, moving into it for a few yards.

  • The session was quite slow and few things happened: The characters spent a lot of time searching for traps, fighting minor random encounters, selling loot and debating whether to explore the enchanted forest or not.
  • A potential problem rears its head: The players are responsible for pacing and risk management and cannot rely on the DM to provide either.
  • That said, I should have asked them to either examine the forest together - or not at all. There are too many random factors for me to foresee how long various endeavours might take, so solo quests are not really an option. 
  • Grognardia has a nice article on the The Rhythm of the Old School that has a more positive view on some of these issues.
In a nutshell
A session that was too slow for my tastes.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Campaign Diary: DCC in the Wilderlands (Session 11)

Session 11: The Power of Magic

The characters begin to plunder the area where they were ambushed the other week and retreat with some gold. Back in the village, the dwarf attempts to teach other tomb raiders but is foulmouthed by unlucky adventurers. He sets things straight with a duel to the death. Later, the party's witch casts detect magic with critical success. She sees and identifies everything magic in the entire village. Among other things, she finds out that all the children are under a spell. When the witch casts detect magic again some time later, she fumbles and transforms a tavern wench into some kind of earth elemental. Fortutnately, the dwarf is able to repair some damage done to her before the effect wears off after a few days.

  • After 10 sessions with almost no magical incidents, the unpredictable DCC rules struck twice! The fallout occupied most of the session.
  • Switching gears wasn't easy -- I started rolling for various NPCs' magic items, for instance, but detailing an entire village's worth of adventurers on the fly was too much.
  • DCC's curveball means there's a lot of work to be done (such as detailing the magic merchant's treasures) but I think it's a great opportunity.
  • The players used the unusual opportunities to portray their characters in various ways (CD's fatherly dwarf, HM's opportunistic rogue etc.).
  • CD risked a valuable character in a deadly duel. His character was brand new, true, but also sported above average rolls. The Luck stat provided some measure of safety I assume, but it can't protect against critical hits so it took real courage to enter the duel.
In a nutshell
An unsual but fascinating session.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Campaign Diary: DCC in the Wilderlands (Session 10)

Session 10: Ambushed!

The witch uses charm on a captured cultist and the party learns something about the Necromancers of Set and the Acolytes of Orcus. The captive also provides a partial map before being dispatched by the party afraid of the spell wearing off. The party then moves into a sector held by the followers of Set and are ambushed on the way out. The enemy's main ploy (skeletons attacking under cover of darkness) fails but it's a brutal fight nonetheless. A veteran fighter (level 3) goes down to a series of lucky attacks and the party's dwarf dies, too.

  • Prep was a lot more work than usual because I had to decide what the captives knew exactly. I copied a part of the map and edited out traps and room numbers -- always aware of the fact that none of that information might be needed (if, for instance, the party failed to take anyone alive). 
  • The characters act as a true team: HM burned Luck several times to save a comrade and CD and CW continued to willingly hold the frontline.
  • KT jumped through a secret door sliding close to pursue an enemy. He immediately became afraid of his own courage and regretted his act, at least until things had turned out well. I love it how such acts are at once really dangerous and really heroic!
  • KT was contrite about the death of CW's fighter because he had planned much of the party's tactics in the ambush.
  • I wonder if this would have been a total party kill if not for the party's unusual extra light source (a glowing rune). I had forgotten about that item and was unsure if it actually cancelled darkness. I gave the item a 1-in-6 chance of doing just that and rolled it without any consideration for the possible ramifications. Just like I want to handle things!
  • The party has reached a deeper, more dangerous part of the Barrowmaze. I described a change in architecture but I'm not sure the players realized the significance.
In a nutshell
An informative session with a terrific fight and brutal losses.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Campaign Diary: DCC in the Wilderlands (Session 9)

Session 9: The Thing in the Pit & Masked Strangers

The party uses the newly discovered entrance and scouts the area. The characters find a deep pit trap and are attacked by a huge insectoid creature living in it. One of the party's rogues kills it with a poisonous arrow. Next, a party of masked strangers accompanied by two zombies appears. The mysterious strangers talk about their plans to attack the Acolytes of Orcus - and who the hell is that?? - deeper in the Barrowmaze. The two parties decide to join forces. Even though the characters are betrayed and attacked almost immediately they manage to dispatch the strangers easily.

  • I had rolled up the thing in the pit several evenings ago and had been expecting a massacre ever since. However, the party never ventured down that particular corridor until this session. KT's gut instinct (and good memory perhaps - NPCs had described a man being dragged off into that corridor) and HM's poisonous arrow saved everyone's ass. KT has since pointed out that he was merely roleplaying: He wanted to portray his character's superstitiousness and chose a random corridor to fuss over (rather than holding up the game by doing this all the time). =) =) =)
  • I like how the deadliness cuts both ways: Monsters have to save or die, too (or can be ripped apart by a lucky crit).
  • I gave the players some glimpses about things going on behind-the-screen: I noted that the insectoid creature had been a dangerous monster but that I had rolled no treasure for it whatsoever. Sorry guys!
  • I resisted the impulse to comment on the strangers' tactics despite my players' curiosity. The players judged the strangers' tactics ineffective and were wondering what was up with that. 
  • The party has begun to employ scouting tactics. To my surprise, HM seemed not at all concerned when his rogue sneaked up on two giant scorpions by himself. He was bent on how to kill them rather than afraid for his life.
In a nutshell
A tense session, especially from my perspective.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Campaign Diary: DCC in the Wilderlands (Session 8)

Session 8: A New Entrance

The party moves into the mountains to cure the cursed dwarf. His trials - being made feverish and then jumping into a cool mountain lake - yield additionally, albeit quickly degrading saving throws. He lives. On their way to the Barrowmaze the party encounters and secretly follows others  tomb raiders who are doing excavation work on another mound. Back underground, the party discovers a staircase leading to the surface -- another entrance to the Barrowmaze! A fight with skeletons turns ugly when one the party's fighter fumbles on the first round, killing the dwarf. Critical hits by the skeletons take another life. Armed with two new magic weapons the party leaves via the newly discovered entrance, narrowly evading another group that apparently uses it on a regular basis. They cut a deal with the village witch to help with identifying one of the new weapons.

  • CD and KT cook up a new maneuver between sessions - enter the flaming tennis ball (lint and tinder, really) to light up long passages and prevent monsters from advancing to just beyond the party's torchlight.
  • There have been very few fumbles and critical hits until this evening. DCC's tables can be very dangerous indeed. 
  • There is an interesting debate on whether to sell magic items for XP (to level up) or to keep them in the party. (XP is only awarded for wasting hard-won gold on boozing and wenching etc.)
An intense session with tons of interesting encounters and discoveries!