Thursday, May 12, 2011

Open Gaming Table In Actual Practice

So I ran the first actual sessions of my Open Gaming Table some weeks ago. How did it go?

Well, most of the players didn't have dice, which was fine because I had my Pound Of Dice on me. Most of the players didn't have characters, which was fine because I had pre-gens on me.

I and one veteran of my last campaign explained a bit of the setting for the new characters. They picked characters. They complained that I hadn't provided a healer. The veteran brought a duskblade of his own. The other players picked Jen the fighter, "Happy" the bard, and Katyra the psion.

Then I slapped the maps and the bounties on the table. There was much WTF-ing at the mysterious substitution cipher bounty and the childish scrawl of Sir Bigglesworth asking adventurers to return mermaids for his pet elephant to eat.

They decided to head for the ruins in search of the tomb of Gus Dreadworm. On the way up the mountain, they encountered some friendly dogs. Exploring the ruins, they encountered some friendly little drakes.

The bard rolled Bardic Knowledge and recalled that there are two sections of the Disreputable City that might contain relevant information: the Temple District, at the center of the city, and the Tyrant's Ward, abutting the Temple District.

They decided to go to the Tyrant's Ward and search for the ancestral home of the Counts Rogan, descended from the Third Count Rogan, who adventured with Gus Dreadworm. I didn't have the palace/mansion designed, but I drew on my extensive recollection of building dozens or scores of castles, palaces, and mansions of all sorts in Blades of Avernum to design it on the fly. An exterior wall, a courtyard, an inner keep. Inside the door, two arrow slits leading to adjacent rooms. At the other end of the main hall, the throne room and two side doors. Inside the throne room, fancy chairs and a side door leading to what was once a bedroom.

Now, each area has a random creature table, set up by me in advance, with great care. Each encounter has a chance to be a monster wandering in from some adjacent (or, more rarely, not-so-adjacent) area. Justin Alexander plays this up as a major font of creativity - if you roll goblins in the kobold-controlled area, that Means Something. The goblins are obviously scouting kobold territory for invasion, or maybe they're a merchant party. What matters is that you take that seemingly peculiar thing and turn it into a perfectly sensible, coherent datum about the world.

So when I rolled a huge centipede from the cold iron mine in the bedroom of the ancestral palace of the Rogans (notably, past a door somewhat too small for it to easily fit through), that was an excuse to come up with a super-awesome, coherent explanation. And I completely flubbed it. I gibbered some pointless nonsense about a centipede getting in when it was young and then growing big on rats and exploring adventurers. That was an epic failure.

Anyway, huge centipedes have reach, so when the duskblade tried to get close enough to hit it, it bit him into unconsciousness. Then when the bard tried to get close enough to the duskblade to stabilize him, it bit him into unconsciousness, too. Then the fighter and the psion managed to kill the centipede. The duskblade managed to stabilize on his own, one round from death. The bard had no such luck, and died.

Then the players of the bard and the psion had to go, but a new player wandered in and picked up Laurence the druid.

So they went back to town, rested up a bit, and headed back to the ruins again. They poked around in the palace again, and discovered that there was, in fact, a gelatinous cube behind one of the arrow slits. They managed to kill it with hit and run tactics, though it paralyzed half the party. (I made sure to give Gregorius Domus the Resurgence spell, which allows a second chance at a saving throw against that sort of effect, in case that came up again.) Then they gathered up the buttload of copper coins the gelatinous cube dropped. Then they left.


The second session went both better and worse.

The duskblade was back, but all the other players were different. They picked Ko-Joou the monk, Katyra the psion again, and Gregorius Domus the healingest healer ever to heal a healed thing.

The healer's player saw the substitution cipher and decided it needed to be solved. He rolled well enough on his Decipher Script to figure out which way the paper should be oriented.

They asked around with Gather Information, and learned that a (relatively) high-level adventuring party entered the Caves of Burning and only one of them came out, badly burned. Then they overheard a couple of adventurers (estimated at level 3 or so) scoffing at the lack of challenge in the Cold Iron Mines. They asked the more experienced adventurers if they knew of any creatures in the mines other than centipedes, and were told that one of them had spotted some scorch marks on a wall, but that was about it.

So they headed to the mines. The psion tormented the poor commoner who let them into the mine. I have discovered that if you hand a player an evil character, they will play it as pettily evil as possible. That's not a complaint so much as it is an observation, though it makes me want even more to play a subtle, big-picture evil character in a campaign, just to demonstrate that it can be done.

They explored the mines for awhile and the "is there an encounter in this room?" die kept coming up "no", which was weird. Then I rolled a pair of domovois from the Cave of Burning. To set up the random table for the Cave of Burning, I had picked out pretty much all the fire creatures and demons of a certain level range. But domovois are apparently chaotic good, helpful creatures, dwarf-looking house elves who help with forges and mines. This one I didn't flub: these domovois weren't from the Cave of Burning at all, they'd been working with the miners. They got caught inside the mine when it got infested with centipedes, and hadn't been able to get out since.

The party "convinced" the domovois to help take down some centipedes, and took the lift down to the second level, where they finally encountered some Small centipedes.

The monk's character had to leave, so the monk ran off, then the others came upon another Huge centipede, and managed to kill it. Then they went home, because two of them had taken dexterity damage and it was late.


Some Things I've Learned So Far:

The mine is far too complex in terms of fiddly bits and 45-degree tunnels, it's a massive pain in the ass to copy it accurately from my computer screen to the battlemat. I did expect the mine to be the worst in this regard, and it should also be the first section the players actually "solve", so hopefully I won't need to deal with it forever. If I have to do it too much more, there'll start being cave-ins. Shoddy workmanship. Centipedes nibbling the bracing. You know how it is. Either way, I think I'm going to start just describing the connections between rooms, and draw only the rooms which turn out to contain combat encounters. A practice which I'll reuse for the irregular Stank Cave, and which is probably a good policy in general (if the players see you've drawn something on the map, they don't feel as much compulsion to listen if you describe it).

I need more landmarks. As things keep happening, landmarks will naturally start accumulating (a Huge centipede carapace in one area, the remains of a campfire in another, the body of an engineer in the palace, etc), but there need to be more to start with, at least to break up the monotony when there's a long string of no monsters.

I need to just ignore the "Is there an encounter in this room?" die if it says the same thing more than two or three times in a row.

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