Thursday, January 21, 2010

Death to the Mad Archmage! or We actually play the game.


Following up on our hockey night/character generation session Bob and I actually got together the next night to get started on our Old Style quest for 1.6 oz. coins and positively integered magical armaments. Bob has approved my decision to use Joseph Bloch’s Castle of the Mad Archmage (CotMA) based on the high quality of his blog posts over at Greyhawk Grognard and the nice price tag of his module. Actually, those are my reasons for choosing it; Bob’s reasoning goes more like this: “Whatever, let’s just play.”

And to Mr. Bloch I owe a humongous apology for the butchering his handiwork receives here. Please folks--and thank goodness there are few of you reading this--don’t allow my experience to taint what, in the hands of a competent DM, is a fine adventure.

I should explain our methods a bit, as they’re more than a little unorthodox. As discussed previously, we rolled up 6 characters, one from each of the classes (Fighter, Magic User, Cleric) and races (Elf, Dwarf, Hobbit-gnome-leprechaun) available in S&W who we’re pretty much running jointly, like so many pieces on a chess board. And for various reasons that don’t seem at all reasonable now that I'm trying to type them up for public review, we thought it would be perfectly ok if, rather than having one DM, we would alternate the task at each encounter, depending on a roll of the dice (low = Bob’s the DM, high = Me). Neither one of us has read the module, so we’re going in this blind and stupid. And oh yeah, we’re calling the DM the “Reader.”

Essentially, we are co-playing 6 players while simultaneously co-DMing a dungeon that is unknown to either one of us. Let me know if anyone cares anymore.

To make matters worse, neither of us has a functional printer to print out either the rules we’re using (Swords & Wizardry) or the module, and we’re way to cheap to print them out at a copy shop, so we’re just reading the PDFs straight off the screen of Bob’s laptop. Holy crap is this annoying, but here we go!

We skip all the traditional meeting up in the tavern business and head straight down the stairs to the 2nd level: and a huge spider drops on our asses. Actually our heads, but it misses. We don’t know for sure how a huge spider differs from any other spider,  but neither of us has rolled a 20-sider in combat since the Mulroney administration, so we have at it with extreme gusto. The party retaliates, both of the fighters in the front row (Sigurd the Ranger and Polvo the Dwarf, for those following at home) hit for some pretty hefty damage and the spider immediately realizes that it’s in over its head and skitters back into its web. We break out the missile weapons and take pot shots into the web until the critter’s corpse falls to the floor. We ended up breaking a lot of arrows this way; next time we’ll torch the webs like good old schoolers, but we really wanted to roll them 20 siders. [Edit: one of the ways in which huge spiders differ from the other varieties is that they are not web-builders. Insert blushing emoticon here. --Dice-chucker, 5/29]

We randomly chose one of the two doors out of the room, walked down the hall and popped open the first door we found on the left: 2 armed dudes. This time I am Reader and, reading that they are part of a posse of brigands who normally steal from half-dead stragglers wandering out of the dungeon, and that they have cohorts in several adjacent rooms; I decide that they will try to parlay until they can set off the alarm that I’ve decided is in their room, thus alerting the rest of their gang. They manage to engage the Party in conversation and trip the alarm. Suddenly the doors to the other rooms open up and the rest of the brigands come out in the hall.

Then this happens:

Bob: Hold on! You aren’t the Reader of all those rooms, only this one!
Me: But they’re all part of the same group; they act as a team!
Bob: Too bad, that wasn’t in the agreement. We’re supposed to roll for each door.

Bob is having none of my loosey-goosey rule adherence tonight—he hasn’t had anything to drink and there’s no hockey game to distract him—so we roll for each of the rooms that the brigands came out of and more or less split them. We decide that upon hearing the alarm the party backed out of room 35 and prepared weapons. Suddenly faced by 10 brigands instead of 2, they brace for combat.

Bob and I quickly confer about what kind of strategy these brigands would have in place and agree that our party looks far to fresh and are conspicuously lacking in bulging sacks of coinage to be of interest. So the brigand leader calls out: “Ahoy, wayfarers, welcome to the CotMA; don’t be alarmed; we’re dungeon security. We make sure none of the critters wander out and stuff. Let us know if you need anything, we’ve got torches aplenty if you find yourself in the dark.” And they let us pass. We decide that the party is dubious and decides to return down the hall to the spider room rather than risk an ambush as they pass through the midst of this gang. "Suit yourself, and have a happy adventure” yells the Brigand leader as we beat a cautious retreat toward the spider room.

Ok, so the incident itself was pretty uneventful but here’s the bizarre thing, our co-DMing thing had lead to us actually working together as a team to determine how the dungeon would react to the presence of the players within its confines. We were playing the part of the dungeon! Man, this was mind blowing. My enthusiasm for this experiment just went through the roof!

So we turned tail and retreated down to the spider room and proceeded through the other door, wandered down and popped open another door. Roll the dice: Bob’s the reader.

Bob: There are a bunch of troglodytes in this room and in two adjacent rooms, how should we run them? [it’s now assumed that any multi-room encounters shall be run cooperatively]
Me: Troglodytes? I don’t remember much about them. How smart are they? Are they neutral?
Bob: [does a search on the S&W PDF; now that’s kinda’ handy] uuuuh… no troglodytes here.
Me: and I didn’t bring my Monster Manual.
Bob: You wanna fight them?
Me: Not feeling it, no.
Bob: Me either. Screw it, these rooms are empty

And so we moved on. Lesson for the kids: A little preparation here would have really helped the situation.

We come across the little closet of a room off the main hallway—remember, we’re both looking at the maps. The dice say that I’m the reader:

Me: Two skeletons in here, and they attack!
Bob: Should we have Brodsky [the cleric] turn them?
Me: There in a freakin’ closet, where would they go?
Bob: I don’t know; I say we do it and find out.
Me: Your call, I’m just the DM around here.
Bob: [rolls a 17] Sweet! Can you change them to wraiths; I would have turned them too!
Me: They turn tail and run… to the furthest wall of the closet and try to climb it.
Bob: We bash them to bone meal to put on my rose beds [merciless—though inept—dice rolling ensues]
Me: Does attacking them break the spell?
Bob: You’re the Rules Fascist.
Me: Having survived your onslaught they turn to attack
Bob: Asshole
Me: You called me a fascist, what’d you expect?
Bob: You relished it last night.
Me: I still do.

Now we’re back to a more traditional approach; when faced with a mindless opponent, Bob and I are no longer a team running a dungeon, we’re merely alternating the DM role on a room to room basis. This seems a lot less intriguing, especially considering that neither one of us has an idea of what’s going on in here—we didn’t read the front matter of the module and, although we can see the entire layout, we don’t have any idea who or what is behind each door. It kinda’ feels like we’re playing Dungeon, which shouldn’t be surprising since we’ve injected all of the interest and complexity of a Parcheesi piece into this event. I think I'm gonna' have to take some drastic measures to bolster the atmosphere around here, like maybe read the front matter before we play again.

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