Thursday, August 16, 2012

OSRCon: Dwimmermount, Session 1

Last Friday, I ran the first of two sessions of Dwimmermount at OSRCon here in Toronto. I'd done this the year before and, from that experience, I knew what worked and what didn't. One of the things that worked was doing all the mapping myself. I brought with me a dry-erase map to which I added details as the players explored the first level of the dungeon. I'm frankly terrible at giving out reasonably accurate map descriptions anyway -- I often wind up correcting the maps of my players out of shame -- so I felt this would save a lot of headaches at the table and ensure that things moved along at a brisker pace.

Last year, I used pregenerated characters and gave the players an objective for the four-hour session, like "Find the rumored dwarf cemetery on Level 1" or "Locate the portal to Areon on Level 3," thinking this would provide some useful focus. This year, I abandoned both, allowing players to create characters on the spot and to wander about with whatever purpose they made for themselves. I think both decisions were wise, particularly generating characters at the table, since many players had never used the OD&D rulebooks before and it gave them a chance to handle and peruse them not as artifacts of a hoary past but as, well, RPG books that are meant to be used. I did allow players to create 2nd-level characters, since I wanted them to plausibly be able to explore the second levels of the dungeon if they so desired (both groups did).

My Friday night game had two "celebrity" players: Greg Gillespie of Barrowmaze fame and Ken St. Andre, creator of Tunnels & Trolls. Greg's presence was well known to me in advance and I really looked forward to having the chance to play with him, while Ken's appearance was quite unexpected. Shortly after I arrived at the con, Ken walked up to me -- he must have recognized me from my blog photos -- and asked if he could snag a seat at my game. I was more than a little surprised at this, since I was running D&D -- "That Other Game," as Ken calls it -- and didn't think he'd be very interested. Ken assured me he was interested, although he did express disappointment that I wasn't running "my" game, by which he meant Thousand Suns. I explained to him that attendees at OSRCon expected me to run Dwimmermount and he again asked if he could play. I said yes, knowing full well I was likely in for a ride, since Ken is well known for his impish personality, as well as his dislike of D&D and its rules.

In total, there were eight players at Friday's session and their characters consisted of a good mix of fighting men, magic-users, and clerics. There was a single elven thief, who was slain by a poison dart trap. He was replaced mid-game by a dwarf henchman (also a thief), who proved to be an unreliable scout, often claiming to have spotted no monsters up ahead when he really had. Needless to say, this led to chaos and hilarity at times. Two other characters ought to have died: a fighting man reduced to exactly 0 hit points but who was saved by the immediate application of a black sludge found in an alchemy lab that turned out to be a potion of healing and a 83 year-old magician who'd been carrying a slept gnome on his back. When a kobold spear struck the magician, his player asked if the gnome might have been struck instead. Quick recourse to the oracular dice yielded an affirmative and the MU lived to explore further.

Lots of things stand out about this session, most notably how cautious players become when they're playing in an avowedly "old school" dungeon. Likewise, there was a lot of creative spell use, particularly of charm person, which enabled the characters to take control of orcs on Level 2A and use them as guides, as well as cannon fodder. With the exception of the player of the dwarf thief and Ken St. Andre (about which I'll say more in a moment), the players worked very well together, forming a fairly cohesive team that not only relied on one another but worked to each others' strengths. Consequently, they managed to explore quite a lot of two levels in four hours and, I hope, had a good time doing so.

I called Ken "impish" above and that may be something of an understatement. Though the other players all created their own characters, Ken asked that I create his. I gave him a magic-user and that was probably a big mistake, since he continually balked at not only his spell selection but the very nature of D&D's magic system, attempting at many turns to get me to modify it to make it more like that of Tunnels & Trolls. When he saw that this was getting him nowhere, he took a different tack, turning his magician into a bloodthirsty combatant, leaping into battle and wielding his dagger with reckless abandon. Fortunately for him, the dice favored him and he didn't die, despite his foolhardiness. Later, he killed an orc, flayed it and wore its face as a mask, hoping to disguise himself as a monster. The tactic didn't quite work as he'd hoped, but neither did it hinder him, so he seemed content.

I can't deny that, in retrospect, I feel a little bad at how things unfolded with Ken. He and I have corresponded by email for a long time and I suspect he felt that, given our familiarity with one another, it was perfectly reasonable that he play as he did. He later remarked, on Saturday's panel, that he thought me a very good sport for the way I persevered under his constant barrage of wheedling. Of course, he also said that he felt it was the job of players to "give the referee opportunities to change his mind," but I wasn't in the mood to do that on Friday. The other players handled the situation well and didn't complain, even though it was clear at least a couple of them weren't pleased with what they, quite reasonably, perceived as a disruption. What saddens me most, I think, is that they've probably got a far worse opinion of Ken than they ought, but, given the circumstances, I don't blame them at all for feeling that.

All in all, I think my first Dwimmermount session this year was solid, but not as good as I'd have hoped it would be. On the plus side, I got the chance to meet a number of local folks interested in old school gaming and that's a victory no matter how you view it.

30 comments:

  1. Alex and I enjoyed the dungeon quite a bit. There was a interesting mix of people who wanted to surge ahead, and the rest of us lol :)

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  2. I can't believe someone who's been the Hobby that long would resorting to acting like a big baby because nobody wants to play by HIS rules. If St. Andre hates D&D so much, then why the hell did he play at all?

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  3. Lots of old-school creators are, by their own admission, somewhat lack luster as players. Greg Stafford says he's only moderately good at being a player, and the reason many of these guys are GMs and game writers has to do with wanting to do things their own way.

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  4. Ken spoke highly of your game afterward, and did make a point that he wasn't interested in a game of "Let's go fight all the orcs", instead attempting to do a Leatherface-diplomacy approach to the situation. I got a sense that there's a strong vein of didaction in his mission, which I don't mind. He said throughout the weekend that he wants gaming to be whatever you want it to be, regardless of the rules. I liked to hear that.

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  5. I'm a big fan of Ken's and am hoping to play in a session of T&T with him this week at GenCon. He's been very nice to me and supportive of my attempts to get the "Dice Chuckers" documentary off the ground.

    Ken is one of the genuinely nice guys of gaming.

    That said, he does seem very unfond of "That other game." My sense is that a part of that is a kind of pride in his own game and a finds that T&T best fits his sense of how to play a game of heroic fantasy ought to work. I would actually love to have the opportunity to have an HF gaming day with him as a player where the group plays 4 hours each of T&T, D&D (or ACKS), and DCC just to see how the day went.

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  6. I played a game run by Ken today at gencon, and it was a wonderful experience. He was helpful in explaining the rules for newer players, and very quick at improvising at weird things we pulled. He also adapted a prefabricated adventure so that anybody familiar with it was still on their toes. Some of the stuff we did was Leatherface orc weird. Ask him about Willis the Spider.

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  7. Well, it still doesn't give him a licence to act like a spoiled brat. Remember, he approached James first and knew soon afterwards they were going to play [sic] "that other game", so it wasn't like somebody was twisting his arm and telling him that he had to play or else! The man should of known better,and at the very least, should at the very least quit and let people enjoy themselves.

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  8. I would've gladly wadded up Ken's character sheet and made him eat it if it were me. THen I'd tell him what I really think of HIS game. So James, you handled the situation better than I would have. Congrats!

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  9. Sounds like Ken actually made your game a lot more interesting. Quit complaining.

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  10. Peter V. Dell'OrtoAugust 17, 2012 at 5:11 AM

    I have a friend I really like, that I won't let at my table. We play GURPS, and he doesn't like the system - and will make a point of complaining about the system while he plays. It just isn't the game he wants it to be, but complaining to those of us who like how it works doesn't make the game fun. So, I don't let him play - it's a system/player mismatch. I'm not saying the same situation happened here, but it reminded me of it.

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  11. I like Ken, many years ago I played in one of his games of Mercenaries, Spies & Private Eyes at a Con in London, but to ask to participate in a game then complain about the rules set and generally try to disrupt the game is very petty (especially bringing up negative comparisons with the system he wrote). It looks as though this was a calculated move to use his "celebrity" status to try and get one over on players of "the other game". Not cool, not cool at all. I would have expected better from such a nice guy. Perhaps he was having a rough day?

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  12. It seems evident Ken broke the social contract at the table. He asked to play D&D, he should have deferred to the authority of the DM, if for no other reason than respect for his position and the players who signed to play D&D, not T&T. I would have probably asked him (politely) to leave the game.

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  13. Well in that case, the next time you run a game let me come over so I can continuously complain about the rules and make a mockery out of it with my PC. Will see how " interesting" you think the game's becoming.

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  14. sounds like classic RPG douche behavior to me. If you only want to play a certain character, don't ask the DM to make a character for you. If you only want to play a certain game, don't sign up for a different game - particularly one you hate. If you do sign up for a game you hate (for some reason) don't spend the whole time whining about how much you hate it.

    As far as comments like "he wants gaming to be whatever you want it to be regardless of the rules" I'm not even sure what that means. If he wants to play a game where the rules can be changed and modified at the individual whim of the players he should find himself a room to sit in and roll dice all day long by himself. He can do whatever the heck he wants that way, rules be damned.

    You have to bend over backwards pretty damn far in order to excuse that kind of behavior...

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  15. "he took a different tack, turning his magician into a bloodthirsty
    combatant, leaping into battle and wielding his dagger with reckless
    abandon"

    Ha, laughed out loud at that.

    I've had a few instances of attention-whoring and passive-agression at my own table. I've learned to deal with it by providing some amusement for myself and the other players by arranging for the disruptive player's characters to die, one after the other, in outrageously gruesome and/or embarrassing situations :)

    Surprisingly, I've never gotten any flak from the offending players for it; it actually seems to diffuse any building animosity.

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  16. The lucky bloodlusting magic user and orc mask wearing sounds like mad wizard stuff to me and pretty fun. The rules editorializing, however, would have driven me nuts. I don't play a game so I can debate the quality of the rules. Rule #1 of Fight Club, quite literally applies. When you are playing D&D you play D&D, you don't talk about D&D! That's like playing a video game, getting to a critical part, and instead of getting to play, it gives you a cutscene...of the source code!

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  17. It does seem, if you are one of the giants of the industry, you should graciously play amongst the ardent fans of any RPG system and bask in the warm glow of being part of creating such a cool thing. I mean, I hate the mechanics of D&D as much as the next guy, but I sure as shootin' would play it if it was being offered and have a good time doing so. If I did not find such an activity enjoyable, sitting down with others and disturbing the enterprise, well then I am just an asshole.

    Thanks James for your investment in the hobby. Now can someone show me where the D100 blogs are at?

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  18. The Recursion KingAugust 17, 2012 at 4:17 PM

    Cheer up James, he's obviously a dick head, there are plenty of them around and the best thing to do is never game with them again. It's very old and very good games master advice that purports to remove disruptive players from the game. We've all had them at some point. There really is no shortage of good players who will not try to ruin a gaming session just because something isn't going all their way, these kind of idiots are thankfully very rare. And just because someone got a game into print doesn't make them Gary Gygax, does it?

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  19. This reminds me, James, when are we going to be seeing more of Dwimmermount? I really look forward to buying a module, or something.

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  20. That is to say, I'm aware the kickstarter went well, but I'd love to here how things are chugging along and when you'll be able to tantalize us further.

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  21. When are you converting Dwimmermount to DCC Rpg?

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  22. Hey, guys, come on. If Mr. St. Andre made a poor showing and committed some faux pas, then that's unfortunate. But it's not worth publicly excoriating him over it. I mean, what needed to be said has more than been said, and at this point it's just kicking someone while they're down.

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  23. LOL. The last comment was two days ago!! Everything had died down. You just brought it back up. LOL.

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  24. Disruptive players are always a risk with public games; I think they're a bigger problem with dungeon crawls than with most other scenarios because of the high risk that they'll get the rest of the party killed. I had one, another Simon, three years ago at the London D&D Meetup - he did get another PC killed, though the player blamed me, the evil GM, probably because it was 3.5e but I was running a BX module, B7 Rahasia, and he didn't expect an 'unbalanced' encounter. :\

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  25. Anyway, the best advice above is that if someone genuinely dislikes a game system, even if you like that person it's best not to let them play the disliked game with you.

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  26. Well it seemed it wasn't just some faux pas and pretty much ruined the experience for some players as you can read from Greg Gillespie (the Barrowmaze author) over on his blog: http://discourseanddragons.blogspot.ca/2012/08/osrcon_13.html

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  27. My own style-of-play is often pretty close to Ken's. That said, an EIGHT-player game at a CONVENTION is a really good time to go with the flow in deference to the enjoyment of the GM and the other players. Ugh...

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  28. I got to play in Ken's T&T game at the con and he was totally awesome.

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  29. Have you considered running a higher level game to see how a new party would deal with the lower reaches of Dwimmermount?

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  30. Sorry to arrive so late to the conversation, but I am just seeing this now! I had a great time playing at your table on Friday night, and what we found near the end of the session definitely left me hungry for more Dwimmermount :)

    Ken was acting inappropriately for sure, but it did not detract from my fun at all. I've probably played in too many public games over the years and have become jaded to disruptive players. If his behavior was bothering you, James, it didn't show, and you continued to move the game forward without a hitch.

    As I mentioned to you on G+, I'm really looking forward to the published version of Dwimmermount, and I hope I get a chance to sit at your table again (to play D&D, Thousand Suns, or anything else). Thanks for a great game!

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