It’s mega-dungeon time again!
I sat down to draw out another one-page dungeon to fill out more of the specific play-options for the game. Worked through a couple of down time requests and yeah, with not more than two hours sunk into preparations, everything was ready to go. Some of the players demanded more information on this new adventuring locale, so I obliged them with ORIGINAL BOX TEXT when I read aloud as the session began:
Long ago during the great blood snows which Blipdilpoolp belched out into the lands, yay verily, even in the days when the very sun had gone out, a ragged band of plucky adventurers found themselves lost in the wilderness, only narrowly making it to the village of Urgrecht to take shelter after much of their baggage train was washed away in a flash flood. Here they had to make do with only minimal adventuring supports. No “raise dead” freebies. No Adventurer’s Aid society. Not even a friendly wizard that would be willing to purchase magic items from them. There was only Chief Elderbrecht, his strangely alluring daughter Princess Bechtylbrecht, and his chief fighting man, Captain Urglebrechtenburglebrechtenmecht. Not knowing their precise whereabouts, the adventurers decided to delve the local mega-dungeon until they had gained enough confidence, experience, and materiel that they could attempt to travel to a more cosmopolitan locale that had better facilities such as indoor plumbing or maybe a sage.
You can’t beat that!
The players just couldn’t go with a good thing, however. No! They gotta know everything. What is the population of this place, anyway? Well, I checked the back of the Dungeon Masters Guide and decided that 800 people was about right for this village. I had already told the players that the mercenary hirelings that the fighters could start the game with could not be replenished at this location. But now the guy playing the ill-fated Magic-user/Thief Helvetica wanted to know if he could purchase the super expensive pearls that were required as a component for his Identify spell. Well, I checked up with my super special hyper-autistic supplement that was kickstarted back in 2019 and later completed by another designer and when I cross-referenced local population with “super expensive pearls” the tables in there indicated that this was a “no”. I tell you I am prepared for EVERY eventuality here and it is only because I have eight shelves of rpg products that I can give clear concise answers like this!
So, I update the players on what else is going on in the campaign. The blood rains had ended and the sun came back this past week. However, the celebrations put on by Chief Urgrecht were marred when the son of one of the town elders was knifed in the back. House Capuletenmecht was implicated by the stylings on the knife. Very serious matters! Very shocking! Meanwhile, the other party was forced to flee the bizarre megastructure that houses Trollopulous, Machodor, and Bombrozilla. When it came out of hyperspace, the scout ship the party was on board found itself pursued by angry Amazon women. Only narrowly escaping certain death, the scoutship has put down on a nearby planetoid and is currently hiding in the oceans.
“This is boring!” declared Daddy Warpig after the session had been going for only thirty minutes. Evidently even thirty minutes is too danged long for an opening recap and situation report. Oh well!
Well, I guess we can get down to business. After briefly refreshing our understanding of movement rates while moving through mapped areas and so forth, the party quickly were able to pick back up their explorations in the room with the glowing rocks where they fought hobgoblins previously. The party sent Helvetica up ahead to scout things out and he dutifully led the party through a maze of twisty passages and even found a secret door. Volunteering to check this out, he ventured inside only to be torn apart by desiccated bodies that sprang to life and surrounded him. The players questioned whether or not they would have entered the first moment they heard any trouble, and I ruled that no, based on what I was given and what the dice said, it was clear that this was a de facto death trap for the intrepid scout.
At this point the party turned around and went back to base, taking a few thousand copper and silver pieces with them. Helvetica was replaced with a half-orc fighter/cleric. This very natural and rational decision on the part of the players is perhaps a function of their neither having to face threatening wandering monsters on the first level nor face any significant penalties from a timekeeping standpoint. Fair enough. For now!
The party went right back to where they’d left off and continued their exploration, this time making a significant change to their dungeoneering strategy. Upon coming to a doorway, the half-orc fighter Ur immediately declared he was kicking it down and that his mercenary followers were to charge in with him. The rest of the fightery characters in the group all immediately assented to this. This happened to result in “surprise” for the very discombobulated monsters that were inside.
When the players found some treasures in among the muck on the floor along with another doorway, the players decided to try this a second time. This time they did not have surprise, but charging in their lead elements not only got first strike in the round regardless of initiative rolls, they also got +2 to to-hit. The monsters then were able to slash back with their claws before the druid’s entangle spell went off to make the rest of the battle a trivial mop-up.
This sequence of events was more or less repeated with the third room, though somehow this time the party took some losses among the half-orc mercenaries that worked with Ur. I had intended for these guys to fail to cooperate with these rather dangerous directives, but they were drunk and their reaction rolls were insanely high.
Now, this whole situation was kind of an odd scenario already. This was actually the last part of the dungeon map that I had worked out and I was out of ideas and I had ended up with three “monster & treasure” results all in consecutive rules. This is very unusual to have happen in randomly generated dungeons which tend to have plenty of breathing room between lair-like locations. What could it mean? Evidently someone or something was using these areas as a sort of storage room or bank and they had crammed the monsters into these horrible living conditions to protect their stash. Weird!
I felt that the play had turned out to be rather dull, but it must be noted that the players were pretty well on fire. Their choice of tactics just so happened to match perfectly with the completely off the wall rooms I had haphazardly planned. The minor loss of an easily replacable player character had given them just enough feedback to encourage them to adopt a better strategy. The grading rules had caused all of the fighters to reflexively take bold action, which was precisely what was needed. Everything just seemed to work for them and they came away with an unusually large amount of treasure for typical first level characters like this.
All in all, the gameplay shows a tremendous difference between what tended to happen back in 2020. Partly there is more system mastery displayed by the players today. Another factor is that the party tends to have 7-8 player characters instead of 4-5. Another factor is that I am refusing to give the players the option to repeatedly tap out under the auspices of some supposed “total player autonomy” grandstanding. But leaning into the “sure, just start the game with ten mercenaries following your fighter around” thing definitely peps things up. And somehow, “entangle” is turning out to be a fairly serious offensive spell.
Seriously, though, if you had asked me back in 2020 I would have told you that first level AD&D dungeons were probably a bit too difficult for first level parties. Coming into 2023 with these players, I have to wonder if level two is too easy for them!
Which reminds me: remember when people used to recommend that you stock each level of your megadungeon with enough treasure that the party can level up before venturing on to the next one? That is not at all how the wild dungeon complexes described by the tables in the back of the DMG is set up. DON’T BE FOOLED BY PALE IMITATIONS AND BASIC LEVEL THINKING!
Meanwhile, the lack of replacements for these mercenary types putting pressure on the area beyond the village and megadungeon to need to come into more focus. How far would they have to travel? What dangers would beset them on the way? Will anybody be willing to hire on once they are given a battered helmet and told to wash out the brains of the previous owner? Who can say!
Bradford Walker has recently noted that this sort of thing is a SIGNIFICANT DEPARTURE from business as usual in old school D&D circles: “This means that some things that always were taken as anomalous, such as Fighters suddenly getting a personal army, now make sense: your man was doing that from the get-go, and Name Level is the culmination of this path.” Even at levels 1-4, you can expect to be leading an army of men that numbers at the total number of your levels and your fighter henchmen levels multiplied by ten. So, a paladin with ten first level fighters as henchmen can be leading over one hundred men. A fourth level fighter with five second level fighter henchmen could be leading almost half again as many! A non-fighter can easily take on enough fighter henchmen to lead 30 to 60 cavalry. This may not be “mass combat” in a technical sense, but it sure is a great excuse to break out the 1/72 scale historical figures!
There’s gotta be something here– some intriguing gameplay options to explore here. Looking forward to see what shakes out of this!
Oh yeah, one last thing. This session lasted right at three hours. I don’t know who said that four-hour sessions is INSUFFICIENT for megadungeon play, but man– YOU ARE TOTALLY WRONG, BUCKAROO!!!!
Featuring: Ur(HO-F), Bob(F), 10%(HO-F), Moonshine(D), Hugo(F), Helvetica (MU/T), Coors (??)
Adjustment factor: 4/17
Base Monster XP: 74
Total Treasure Value in GP: 110
Adjusted XP Amount: (4/17) x (74 + 110) = 43
Gold Share: 18 1/3*
XP Share: 7
* Does not include Helvetica’s gear: Dagger, Short Bow, 152.5 gp, letter from the chief’s daughter
Featuring: Ur(HO-F), Bob(F), 10%(HO-F), Moonshine(D), Hugo(F), Helvetica II (F/C), Coors (??)
Adjustment factor: NONE
Monster XP: 985
Total Treasure Value in GP: 4710*
Gold Share: 672.8
XP Share: 813
* Does not include the sale of “slaves” or any deductions for converting to local currency, etc.
F for Helvetica
Pingback: You, the Boys, AND YOUR PRIVATE ARMY | Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog
Okay, even as one of those dorkly Kickstarter types, I had to laugh out loud at the Super Expensive Pearls observation/rant. Bravo!
It IS an embarrassment of riches, in a way. Stuff like faux-Trampier-illustrated collections of 21st Century harlot random tables would probably be better served in an electronic format that the DM can call up instantly. But the ever-nostalgic OSR just likes having those hefty tomes bending the bookcase. Ah well…
Also thanks for coming up with (or is it rediscovering?) the whole “game continues even when you’re not playing” time innovation for AD&D. Still pressuring a couple friends to try it out…
Ngl, I love getting a brand new rpg book. ESPECIALLY the overwrought Kickstarter productions!!
But yeah, time-related rules are ubiquitous in the seventies. Yet I don’t see anyone elaborating on why you should use them anytime after 1980. The closest thing to a counter-example to my claim would be the inestimable Nagora’s 2012 post which not only outlined how many activities in AD&D are weirdly time-related, but also how much of the ethos derives from Appendix N. But I’d say that with the Secrets of Blackmoor doc coming out just as we were beginning to take a look at this, that me and bros had a little extra help when it came to unraveling the TRUE meaning of D&D. (Not to mention dozens of players that would slavishly try out any dumb thing that we found in the rules that made absolutely no sense– and keep on doing it long after it could be passed off as merely “conducting an experiment” simply because it obviously worked so much better than what they were doing before.)