Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Lessons from the Table

So last night we had another session of the Megadungeon Madness campaign, and we're up to six sessions. To recap, the players are lost souls in Purgatory, and they are part of a hired expedition to explore Places of Power (i.e., published megadungeons) in order to find a potential escape. The megadungeons are determined randomly with a d30 roll just before each session. One thing I should touch on is that thus far we've just been rolling up some hirelings, maybe getting some supplies, and then heading into the dungeon. A lot of the overall theme of returning to Purgatory and the various consequences of actions have not been explored yet.

The one instance where I'd say this has happened is when one of the PCs used mushrooms found in a previous session to help heal another player who had fallen to zero hit points. The wounded PC hallucinated that the walls were made of breathing meat and now roams the streets of Purgatory naked and raving.

Last night we had another repeat visit (Dwimmermount remains the lone untouched dungeon), and the locale was the same one as the very first session we played. It was the first time this dungeon had been revisited, and so I got to see it with a more enlightened set of eyes.

This blog post hopefully recaps what I've learned thus far in the campaign.

I've learned that I have a certain set of preferences when it comes to book layout and the presentation of information. Last night's dungeon (Stonehell by Michael Curtis) is really efficient, in that for every given dungeon section, you don't have to do much page turning. Sticking to a series of "one page dungeon" formats, pretty much everything you need to run the entire area fits on one two-page spread. You have your map, a random encounter table, and a description of every room. The main trade-off is that because the dungeon is dense, the room descriptions are pretty light. This time around, I had a bit more freedom of improvisation compared to session one, but it still feels like it needs more meat in manyspots. Anyway, I believe that's a gripe that will fix itself with experience on my part.

I've learned that I dislike adherence to D&D tropes. Last night's session featured kobolds for the first time ever. (Even my first-ever honest-to-god use of orcs.) This was the first D&D Trope Monster I've ever used in this campaign or any other. I mean, apart from zombies, but zombies transcend D&D. The point being, even though I've read the article about tucker's kobolds and heard lots of people mention them on podcasts, I didn't really know anything about them other than they had dog faces. So I played them as little wiseguy workers in the dungeon. I really didn't even think about what most people who've played D&D forever understand them to be. Same with the orcs.

I've learned to use an oft-ignored feature of D&D, the monster reaction table. More often than not, we assume that dungeon dwellers will end up be combatants. Those kobolds I mentioned? The PCs didn't fight a single one. Instead, they were enlisted to help the kobolds harvest bat guano. This was because I rolled rather favorably on the reaction table. I think it made for a far more interesting game than if they were just mindless sword fodder. Who cares at that point? I may have to tweak the reaction table, though, because it seems really easy to just be purely indifferent to the PCs.

I've learned that your players are often willing to try new things. I had been silently counting squares of movement for tracking turns and making those random encounter rolls and usage die checks for the torches. (Stole the latter from The Black Hack.) We collectively said screw it, let's use a one turn per room rule. If you want to try out a new rule hack, just give it a shot with your players. Heck, it reminds me of the time I switched a game from FATE to GURPS and everybody thought it ran much better. Just say, "hey I want to try this," and your players just might surprise you.

Finally, I've learned about incentives. For the second straight session, the players' strategy has been screw it, let's burn through these rooms, because the more rooms we map, the more reward we get, and the more XP we can cash in on. This is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the players are no longer spending a whole session only getting two or three rooms deep. On the other hand, there is not a great incentive to interact with the potentially interesting stuff that's inside these rooms. They aren't springing any clever traps, nor are they rooting around for hidden easter eggs or treasure hordes. Maybe I need to step up my Improv Override game, because I know that if something is presented interestingly enough, the players will interact with it. I've seen my players do it with Maze of the Blue Medusa.

More commentary on future sessions to follow, but don't be surprised if my next blog entry is a report on Gen Con.

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