Sunday, April 19, 2009

Throwing Myself Off the Bridge

Basic D&D at the Milwaukee D&D Meet Up

What if James Kochalka thinks I'm a bad DM?Yesterday I ran my first face-to-face game in twenty years. After a year of solo tinkering and playing in other people's games I wanted to take my own turn behind the screen. Of course immediately after the Meet Up was announced I started wondering what the hell I was thinking. I had a low level case of nerves most of last week, and in my typical procrastinative fashion I was still keying the last few rooms of the dungeon an hour and a half before game time. As I left for our venue I was downright jittery: What if I stink? Will they think Basic is lame? Will I fail to advance the glorious Old School Revolution? What if I forget to wear pants?

Despite my worries I think the day went smashingly! I had a blast, and from what I could tell the players did too. I had five players, with a wide range of ages and experience. Tony and I have played 3.5 before; Joe runs Fourth Edition games; Andy and Mark are younger guys who'd played D&D Minis but not much tabletop roleplaying; and Keith is a gentleman of the old school, whose copy of the Rules Compendium I was sorely tempted to purloin.

We started off with character generation, using a handy four page handout I repurposed from Jeff Rients' Big Stupid Dungeon Party, and ended up with a cleric, two dwarfs, an elf and One Thumb the halfling. The players seemed to catch the spirit of exploration from the start, with a good balance of cautious dungeoneering and kick-in-the-door impulsiveness.

They were exploring the site of an (apparently) abandoned archaeological dig, a partially excavated temple complex somehow buried whole in solid rock. When they found an exposed section of the temple wall, a sixty foot stretch of black stone covered in rusted cogs and gears, they were immediately determined to find the way in. This soon led to the first party death. They dropped a torch into a chasm hoping to gauge its depth, disturbing the amphisbaenopede dwelling there, which dragged the hapless cleric Liam McKinley to his demise. I almost wished he'd failed his saving throw versus death instead of being eaten alive. The party considered a few plans to rescue him, but -- ooh, shiny -- got distracted by the gems embedded in the temple wall and commenced to looting instead.

The party's other adventures included a battle with giant mutant kangaroo rats, a conversation with a demented cave hobbit, and the discovery of a strange metal mask which Ammo the Dwarf declined to put on despite the taunting of his fellow PCs. Luckily enough the session ended with a big fight between a weird old wizard and his goons. I expected this to turn into a parley, but with a lucky shot Aedar the Elf popped an arrow through the wizard's Shield spell, and the mayhem was on. The party ended up fighting a desperate but doomed battle against a dozen twisted orcs made of clay and fungus while the wizard hid himself.

Only One Thumb survived the melee, holed up in the wizard's cave twenty feet up the cavern wall. He watched for hours, hoping to finish the wizard off with a sling bullet, or to lure him back up to the cave where he'd laid a trap made from bedding doused in oil. Alas, the halfling waited long enough for the wizard to rehearse Charm Person, and missed his sling shot when the magician stepped out to cast it. One Thumb failed to resist the spell, and there we draw the curtain, leaving the game's only survivor to an uncertain future.

All in all things went well, and as I say I had a blast! There were a few things I'll need to improve for future games:
  • It was tricky describing rooms and hallways concisely for mapping purposes. I worked around this by just sketching rooms myself when needed, but I'd like to improve my explanations. I wonder if simpler dungeon layouts might work better for one-shot games as well?
  • There were also two occasions when I missed important bits of layout because I skipped ahead to a room's most interesting feature. The one time this was tactically important I let the players know they could adjust their actions according to the new information if they wanted to and they were cool about it.
  • Finally I need to work on my timekeeping, and sharpen up transitions from loose exploration to round-by-round action. The lead-in to the final battle had players scattered all across the room doing various things and I should have switched to rounds sooner to keep a clearer sense of where and what everyone was up to.
All in all, phew, I'm relieved. Having a successful first session under my belt gives me a lot of confidence. I hope to run more games at the Meet Up, and maybe give a go at running an open campaign.


Special thanks to my wife, who's been incredibly encouraging. See? I even won a prize!

6 comments:

kesher said...

"...the discovery of a strange metal mask which Ammo the Dwarf declined to put on despite the taunting of his fellow PCs."This cracked me up. Pure oldskoolismis!

Congrats on your session! I was nervous as hell when I ran my first session, too, and it'd only been two years for me. My hat's off to you, and remember that Milwaukee and Minneapolis ain't that far apart... :)

I'm curious about the player with the cleric; what'd he do after his character was chomped on in the first what, 10 min? I realize this was just a one-shot, but in our game whenever someone's character dies, they roll up a new one as soon as possible and head back in.

Jeff Rients said...

The party considered a few plans to rescue him, but -- ooh, shiny -- got distracted by the gems embedded in the temple wall and started looting instead.That's beautiful! Congrats on a fun session and I'm happy my handout was helpful!

I wonder if simpler dungeon layouts might work better for one-shot games as well?This is a good observation. For one shots you really only need one or two fancy pants rooms. The others can all be basic rectangles.

Ewe Little Dickens said...

I can't tell you how proud of you I am!! You're great!

Max said...

Thanks fellahs!

Kesher: Ammo *did* put the mask on during the orc fight -- it turned him into a tin dwarf. Improved his AC by one...and he didn't survive long enough to discover its drawbacks. >:)

The player whose cleric got chomped was back into the game in 10 minutes with a second -- and that time I remembered to tell him he had a spell!

Jeff: Yeah, and here I drew a map with crazy diagonal rooms, twisty caverns, rubble. Another solution might be a dry erase battlemat -- sketch it up quick, mapper can copy from there.

Chgowiz said...

Awesome post! And yes, Rient's player handout was in use for more than one game this week, but I'll write that up later.

It was tricky describing rooms and hallways concisely for mapping purposes. I worked around this by just sketching rooms myself when needed, but I'd like to improve my explanations. I wonder if simpler dungeon layouts might work better for one-shot games as well?I had this problem in my Dark Ages game this Sunday, which really slowed things down. If they don't have a compass, I give them basic layout directions. I try to be consistent, going from left to right. However, the 'mapper' was trying to be extremely accurate and kept slowing things down. I'm not quite sure how I'll handle that.

In the con game, nobody was really trying to map accurately, so it seems to have gone well.

Samuel Van Der Wall said...

The nervousness dies down but there will always be a little apprehension of the game responsibility laying on your shoulders. Congrats on running your first game in a long time.