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From the prow of your ship you see the island come into view. At first it is nothing but a glint on the horizon, then a shining sphere.. a ...

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Thoughtless dungeons in two parts.

A couple of posts ago, I wrote about  playing Basic D&D again for the first time in several a couple of decades. We are two short sessions in now playing exclusively on roll20 in the  evenings. Things are going well, the  players are exploring room by room, the game is going basicly as planned.

For this post I'm going to  go back to my  other post and comment in RED on how my original observations have stood up to actual play.
Here it goes.

Original Post starts here:

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  • I have players who have never seen Elf, Dwarf, and Halfling presented as classes. It took them a few minutes to accept that as how it is. I always like Race as class. In my mind it lets an elf be an elf, and a dwarf be a dwarf  (halflings are a bit underwhelming but .. should be given their literary source.) A demihuman class is something a player will choose because they want to play that race on it's own merits. Rather than picking a race for its optimal stack of bonuses to layer on a class. There is no halfling thief. Though you could play a sneaky halfling. The Basic D&D halfling presented in the RC could sneak into smaug's lair. Though the dwarves might have been better served hireling a REAL thief. An elf is a magical creature wielding spells and a sword.  The dwarf is incredibly hardy and  punchy, but will never be exactly as skilled as a leveled warrior. It all just works for me. The player who took Elf as a class in our game rolled very badly for stats, but has been effective staying in the back using his bow. It should be said that "spell abilities" is a bit over stated as I think he only gets two level 1 spells and one level 2 spell. Jen's wrote about this topic in depth back in may.
  • I touched on it above, Tolkien's influence on D&D is felt strongly in this edition. The basic classes seem to be emulating the fellowship to a tee. (Ok, so the thief not so much.) I might be reading a bit too much into it. The druid and the mystic being add-ons, break the tolkien pattern and stand out all the  more because of it. Others before me have dismantled the Tolkien, D&D relationship a hundred times, but it's interesting to see just where it was when this  book was compiled. I have basicly dropped them into a world that is so NOT tolkien that it hurts.. I'm currious to see if this  grates with teh ssystem as the charaters amass levels.
  • THAC0 is confusing to players who have never dealt with it. So is rolling over on d20 for  saves, but roll under attributes for skill checks. I can see why  some of the decisions that made 3rd edition happened. Unifying all the die rolls to  D20 + Bonus vs a difficulty was new to D&D back in 2000, but now it's the defacto way many players think of the game. I wrote "Thac0 - roll  = ac hit in big bold letters at the top of our roll 20 screen. We have had no issue with Thac0. I also wrote " Saves are roll over" , and "attribute checks are roll under" in the same space.
  • Depending on how the reader looks at it , this might be the only version of D&D that was ever considered "complete" rather than "replaced." The turnaround time for D&D editions went from 10 years between AD&D first edition and AD&D second edition, to 11 years between second edition and third (3.5 came out three years later I'm sticking with whole number edditions.) Then dropped to 8 years between third edition and fourth, then six years between fourth edition and fifth edition. 
    I'm not going to go all the way back to 1977 for the  J.E.Holmes basic rules because it was quite a different animal. Even still the 1981 revision means the basic rules were in development for well over a decade before the Cyclopedia was even published. The basic rules were never replaced. So we could say the "complete" D&D basic rules (as compiled in the RC) have been in the wild for 26 years and are still serviceable and being played today. That's a great track record, shared by  some but not many games. ** Iguess the point is in a way moot. One cool concept is that in our community A person can find people playing and dedicated to every edition and every sub-version of D&D that's ever come down the pipe. No reason to comment much further, except that one of our players got the old Black "starter Set" of Ebay and I have no idea what version that is.
  • Using the mastery rules, the dagger is pretty great. Just sayin. Has proven correct.
  • The grappling rules in Basic are too complicated and drawn out. I'm going to give them another read through to see if I can find anything I want to use. As of right now if it comes up I'll usurp the strength check system of 5th edition. I purchased Dungeon Grappling in pdf form. I like it very much but I have not implemented it yet. I  probably will once we get more in the swing of the game. Playing a long session at the table would help in this regard. I find it hard to explain things like a new grappling system over roll 20.
  • I HAVE TO get back in the habit of tracking time precisely. It's important in this system and it's important to this style of game. A dungeon is dangerous (like the ocean, or a high mountain) because it doesn't give a shit about the characters. It will wear out a parties food, torches, hit points, potions, over time. It will always be there. A party does not just get up and leave a dungeon. If it takes them 12 hours to walk in, all that dungeon is still behind them, waiting. Safety is not just around the corner. To enforce that concept I need to know precisely how long the party has been walking around down there. I can't just hand wave time, or the  threat of being hurt cold, isolated and hungry can be solved simply by saying "we go back the way we came." I have to force my self to be vigilant about time, and for someone with my kind of freewheeling style and lack of  true focus, that kind of discipline is going to be tough.  I'm doing alright in this regard..Tracking during combat is simple. Rounds are rounds, tracking during free form exploration is a bit trickier. ASking everyone "what do you do this round ?" while they walk down an empty corridor is no my GM-ing style.
  • I touched on this above and it is worth saying again. I'm not greatly impressed with the RC in PDF form. I should  get a nice set of cheat sheets ready so I don't have to go rooting around in the book for rules clarifications. Still true I hate using PDF during games.
  • I need to remind the  players to write down what their spells do..I hate looking up spells. Done and done... no issues here.
  • Playing online is simply no where near as easy as playing at the table, but it's what we have to do. I'm not going to use roll20 to do maps. I'm horrid at that. I'm going to run the game the same way I would at the table. The players will have to keep track of their locations. Though I'm not going demand some poor soul draw every inch of the dungeon I describe. I have never seen that as a valuable or fun part of the game. (WRONG) I am thinking of asking for a cartography skill roll every hour of game time from the character doing the mapping. The quality of the  roll will affect the quality of the map and hence it's usefulness when the  group backs out of the dungeon. Kind of riffing off how Torchbearer works dungeon mapping, I'll see how it goes. I have not had to change mapping or make it any more "abstract" Two of the three current  online players are mapping as we go. Here is another place that playing at the table would be a big improvement. Just the nature of  voice over IP and the internet  leaves me having to repeat are descriptions so that everyone hears them and can  map them correctly. At the table I might say "I'm not going to repeat the description what you  map is what you map." That approach is wildly unfair on line  when  who knows what is interfering with the GM getting a message across. Another lay to that is I have not done Dungeon area descriptions in a LONG time so honestly the  players and I have not developed a shorthand or any kind of standard way of communicating room and hallway dimensions, that takes some time and practice to develop in a natural way.
  • Though I might have tokens for each character to do positioning  for fights if we have to. That's super easy to do on roll20. Has not happened yet.
  • Ok. I just revisited the wrestling rules, they are simpler than I remember. I can ask the players to write their character's Wrestler rating on some dark corner of their character sheets and most likely never use it. Has not happened yet
  • I love that this book gives the reader the rules in the  most unpretentious way possible.. Just here it is, go use it. Insert a repetitious whine about the PDF here
  • For me I think they could have cut out the "D&D Game world" section and added the rules from the immortal level boxed set. I know it's been like 26 years, too late to complain about that now right? *** Shrug... Still holds true, but honestly no one's going to level 36 anyway.
  • I'm not going to use or introduce any players options form any of the  gazettes, or Dragon magazines I have access to. Not right away. I want to keep the game to only the stuff in the RC. I hold the opinion that most games suffer from the weight of additional additions, splat books, and expansions. Basic D&D was an exception that that they expanded the game into new levels with the basic expert, companion, master, and immortal rules. In that way the new boxes didn't effect characters at lower levels all that much. With the RC most of that info is in one place as one system, so I feel it has enough to get us by for a quite while. In fact chances are we will move on for this game before we even truly scratch the surface. This still holds true I have no interest in bloating the game beyond what's in the  rules cyclopedia.
  • I will be giving experience for gold piece value of treasure found. **** I have been, so far both the thief,and the cleric have leveled. The elf is leveling slower because ..elf.. which is how the game is designed. So far everything has been going basicly as intended on the exp front. ONe thing I have done is made it plain to the group that I give small bonuses for  good ideas, creative play dn role playing . At the end of the game I sum  each players bonuses and give everyone the  highest value among the players. That might seem odd, but I don't want to punish one player who may  be more conservative vs another player who is constantly trying over the top actions. It may
  • One of the players realized his starting thief has 10 HP at third level. It is going to be an adjustment to say the least. That character is level 4 now and has survived swimmingly... so far
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Part Two,
A dungeon with purpose:
My dungeon  is suck.. Well OK, it's not that bad. I had to toss it together quickly due to real life things happening, working a day I normally don't, and snowstorms here in  New York messing with my schedule. Just normal day to day distractions.

The problem with that is the dungeon theme, the purpose of the thing gets muddled. I started with an idea then mutated it a few times before settling on what I'm actually doing. However due to time I never had the time to tuck the dirty corners in.

The players are hunting a research assistant who stole his bosses survey information concerning a recently unearthed mine. The mine is ancient, but may also contain shards of a very valuable material. The  professor assumes that the research assistant is going to try and find a vein of this stuff and get rich. Fair enough.

That's the pretext for adventure, but the devils in the details. How is the ancient mine laid out? If the professor and his  workers have been surveying this mine and getting ready to reopen its operations how come they don't know exactly what's down there? There were no back up maps? Why didn't you mention the  goblins? The biggest one being, If it's dangerous on the planet's surface, how the hell is the professor hiding this whole mining operation and the small village which supports it from those dangers? 
 These are examples of the logic holes left over from not prepping the  whole thing as well as I should have

None of it will matter by the time the players are deep into the meat of the adventure (you're not.... really you're not) as planned. It will all hang together well enough that the  players shouldn't give a crap about the small stuff. On The other side of that coin, I give a crap. Strong adventure foundations are what it takes to build lofty  towers. I'm sure one of these logic holes will get wider and wider over time until it comes back to haunt me.

Thoughtless can kill a game as fast as rail-road-ish over planning. In this case it's a bit less of a problem. This game was built on the pitch "Hey guys want to do a true dungeon crawl?" Every one said "sure" so delivering on that will be what gets the job done. Overall I like the big picture. I like to know the where why and what of things when I'm running a game. To start out with a fresh setting and honestly with less thought than I would normally put into such an undertaking, leaves me feeling a bit uncomfortable. Sort of like being in a hall of mirrors. One where my ideas are quickly distorted before being reflected back for rapid consideration. Rest assured if the players decide to explore the world further after they  delve deeply into this dungeon crawl, I'll be ready for them. In the meantime they have to survive a few games of hastily  put together dungeons. And some slightly thoughtless content that I'll have to  work into a better narrative somewhere down the road.

Thanks for reading.
-Mark