Okay, we just sort of kept playing and playing and playing here. I don’t think this should have worked– this was an unscheduled game set up on the spur of the moment at a small town university science fiction and fantasy convention. Basically no one signed up for this, either. Well, a couple people did– but they crossed their names off to go play the LARP or something. Friday night– which I thought was the best time slot for this– was pretty well dead this year. (For Comparison, when I ran Isle of Dread a couple years back, I had eight people show up.)
This should have been a bust, but on Saturday, people that had played in other games I’d run walked by, checked us out, and then joined in. (There’s this look of longing on their faces that is immediately evident when they see the dice and maps.) My group of three die hard, ultra-reliable roleplaying addicts were thus joined by three additional players over the course of the afternoon– a respectable troupe! People I didn’t know would occasionally walk past, ask a few questions, and then end up sitting in for while, too. (One guy played a full sortie and another just dipped in for half an hour just to sample again the old school way of playing.)
In terms of how things shook out, I’d say that play fell out into roughly equal chunks: exploration, investigation, planning, fighting wandering monsters, and fighting the set piece encounters. (The players could generally tell the difference between the latter two.) Here is a rundown of the overall action for each of the five sorties that the players made into Dwimmermount.
The party entered the dungeon and went through the southern double doors and into the first level’s main crossroads. They tried to shove their way into a door, but a gelatinous cube showed up. (The dog started growling or else someone would have gotten eaten by it.) They retreated back to the entry area– the thief fired a crossbow bolt into the monster as a fighter knocked the iron spike out from the door.
The players then explored the western section. They came across an iron face and a rune inscribed obelisk. The mage was stunned by some sort of magical trap and the party went outside to rest; she ended up recovering in forty minutes, so the party went back in and fought some orcs. They took exactly 1,000 gold pieces off them after sleep spelling them and the players were shocked to see that the six orcs were all identical… as if they were all twins.
The players took one orc back to town for interrogation. After bribing the watch to give them some time and hiring someone that could speak bestial, the party was intrigued to hear about the large numbers of orcs on the next level down. The party asked about the orc’s mother and so forth and it claimed to have come from the pool. The players decided that this must be like something from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings adaption….
XP: 1060 divided 6 ways
Rooms: 1-11-1-64-61-1, 1-61-62-61-1
The party loaded up on supplies and enjoyed the finest cooking and revelry they could get in Muntberg while one of their critically wounded comrades spent a week recovering. (Local priest charged 100 gold for a cure light wounds.) The players then returned to Dwimmermount with the intention of taking out the gelatinous cube with flaming oil.
They entered the room that had stymied them before and searched some dwarvish bodies. The presence of blood and the fact that they were turned to stone lead to a lot of speculation. The cube showed up and the players set an oil trap for it. They explored the next room and discovered some sort of contraption. Before long, what they thought was the same cube blundered in and the players lobbed oil at short range to take it out as it almost backed them into a corner. It was dispatched rather easily, though.
The players insisted on fiddling with a device and switched on a training automaton. In the ensuing melee, Virgil the cleric was perhaps needlessly killed. The party went back to town to roll up a new cleric.
XP: 217 divided 5 ways
The party spent one night in town and headed straight back to the dungeon. (Dead people don’t require recuperation.) They actually had a complete map of the first level that they got off the dwarves last time. The adventurers cruised over to one promising room, but found only centipedes and rubbish. They found not much in a similar room on the opposite side of the dungeon, but some crab spiders harassed them as they came out. The found a weird room with voices in it, a really nice library, and a weird contraption that nearly killed one of the player characters. Kobolds were fought, orcs were fought, and some more centipedes as well. A really nice 120 g.p. piece of jewelry was taken off the orc lieutenant.
Another thing happening this time had to do with the players electing to avoid the kobold caves after they took out their main guards. They found some really nice double doors made of some kind of white metal which didn’t open with the thief made a successful pick locks roll. The orcs ended up coming after them when they decided to pop some weird silvery bubbles. Come to think of it, there was a great deal of varied things to interact with and puzzle over this time.
The players spent another week in town so a player character could get over a brush with death. A fighter spent the time reading one of the old books on martial arts and gained 500 experience points.
XP: 318 divided 6 ways (Bogdar the Tolerant sat out of this round.)
The party was tired of the wimpy treasure hauls they’d gotten so far and feeling rather bold, they opted to risk going down the staircase on the eastern side of the dungeon. Some weird skeletons met them at the foot of the stairs and they seemed to be immune to turning. One of the player characters died in the fighting. In the next room were some weird pillars that the players couldn’t understand.
Again the players went at 60′ a turn through large passages. (People in plate mail are slow… and the rules assume careful, searching movement at full alert.) They came across some rats and managed to block them into a corner with flaming oil and easily wiped them out. They then found a strange alter with an orichalcum box on it. They found a well that they investigated for a bit. And they found some hobgoblins. The beastmen wanted to parley, but the mage ended up sleep spelling them on the sly. This resulted in a fair treasure haul and the party encountered crab spiders on the way out of the dungeon.
Back in town, a couple of player characters took a priest out for drinks trying to pick his brain about how they could get into the orichalcum box. The advice boiled down to him suggesting that the players show a little more reverence and avoid using arcane abilities to solve religious puzzles. (The two are inimical to each other.) He admitted his bias, but the players seemed embrace this type of thinking.
XP: 1049 divided 6 ways (Bogdar was back now.)
Rooms:  1-11-14-15… [2B] 1-2-30-16-15-14-2-1…  15-14-11-1.
The party blew into the dungeon knocked the heads off all the statues in the entry area. This made a lot of noise. They wanted to check out the other stairs and headed for them. They fought some orcs and took their stuff. They found a neat map room and then made it to the stairwell. They cleaned out some yellow mold at its entrance and went down.
At the foot of the stairs were five orcs. The two lead fighters quickly got dropped, but the party kept on. Reinforcements showed up and got sleep spelled. The orc leader was tough, but went down. The party slit the orcs’ throats and did not search, but decided to get out. Healing proficiency actions got the two fighters on their feet again. The party encountered crab spiders on the way out and fought through them.
Heading out of the dungeon, they encountered the dreaded NPC party that they had expected to run into sooner or later. The players were not intimidated and chose to fight, even though they’d burned through all of their spells and such. The players’ thief got high initiative as usual and shot the enemy mage at a range of 120 feet. If the NPC’s could have cast a sleep spell, it would have resulted in automatic defeat… but whatever the mage had, it was spoiled.The NPC’s ran down the stairs at this point and the players chased after them. The thief and mage got away, but the two fighters and the two clerics turned to give battle. They were soon killed except for one cleric which was taken prisoner.
XP: 2651 divided 6 ways
Rooms:  1-11-48-47-44-45… [2A] 1-41-1…  45-44-47-48-11-1
The opening room is of course an homage to Gary Gygax’s Random Dungeon Generation scheme. The principle embodied there is to give the players multiple options right from the start rather than shepherding them along a linear series of encounters. The map of the first level being given over to the players so soon was a surprise to me, though. This really changed the tone of the game from one of pure exploration over to a more strategic sort of sacking. But the players were presented with multiple ways down into the next level there, with each one amounting to its own adventure hook that they had varying degrees of intel on. I have to say, though, this set up seems to encourage players to think in terms of their own objectives rather than simply systematically clearing out the dungeon.
I had intended to just focus on the dungeon crawling above everything else, but the players asked quite a bit about the history and the background of the setting over the course of the sessions. This is no doubt due to the many rooms that appear to be some sort of puzzle or problem for the players to solve. It feels like something large and intricate is unfolding here, but it is at the pace that the players set, not me. I never really had to “brain dump” them with the boring “game designer wishes he was a novelist” stuff. The details are there to enhance the players’ adventuring, not to merely be foisted on them.
The surrounding region is starting to become a factor as well. Players that are not satisfied with what they can get for selling various artifacts in Muntberg will soon have a reason to go ranging across the wilderness hexes to go to larger cities. The players had no use for the NPC mage that begged to include them in the adventuring, but they spend money quite freely in town and word of their success in the dungeon has gotten out. Competing adventuring companies are sure to be a factor in any future sessions– indeed, they are already complicating the players’ exit strategies.
The scope of the dungeon combined with the many uninhabited rooms have some surprising consequences as well. The various factions feel like they are a long way away from each other. This is not like the Caves of Chaos where the players scoff at so many humanoid factions setting up right on top of each other. As far as the balance of power is concerned, the players have killed more orcs than just about anything else. It is harder to think through the ramifications of that than I would have thought. Given the way that the material is presented, I had expected that the way that the factions interact would have been a much more prominent feature of the gameplay so far. But that just isn’t happening, yet. The players are too strong at first level in ACKS, everything is remote, and the first level is tilted toward mindless vermin. There’s just not a lot of reason to negotiate there….
Probably the biggest headache I cause the players is due to my extreme lack of interest in setting up miniatures on a grid for them. My rough sketches of the various situations aren’t doing the job. For my part, I don’t mind how fighters in ACKS cleave through large swaths of monsters– it speeds up the combat resolution, after all– but I have to say that I cannot stand how the game comes to a stop whenever someone with a healing proficiency tries to take care of the fallen after a battle. Or during battle for that matter…. I might have been playing it wrong, but I am of a mind to cross both healing and laying on of hands off the cleric’s list of allowed proficiences just so I don’t have to deal with it anymore.
As things went on, I think I was more and more tempted to impose some sort of artificially climatic scene on the game in order to give it a sense of moment or closure. Maybe that’s coming. Maybe it isn’t. Maybe the occasional player death combined with a knowledge of just how close the party has come to getting decimated is all the drama a campaign really needs. Either way, this truly gigantic dungeon seems real enough. Every time the players go in, they find out something more… and their adventure options just keep getting richer and more numerous. The place seems alive with activity somehow as well, even if half the action is coming off a wandering monster table. (I’d never really used them to this extent. I gotta say… they really seem to work.)
At any rate, the party is liable to begin leveling up very soon; that will no doubt further increase their range of operations. Even after twelve hours of play, I’d estimate that they’ve only explored about half a level all together. Maybe a bit more. We could easily play this campaign all year long and still have plenty of dungeon to delve. If prepping for game sessions strikes you as being a chore, then you might want to consider this. In spite of its scope, it is relatively easy to keep up with. (The Dungeon Tracker is a big help.) I think I was most worried about presenting the overall situation accurately, but really… it’s designed to be discovered piecemeal while gradually coming into focus. Gaining information is coequal to recovering treasure, after all. The players aren’t going to learn it all at once and it isn’t terribly difficult to stay ahead of them….
(F) Abimelek — attended all sorties
XP: 177 + 43 + 53 + 500 + 175 + 442 = 1390 * 1.05 = 1460
Gold: 110.7 + 512.5 = 523.2
(T) The Artful Dodger — attended all sorties
XP: 177 + 43 + 53 + 175 + 442 = 890 * 1.1 = 979
Gold: 202 + 512.5 = 714.5
(M) Raph — attended all sorties
XP: 177 + 43 + 53 + 175 + 442 = 890 * 1.1 = 979
Gold: 155 + 512.5 = 667.5
(C) Dorian — started on the third sortie
XP: 53 + 175 + 442 = 670 * 1.05 = 704
Gold: 162 + 512.5 = 674.5
(F) Brock — started on the third sortie (?)
XP: 53 + 175 + 442 = 670 * 1.1 = 737
Gold: 75 + 512.5 = 587.5
(F) Bogdar the Tolerant — missed the third sortie
XP: 177 + 43 + 175 + 442 = 837 * ??? = ???
Gold: ??? + 512.5 = ???
Rest in peace:
(C) Virgil: Killed by a training automaton on level 1 of Dwimmermount.
(F) Shard: Killed by a silver skeleton on level 2 of Dwimmermount.