Okay, I think 3.5 hour sessions are dumb. That just so happens to match up to what you can expect to have in a convention slot, so it’s important for SOMEBODY to figure what can even be done with this. Well… I can tell you.
We had this guy coming in from the con game I ran a couple of weeks ago– his con session is “canon” to the campaign, but he had no idea what the rest of the guys were doing. Fortunately, we had another relatively new player that reads all the session reports that could give a concise summary of the current situation. (It was very good! I don’t know how anyone is going to run a real campaign without having public session reports. For real!) As far as the opening session brainstorming, we got it down to a very brisk 30 minutes this time. In 2020 it would have gone on for an hour, but this location was intentionally built with much less room to just wander around pointlessly, so there are fewer dumb options for the players to wrangle over.
For the strategic situation, we had an assassin come back with a report on the monsters that have occupied Steadington. The players all agreed they needed to level up a lot before touching this. Locally in Urgrecht there has been a big shift in the balance of power in local politics. The O.R.C. faction and their gnome flunkie were thrown in prison for disrupting society. Meanwhile, Billy had returned from a stint in the slave pits with a cadre of human supremacist warriors and promptly took over the tepee containing the water cooler and the Naugahyde couch.
Downtime actions by just the players are doing just enough to prod a weird but internally consistent world into existence without overburdening the referee with a lot of work. This campaign-thread demonstrates roughly what you can do with Braunstein play at first level with relatively short session times and WITHOUT turning over high-level NPC’s to random people. Note that the BrOSR of 2022 would NOT have advocated for this approach and even now looks askance at this experiment. However, if you are a lazy DM like me that wants to keep refereeing as a sort of “beer and pretzels” grade endeavor that does not take over your life, then I think I can recommend this approach to you.
As for prep, I was supposed to double the size of this ridiculous so-called “megadungeon”. It is two sheets of graph paper and I only have a key for one of the pages and that key is out of date. The thing is mostly in my head now. I had I rough sketch of part of an area that I was supposed to have finished. While everyone was talking at the beginning of the session I sketched out the area where the players were “supposed” to go and tried to imagine what would be reasonable for that location given everything that had happened so far in the game. The players of course did not go there at all this session.
So the players come into the dungeon and their caller has really organized the party well and they are moving through and the magic-user leader named “Chuck” moves past the kobold warning marker to make a wizard mark “E” on the wall of the cave. I have no idea what this means, but it is some kind of downtime thing that may turn into something down the road. We’ll see.
The players then wind their way through the dungeon through their normal path. There are many side-pockets that they do not have time to bother with. It’s been two weeks I think since somebody made a cruise through here. Do the monsters know this is “the” path? What is reasonable for this? Right now I get no wandering monster results on the pathway and the dismantling of the doorway from my notorious door scenario would seem to indicate that nobody is going to bother with a forward defense anymore. Certainly the hobgoblins have lost enough guards that they would rethink their strategy.
I rolled up a random sound, hoping for some inspiration that could turn my terrible pile of notes into a game. The table gives me “laughter”. I start to describe it, but then… it just makes sense to go ahead and do the bad voice acting. The players draw their own conclusions about what it means instead of me telling them what to think.
So they get back to this secret door where they had stashed a flail snail shell previously. Garamound the O.R.C. cleric/thief goes in, sees the shell… and I don’t know what the thinking was here. The players have a small army with them with two groups of hirelings. We also had a full table of like seven PC’s. Mr. T. was back from training, so they had their first second level PC in the group. But the dungeon is a weird and scary place and I guess the player characters are afraid to die.
So Garamound puts his hands on the snail shell and he gets stuck to it. I had actually rolled a die to determine if there would be a prank involved with the shell that was set up over the past two weeks. It was unlikely, but it turned out to be the case. And I had decided that this would make sense, be kind of funny, and be no more of a threat than a straight-ahead pit trap. Little did I know that I had given Grimtooth a run for his money with this!
The players commenced trying every conceivable means of freeing their compatriot. If this was an Infocom text adventure, I would merely have said, “violence isn’t the answer to this one” or “such language in an establishment such as this” over and over. Finally they decide to remove the entire dais that the snail shell was situated on and drag it out of the dungeon. (In my mind I could see the inevitable fall that would occur at the 60′ cliff area with Garamond splattered on the bottom. This whole thing was REALLY DUMB to me!!!)
Well, all the noise summons some monsters to the scene. These were pretty fierce. The players held the doorway in order to prevent a general melee from occurring. Five of these monsters were gradually whittled away, with Chuck’s magic missiles and Foam the Gnome’s angel with an energy mace scoring most of the kills. Daddy Warpig’s new character (working on being a bard) was knocked down to -1 hit-points and I think Foam gave him a hit of “Fast” drug to stabilize him. I think this puts the character out of play for sixty days. Thanks, guy!
The players wanted to loot the bodies, but these things all disappeared in a puff of smoke. They also seemed to take an incredible amount of damage. Something was not right about this. The players consider the sound of the laughter, the weird trap on the snail shell (Otiluke’s Sticky Snotball?), the probably chance that a wizard was in league with the hobgoblins, and the rumors of a certain “Belboz the Magnificent” being at large in the dungeon.
The players were rattled. Having burned their spells on an encounter that didn’t have any treasure, they were genuinely demoralized. They returned their attention to the snail shell. Pewter, whose player had grown bored with the endless debate and who didn’t care about his character anyway (you have an endless supply of first level characters the way we play which… yeah, this is just bad roleplaying tbh… though I have to say when he voiced acted his turning attempt, he totally stole the game.) Anyway, he decides to take an iron spike and use it to break the shell, hoping to break the spell along with it. Of course, the iron spike gets stuck to the shell and his hand gets stuck to it. Exasperated, he drops his hammer and then reaches for the nearest mercenary henchman… who gets stuck to Pewter now.
It is now late. The players decide to throw things at the shell to break it. They throw three footman’s maces at it and finally it cracks, but everyone is still stuck and now there are three footman’s maces stuck to the shell to boot. More schemes and plans are discussed, something about returning to town to do something elaborate which I can’t even imagine.
So at this point I tell the players, okay– you go back to town, you have the most brilliant idea ever in how you are going to solve this, you gather up what you need and you go back to the dungeon… and when you get there, Garamound, Pewter, and the mercenary are all gone. Because of course they would be. So, yeah. A really goofy idea for a trap was the end to three adventurers. Another PC is out of play for sixty days. And the players came back with no treasure. But two people that Mr. T owed money to are now out of the game. So there is that!
So there you go. In a six-hour session there would have been time for another delve where the players could have tried a different tack and possibly win at D&D. In short session D&D, if you screw up your strategy, then the whole session will end up being a bust. Very sad! This raises so many questions about DMing and dungeon design. The players were clearly shocked by the sheer ruthlessness of it all and seemed to think that it was OBVIOUS that they “should” save their friend and that there “ought” to be a solution to this. Should there be? Must there be? Whence commeth these notions?! WHAT DOES IT MEAN?!?!?!? What do you think?
There was a solution. Cut off the first guys hand. He would have gotten. A hook and a cool story to tell.
Nono. Cleric pulled me out and bound my wounds. They left me back at town to recuperate.