Thursday, August 16, 2012
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.