We started the game thirty minutes early to kibitz as people filtered in. I have to say that the notorious one hour discussions that preceded the adventures we did in 2020 did in fact serve a vital purpose. Through the telling and retelling of campaign lore and the hashing out of various adventure options, the players both created and maintained a unique campaign culture. Though we had to eliminate that in order to have decent sessions when we dropped from 6+ hour games to 3.5 sessions, I have to say that the players are slightly less cohesive as a group and not as likely to be on the same page.
I pointed out how happy I was that the downtime actions of Garamound and Billy culminated into a significant conflict within the local campaign environment of the Unhinged Megadungeon thread. And yet, this contest between the Orc Racial Criticism faction and the human supremacist clique was resolved without any real gameplay or scenario design, but rather through decisions that were made independently and without even real knowledge of them having occurred. This is the definition of an unfair game… and yet the players accept the outcome without resentment.
This is very counterintuitive and very surprising and I have not seen anyone commenting on this or leveraging it with their scenario designs. The fact is, the pallisade with the ten normal human men and the water cooler and the Naugahyde couch is easily the most interesting thing in the campaign to me and the player running it is apparently quite excited about it as well. And yet there is practically no game there at all, just a steady series of very small decisions and developments that have built on each other week to week. We never knew what was going to shake out of the game, either, but when this did it is clearly the thing that the campaign was building towards even though no single person is responsible for it. That it ties in to the disaster with Ur’s footmen and Darkleaf’s offhan betrayal of Billy at Steadington only makes it more compelling.
The story of how such campaign elements came to be were among the things that players would share when we took our time easing into a session back in 2020. I wish we didn’t have to be in such a hurry. Warpig listened to me struggling to articulate this and once again took the time to remind everyone that he has spoken on this very matter which I pretend that no one else has ever broached. I do think it is significant that we were able to achieve this effect without the sort of high-effort braunsteins that the BrOSR is famous for. We got this one with a silly low-effort braunstein that was only a minor embellishment to a ridiculously focused “mudcore” dungeon delve thread. This is an important result given how many people are grappling with integrating “patron play” with continuing campaigns outside of month-long stunts.
I opened the game by pointing out that so far we had had a multithreaded campaign with 8 sessions dedicated to the low level “megadungeon” effort, 2 to the mid-level space adventures, and then four more to the brilliant mass combat oriented Machodor series of games. I told people that if the low-level gets to a good stopping point that we would cycle it to more of a back burner position within the campaign in order to explore how a midlevel megadungeon setup plays. I admitted that restricting player autonomy in order to establish these campaign elements has introduced friction that I would rather not have had to deal with. But oh well.
The players formed a tremendous party and rolled in determined to stay focused. Brigadine navigated without explaining too much to visiting James Streissand. The players rolled up on the door on second level and the entire party failed to open it. Chris pointed out that you could in fact take multiple tries with this, which nobody attempted to do the previous week. I couldn’t understand how I had failed to read that rule and/or forget it somehow. The players moved in to the passageway with the alarming foundation cracks and took a lot of measures to not risk a ridiculous, stymying death. They also removed the first door from its hinges before opening the second door which creaks REALLY LOUDLY.
At this point the session faced a real crisis. The players had to make a decision of which side of the cliff to scale down. They were all set to do down the side where they had met the flailsnail and (even further away) the group of bugbears that killed Darkleaf. There was some confusion about what had happened where and what the layout of the area even was. Gradually through my promptings and Chris’s superior memory of these matters, it was agreed that it was the left side where the maniacal laughter was heard and where (critically) hobgoblins were once seen fleeing down. The left side was of course where the scenario I had planned was set up and where the culmination of all the loose plot threads were pointing. If they went right instead– more than likely due to a combination of poor communication and poor memory– then the session would result in random exploration that could only result in even MORE unresolved plot threads. I am pretty sure I gave this away through my requests for… uh… clarification. But who knows if I botched this or not. In any case… the players chose the path that I had planned for them to take.
Now, this next part was difficult for me to set up. We had this 90 foot drop leading to the hobgoblin lair and the hobgoblins could conceivably just hang out at the bottom and shoot at the players as they climbed down. I considered going with that on the off chance that the players would think to rappel down special forces style, but my players are more tradesmen types that are exports on how to hang doors. They don’t know anything about rock climbing! Instead of that, I set the hobgoblins back in a large room. Ten had set spears along the front rank. Nine in the back had longbows. If the players stood off they would be shot. If they charged they would eat set spears. As a wild card, they had a magic-user ready to drop a stinking cloud somewhere. This was pretty nasty, though I had one more trick up my sleeve here.
The party moves down the cliff and forms up. They head down the corridor straight to the hobgoblins. I have this terrible put trap set up to mess with them. The front rank does not trigger it, but the second rank does. They all make their saving throws, though, and I rule that they leapt ahead to just narrowly make it to the same side as the point men. The magical artillery and the henchmen were now separated from the rest of the party by this obstacle. At this point I check for surprise and I wonder if the party is surprised because “the monsters rolled a one”, but this means the monsters are surprised– though I had ruled that the monsters could not be surprised due to the creaking door. So the players had to declare actions while discombobulated. This was a very complex situation and the players really had to put their heads together. The selected close to engage rather than charge– because they did not want to eat double damage from the spears and they could not afford to hang back, either. The magic-user/thief played by Dorrinal opted to cast charm person on a smaller, scrawnier hobgoblin on the back rank and Mr. T(en Percent) opted to throw his handaxe at the same.
Initiative was very important here and the players lost. I used Chris’s hyper-insane magician duel interpretation of the rules and figured out that the hobgoblin’s spell went off first even though it took more segments to cast it. The stinking cloud goes off on top of the five player characters though could not possibly be more than two inches across in their formation. The next thing that happened was that the elf’s charm person spell went off. Now, there might have been a mistake with that. Should the hobgoblin archers gotten a chance to fire? Should it have happened before or after the stinking clowd went off? I don’t know now. If it went off after, some hobgoblins on the flanks should have gotten a chance to shoot at the elf probably. At any rate, the charm person spell goes off and the skinny figure failed its saving throw against it. Should the stinking cloud have blocked the Charm Person? I ruled that if he failed the saving throw then it was blocked by the cloud. Easy!
So now the elf is speaking in hobgoblin to this skinny guy who it turns out is actually a human. This is really confusing to the party because I had applied the Star Fleet Battles D17 Tactical Intelligence rule here and it made perfect sense to me to do so. The elf persuades the human leader of the hobgoblins to stand down and the rest of the party crosses over the open pit trap to link up with the elf. The party members inside the cloud all fail their saving throws and so are throwing up for many turns. Gradually the elven magic-user/thief persuades the hobgoblins to link up with the players in order to go destroy the Dark Dwarf on the first level. I roll a reaction check on the hobgoblins and it came up neutral, so I decide this stupid plan works.
The players set up this procedure of sending half the party to the top of the ledge, having them send down rope ladders, then sending the hobgoblins up. They walk from the 90′ ledge to the sixty foot ledge (and pass a random encounter that opted to hang back in the face of such a tremendous group of creatures) and when they get there they set up four rope ladders, send half the party down, then send the hobgoblins next and… well, somebody cut the ropes on the ladders and the hobgoblins all died. The human magic-user freaked out in dismay. The players calm him down and persuade him to give the party the hobgoblin’s treasure so that they can “regroup” and prepare for another delve. So the party turns around now and heads back down the 90′ cliff again and they go down a different passage and take a turn at a fork and then end up in this room with a wishing well in it. The magic-user, Fritz opens a silent pivoting secret door rock wall and then disables a chest full of gold and gold jewlry and then uncovers a small dais-like freestanding artifact with a slot, a dial, and a transparent dome which revealed that there were many colored balls on the inside.
The party took all of this out of the dungeon, went back and removed the dead hobgoblins from the dungeon and game armor and weapons to Billy in order to better outfit his men at the palisade one days march north of the village. They then went back into the dungeon and travelled to the dark dwarf. The elf and the half-orc can see these figures moving around on the other side of the walls through what are basically murder holes or arrow slits or something. The blue man / dark dwarf comes out and says that his sources have confirmed that the hobgoblins have been disposed of. Chris reminds me that the original grudge I had made up weeks ago was that the hobgoblins were bilking the kobolds on payments for dungeon dressing work orders. The players ask for their reward and the dark dwarf whistles and these two HAUGHTY blue dwarf-women come out with this chest of gold between them. Very enticing! The gold I mean.
Oh, but the players were not done. They had some questions about this Belboz the Magnificent guy that had been penning up monsters into his menagerie. I wasn’t prepared for this, so I made a quick d12 table with some options on it and rolled. The dark dwarf did not divulge any juicy rumors about Belboz, only warned that he was quite mad and extremely dangerous– and that was was probably the one that developed the rather stale Failsnail shell spell. The players picked my brain for even more clues and hints and I couldn’t think of anything else until I gave Billy a map to the location of another “artifact”. I have no idea what I told him, but now I have to map out a whole lot more dungeon before we can continue.
After the game we were discussing how we were going to divide up treasure and XP and I was dead set on dividing the XP shares equally and the Gold shares by shares parceled out by character levels. Dorrinal told me it didn’t work like that and I told him he was stupid and read out the monster XP rules and then as I did so… I realized he was right. There was some question about how magic item XP was divided and two referees agreed that only the scroll xp went to the spellcaster who got it. Everything else must be divided up like the monster xp if that indeed was an exceptional case. There were objections to this, but we shouted down whoever made them and insulted them. I was shocked that the rules cleary said something that we hadn’t understood for over three years now– even though this last set of fifteen sessions were all themed on a ridiculous obsession with the XP adjustment rules. I couldn’t wrap my head around how strange this was.
Cast o’ Characters: Billy (F1), Billy Bob (F2), Ash Gregworth (D1), Robert Burns (F1), Mr. T(en Percent) (HO F2), Serahan (E M/T), Tahoma (HE M/C), Chuck (M2), +5 Normal Men mercenaries
Monster XP: 589
Total Monster Hit Dice: 21
Total PC Hit Dice: 16
FULL XP IS BEING AWARDED
Hobgoblin Treasure: 2850
Kobold Treasure: 625
Total PC Shares — 13.5 (The charmed Fritz is being given one and a half shares by default)
In 2022, I observed that the treasure in the Trollopulous game was EXTREMELY GENEROUS compared to the Appendix A dungeon. When I pointed this out, people disagreed. I predicted that if the rather spoiled Trollopulous players of late 2022 were subjected to the horrors of a more or less strict Appendix A dungeon, they would completely spaz.
I was right.
The change to the campaign has been very traumatic. Though the death toll and the rate of leveling is not too far off from what we saw in 2020, the reaction to switching to something that was inarguably more consistent with the intent of the game has consisted of equal parts of alarm and disgust. And yet, through it all there have been some quiet developments that have emerged from the efforts of those content merely to play the game conceived of by Gary. And some intriguing discoveries as well. Not to mention valuable skills and hard won lessons that will no doubt inform future efforts in a positive way.
Thank you for trying something different from what we did last year. Thank you for… actually trying to play an AD&D game at its most brutal and unforgiving level. Trollopulous has of course from its inception always been a de facto playtest of the AD&D rules. Its aims are first and foremost to explore and uncover the nature of the game described by the AD&D rules. Whenever this conflicts with what people think is best for a session or what people think is best for the campaign, we have always elected follow the AD&D rules wherever they lead.
This has lead to a great many fascinating discoveries and innovations. And what’s more, we expect more to come from this. If for whatever reason you believe that the campaign should be about something other than exploring the game laid out by Gary Gygax in the AD&D core books, that somehow a group of disgruntled or frustrated players should be able to persuade the referee to set aside the dictates and their strictures of the rules in order to explore a different sort of game, then YOU ARE AT THE WRONG VIRTUAL TABLE.
This is not up for discussion, and as long as I have any say in the matter, it will not be up for discussion. We will playtest the AD&D rules– not only because no one has ever done it before, but also because they have never failed us yet. None of this should come as a surprise to anyone. In fact, this is the thing that drew most of you here in the first place. Those of you that were maybe less clear on this up until now– well, hopefully this makes things plain. In any case, thanks for playing. And God bless you all.
There is a certain back and forth in rpgs that is inescapable.
Last session was absolutely incredible, though. Judging from amount of time people had to spend unpacking their feelings about it cross-examining themselves, cross-examining the game itself… it was the biggest one probably ever. I went into this one determined to not even try to top it. There were only five players. Many peoples’ main characters were out of rotation this time as well, so literally everything was different. The awesomely powerful party of the previous week was gone, replaced with a small cadre of characters without any sort of mercenary support at all.
The game opened as it has consistently done with some mild chastisement from Daddy Warpig. I had missed a show where he elucidated a topic that I had been fumbling around on and I must needs be excoriated for it. I didn’t care. I was still high off of a stellar performance on Gelatinous Rube’s channel and wanted to exult in it. He were late starting an already short game session as a result.
Daddy Warpig was playing a new character. I asked why not if he had begged and pleaded to have his thief be alive. He said he refused to play a character that cannot train or gain XP. I tried to figure out why he thought this was so. His thief was the one that had insisted on the disastrous journey to Steadington and somehow that had blossomed into “DM mean and no fun scenario broken blah blah blah.” I informed the table that the overall scenario was set up as I had intended and there were actually options here and problems that were intended to be solved by the players. Brian suggested self-training. I asked why this thief had not traveled to the very ridiculously named “Burgleburg” which I had placed to very specifically telegraph the answer to this very situation. Daddy Warpig then declared that I had told him that he would die if he had attempted to travel there, which of course I have never said at all. Other players then recounted their experiences travelling during downtime and suggesting that it should not be impossible for him to make it, either alone or with the party.
Exasperated with this situation, I opted to move on. Dark Leaf the thief, as far as I was concerned, was supposed to be dead anyway. The bard which was given Fast Drug last session was out of play for two months. Dark Leaf can be dead if Warpig would rather not play a thief that has to face a very minor challenge.
I was duly punished for this. Warpig began speaking in an extremely offensive southern accent. He then declared that he was bringing back the 2020-era practice of players meming up stuff within the campaign. He declared that Urgrecht was fantasy Appalachia and that it therefore contained a trailer park and not teepees like I had originally said. The pharmacist that had produced the Fast Drug previously immediately became Bryan Cranston, secretly running a meth lab. I winced at the atrocious accent and the very obnoxious characterization of the South that nearly all Northwesterners take for granted. The session was lagging, so I attempted to move on. I pointed out that Warpig was attempting to punish me for not placing a thief trainer in the town and for not allowing him to play his bard. From there the annoying accent only got worse.
A new player was selected as caller this time and the usual guy who acted in this leadership role did his best to step back from it entirely. He succeeded and only occasionally had to mention something that the group as a whole was neglecting. The party wound their way through the dungeon and it took a little longer due to someone else doing the navigation. This was probably vital cross-training. Getting to the dungeon door to the area where big things had been happening, suddenly the five people in the party all failed their open door check. Something like this had never happened before.
The players went into “autistic problem-solving mode” and immediately wanted to know if the hinges were on this side of the door. I have no idea what this could have been about. I resist this at first and some of the players are quick to pick up on my confusion and aggravation, so they are almost immediately of a mind to encourage the entire table to move on to another tack with the game. (The previous week’s session was that traumatic.) This is a difficult thing for the table to stomach because the table includes at least one actual tradesman, so it is a very big ask to insist that the players settle for “generic fantast game doors with no realistic attributes.”
The net result of this is that the players opted to do something entirely different from what both they and I had planned for the evening. They left the beaten path of this level and began to explore the odd corners of this level which I had stocked very early in the year. This lead to a room which had a Shaker footstool in it. The players searched for secret doors and found one. Inside the room was an iron trunk. The gnome detected no traps and Logosloth opted to bravely attempt to open it. He was struck by a poison dart and he died on the spot. If you ever wondered why players don’t care for systematically exploring Gygaxian dungeons, then this is why.
Continuing on in the dungeon a new room was found and I checked and the lead character in the party had set off a crushing ceiling trap. He made his save and then managed to both disable this trigger with a dagger and also identify other such pressure plates in the room. The party searched for secret doors here but didn’t find any.
All this time there had been no wandering monster results and there would be none for the entirety of the session. Coming up on one more door, the players again failed all of their “open door” checks. Again, I was asked about the hinges because the players wanted to be able to remove the door easily and quietly. This sounded like the most un-D&D thing I had ever heard of, so I declared that there were no hinges in the dungeon unless someone could find me an example of them from Appendix N. This was speedily accomplished by the guy with the dead PC, so now the location of all hinges will be marked on the map.
So the party was down to four characters from five. This was the B-team of the overall roster. Some of the best players and characters were all out of the session. And here we were blundering along into a less explored corner of my hastily conceived random dungeon. The players showed up at this door with a barred window and a sign that read, “Please do not interfere with my menagerie, Belboz the Magnificent.” The gnome suddenly needed the footstool to peer into the room. He sees nothing, picks the lock, and the tradesman of the party described how the door latch mechanism would be disabled so that they could enter the room without it locking behind them.
At this point I checked for surprise and the players happened to surprise the monsters. Out of sight, they were curled up near the wall in a spot where the gnome would not have seen them. The players attacked during the surprise segment and then again during the combat round. Billy Bob of the cringe-inducing Appalachian accent dealt the finishing blow to one of these monstrous creatures and it squealed like a pig as it died. I determined how the monsters would react and they all wanted to flee. This resulted in another monster being killed as two others fled the room. The players opted not to pursue due to light issues not being prepared for this eventuality.
I started to use the monster manual treasure tables but then realized this should be the Appendix A table. I got both a treasure result here and rather high rolls in addition to that. I had to decide then whether to accept the result per Gygax’s guidelines on stocking given elsewhere in the DMG. I elected to let the results stand as it did not hurt the campaign for it to develop further and this dungeon very consistently ate a PC every week. It was random. It was dumb. But the players were in the process of winding up a knockout punch and I took a dim view of anything that could take the wind out of their sails for when everything needed to come together. But then the players asked about the next room. It had more of these rather tough monsters inside. They also had a healthy treasure result. Though the players could not throw flaming oil through the window, they could mime their threats to the creatures. Given that one of these beasts had died horribly, I soon had them passing coinage to the PC’s in exchange for their life.
So! This was a very low key session. Not the greatest. I very consciously allowed it lean on the fact that players will forgive a mediocre session if the treasure is good. The loose threads have reached critical mass, however:
We’ve got a large group of hobgoblins that their players are concerned about
We have a “dark dwarf” that has bribed the party into dealing with them
We have three characters that have been taken captive that MIGHT possibly be rescued
We have this “Belboz” guy that had had his menagerie meddled with three times now
We have this maniacal laughter that could be the same or a different enemy wizard
We know that SOMETHING may or may not have used illusions against the party
We know that SOMEBODY has the ability to create a bizarre and magical trap that is absolutely deadly
We have Whiskers and Splat, two leveled up giant rats that were formerly associated with the party
We also have the Burrow Owl Lenny that occasionally operates along with the players
Next week the players could just go with whichever characters are available…. OR they could do something else and then be sure to have the best conceivable party the following week when more leveled characters came back. But what is the best move here? You know, I can’t really say. That’s on the players. A scenario with six or seven elements that took several sessions to introduce and develop organically, though? I think that’s the gold standard in rpg campaigns and that paying all of this off somehow over the course of the next few sessions can’t help but be satisfying.
Though it looks like we still have one table management issue to sort out before we dig into this. I don’t see this harsh limitation of a 3.5 hour session keeping us from wrapping up all of these threads. Unless the players chicken out! But they won’t.
Cast o’ Characters: Foam the Gnome (I/T), Arnaud (C1), Billy Bob (F1), Edmund (F1)
Treasure XP: 7350
Monster XP: 510
Total XP to divide up: 7860
Total gold to divide up: 7915 (includes Logosloth’s belongings)
** Note we will be dividing up shares based on levels going forward. Does not impact the shares YET but it will!!
Total XP shares: 1965
Total Gold shares: 1978.75 gp
Helvetica (Magic-user/Thief) — Killed by a zombie in the dungeons near Urgrecht during session 2.
Hugo (Fighter 1) – MIA during downtime prior to Session 6.
Moonshine (Druid) — Killed by a hobgoblin in a dispute over a door during session 6.
Billy (F) — Imprisoned by trolls in the slave pits of Steadington during session 7. Presumed dead. [He came back with friends.]
Ur (Half-orc Fighter) — Killed by a hobgoblin on level two of the dungeon at Urgrecht during session 7.
Dark Leaf (Human Thief) — Speared twice by two bugbears on level three of the dungeon at Urgrecht during session 8.
Logosloth (F) — Killed by a poison dart from an iron trunk in a secret room during session 12.